Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot


“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Prayer is communication with God, but what does that mean?  Prayer emphasizes God’s mystery, inscrutability, and immanence God is closer than our very breath. We get to know God not by the route of information, but by holding in abeyance what we think we know about God, or even ourselves, in order to let His love and fellowship flood our being in a place that resides beyond our senses.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

Sometimes music can reflect ideas and feelings that words simply cannot express. And sometimes, when poetry reaches its highest level, it can function almost like music—moving the reader with a transcendent force beyond our comprehension. T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets borrows its title from a musical form, and it offers up poetry that expresses some of the deepest universal human realities with the musicality of poetic expression. These are poems filled with images drawn from deep wells of the remembered and the half-remembered, meditations on the nature of time and memory, and ruminations on human frailty, suffering, and the nature of a living faith. Many readers have found them to be not only resplendent poems but also aids to meditation and prayer, as they seem to find ways to almost say the unsayable and provide glimpses of universal spiritual experiences and moments of enlightenment.

Occasionally an ordinary experience—a sight or sound or smell—can trigger a sense of being swept into a timeless moment, a place where time stands still and the breath of eternity rustles through our hearts and minds. Eliot’s Four Quartets both records and arouses such mystical moments. These are meditative poems that wed the musicality of words with profound spiritual insight to awaken a connection with something—ultimately Someone—who transcends time.

Has poetry ever helped your prayers? How so?

D I G  D E E P E R

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

(1888–1965), poet and critic. Born in St Louis, Missouri, he was educated at the Smith Academy, St Louis, Harvard (1906–9 and again 1911–13), the *Sorbonne (1910–11), and Merton College, Oxford (1914–15). He taught for a short time in Highgate Grammar School, London, and worked for Lloyds Bank; from this period his main interests appear to have been literary. Assistant editor of The Egoist from 1917 to 1919 and a frequent contributor to The Athenaeum, in 1922 he became the first editor of The Criterion, which he made a leading organ of literary expression until it ceased in 1939. In 1925 he joined the board of Faber, the publisher. He received many honours, including the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for literature (both in 1948).

Brought up in the American *Unitarian tradition, Eliot passed through a period of agnosticism reflected in his earlier poetry, e.g. Prufrock (1917) and Poems 1920 (1920). The expression of his sense of the emptiness of life reached its climax in The Waste Land (1922) and is also seen in The Hollow Men (1925). These early poems rejected the poetical tradition as it had developed in England since the 18th cent. and found inspiration in the 17th-cent. *Metaphysical poets and the 19th-cent. French symbolists. In 1927 Eliot was baptized in the parish church at Finstock, Oxon, and in 1928 he declared his viewpoint to be ‘classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and *anglo-catholic in religion’ (Preface to For Lancelot Andrewes). Henceforth much of his poetry, culminating in Four Quartets (1935–42), expressed his religious search, his struggle with faith and doubt, and his attempt to find fresh meaning in tradition; here he turned notably to *Dante, as well as to such mystics as St *John of the Cross and *Julian of Norwich. His influence as a poet was immense. His attempts at poetical drama were less successful, but also sought to communicate something of the dilemmas of faith, explicitly in Murder in the Cathedral (1935; written for the *Canterbury Festival of that year), but no less genuinely in his later plays, The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1959). He was also influential as a critic; many of his early essays were published in Selected Essays (1932; 3rd edn., enlarged, 1951), and his later essays collected in On Poetry and Poets (1957) and To Criticize the Critic (1965). He was deeply interested in the social implications of Christianity and discussed these in The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) and Notes towards a Definition of Culture (1948).

Sources & Resources

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 542–543.

Complete Poems and Plays (1969). A facsimile and transcript of the original drafts of The Waste Land, incl. the annotations of Ezra Pound, ed. by V. Eliot (widow) (1971). Letters, ed. id. (1988 ff.). Biographies by L. Gordon (2 vols., Oxford, 1977–88) and P. Ackroyd (London, 1984). The many symposia on Eliot and his work include those ed. by R. March and Tambimuttu (London, 1948), A. Tate (ibid., 1967), and J. Olney (Oxford, 1988). F. O. Matthiesen, The Achievement of T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry (1935; 3rd edn., 1958); H. [L.] Gardner, The Art of T. S. Eliot (1949); id., The Composition of Four Quartets (1978); G. [C.] Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Plays and Poetry: A Study in Sources and Meaning (Chicago 1956]); H. Kenner, The Invisible Poet (New York, 1959; London, 1960); C. H. Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Dramatic Thought and Practice (Princeton, NJ, and London, 1963); H. Howarth, Notes on Some Figures Behind T. S. Eliot (1965); E. M. Browne, The Making of T. S. Eliot’s Plays (Cambridge, 1969); M. Lojkine-Morelec, T. S. Eliot: Essai sur la génèse d’une écriture (Publications de la Sorbonne, 2nd ser. 17; 1985); C. Ricks, T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988); P. Murray [OP], T. S. Eliot and Mysticism: The Secret History of Four Quartets (1991). D. Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (2nd edn., 1969); B. Ricks, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography of Secondary Works (1980). R. Ellmann in DNB, 1961–1970, pp. 325–9.

Ackroyd, Peter. T. S. Eliot: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
Booty, John. Meditating on Four Quartets. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1983.
Dale, Alzina Stone. T. S. Eliot: The Philosopher Poet. Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1988.
Eliot, T. S. Four Quartets. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1943.
———. Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975.
Gordon, Lyndall. Eliot’s New Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

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Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

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