Meditating Four Quartets: Burnt Norton (IV)

Fourth Movement

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?
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.

Dusk. Vespers has rung. Evening is deepening. The poet wonders whether the sunflowers and clematis will now turn to human beings for light and warmth. But suddenly the lyric turns frightening. The flora begins to grasp him, to clutch at him and cling to him. Any number of horror movies come to mind. Nature seeks out life in order to survive. In the darkness humanity becomes food for the dying world.


We are in a church graveyard. British graveyards, so I read, are populated with yew trees. In 1656 an Anglican vicar wrote: “Our forefathers were particularly careful in preserving churchyard Yews which by reason of their perpetual verdure were emblematical … of the immortality of the soul.” Before the Christian era yew trees were planted near pagan temple sites. They are particularly long-lived, often surviving for hundreds of years. The trees appear to thrive on corpses. I wonder if there were yew trees in the Old Forest.

The poet’s imagination sinks deep into the ground—the roots and tendrils of the yew are curling around him, strangling him, sucking out his life, extending its life by absorbing his own. Deeper into the darkness.

And then a kingfisher, with its beautiful plumage, catches his eye.

A flash of light reflects off its wing. In that moment the poet is drawn into the divine peace. At the heart of the darkness, with all of its terrors, is the brilliant luminescence of eternity.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (Jn 1:5).

(Go to fifth movement)

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