Heraclitean <i>logos</i> and flux in T.S. Eliot’s <i>Four Quartets</i>: 'cosmic consciousness' and 'the still point of the turning world'


Cosmic Consciousness
Four Quartets
TS Eliot


T.S. Eliot prefaces “Burnt Norton”, the first of his Four Quartets, with two quotations from the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. By means of these epigrams, Eliot points us to the Heraclitean opposition and paradoxical interdependence between logos and flux as a paradigm in the poem, a paradigm that he uses for an investigation and articulation of a number of philosophical contemplations. In this paper, I discuss Eliot’s different configurations of the logos/flux paradigm in the poem, firstly to illuminate the relationship between temporality and eternity, secondly, to elaborate the relationship between God and humanity, and thirdly to express the relationship between structured art and chaotic experience. In each instance it is not only the opposition between the two elements that is important, but also the point of contact, the intersection. There is some evidence that Eliot’s depiction of this intersection as, for example, the “moment in and out of time”, is based on personal experience of a transcendent, mystical nature. His expression of this experience is also investigated by comparing it to similar experiences described by others, notably by a Canadian psychiatrist, Richard Maurice Bucke. A comparison of Bucke’s description in his evolutionist text of 1901 and Eliot’s poetic rendering reveals not only surprising similarities but also essential differences which highlights Eliot’s purely Christian interpretation in the face of Bucke’s more universalist approach. For T.S. Eliot, eternity or timelessness can only be accessed through the temporal experience of human consciousness, in fleeting moments of exaltation in daily life, in the charged, timeless configurations of art as an imitation of divine creation, and finally in Christ, who embodies the love of God and is for Eliot the ultimate transection of the temporal and eternal, the flux and the logos.