Compare St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mt Carmel, Bk 1, Ch 13, Nos. 10-13:

10. As a conclusion to these counsels and rules it would be appropriate to repeat the verses in The Ascent of the Mount, which are instructions for climbing to the summit, the high state of union. Although in the drawing [not here shown] we admittedly refer to the spiritual and interior aspect, we also deal with the spirit of imperfection existent in the sensory and exterior part of the soul, as is evident by the two ways, one on each side of that path that leads to perfection. Consequently these verses will here bear reference to the sensory part. Afterward, in the second division of this night, they may be interpreted in relationship to the spiritual part.

11. The verses are:

To reach satisfaction in all
desire satisfaction in nothing.
To come to possess all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.

To come to enjoy what you have not
you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by a way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
you must go by a way in which you possess not.
To come to be what you are not
you must go by a way in which you are not.

A Method to Avoid Impeding the All

12. When you delay in something
you cease to rush toward the all.
For to go from the all to the all
you must deny yourself of all in all.
And when you come to the possession of the all
you must possess it without wanting anything.
Because if you desire to have something in all
your treasure in God is not purely your all.

13. In this nakedness the spirit finds its quietude and rest. For in coveting nothing, nothing tires it by pulling it up and nothing oppresses it by pushing it down, because it is in the center of its humility. When it covets something, by this very fact it tires itself.

Yet Eliot's debt to John goes beyond such paraphrases.

Since Eliot first discovered John's works while at Harvard, was still interested enough to cite them as a "devotional monument" in "Lancelot Andrewes" (1926) and to quote them ironically in an epigraph to Sweeney Agonistes (1926-7), as well as to review an abridged version of John's works in 1934, it is more than probable that he continued reading John in depth and with understanding. Dame Helen Gardner tells us that when Eliot was writing "East Coker" (1940) he used E. Allison Peers's translation of John's works. Eliot's preoc cupation with Christian mysticism is evident throughout the corpus of his religious works. Murder in the Cathedral, for example, presents the inward journey of the protagonist, as he picks his way among ever more subtle and dangerous temptations towards his goal in "the night of God."60

In fact, as the author of this comment shows, throughout Four Quartets Eliot "uses John of the Cross, not as a theologian, but as an eclectic poet familiar with mysticism," borrowing "the scheme, concepts, images, and symbols derived from John."61 [back]


59. T. S. Eliot, "East Coker," III, in Four Quartets (London: Faber & Faber, 1944), 20.

60. Corona Sharp, "'The Unheard Music': T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and John of the Cross, University of Toronto Quarterly 51 (Spring, 1982): 264.

61. Ibid., 276.