Study Guide

Four Quartets Burnt Norton, Section 4

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Burnt Norton, Section 4

Lines 130-135

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

  • Ever worked a job where they signaled the start and end of the workday with a bell? Hopefully not, but in the speaker's time this was pretty common. The New York Stock exchange still uses one, though, to start and end a day of trading
  • In other words, there might have been a time when human beings could act like actual human beings and enjoy their days. But now, our obsession with time and money (i.e., time is money) have "buried the day" with stress and greed. 
  • Our obsession with time and money is like a "black cloud [that] carries the sun away" (136). The speaker then asks if the "sunflower" will "turn to us," or if the "clematis" (another type of flower) will "bend to us." In other words, will the natural world acknowledge us at all? Will sunflowers turn to us as a source of symbolic light? These are probably rhetorical questions for the speaker, who definitely doesn't (at this point) think that modern people are a source of light in the world. 
  • When he asks us if the flowers "tendril and spray / Clutch and cling?" he seems to echo lines 19-20 of "The Waste Land,": "What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?" (20). In other words, we have another hypothetical question about whether our modern mindsets (i.e., "stony rubbish") can support any kind of meaningful life, give the roots of growing plants something to grab onto. The sad answer at this point seems to be "no." 
  • Line 139 of the poem only says, "Chill," which in the context of this passage means that the modern spiritual climate is too cold for anything beautiful to grow. We're sure that, if the speaker were reading this poem to you, you might take this opportunity to tell him, "I get the point, dude." But good dude just plows forward.

Lines 136-139

Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher's wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

  • Lines 136 and 137 definitely need a little clarifying because of their reference to a "yew" tree. First, it's important to know that the yew tree is known as the "Tree of Death" in pretty much every European country. However, the yew also symbolizes transformation and rebirth, since the branches of this tree (believe it or not) actually grow downward into the soil and keep living after the central trunk has died. There's your botany lesson for the day.
  • Through the image of the yew, the speaker seems to be wondering if spiritual death and rebirth is something that could happen to modern humanity, asking whether the "fingers of yew [could] be curled / Down on us?" He still seems to imply "no" as an answer, though, because we still haven't even acknowledged as a society that the modern world is totally broken. 
  • In line 141, the image of the kingfisher bird could refer to the British myth of the "fisher king" that Eliot relies on really heavily in "The Waste Land." The fisher king (here embodied as a kingfisher bird) is a traditional symbol of something that can bring back fertility to our barren modern landscape and restore our souls to their former glory. 
  • That said, even the kingfisher "is silent" for the speaker, "At the still point of the turning world" (143). This is because every time he starts to talk about this "still point," the speaker makes sure to remind us that no, it's not really like that. It's not really like anything. By constantly undercutting himself, he's showing us that the still point he's talking about is a space that might be beyond words, since words are part of a world where we try to make sense of things through opposites, and the still point is a place beyond opposites.

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