That Eliot has been met with both palm branches and nails does not mean (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) we should campaign for his resurrection. “Last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” he wrote in Little Gidding, “And next year’s words await another voice.” His project, furthermore, is being pursued less by “the next Eliot” than by many religiously attuned stylists like him, such as (to name just a few) Scott Cairns, Christian Wiman, or Malcolm Guite. Nevertheless, the scorched earth of Eliot studies has given rise to surprising fecundity of late, and this is a good year to take notice. In a post-secular academic climate where there is much talk of the “religious turn,” Eliot’s career is being cast in a different, stained-glass light. Barry Spurr’s ”˜Anglo-Catholic in Religion’ T. S. Eliot and Christianity is typical of the change, showing Eliot’s Christianity to be more paramount than parenthetical. For Spurr, the proposition that Eliot could be understood apart from his faith is “like taking away the gods from the classical authors.” Spurr unveils how the Anglican liturgy is the inspiration behind so many lines once chalked up to Eliot’s isolated poetic genius.
Reading Spurr’s monograph a few years back has given me the freedom to approach Eliot’s poetry in a new, and frankly more straightforward way: as a prayer manual in poetic form, similar to the Philokalia, Walter Hilton’s Ladder of Perfection,or Ascent of Mount Carmel.