Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Christopher MiddletonNotes on a Viking Prow
(PN Review 10)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Lehbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

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 ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image