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The Shadow of Eternity

The Shadow of Eternity: Belief and Structure in Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne

Sharon Cadman Seelig
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Shadow of Eternity
    Book Description:

    The poetry of Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne represents "an attempt to shape their lives and verse around the fact of divine presence and influence," writes Sharon Seelig. The relationship between belief and expression in these three metaphysical poets is the subject of this deeply perceptive study.

    Each of these poets held to some extent the notion of dual reality, of the world as indicative of a higher reality, but their responses to this tradition vary greatly -- from the ongoing struggle between God and the poet ofThe Temple, which finally transforms the materials of everyday life and worship; to the more difficult unity ofSilex Scintillans, with its tension between illumination and resignation; to the ecstatic proclamations of Thomas Traherne, whose sense of divine reality at first seems so strong as to destroy the characteristic metaphysical tension between this world and the next. Seelig's study proceeds from individual poems to the whole work, exploring the relation of cosmology and religious experience to poetic form.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5724-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    IN the years following the rediscovery of metaphysical poetry in the twentieth century, it has become clear that the abundance of definitions and descriptions produced by that initial enthusiasm reflect at least as much the preoccupations of our own time as of that of John Donne. As Frank Kermode has argued, readers who earnestly seek an undissociated sensibility to satisfy their own needs and theories will surely find one, whether in the works of Donne or Milton or Dante.¹ But in our modern preference for wit and cynicism, we have often not fully understood how deeply serious and functional the...

  5. I Between Two Worlds: HERBERT
    (pp. 7-43)

    SINCE the publication ofThe Templein 1633, many readers have tried to see some pattern in this complex and mystifying body of poems, or if not, to impose one on it. One of the boldest and probably the most vulnerable of these, George Herbert Palmer, arranging the poems by subject matter into twelve groups, wrote: “I believe that such a classification according to the subject matter of the poems, a classification which is also largely chronological, will be found more generally convenient than the ancient arbitrary order; and I even hope that it may render the consecutive reading of...

  6. II The Shadow of Time: VAUGHAN
    (pp. 44-102)

    IF THE poems ofThe Templetease and entice the reader, first allowing false perceptions of order and later leading him to see the truth that shapes not only Herbert’s poems but his life, Vaughan’sSilex Scintillansmay well seem without any coherent plan at all. Whereas Herbert interpolated later poems with those of the Williams Manuscript to formThe Templeas we know it, Vaughan simply added his more recent poems to the unsold sheets of the first edition, which with a new title page and preface became the second edition of 1655.¹ One can detect in Herbert at...

  7. III The Splendor of Eternity: TRAHERNE
    (pp. 103-142)

    THOMAS TRAHERNE, shoemaker’s son of Hereford and Bachelor of Divinity of Oxford, was, like Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan, a poet for whom light was the shadow of God. More than any of the other metaphysical poets, more even than Vaughan, Traherne seems to have attained the illuminating vision of the divine. In consequence, some critics have preferred to call him, like his predecessor, a mystic, while others deny that he attained the highest unitive state.¹ But though the evidence of ecstatic experience is greater for Traherne than for Vaughan, the usefulness of such information for judging his poetry is distinctly...

  8. IV The Endless Sphere: TRAHERNE
    (pp. 143-177)

    THE Dobell Folio, which, as we have seen, has a significant structure, one that reflects the movement of the poet’s mind rather than external or logical categories, has been judged by most recent critics of Traherne to be the superior version of his poems and closest to his original intentions; but we cannot ignore the other major manuscript of his poems, British Museum Burney MS. 392. This manuscript, entitled “Poems of Felicity,” is a volume of sixty-one poems prepared for the press by Philip Traherne but never published. It contains twenty-two poems already present in the Dobell Folio, one (“News”)...

  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. 178-178)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-190)
  11. Index
    (pp. 191-196)