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Pottery, Music and a Garden

In its opening, “Burnt Norton” (1935) leads us from abstract relativisation of sequential time “into the rose-garden”. The experience is imbued with factual uncertainty: “what might have been,” “the passage which we did not take,” “the door we never opened,” “shall we follow?,” “then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty”. Garden seclusion and the oxymoronic “unheard music hidden in the shrubbery” are part of the scene, a moment out of time.

The poet associates these moments with the simultaneity of opposites such as sound and silence, or movement and stillness. Speech and music need silences, figures on surfaces give the impression of movement, and a sustained musical note one of stillness:

[…] Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the coexistence, […]
(“Burn Norton” V)

In The Confidential Clerk (1953), similar images become central. For Sir Claude, pottery balances the demands of his life as a financier; Colby – his new confidential clerk – is equally transported when he plays the piano. These escapes through art allow them to experience time in a subjective way, to – in Sir Claude’s words – “go through the private door / Into the real world”. It is coherent with the transcendent vision of Four Quartets that this dimension should be more real than the predictable aspects of everyday life.

Lucasta refers to Colby’s music as his secret garden. Yet, he wishes “God would walk in my garden,” so as “not to be alone there”. Similarly, the pleasure that Sir Claude derives from pottery “takes the place of religion”. As a result, their “real world” of artistic fulfilment feels as unreal as the surface of life. If Sir Claude has pottery and Colby music, Eggerson – former confidential clerk – has gardening. His actual garden at Joshua Park is Colby’s ideal: it is not lonely and unreal, but “a part of one single world”.

Early in the play, Eggerson invites Colby to see his garden in the spring. He also predicts that “some day,” his replacement will “want a garden of his own”. Colby finally decides to move in with the Eggersons at Joshua Park and make a living as an organist, unifying both his worlds as real. Furthermore, Colby’s new life also materialises the ethereal rose-garden of “Burnt Norton”.


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