Posts Tagged With: UK

How I Came to Own the Four Quartets

Of course, “own” isn’t quite the right word. But they are in my house, hanging in my entryway behind glass. They are mine.

Four Quartets is a set of poems written by T.S. Eliot between 1940 and 1943. They are widely regarded as the pinnacle of Eliot’s career and helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Originally, they were published separately as pamphlets by Eliot’s employer, London publishing house Faber & Faber.  The individual poems are “Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding.” They were published together in 1943 by Eliot’s American publisher, and from then on they were called Four Quartets.

T.S. Eliot is my favorite poet. I’ve read and studied all of his works, and I feel a strong connection to him. I have a tattoo from his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” that quotes, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” His Four Quartets have many of my favorite quotes:

“Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
— Burnt Norton

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
— East Coker

“For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.”
–The Dry Salvages

“The communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”
–Little Gidding

When I was studying in London in 2010, I was overwhelmed by all of the amazing bookstores. I adore books, and to be in a country where antique books were available so abundantly was incredible to me. Any book older than a few hundred years had to travel across an ocean to reach my country. Here, they were found every day in old estates and libraries. I spent much of my free time browsing bookstores. I must have gone to close to a hundred in my three months there.

My group was living at Pickwick Hall when I found the first two pamphlets. It was February 2, 2010. I was walking in front of the British Museum when I noticed a bookshop, Jarndyce. It looked too expensive for me, but I went in to browse.

Almost immediately, I walked to a cart that held new arrivals. There on the second shelf, I spotted them: The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding, paired together for £110.

It was too much money for me, certainly more than I had on me at the time. The shopkeeper was watching me closely. I doubt I fit his normal customer profile. I walked up to her with the pamphlets in hand and begged her to set them aside for me while I ran back to my room to get more money. She told me she couldn’t hold them, but that she would leave them on the desk for twenty minutes before putting them back on the shelf.

I nodded, wrapped up my scarf, and rushed out of the shop. I’m sure she never expected to see me again.

It was raining a light drizzle. I was wearing ballet flats instead of sensible shoes, and as I ran down the street I slipped on the sidewalk and fell down. It was completely embarrassing, and I’m glad I was alone. I walked the rest of the way nursing a bruised knee. I knew if I didn’t go as quickly as possible, sensible Callie would start talking me out of it. I’m not good with impulse buys. If it doesn’t happen within a few minutes of getting the idea, I’ll never do it.

I climbed the stairs to my room and dug out my weekly allowance. I decided it was worth eating sandwiches for a few weeks instead of going to nice restaurants with the rest of the group. When I got back to the shop, I was soaking wet and out of breath, but I handed over my money and tucked the pamphlets under my shirt to protect them from the rain.

I’ve never noticed that guy there until just now…

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook that day:

I found two first-edition printings of T.S. Eliot’s poems, “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding,” which are the last two parts of “The Four Quartets.” They’re in good condition, which is amazing because they’re just pamphlets. I’ve been looking for them for years! I’m so excited.

It was a miracle to me to find them. Since they were published during World War II, not many survived. London (and the rest of the UK) was bombed many times and so many books didn’t last. The rest of my group thought I was a little crazy when I showed them, but that’s okay. I was beyond thrilled. A few weeks later, I took a trip by myself on a train and bus to East Coker to visit T.S. Eliot’s grave. I took tons of pictures:

The yard of St. Michael’s Church was so peaceful and SO green.

When I got back to the States in April, the pamphlets went into my London Memory Box wrapped in tissue paper. From there, they traveled with me to four different houses and apartments before I pulled them out again a few weeks ago. Sam has known for years about my desire to find the other two, and as a Valentine’s Day present, he gave me permission to order Burnt Norton and East Coker.

It took a lot of searching to find the other two in good condition. I wanted first editions to match my others. Burnt Norton came from a bookstore in Burntisland, a town near Edinburgh, Scotland. East Coker came from a store in Bath, England. I don’t think I ever would have found them for sale in the U.S. The only reason they make it to the U.S. is if people buy them and bring them over, like I did. Those people aren’t selling them any time soon.

Now, they’re all together, and it’s like they were together all along. It’s like I finally have all the pieces to the puzzle. I know I’ll treasure them for the rest of my life.

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