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Finally, the poem moves to a loss of the phantoms and the perpetual possibility and a recapitulation of the first movement:

There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.


Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

With these spectres, the “we” of the poem moves in “formal pattern” (the dance perhaps, some sort of joint enterprise).

This dream scene moves into “the empty alley”. And with this movement, it seems we have moved into the world of Eliot’s earlier poems, Prufrock, Preludes, and Rhapsody on a Windy Night, the grim modern city rather than the still garden with unheard music.

The imagery at this point becomes deathly (I had not thought death an undone so many):

                        into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,

A “box circle”: using google n-gram, I believe that Eliot has coined a phrase. This is perhaps a paradox: a circle cannot be squared. The impossible “squaring a circle”. A trap, a box canyon? I take it for an impossible place.

And in this into this impossible place we have a scene of death: the pool is drained, dry, rotting (brown edged). In his poem The Waste Land in the section, “What the Thunder Said” the dry rock is the image of a dead land. And so the ghostly band has come into a city-scape, and to an impossible place of death. Where there should be water (a pool) there is none.

At this point, we come to a series of images which I cannot help but relate to Wallace Stevens. In “The Glass of Water” we read the lines

                                    Light

Is the lion that comes down to drink. There

And in that state, the glass is a pool.

Ruddy are his eye and ruddy are his claws

When light comes down to wet his frothy jaws.

I am not saying that Eliot was thinking of Stevens (Eliot’s poem was earlier that Parts of the World), just that it resonates. The lines of Eliot read:

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.

Photo by Marné Lierman

Here in the midst of a dead land (a dry pool) sunlight entered and produced light. Living in a very sunny place all year round, sunlight would make me think of a dry land, but living in England, I imagine sunlight would be associated with the production of life. A lotus would be exotic to one in England. The whole scene then seems like a wonder of life exploding.

This spectral world is becoming quite real and full: the “they” are there looking into the world, too. It seems that the whole is on the verge of becoming not merely a possibility but real. And then

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

The cloud interrupts the revelry. It is whatever prevents the imagination from persisting. I don’t know that it has any particular “outside” reference: if the sunlight is the imaginative work of creating the scene, then the cloud is that which interrupts.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

This is curious: the bird says go! Why? Because the leaves are full of children (just as the shrubs were filled with music). Are the children dangerous in some way? Why? It seems the children are again the intrusion of something more intense. In the parallel lines it is reality. By means of the parallelism I take the children to be the intrusion of reality.

Human kind

Cannot bear very much reality

This speculation and possibility of the past is on the verge of becoming real. 

Or is it that this revelry is disclosing something about reality which has not yet known? What is the reality which we cannot bear?

Having comes to this point, we return to the inevitable present:

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

There is a greater will of some sort which always bears upon reality and which determines the present.

When I come to this point, I wonder if more than a meditation upon time and imagination and regret, it is also a meditation upon freedom and what must be.

He has brought me to think about these things, but not as in an essay or argument. Rather than telling me about them, as a poet, he is calling me to look at them. Whether he receives a clearer resolution will depend upon what comes next.