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This article is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

Four Quartets: A Commentary Gabriel Josipovici


THE Four Quartets must be read not as a philosophical examination of the problem of time but as the narrative of a person talking to himself at four o'clock in the morning. Listen:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end which is always present.

The words are chosen with the exaggerated care of one who does not know what is going to come next, and the syntax reflects this, with its simple parataxis ('time present and time past … And time future contained in time past … What might have been and what has been …') and its pervasive conditionals ('perhaps … if … what might have been …'). When the word 'present' returns for the fourth time in ten lines, it carries with it the finality not so much of a problem solved as of a painful effort at clarity brought to a premature end. We may not be at the mad extreme of Lucky's feverish monologue in Waiting for Godot, but we are certainly nearer to that than we are to the meditations on time of St ...

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