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Utmost Art

Utmost Art: Complexity in the Verse of George Herbert

Mary Ellen Rickey
Copyright Date: 1966
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Utmost Art
    Book Description:

    George Herbert has always been regarded as a man of singular piety and a poet of uncommon technical ability. Until recent times, however, he was usually thought to have written prosodically ingenious but conceptually thin verse. Mary Ellen Rickey, through a close examination of Herbert's poetry, reveals the high concentration of ideas in his verse and the richness of his imagery.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6434-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    George Herbert has fared much better in recent decades than have some other poets whose twentieth-century lives began in the shadow of Donne. Rarely is he held now to be important only as an exemplar of the metaphysical manner, or found wanting because he is unlike Donne; and gradually, he is being dissociated from the company of sweetly solemn versifiers. One would be surprised, I believe, to hear from a contemporary scholar the kind of evaluation of Herbert’s accomplishment which prevailed in the early decades of our century, when a typical commentator remarked that “He is a signpost to be...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Classical Materials
    (pp. 1-58)

    Many Critics in the twentieth century have pronounced George Herbert’s English poetry conspicuously lacking in classical allusions. He is universally extolled the master of homely metaphor, as the recorder of immediate, everyday experiences in terms of everyday objects the language of real speech. For such a master, the consensus goes, recourse to the equipment of the ancients have been incongruous; the “artificiality” of classicism no place in such art. Every major commentator touching upon the subject assumes that Herbert carefully excluded Greek and Roman vestiges fromThe Temple.George Herbert Palmer commends him for having done so, nothing but nine...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Sacred Quibbles
    (pp. 59-91)

    We have seen the ambiguity ofThe Templeֺ’stitle and have remarked the number of Herbert’s themes which it suggests. And just as it presages more than one subject repeatedly treated in the verse, it also sets the pattern for one of the poet’s most important instruments of language, the serious pun.¹ InThe Sonne,Herbert voices strong approval of verbal ambiguity: his defence of the English tongue rests solidly on the opportunities for punning which it affords:

    Let forrain nations of their language boast,

    What fine varietie each tongue affords:

    I like our language, as our men and coast:...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Quiddities: The Titles
    (pp. 92-102)

    No poet writing in our language has made better or more original use of his titles than did George Herbert. The nicety that led Herbert to devise a celebrated variety of stanza forms for the expression of a remarkable range of religious emotions and ideas also led him to give his poems names that have numerous kinds of significance. Many of these have attracted the attention which they deserve. That some of them introduce a metaphorical dimension merely implied in the body of the poem, most readers are aware.The Collar,for example, does not contain overt reference to that...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Time’s Pruning Knife: The Development
    (pp. 103-147)

    All of the poems in “The Church” invite one’s admiration and respect; with such neatness has Herbert devised their structures and with such nice tempering of imagination and judgment has he managed their imagery. The uniformly high level of their quality and their thematic variety makeThe Templethe excellent cross section of the life of the spirit that it is; its heterogeneous parts do indeed knit into a coherent whole. And as a whole, it is quite different from Herbert’s surviving early verse, both from the several collections of Latin poems and the two English sonnets which he sent...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Clothing of the Sonne: Complexity in Apparent Simplicity
    (pp. 148-179)

    Sherlock Holmes might well have been speaking ofThe Templewhen, chatting with Watson about the Bascombe Valley adventure, he commented that it was one of those simple cases which are so extremely difficult. Surface tidiness and an aura of the commonplace are likely to prevent many kinds of close inspection, whether the object at hand is a problem in ratiocination or a collection of poems which read as easily as Herbert’s do. Despite the range and quantity of materials which modern scholarship has revealed inThe Temple,many readers still approach it armed with formulae gleaned from anthology headnotes,...

  10. Appendix: Herbert and William Alabaster
    (pp. 180-184)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-195)
  12. Index
    (pp. 196-200)