Jeremy Irons Reads T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (Free for a Limited Time)

(The clip above is part of the com­plete record­ing found here.)

In 1914, T.S. Eliot moved from his birth coun­try, the Unit­ed States, to Eng­land at the age of 25 and soon there­after estab­lished him­self as one of the most influ­en­tial poets of this gen­er­a­tion, writ­ing some of the best known poems of the 20th cen­tu­ry includ­ing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), The Waste Land (1922) and The Hol­low Men (1925). (Find them in our Free eBooks col­lec­tion.)

Yet Eliot con­sid­ered his Four Quar­tets cycle to be his finest. Pub­lished indi­vid­u­al­ly over the course of six years, the series con­sists of four poems – Burnt Nor­ton (1936), East Cok­er (1940), The Dry Sal­vages (1941) and Lit­tle Gid­ding (1942) – that are pro­found medi­a­tions on time, the cos­mos and the divine.

Eliot dis­cussed the cycle with the Paris Review in 1959. “I’d like to feel that they get bet­ter as they go on. The sec­ond is bet­ter than the first, the third is bet­ter than the sec­ond, and the fourth is the best of all. At any rate, that’s the way I flat­ter myself.”

The BBC has pro­duced an audio ver­sion of Eliot’s Four Quar­tets with none oth­er than Oscar-win­ning actor Jere­my Irons serv­ing as a read­er. The video above is a clip of that read­ing, tak­en from Burnt Nor­ton.

You can read along to Iron’s leo­nine nar­ra­tion:

Foot­falls echo in the mem­o­ry
Down the pas­sage which we did not take
Towards the door we nev­er opened
Into the rose-gar­den.
My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what pur­pose
Dis­turb­ing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know.
Oth­er echoes
Inhab­it the gar­den.
Shall we fol­low?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the cor­ner.
Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we fol­low
The decep­tion of the thrush?
Into our first world.
There they were, dig­ni­fied, invis­i­ble,
Mov­ing with­out pres­sure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hid­den in the shrub­bery,
And the unseen eye­beam crossed, for the ros­es
Had the look of flow­ers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accept­ed and accept­ing.
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.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of chil­dren,
Hid­den excit­ed­ly, con­tain­ing laugh­ter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Can­not bear very much real­i­ty.

The com­plete cycle read by Irons is on the BBC web­site for a lim­it­ed time. (If you want to skip the pro­gram’s lengthy intro­duc­tion, start at the 7:45 mark­er.)

And if you want to hear the Four Quar­tets read by T.S. Eliot him­self, check out the video below. More read­ings can be found in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

via The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to T.S. Eliot Recite His Late Mas­ter­piece, the Four Quar­tets

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Mod­ernist Poem The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Edi­tor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trot­skyite” Nov­el Ani­mal Farm (1944)

T.S. Eliot Reads The Waste Land

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Comments (1)
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  • chandra mohan jha says:

    It is shock­ing to note that even after about a cen­tu­ry Eliot has not been ful­ly under­stood. Crit­ics have tak­en his poet­ry as an abstract phi­los­o­phy where­as he is quite con­crete in his approach. The rea­son behind this mis­un­der­stand­ing is the fail­ure in decod­ing his sym­bols and under­state­ments which lead to his direc­tion and depth. My work TS ELIOT’S POETRY EXPLORED may be con­sult­ed for bet­ter under­stand­ing. Inter­est­ed per­sons may con­tact me via

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