Study Guide

Four Quartets Man and the Natural World

By Eliot, T.S.

Man and the Natural World

                        Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. (19-22)

As we walk into the symbolic garden of "Burnt Norton," we hear the echoes of nature trying to draw us out of our sad modern lives. A bird suddenly tells us to find "them" around a corner. In this image, the speaker encapsulates that nagging feeling we all have about something missing in our lives, and suggests that this nagging should lead us into nature.

Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

     Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? (132-137)

As human beings, we might sometimes think that the world totally revolves around us. But, as the speaker reminds us with these rhetorical questions, the world doesn't get happy or sad depending on how happy or sad we are. It just keeps doing its own thing, and the quicker we realize this, the quicker we can stop worry about "doing something with our lives" and start living in the moment.

Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. (215-218)

The image of the pagan dance is a good one for showing the close connection with nature that modern humans don't really have anymore. The people in this image who are connected to nature are simple folk, and not concerned about modern problems. They're also totally aware of their own connection to the dead. Because dead people get buried underground and end up becoming food for plants. The circle of life continues, and this makes people feel fulfilled. We don't realize this truth in the modern world, though, because we all like to pretend that we'll live forever.

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. (397-398)

The river at the opening of "The Dry Salvages" is a force that humans can never fully conquer. It'll always have the power to suddenly flood and destroy the flimsy buildings that humanity puts around it. In this case, it's a reminder of what humans choose to forget, which is the fact that we're never going to totally conquer nature.

Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. (636-637)

Our soul is like sap, basically, and we're like a tree. If our sap gets frozen and rigid, we think only about ourselves and strive constantly to prove ourselves as individuals. If our soul melts, then we totally lose track of who we are as individuals and just melt into our surroundings. Somewhere between these two extremes, though, you reach a place where your soul is both your own and not your own, a place where you can be comfortable with who you are, but also deeply connected to the surrounding world.

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