The Unknown Cloud behind the Yellow Fog: The Medieval Religious Journey in T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

By Kenneth DiMaggio.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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By middle age, American/British poet T.S. Eliot had adopted an orthodox view of the world, reflecting the Church of England. Such works that reflect Eliot’s religious vision are his poems in Four Quartets, in his essay, “Christianity and Culture” and in his play, Murder in the Cathedral. Yet Eliot’s religious vision and influence on his work can also be seen to begin much earlier, particularly in his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Upon an initial reading, Prufrock appears to be a wanderer in a world that has lost its religious faith; someone who wishes he had the conviction of “Lazarus, come back from the dead, /Come back to tell you all”. Yet Prufrock’s cynicism, despair, and doubt often reflects the religious and mystical vision posed in the 14th century English work The Cloud of Unknowing. This work, whose author is unknown (but believed to have been a priest) often mirrors the spiritual crisis and abandonment Prufrock undergoes in Eliot’s poem. Furthermore, this 14th century English text highlights how such doubt and crisis is rooted in religious faith. In this light then, Prufrock’s journey is a religious one. This early poem may not have the assured religious conviction of Eliot’s mature work, but “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (and refracted through a medieval English religious work) is where T.S. Eliot can be said to have begun his religious journey in literature.

Keywords: T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, The Cloud of Unknowing

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.35-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 206.236KB).

Kenneth DiMaggio

Associate Professor of Humanities, Humanities, Capital Community College, Hartford, USA

I am an Associate Professor of Humanities at Capital Community College in Hartford Connecticut. CCC is an urban community college where students are often reading at a level that is below traditional college course work, thus making literacy a prime issue that constantly needs to be addressed. As a teacher of Literature and Writing, I am constantly looking for texts and new teaching pedagogies to help address the above issue.