Study Guide

Four Quartets Life, Consciousness, and Existence

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Life, Consciousness, and Existence

Go, go, go said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality. (44-45)

The bird in the speaker's garden suggests that modern folks spend so much time distracting themselves from reality, they can't really handle too much of it at any one time. This is because we've become way too dependent on work and entertainment to keep us from thinking too deeply about our lives and our place in the universe.

The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion (72-74)

If we're ever going to be happy, we have to achieve a form of consciousness that goes beyond our everyday routines and practical thinking. We need to think of something that in rational terms might not have a clear purpose. We have to think about the nature of existence, which is at the root of our sadness. Getting that pair of boots or new cellphone isn't going to make everything all better. We need to get to the roots of our spiritual sickness.

Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy. (76-79)

The German word that kicks off this excerpt means a sort of spiritual enlightenment that make us feel like we're being lifted up. But, for the speaker, it can be very easy to mistake normal excitement for a true spiritual experience. If we're really going to have a go at a rebirth of consciousness, we're going to have to open our minds to possibilities that might not seem to make sense at first.

I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning. (228-229)

It's not really possible to say that you are here, there, or anywhere at one time, since the mind has a way of wandering away from the present moment. Haven't you ever had the experience of hearing someone say, "Hey, I've been talking to you for like the past twenty seconds. Where did you go?" For the speaker, this isn't just a figure of speech, because you are wherever your thoughts are, not where your body is.

Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about. (297-300)

You might not like the claustrophobic feeling of being crammed inside a dark train with a bunch of other people. So why would this be? Well it's probably because you don't like hanging out in the dark, because your mind starts to wonder about the meaning of life, and this doesn't tend to be a happy experience for people who don't really have any answer to this question.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing (305-306)

When it comes to spiritual enlightenment, it's important not to think too much, because thinking hasn't really gotten the modern world anywhere. The secret is to learn how not to think for a moment. This way, you can truly listen to what the world around you is trying to say, whether it be nature or other people. You need to give up your ego and form a deeper connection with everything around you, instead of just trying to gain personal success and master the world.

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