LD: This is one of the 20th century’s greatest long poems. To appreciate it, it needs to be read and listened to several times. A single reading will not do. The video is best listened to without looking at the screen, preferably in a darkened room with one’s eyes shut.
The four interlinked poems, all deeply religious, were written in a time of national crisis. The first was completed in the mid-1930s when Hitler was widely seen as a looming threat. The other three poems in the quartet were written in quick succession in the middle of World War Two. This was also a period of personal crisis and poor health for Eliot when he was coming to terms with his own mortality and wondering what the future held in store for mankind.
It should be noted that Eliot, though a devout anglo-Catholic Christian, drew heavily on Eastern philosophy with special emphasis on Buddhism and Vedanta. His religious outlook is in fact a syncretic amalgam of the philosophia perennis, combining Christian mysticism with Oriental mysticism. Here the New Testament meets and combines beautifully with the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads.