Images in the labyrinth : a reading of symbol and archetype in four quartets

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Since the publication of Four Quartets as a complete poem in 1944, the question of meaning, of how to understand the poem, has remained foremost in the mind of the reader. Insight into T.S. Eliot's last major work of prose has run the gamut of interpretive (and evaluative) schools; yet, as perhaps should be the case, exact meaning eludes the critic. That this is a major work of modernism goes without saying, but the analysis of historicism is tied to one, timely dimension. As a religious poem the reverence of its lines ascends into the realms of metaphysics, but simultaneously they lack a dogma and just as easily connect the reader to the corporeal, gritty fundaments of life. A rhetorical reading resonates with the overt linguistic structures prefigured by Eliot himself, but after it is all said and done the experience remains architectural at best. The purpose and method of this thesis are interconnected. The attempt is not to assume or criticize any discipline of analysis, but rather to "care" for, or "curate" the images that Eliot has placed in this work. Through the overlay, the map if you will, of the labyrinth, the effort has been made only to suggest that meaning is a movement, like a river, developed between the poem and the reader. How or why such a relationship works is not the focus; the "focus," if that is the word to be used, is simply to cultivate an awareness of movement, and an awareness of meaning. Just as when we are lost in a maze we ask "what if," what if we were to follow this path here, where does this thread take us, and how deep?




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