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Pentecost and Literature – Eliot’s Little Gidding

T.S. Eliot changed the face of poetry with Four Quartets, his four-part poem based on musical string quartets that features four instruments. The four instruments in the musical version are replaced with four voices in the poem. The Quartets deal with: air, earth, water and finally fire. The poems are based on his life’s experiences. The final quartet is about Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost appeared as fire from the sky to inflame the Apostles and Our Lady with the full enlightenment of Christ’s life and message. Modern man is in his many sins is punished by fire in the form of aerial incendiary bombs that fell over London during WWII, which Eliot personally witnessed. He reasons that we will be redeemed by the fire of suffering given to us by God in this life to avoid the suffering of fire in the next. Receive the fire of the Holy Ghost and burn with love of God. Suffering is redemptive. The fourth Quartet is a hidden sonnet: seven lines and seven lines instead of the usual 14. Sonnets are always love poems, thus this too is a love poem. Four Quartets is considered the greatest lyric poem of the twentieth century.

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