Garlic and sapphires in the mud

by Barbara Maria Rathbone

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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