While this has been a year in which "The Dry Salvages" has been particularly compelling for me, it is "Little Gidding" that has been, and remains, my favorite of the Quartets. I think that has something to do with the Pentecostal imagery (“the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living”) and the setting in a holy place, once drenched in the daily round of prayer. Nicholas Ferrar had founded a community at Little Gidding in 1625. John Booty tells us that the place was revered by George Herbert and visited by Charles I. Eliot seems to say that it is only the elemental that will endure, with particular emphasis on fire. I imagine that was unavoidable in the midst of the blitz.
A friend has suggested to me that the title of these poems, Four Quartets, is less about abstract matters, or even the elements. Instead, he says, the title brings up the image of a quartet playing music, --musical imagery also being found throughout the poems. I like that and would add it to my answer that the intention of the title is ‘all of the above’.
Music was the heart of our Christmas Eve worship at All Saints’, with our incomparable choir offering the Rutter Gloria as a prelude to worship in the later services and our wonderful youth and children’s choirs leading worship in the late afternoon. They too are really accomplished, singing music from the renaissance to modern compositions with great clarity and discipline. We are truly and greatly blessed by the talented musicians we have in our midst. It is more true for me at Christmas than at any other season that music trumps theology as the means of conveying gospel truth. A simple carol, with all of its associations for me over the years, can assure me of God’s love more than all of the writings of the church fathers on the incarnation put together. Of course this does not mean that theology is irrelevant or unhelpful. Quite the contrary. It is simply to say that music is more like poetry than reasoned argument, and so is more helpful at making a raid on the inarticulate.
A very happy Christmas to one and to all.