The Oxford English Dictionary Is Our Friend!

I am embarrassed to admit how long I read East Coker’s Lines 157 – 161 with a patently wrong meaning of the word “prevent” in mind—as in to preclude.  It is even more embarrassing to admit that in fact I had no idea that there was another, earlier meaning: to anticipate, to provide, to go before.  Naturally, I struggled to make sense of the lines (and forced a warped and unnatural–not to mention false–interpretation of them, which I enacted in a workshop performance of East Coker in 2011! Apologies, all.)

A teacher and mentor admonished me: “Get thee to a dictionary!”  Upon learning the meaning(s) of “prevent,” East Coker’s Lines 157 – 161 instantly resonated with new, clear, and beautiful meaning:

“  The whole earth is our hospital / Endowed by the ruined millionaire / Wherein, if we do well, we shall / Die of the absolute paternal care / That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.”

(Of course, we might consider whether TSE perhaps had both senses of the word in mind in this passage.  “Prevent” in terms not only of God’s anticipating our needs and providing for us, but also in terms of His simultaneously limiting us—in time perhaps?  The “enchainment of past and future” mentioned in Burnt Norton?)

So often, so often(!) the OED has shed light on passages of Four Quartets, which should be no surprise of course.

The OED is our friend!

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