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Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric

Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric

Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 564
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  • Book Info
    Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric
    Book Description:

    Barbara Lewalski argues that the Protestant emphasis on the Bible as requiring philological and literary analysis fostered a fully developed theory of biblical aesthetics defining both poetic art and spiritual truth.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4770-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Barbara Kiefer Lewalski

    This study explores the thesis that the spectacular flowering of English religious lyric poetry in the seventeenth century occurred in response to a new and powerful stimulus to the imagination—the pervasive Protestant emphasis upon the Bible as a book, as God’s Word encapsulated in human words and in the linguistic features of a variety of texts. Viewed in this light, as a book requiring philological and literary analysis, the Bible became normative for poetic art as well as for spiritual truth. The argument proceeds by extrapolating from contemporary Protestant materials a substantial and complex poetics of the religious lyric,...

  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  5. List of Emblems
    (pp. xiv-2)
  6. CHAPTER 1 “Is there in truth no beautie?”: Protestant Poetics and the Protestant Paradigm of Salvation
    (pp. 3-28)

    Most sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poets and theorists of poetry would have met Herbert’s rhetorical question from “Jordan I” by affirming as positively as he could wish that truth is indeed the proper subject of poetry, that beauty and truth are finally one. But the key terms of that question may carry diverse meanings, reflecting quite different assumptions as to just how poetry conveys truth. One prominent strain of Renaissance theory and poetic practice, described in recent studies of Renaissance poetics by John M. Steadman, Michael Murrin, Don Cameron Allen, and S. K. Heninger, presents the poet as maker of fictions...

  7. PART I Biblical Poetics

    • CHAPTER 2 Biblical Genre Theory: Precepts and Models for the Religious Lyric
      (pp. 31-71)

      Protestant poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries looked to the Bible and its commentators both for genre theory and for generic models for the religious lyric. For most other kinds of poems, classical genre theory and classical exemplars provided direction, but the poets had not that resource for their religious lyrics. Though classical hymns to the gods were constantly cited in Renaissance defenses of poetry as evidence of the seriousness, the antiquity, and the didactic function of poetry,¹ Christian poets felt some compunction about writing praises of the Christian God in the forms used to praise Venus or Apollo....

    • CHAPTER 3 The Poetic Texture of Scripture: Tropes and Figures for the Religious Lyric
      (pp. 72-110)

      When John Donne exclaimed, “MyGod, myGod, Thou art … afigurative, ametaphoricall God,"¹ he was voicing an intense concern with biblical imagery and biblical tropes entirely characteristic of his age. Although attention to the rhetorical figures in the biblical text had characterized Christian exegesis from the patristic ages onward, the Reformation brought in its wake both a greater emphasis upon, and a more systematic analysis of, the tropes and schemes that made biblical language radically poetic. Theoretical grounds for this new emphasis are to be found in the Protestant view that the literal meaning of scripture is...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Biblical Symbolic Mode: Typology and the Religious Lyric
      (pp. 111-144)

      That the ancient mode of Christian symbolism we call typology was alive and well after the Reformation and prominent in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theology—and literature—is not now a matter of much controversy.¹ What is not sufficiently recognized is the fact that the medieval exegetical principles which created typology as a hermeneutical system underwent during the Protestant Reformation some significant changes in emphasis, and that these changes profoundly affect the uses of typology throughout this period. These changes contribute directly to the importance of typological symbolism for the religious lyrics of the period, as a means for probing and...

  8. PART II Ancillary Genres

    • CHAPTER 5 Protestant Meditation: Kinds, Structures, and Strategies of Development for the Meditative Lyric
      (pp. 147-178)

      Supplementing the influence of biblical poetics upon the major religious lyric poems of the seventeenth century were certain popular literary and sub-literary genres which explore the spiritual life. Prominent among these ancillary genres was meditation, as Louis Martz’s seminal studies have demonstrated. It is important not to overstate the influence: to label and to approach all or most of this poetry as poetry of meditation¹ does some violence to the variety of religious lyric kinds provided for in contemporary genre theory and evident in the lyric collections. Yet meditation—especially Protestant meditation in its various modes—is clearly important for...

