Sunday, April 15, 2012

Zero Summer and T. S. Eliot (Little Gidding)

The Four Quartets text is difficult to understand. I recommend the  following site that links TSE concepts to Maharishi Vedic Science.

This site has a thorough analysis of all the Four Quartets.

Looking at Little Gidding and the concept of a Zero Summer… (Little Gidding text is highlighted in bold in the following text taken from the above site)

Little Gidding

Little Gidding ranks with Burnt Norton as the best of the Four Quartets. It has a wider philosophical scope than East Coker and The Dry Salvages, and is more personal and concrete than Burnt Norton. Written primarily in the first half of 1941, the poem was both aided and hindered by the German air raids on London. The ubiquitous sight of fire and ash, the nightly terror of sirens and explosions, the constant presence of death and demolition, creates a visceral immediacy in Little Gidding missing in the other Quartets even though such horrors are presented indirectly and symbolically. The air raids, on the other hand, were less beneficial for Eliot's work habits, causing him to write the poem's first draft quickly and superficially. Writing about the timeless, he constantly felt the pressure of time, the futureless future: "Like everyone else in this period, his life became one of monotony and anxiety, caught in a middle period when pre-war life seemed unreal and post-war life unimaginable" (Ackroyd, 1984, p. 264).

In spite of his personal anguish, or any doubt he originally had about the quality of Little Gidding, the poem begins with amazing surety and affirmation. Burnt Norton had posed the problem of time; East Coker and The Dry Salvages elaborated on time's character; but Little Gidding redeems it and in so doing presents Eliot's most definitive spiritual vision.

The poem's first two words, "Midwinter spring," metaphorically suggest its vitality and direction. The phrase is not only the kind of mind-challenging paradox that Eliot relished; but in context it envisions an end to the air raids, a peace in the heart of war, heaven amidst the inferno, an interruption to what had become life's status quo-suffering as usual. This unlooked-for spring "is its own season / Sempiternal . . . Suspended in time." Not a common annual season, it is a new eternal season of its own making, existing in a time that never existed, reconciling and unifying sets of opposites, "pole and tropic . . . When the short day is brightest."

The opposing forces "frost and fire" literally represent the seasons winter and summer and characterize the harsh weather that defines them. Metaphorically they are the polarized means by which the eternal spring comes into being. The fire of war is calmed by the frost of winter, and the holy fire "that is the heart's heat," in contrast to the fire of desire (symbolized by leaping through the flames in East Coker), melts the congealed emotions and awakens the dormant inner life. The sun shining on the pond on the shortest day of the year generates a blinding light that "Stirs the dumb spirit." The "[s]oul's sap" that had long been frozen "quivers" and begins to flow. This is a celestial spring "not in time's covenant," devoid of the taint of earthly existence.

The opening stanza concludes with the question answered in the rest of the poem: "Where is the summer, the unimaginable / Zero summer?" Summer is fullness, more than spring, and the zero summer is brought about by a fusion of winter and summer-the hedgerow blooming more suddenly from a temporary snowfall-a summer that is "neither budding nor fading." It is an "unimaginable" summer because suffering and the horrors of war have made it so, but also a zero summer because it transcends human imagination. It is the full ripeness of spiritual awakening that the poet longs for, a summer that exceeds the still point and the midwinter spring, embracing all life and all things in the warmth of eternity.

The Zero Summer Concept is discussed … The zero summer is for Eliot analogous to the ancient concept of paradise on earth, a period of peace and abundance, a period that has long been chronicled in the history of literature as Plato's Republic, More's Utopia, Shakespeare's Arden Forest, the many versions of Camelot, and Morris's The Earthly Paradise to name a few.
Little Gidding describes the path to the zero summer in language reminiscent of East Coker ("To arrive where you are, to get where you are not, / You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy"):
If you came this way / Taking any route, starting from anywhere, / At any time or at any season, / It would always be the same.

A spiritual pilgrim traveling this route to the midwinter spring would find the "voluptuary sweetness" of May, "the same at the end of the journey," and a meaning that fulfills and exceeds the original purpose. The journey begins at any time and from any place that is the "world's end," for Eliot "Now and England." It is the end of the world because the war has made it so, but every place is the end just as every place is the beginning. That is what distinguishes the still point from the point in time.

 To get there one must "leave the rough road," and "put off / Sense and notion." The coarseness of ordinary desires must be abandoned, and the route taken cannot be one of ideas or even rational thinking. Eliot says the route to the zero summer is through prayer, but for him "prayer is more / Than an order of words," more than the act or sound of praying; it is a means of transcendence to "the intersection of the timeless moment [that] / Is England and nowhere. Never and always."
My comment on Zero Summer ...
Zero Summer is a case of describing the impossible or an absolute so it is rather difficult ... to say the least. How do you describe Heaven. Perhaps easier to describe Hell. The important thing is the journey ... to work to create 'Heaven on Earth' and to be inclusive ... to leave the world in a better state ... and if you believe in Christ, Pentecost and Prayer to work with such remarkable powers to achieve this end.


  1. I have just started blogging on "Little Gidding." I thought you might find the series of interest. I welcome your comments and reflections:

  2. ... thanks for your interest ... I will have a look at your Site ... Cheers