by James Zinsmeister
Although T.S. Eliot would labor assiduously in several genres, it would be more than 20 years before he completed what critics and poets alike regard as his magnum opus—the exquisite "Four Quartets." Comprising four long poems of five parts each, "Four Quartets" incorporated a number of themes that had been essential to Mr. Eliot's earlier work. Each of the poems was named after a place that had deep personal significance for Mr. Eliot, who was born in St. Louis, and had spent the first two decades of his life in America before immigrating to England.
But these are more than works of personal reflection. Mr. Eliot called on a vast store of images, symbols and allusions that, deployed in a historical context, enabled the poet to keep his readers' focus on such themes as the redeemability (in the Christian sense) of the individual and the complex relationship between existence, reality and time. Indeed, the setting of the entire work seems to be "the point of intersection of the timeless / With time." ("The Dry Salvages," V, 201-2).