In 1926, the poet T. S. Eliot, a man of immense learning and relentless thought, entered the Anglican Church and became a Christian. “Oh dear,” said the novelist Virginia Woolf. “How can we invite him to our parties now?” For she and her husband, like all of the people in their fashionable set, were atheists. For Eliot to become a Christian, in her mind, was worse than, let’s say, if he had embezzled money from his bank, or if he had gotten tangled in a more lurid scandal. Things like that could be shrugged away. But you couldn’t shrug Christ away. What Eliot did crossed the line between the respectable and the despised. Why, the next thing you know, he could be at a Christmas service in Manchester singing hymns with ironworkers and their hard-handed wives and all their broods of children.
Eliot understood that divide as well as anyone. He’d written poems of despair, like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and been cheered for it. Now he began to write poems of hope, and …
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