• Reading Level 5
Art & Design | PSHE

Voldemort to bring poet TS Eliot back to life

The Harry Potter star will perform Eliot’s late masterwork, Four Quartets, with its profound messages about memory and civilisation. In the not-too distant future, Ralph Fiennes will take to the stage. Perhaps he will nod to the audience, and then he will utter these words, written in 1936: “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.” The star, who played Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, has announced that he will soon tour theatres performing TS Eliot’s poetic sequence Four Quartets. Four Quartets was the poet’s last major work. Eliot finished the collection of four poems in 1943, but Fiennes said yesterday that Eliot’s verse speaks just as clearly to the present. It is a personal meditation on the passage of Eliot’s own life – set against a backdrop of a much larger crisis. When Eliot wrote the poems, it seemed possible that fascism would conquer the world, and part of the collection is about describing values that might outlast the war – values which he associated with the history of England. The UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday that democracy is in crisis around the world. Some suggest that we are now going through dark times similar to the 1930s – what the second Quartet calls “l’entre deux guerres”. Here are four possible lessons, one from each of the four poems, for our modern times: 1) Humans can’t bear too much reality. If you are looking for an explanation for the popularity of fake news, Eliot offers you this idea. For Eliot, the struggle to find meaning without turning your back on the disorder of reality is almost heroic compared to the lazy option of believing conspiracy theories. 2) Be still. Eliot puts forward a corrective to an age of social media that is, like his own, “distracted from distraction by distraction”. He suggests that we should spend more time contemplating our mortality. Four Quartets makes a strong case for the rewards of calm reflection and meditation in the hurly burly of life. 3) Embrace your past. Few people thought harder than Eliot about the meaning of tradition. As Britain, like many nations, debates its history and the legacy of its empire, Eliot wants us to see why these arguments matter and how they can easily be toxic before they become liberating. 4) But live in the present and keep moving forward. Eliot’s great work stresses that the present transforms tradition. The final poem of the Quartet, Little Gidding, speaks of the blitz and of how one might preserve and rebuild the world without repeating history. Much has changed since Eliot wrote, but perhaps no one described how we register that change better than he did. As he once wrote, and as Fiennes will soon find himself saying: “Last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice.” So, can a 78-year-old poem have lessons for modern society? Unacknowledged legislators Of course they can, say some. Eliot’s Four Quartets speaks about faith, time, identity and history. These are hardly issues that have become irrelevant. Poets have spoken to people across generations and continents, as Joe Biden showed when he quoted Seamus Heaney. They shape the way people talk and think for far longer than they live. As Eliot himself writes: “my words echo / Thus in your mind”. No, say some. There is little to be learned from a man of Eliot’s time other than his prejudices. Besides, poetry is not for learning lessons. Eliot himself always refused to acknowledge that his poems contained any messages. When asked by an undergraduate what he meant by the line: “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree”, he replied, “I meant Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree.”KeywordsNemesis - The inescapable agent of one's downfall. Its origins are located in the themes of ancient Greek tragedy. It comes from the Greek word "nemein", meaning "to give what is due".

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