While in my first reading of Four Quartets (done for a class about Modernist poetry and WWII), I focused primarily on how the poems reflected Eliot’s thoughts on the war and England, I noticed in my second reading more of how they reflect some of his earlier works. In particular, “East Coker” this time made me think more of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” especially stanza one’s last few lines beginning with “Houses live and die” after already establishing that “In my beginning is my end,” points reinforced in part V when he talks about failure, though it also seemed as though his claim that “Old men ought to be explorers” was perhaps meant to be a more optimistic counterpoint to the ideas he put forth in the earlier poem by suggesting a potential solution to Prufrock’s problems (or just reinforcing the sense that the Prufrock idea is not an uncommon one in his mind and that it has only become more apparent with this generation, while his references to children in “Burnt Norton” and “Little Gidding” were I guess just meant to reinforce his cyclical approach to time). I also got a better sense of Yeats’s influence in this poem and “Burnt Norton” with his references to “The dancers” and “the dance,” though I otherwise didn’t really think of any of the quartets so much in terms of other writers’ influences (I was thinking upon rereading “Little Gidding” that the “dead master” was also a reference to Yeats, though I couldn’t remember if that was actually considered the case or just an occasional interpretation), though I think I could see the thematic similarities to “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (especially near the end of “The Dry Salvages”) or Dante’s work.
I did still get a sense of Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” ideas being put into practice, especially with the Middle English part of “East Coker” and its last part, in which Eliot seems a bit more lamenting about the whole concept, by discussing what “has already been discovered/Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope to emulate,” as though he can only write this way because so much has just been done and can’t be matched (as opposed to way Woolf set up her arguments in A Room of One’s Own as though there was still more that could be accomplished), though he then insists that “there is only the trying.” But “The Dry Salvages,” on the other hand, probably reminded me most of “The Waste Land” with its references to drowning and different forms of religion. Though I again tried to avoid interpreting the poems through Eliot’s personal life (which I hadn’t known so much about on my first reading), I figured that his religious views were probably a greater influence on this work. In this respect I’d interpreted that apple-tree referenced in the last stanza of “Little Gidding” as one that could have been meant as religious symbol suggesting corruption, or lack of change in human nature, along with the reference to “The bitter apple and the bite in the apple” near the end of part II of “The Dry Salvages.”