Little Gidding's Ghost


Eliot started writing 'Little Gidding' while recovering from an illness, completing the first draft in July 1941. But he was unhappy with it, considering that the pressure of the air raids on London, had made him write it too quickly, and he set the poem aside, not returning to it until August 1942. He finished it in September and published it in October’s New English Weekly, in which he had also first published the second and third of the Four Quartets, which 'Little Gidding' was intended to conclude.

In the poem’s second section, Eliot switches the emphasis from purgation and Pentecostal fire, using some more personal imagery from his time as an Air Raid Warden during the London Blitz. The short lines and simple rhythm attempt to drum in a fact seldom confronted by many, which is that Life lacks any distinct meaning:

Ash on an old man's sleeve

Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

Dust in the air suspended

Marks the place where a story ended.

But the oxymoronic flavour of the first section soon returns:

Dust inbreathed was a house-

The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,

The death of hope and despair,

This is the death of air.