Religious Iconography in T. S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday

Anna Riso, Yasmine Shamma

Abstract


Approximately halfway through Eliot’s career, he shifts from a secular focus in his writings to a
religious focus. This can partially be attributed to his baptism and confirmation in 1927, which
marked his entrance into the Anglo-Saxon Catholic Church. All of his religious poems, written
after his baptism and confirmation, express and struggle with doubt, but this paper focuses on Ash
Wednesday. This paper discusses how religious iconography is manipulated and interrogated in T.
S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday, and its relationship to religious doubt. The icons used include the
image of the veiled Lady, whose identity is never revealed, though several critics have speculated
that she is the Virgin Mary, Emily Hale, Beatrice, or any composite of the above. Forms of prayer
are also investigated and integrated with new ideas. The speaker’s personal doubts are revealed
through the interrogation and the new images that he presents throughout the poem.


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