Burnt Norton

TS Eliot

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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.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.

                              But to what purpose

Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves

I do not know.

                        Other echoes

Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,

Round the corner. Through the first gate,

Into our first world, shall we follow

The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.

There they were, dignified, invisible,

Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,

In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,

And the bird called, in response to

The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,

And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses

Had the look of flowers that are looked at.

There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.

So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,

Along the empty alley, into the box circle,

To look down into the drained pool.

Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,

And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,

The surface glittered out of heart of light,

And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,

Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud

Clot the bedded axle-tree.

The trilling wire in the blood

Sings below inveterate scars

Appeasing long forgotten wars.

The dance along the artery

The circulation of the lymph

Are figured in the drift of stars

Ascend to summer in the tree

We move above the moving tree

In light upon the figured leaf

And hear upon the sodden floor

Below, the boarhound and the boar

Pursue their pattern as before

But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

The inner freedom from the practical desire,

The release from action and suffering, release from the inner

And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded

By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,

Erhebung without motion, concentration

Without elimination, both a new world

And the old made explicit, understood

In the completion of its partial ecstasy,

The resolution of its partial horror.

Yet the enchainment of past and future

Woven in the weakness of the changing body,

Protects mankind from heaven and damnation

Which flesh cannot endure.

                                          Time past and time future

Allow but a little consciousness.

To be conscious is not to be in time

But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,

The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,

The moment in the draughty church at smokefall

Be remembered; involved with past and future.

Only through time time is conquered.

III

Here is a place of disaffection

Time before and time after

In a dim light: neither daylight

Investing form with lucid stillness

Turning shadow into transient beauty

With slow rotation suggesting permanence

Nor darkness to purify the soul

Emptying the sensual with deprivation

Cleansing affection from the temporal.

Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker

Over the strained time-ridden faces

Distracted from distraction by distraction

Filled with fancies and empty of meaning

Tumid apathy with no concentration

Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind

That blows before and after time,

Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs

Time before and time after.

Eructation of unhealthy souls

Into the faded air, the torpid

Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,

Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,

Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here

Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

    Descend lower, descend only

Into the world of perpetual solitude,

World not world, but that which is not world,

Internal darkness, deprivation

And destitution of all property,

Desiccation of the world of sense,

Evacuation of the world of fancy,

Inoperancy of the world of spirit;

This is the one way, and the other

Is the same, not in movement

But abstention from movement; while the world moves

In appetency, on its metalled ways

Of time past and time future.

IV

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?

    Chill

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.

V

Words move, music moves

Only in time; but that which is only living

Can only die. Words, after speech, reach

Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,

Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its stillness.

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,

Not that only, but the co-existence,

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end.

And all is always now. Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still. Shrieking voices

Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,

Always assail them. The Word in the desert

Is most attacked by voices of temptation,

The crying shadow in the funeral dance,

The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

    The detail of the pattern is movement,

As in the figure of the ten stairs.

Desire itself is movement

Not in itself desirable;

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement,

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being.

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight

Even while the dust moves

There rises the hidden laughter

Of children in the foliage

Quick now, here, now, always—

Ridiculous the waste sad time

Stretching before and after.

The Love that Reassembles the Fragments

“All manner of thing shall be well/When the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one” TS Elliot

I think that Elliot was pointing to a fundamental symmetry between the material (fire) and spiritual (rose) world. We have to think outside physics to find the answer to the apparent material asymmetry introduced by the dimension of time.

Time is the only thing that we know that is not symmetrical. We can travel backward and forward through space, but only forward in time. This flows from the second law of thermodynamics, where disorder (entropy, chaos), always increases. That in turn flows from the initial conditions of the Universe, which was highly organised.

There must, I believe, actually be a symmetrical partner to time. If you like – something that is running backward, creating order from disorder, which matches and balances the movement toward chaos that we observe in the material Universe.

Everything in the world is dual. Without boundary we could not know existence. Boundary defines by breaking one into two. Forces balance, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When singular differentiates into dual (when one becomes two) it creates symmetry. Everything is symmetrical, and in a state either of differentiation or integration, separation or unification. This appears to me to be a fundamental truth – equally so in psychology (see all the writings of Carl Jung) and physics. Except for time. Time is different. It’s asymmetrical. It flows only forward. There is an arrow of time.

Why is that? After all – ever since Einstein’s special and general relativity was proved, we know that time is only the fourth dimension of space-time. We should in theory be able to travel forward and back in time, just as we can in space. But we can’t and don’t. We are all travelling forward at the speed of light through space-time. (Which is why there is time-dilation. If we travel rapidly through space, we use up some of the time component of that speed and therefore we travel more slowly through time). Since we’re in motion in space-time and with a direction – forward– we have momentum. Our momentum in time is simply mass multiplied by the speed of light. mc (massxspeed of light). We also know that E=mc2 (energy is mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light). That means that “we can consider energy to be momentum in the time direction” (Andrew Thomas). In turn that implies that it is the existence of time (and a time direction) that creates energy – and therefore mass and the material world.

Haven’t we heard this all before, but in a different language – long before the discoveries of physics. “Let there be light” – spoken by God, the word existing beyond time . Doesn’t this translate into – let there be a universal speed of light (168,000 miles/second) and time. From this energy and mass flows, and therefore the material Universe.

I believe that the flow of time in the material world – creating disorder from order, is matched by a flow in the spiritual world, where order is being created from disorder. I also believe that this creation of order can be observed in the evolution of consciousness. Ideas are not material. I believe, with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that at some point (his Omega point) we will evolve to a Universal consciousness of God. I believe that God, existing beyond time, is made manifest in this material Universe by Christ; and that manifestation is perfect Love.

That, I believe, is the answer to the apparent time asymmetry. Spirit is the symmetrical partner of Energy (=matter). This makes sense for me of that great Christian poet – TS Elliot’s final lines from The Four Quartets. The fire is the material world (energy) and the rose the spiritual (love) and it is in their integration through the loving unifying sacrifice of Christ through (the crowned knot of fire), that all manner of things shall be well.

Or perhaps more simply – as Derek Walcott puts it:

“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love that took its symmetry for granted when it was whole”.

Time as a field?

It appears that the physical world is governed by fields. Mass and energy depend upon them.

Electricity and magnetism, and therefore the cinema, facebook, light, our e-mail traffic and our clean clothes, are underpinned by the electro-magnetic field (James Clerk Maxwell).

Gravity, and therefore mass itself – structure, form, atoms, molecules and things, result from the gravitational field (Newton, Einstein).

Time results in our sense of experience. Without it nothing is. We sense and experience anything and everything NOW (Alfred North Whitehead). It isn’t the past or future – the “late and soon” of Wordsworth’s poem – where we build existence, it is here and now – the present. The experience of NOW is though only possible because of time. I am not a mathematician, but it seems logical to me to think of time as a field which makes possible NOW. In the same way that the gravitational field makes possible MASS, matter.

I am deeply convinced of our joyful and interconnected existence beyond space and time. We are part of “the Word existing beyond time”. I have a sense that we are droplets here, in this material world. We are boundaried as water is within a droplet as opposed to infinitely inter-connected as within an ocean. Boundary brings loneliness (if we let it), but is essential for experience.

Perhaps time is the field within which this transmutation occurs. Gravity has been described as a “field like treacle that sticks down energy as mass”. Is time the equivalent – a field like treacle that allows spirit to be stuck down as experience? As being.