FOUR QUARTETS, THE CULMINATING WORK OF ELIOT'S LATER CAREER, SIGNED IN "LITTLE GIDDING" BY T.S. ELIOT
ELIOT, T.S. Four Quartets: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. London: Faber and Faber, 1940-42. Four pamphlets. Octavo, original green, yellow, blue, and mauve paper wrappers. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $15,800.
First separately published editions of each of Eliot's Four Quartets, in their original paper wrappers, signed by Eliot on the title page of "Little Gidding."
The four parts of Eliot's celebrated Four Quartets made their first appearances between 1936 and 1942. "Burnt Norton," based upon lines Eliot excised from his verse drama Murder in the Cathedral, was first published in the poet's Collected Poems (1936). Later, Eliot decided that "Burnt Norton" should not stand alone and began composing three additional "quartets," the poems aspiring to the structured, harmonious condition of music. It would be the fourth part, "Little Gidding," that would prove to be the most challenging to complete. "The difficulty was that he had started work on the poem before he had adequately prepared himself, although his haste was understandable. For the previous ten months London and the provincial cities had been bombed night after night [and although] the worst of the blitz was now over, no one knew it then, and at this perilous juncture in the war Eliot had been anxiously writing against time… he experienced the horror of the German raids: the nightly bombings, the streets blocked with rubble, the glow in the evenings as fires burned throughout the city, and the peculiarly dank smell of ruined buildings; it was this which provoked fear, precluded concentration on other things, and destroyed the will to work." His brief service as an air-raid warden provided the background of one of the greatest sequences in the poem, his meeting with a ghost-like, half-glimpsed figure "near the ending of interminable night," but his health was severely affected by his efforts and his general anxiety at the events around him, one friend noting at one point that "he seemed to be holding himself together, almost as if he were a piece of riveted china." The final part of Four Quartets "was by far the most laboriously produced of the sequence; there are some five drafts, and thirteen separate typescripts, extant." Finally, in September of 1942, he finished. "In 'Little Gidding' and Four Quartets as a whole, we see the outlines of a tradition, beautifully limned but shimmering like an hallucination before it disappears and the sirens of a catastrophic European war intrude. The ambivalence between the formal order of the poem and troubled intimations of its own fragility, between its direct eloquence and the presence of Eliot's private memories concealed beneath the surface of that eloquence, gives the poem its power" (Peter Ackroyd, T.S. Eliot). These—"East Coker," "The Dry Salvages," "Little Gidding"—appeared in the journal New English Weekly in 1940, 1941 and 1942 respectively. Faber and Faber then published each separately in pamphlet form to make the first collection of the Four Quartets as a uniform set. Although separately issued and each an individual poem, the Four Quartets as finally realized are parts of a unified work loosely based upon the scheme of the four seasons and the four elements. Named after American or English villages and landscapes, the poems are meditations upon conflict and peace, poetry and philosophy, time and eternity. The first of Eliot's poems to reach a wide public, their celebration of England and Anglicanism was seen as a unifying force in the besieged England of World War Two. "Little Gidding" is the first issue, sewn rather than wire-stitched. "East Coker" is technically the third edition, as usual, but is often referred to as the first as it is the first Faber edition and is preceded only by two extremely rare New English Weekly Supplement printings. Gallup A36c, A37, A39, A42. Very scarce New English Weekly printing of "The Dry Salvages," dated 27 February 1941, laid in. Initials on endpaper of "Little Gidding."
Endpapers expertly reiforced at fold in "The Dry Salvages," only minor soiling and minimal toning to edges of wrappers. Overall, near-fine condition, quite scarce signed.