East Coker is described as a poem of late summer, earth, and faith. As in the other poems of the Four Quartets, each of the five sections holds a theme that is common to each of the poems: time, experience, purgation, prayer, and wholeness. The time theme is stated in the first section as 'In my beginning is my end' which, given proper attention, might prove to lead into the eternal moment.
The second section discusses disorder within nature, which is opposite to the discussion of order within nature found in the second section of Burnt Norton. Also, rational knowledge itself is described as being inadequate for explaining reality. Those who pursue only reason and science are ignorant. Even our progress is not progress as we continue to repeat the same errors as the past.
The third section discusses the rulers of secular society and their flaws. The fourth, which is a formal section, deploys a series of Baroque paradoxes in the context of the Good Friday mass. This past manner is regarded ironically by the poet in the fifth section as he looks back on his period of experimentation in 'the years of l'entre deux guerres' as 'largely wasted'. He welcomes approaching old age as a new opportunity to find renewal, although it might only be a rediscovery of 'what has been lost and found and lost again'.
Despite the poem's doubt and darkness, a note of hope is struck by the first line of the fifth section, 'So here I am in the middle way'. This refers to the first line of Dante's Inferno, 'Midway in our life's journey, I went astray'. Although the descent is predicated on going astray, so also is persevering beyond it into the light.
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