THE FOUR QUARTETS: T.S. Eliot’s Words Made Flesh

The promotional blurb read

In a performance that “embodies an exquisite existential tension suspended between self and poetry,” John Farrell’s recitation of T.S. Eliot’s poetic masterwork brings us into the calm eye of Eliot’s turbulent philosophical and religious questing. Deeply concerned with humankind’s approach to the divine, Four Quartets is an extended meditation on our existence within and without the flux of time and place, where our ultimate goal is “to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My wife and I attended a performance.

The experience affords audiences an opportunity to immerse themselves in these 1,000 lines of poetry, spoken from memory, and renew their understanding of one the 20th century’s most exceptional poets.

There is probably no more difficult task for a performer than to recite poetry for an audience. Most poetry is composed for the reader rather than for the hearer; it allows the reader time to stop for reflection before rejoining the text; it allows the reader to backtrack to review what he has just read; it allows the reader pause to wonder, ponder, and make connections with other things before continuing on the way.

When poetry is recited the readers’ opportunities are eliminated. The sounds go on, with or without the listener. When poetry is recited, the visual stimulation moves from text on a page to the performer himself. Too much by the performer distracts and limits the poetry to a particular interpretation; too little leaves the reader adrift without necessary visual cues to frame the sound for comprehension.

An evening of poetry is the performer’s ultimate challenge.

An evening of T.S. Eliot’s poetry is the ultimate challenge’s ultimate challenge.

John Farrell not only meets the challenges, Mr. Farrell opens the text to the hearers’ minds in ways beyond the ability of the solitary reader. He does not act. He does not impersonate. He presents the words seriously, intelligently, and respectfully. He gives the words space to work.

As a Christian, Mr. Eliot believed that the Word was the vehicle God used to create the universe. God breathed, and things happened. Jesus spoke and the blind saw, demons fled, the seas stilled.

Mr. Farrell respects Mr. Eliot’s belief in the power of the word to work wonders. Seeing and hearing Mr. Farrell is to witness this wonder, this power, and this beauty of the Word.


The Four Quartets is presented by The Figures of Speech Theatre.



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