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