T.S. Eliot and Natasha Trethewey

peters burnt norton

Not surprisingly, another comic strip by Julian Peters (http://www.tfqm.org/Julian-Peters1.html) features some of my favorite lines from Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.” Here’s also an excerpt of “Burnt Norton” recited by Lana Del Rey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKY6QGLeHEc.
There is something about this first of the Four Quartets that is eerily beautiful when read. Eliot combines abstract, philosophical notions of time, reality, and consciousness with beautiful, lighthearted images of children laughing (definitely eerie as well) in the trees within a rose garden with a (talking?) bird serving as a guide to the one entering the garden.
The lines (11-15) Peters’ extracts into his strip seem to be where Eliot moves from wrestling with more abstract language and into connecting that abstract language with images and a more tangible scene. At times, Eliot’s lines rhyme, presenting a lyrical tone to sections of his poem. References to music throughout the poem heighten one’s attention to the lyrical effect Eliot enacts within some of the lines of the poem. Lines 49-63 in section II display this rhyme and offer unique images centered on the tree:
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.


Similar to Eliot, Natasha Trethewey’s “Theories of Time and Space” also discusses the subject of time. Utilizing ten free verse couplets, Trethewey focuses on the implications of the abstract notion of past, present, and future time connecting travel as a more tangible experience to describe the passing of time and how it changes a person. Her lines certainly create moments in time for the reader to picture when thinking about the places she recommends the reader to travel to. She utilizes very specific images and numbers that create those moments of reference for the reader. I am not left with an eerie feeling upon reading Trethewey as I was when I read Eliot. Indeed, I especially enjoy the final couplet where she equates a photograph with the past version of person—what a lovely image.


“Theories of Time and Space” | Natasha Trethewey
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.


Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:


head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off


another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end


at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches


in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand


dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only


what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock


where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:


the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return



2 thoughts on “T.S. Eliot and Natasha Trethewey

  1. Wow, a comic strip doing T.S. Eliot… that’s pretty high-brow! I love those lines as well… and the negative imagery of passages we didn’t take and doors we never opened. I like what you said about Eliot’s movement from abstraction to concrete image, making Trethewey’s poem an interesting contrast with its more straightforward narrative. But like you say, the speaker is also commenting on the complicated passage of time. The promise that “someone will take your picture” indicates a future which will be one day be a memory from the past, and I love how present, past, and future converge in that final couplet 🙂


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