Eliot Memorial, St. Michael's Church

 

 

Eliot Memorial Plaque

 

 

“In my beginning is my end.” With this paradox, T.S. Eliot initiates the spiritual passage he describes in “East Coker” (1940), the second section of Four Quartets (1943). He concludes the poem with a classic chiasmus: “In my end is my beginning.” Therefore it is apt that this poem which initiates its metaphysical journey by imagining a literal tour of the English countryside should strike its course from East Coker, the tiny Somerset village four miles from Yeovil and twenty miles north of Dorchester, from which Eliot’s ancestors struck out for the new world in the mid seventeenth century. 

 

Tracing a circuit of the hamlet, the poet steps into a clearly modern landscape, still recognizable today: 

 

         Now the light falls

Across the open field, leaving the deep lane

Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,

Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,

And the deep lane insists on the direction

Into the village. . .

 

He emerges into the world of his ancestors, hearing their “rustic laughter” and the stomp of their “Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth” at a dance. Fusing the the past with the present and the spiritual with the quotidian, the poem pursues "the pattern more complicated/Of living and dead."

 

T.S. Eliot is buried in St. Michael’s Church, East Coker, where the first and last lines of his poem stand as his epitaph. Literary pilgrims to St. Michael’s distinguish themselves from more traditional worshippers by recording favorite quotations from Eliot’s poetry in the church guest book.

 

Bergonzi, Bernard. T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets, A Case Book. London: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1969.

Eliot, T.S. Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber, 1943.

Raine, Craig. T.S. EliotOxford : Oxford University Press, 2006.

 

© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007

 

 

 

Cottage, East Coker Signpost, East Coker Lane, East Coker St. Michael's, East Coker