(For the intro to this series, go here.)
I am not doing this series in any kind of coherent order, but just as it comes. So first up, perhaps oddly, is some poetry. I am not a poetry critic, I am not even very knowledgeable about it, but I offer this as a personal reflection.
It's often difficult to say with any precision what a great poem is "about"; perhaps if we could do so there wouldn't be any need for the poem to exist. Four Quartets, a cycle of linked poems written by Eliot before and during the Second World War, are preoccupied with ideas that for various reasons I find very resonant: time, eternity, regret, memory, and the struggle to retrieve from the conditions of modernity some ongoing sense of stability, of rootedness and of a place within history. The Quartets appeal to me at least in part because they have given me ways of understanding and shaping and articulating my own thoughts and feelings about these complex themes. They are not easy to read, and defy "understanding" in any syllogistic or mechanical sense, but - crucially - neither are they deliberately obscure in the way of some Modernist works. Eliot is simply striving to do justice to the subject matter rather than being difficult for the sake of it or showing off his own cleverness. The references to Eastern mysticism, for example, are integrated into the philosophical arc of the poem, rather than being casually thrown in as part of a try-hard eclecticism.