Precious few words capture the essence of music better than these by the always remarkable T.S. Eliot. I have long experience of trying to filter the seraphic mists of the greatest sounds humanity has created into sentences – it is easier to outline a shadow. In the Four Quartets, Eliot had elicited to define the spirit of Beethoven’s final renderings of heartbreaking and heart-filling humanity – the last string quartets. I think he does it so well. Here is the final canto of ‘Burnt Norton’. If you listen you might just hear the plangent vocalise of the Cavatina from op. 130 and the furore of the Grosse Fuge fall through the words Eliot spins out for us.
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.
From ‘Burnt Norton’ ~ Four Quartets ~ T.S. Eliot