The genesis of the Quartets reminds me of the incident in Proust's Remembrence of things Past, where his dipping a madeleine cake in a cup of lukewarm lindenflower tea made his whole childhood whoosh back to him in a split-second, bringing with it what developed into the twelve volume modernist novel.
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.
This is from Burnt Norton, the first of the Quartets. Burnt Norton is a real life garden belonging to an estate of the same name in England.
The experience of the dry pool that briefly filled with sunlight expanded in Eliot into an outstretched, timeless moment of stillness, beauty and a sense of the "heart of light" as he put it in a draft of this poem.
"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". This is the heart of this part of the quartet, maybe even of the whole of the quartets themselves. Without this experience the Quartets probably would not have been written; at least not in the form they now exist. We see that the empty, dry pool is filled with sunlight, an ethereal and brilliant water substitute - or rather, a sunlight-water, existing in a dimension of its own. The surface, he says, "glittered out of heart of light" - somehow the essence of light seems to have presented itself to him in that brief, timeless moment. A silence of a sort, revealing itself to a present and observant onlooker.
The lotos is an interesting feature here. This flower has many properties and meanings in several Eastern cultures. It has a pure white blossom on the surface of waters, be they dirty or clean. Their roots go deep into the mud in rivers and lakes, which makes it stretch from the dirt through the water and flower in this pristine whiteness, making itself a symbol of the possible transformation from dirt to purity; from ignorance to enlightenment and so on. Eliot knew at least the Eastern philosophical tradition quite well, and also had a knowledge of Sanskrit, the classical language in India; the language many of the old Buddhist texts are written in. The lotos seems to represent a lot of things in this poem written by an American turned British, in something as British as a rosegarden belonging to a stately home. Simplicity, beauty, something deeply real, something mystical, a touch of the Eastern mindset - all in all a whiff of simple elegance incorporating a mystery which is almost making itself completely accessible to us. We only have to enter a quiet state of mind to sense its direct presence and have revealed whatever it might be presenting to us.
All these words to describe a quiet moment which brought a poet a deep stillness and a connection with something he called heart of light, which again brought him to write the section overhead. But this is really part of my fascination with thought/experience and language/art/poetry. From a tiny moment, a flash of insight, can spring a whole novel, a movie, a painting, a theory, a haiku. "Moments in and out of time" Eliot calls these kinds of experiences another place in the Quartets. The intersection of the timeless with time.
"The still point of the turning world, there the dance is". This about sums up the Four Quartets. And makes me come back to it again and again.