    • CHAPTER 6 Protestant Emblematics: Sacred Emblems and Religious Lyrics
      (pp. 179-212)

      Emblems—curious amalgams of picture, motto, and poem—are a minor literary kind which contributed significantly to theories about, and particular formulations of, poetic language and symbolism in the seventeenth-century religious lyric. Knowledge of the ways in which Renaissance emblem books influenced sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature has been notably advanced by the comprehensive theoretical and bibliographical work of Mario Praz, W. S. Heckscher, and the Henkel and SchöneHandbuch, as well as by specialized studies of particular aspects of this tradition and its effect upon particular poets.¹ My concern here is with sacred and moral emblem books, especially those composed...

    • Figures
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 7 Art and the Sacred Subject: Sermon Theory, Biblical Personae, and Protestant Poetics
      (pp. 213-250)

      George Herbert was the most articulate of the major seventeenth-century religious poets on the issue of what kind of “art” may be used in presenting religious subject matter, but the question was of obvious importance to other devotional poets as well. Though the poets I am considering here are often assumed to belong to the same “Metaphysical” school, it is clear that their poetic responses to this central question are very different—ranging from the witty and audacious wordplay of Donne, to the disclaimers of art paradoxically associated with elaborately crafted verses in Herbert, to the constant use of biblical...

  9. PART III The Flowering of the English Religious Lyric

    • CHAPTER 8 John Donne: Writing after the Copy of a Metaphorical God
      (pp. 253-282)

      Though Donne’s sermons contributed vitally to the emerging Protestant poetics, not all of hisDivine Poemsare best explained in its terms. No doubt this fact helps explain why contemporaries referred to Herbert rather than Donne as the wellspring of the new school of English divine poetry. Nevertheless, though the dating of Donne’s poems is often uncertain,¹ in general his religious lyrics reflect the Protestant poetics more and more fully, from early work to late.

      At first Donne seemed little concerned with the ideas about genre deriving from Protestant poetics. His genres for religious poetry were often derived from secular...

    • CHAPTER 9 George Herbert: Artful Psalms from the Temple in the Heart
      (pp. 283-316)

      If we find in Donne’s poems a selective and progressive employment of several features important to the new Protestant aesthetics, George Herbert’s volume of religious verse,The Temple, develops this aesthetics fully and harmoniously, as the very foundation of his poetry. How much Herbert may have been influenced by Donne is impossible to determine, but certainly there would have been some association through Donne’s close friendship with Herbert’s mother, Magdalen Herbert. And Donne himself testified to the relationship by sending Herbert one of his emblem rings, together with a personal verse letter in Latin.¹ Moreover, the poetics implicit in the...

    • CHAPTER 10 Henry Vaughan: Pleading in Groans of My Lord’s Penning
      (pp. 317-351)

      According to Vaughan’s own testimony, George Herbert’s example was largely responsible for making him a religious man and a religious poet. In his book of meditations,Mount of Olives(1652), Vaughan quotes or commends several of Herbert’s poems.¹ In a preface added in 1655 toSilex Scintillanshe praises Herbert as the first reformer effectively to convert lyric poetry from lewd to sacred uses, he identifies Herbert as a primary model for “this kinde ofHagiography, or holy writing,” and he proclaims himself one of the many “piousConverts” gained by Herbert’s “holylifeandverse.”² Vaughan also appropriated the...

    • CHAPTER 11 Thomas Traherne: Naked Truth, Transparent Words, and the Renunciation of Metaphor
      (pp. 352-387)

      Traherne included extracts from Donne’s sermons in hisChurch’s Year-Book, as well as the whole of Herbert’s poem, “To all Angels and Saints.”¹ Moreover, Traherne’s poems, rediscovered in 1896 after falling into oblivion for more than two centuries, were first ascribed to Vaughan.² Yet despite these links, both Traherne’s theology and his art appear to set him apart from the major strain of seventeenth-century Protestant poetry and poetics.

      His most striking departure from the Protestant consensus is his ecstatic celebration of infant innocence, which all but denies original sin as an hereditary taint, ascribing its effects chiefly to corruption by...

    • CHAPTER 12 Edward Taylor: Lisps of Praise and Strategies for Self-Dispraise
      (pp. 388-426)

      That Edward Taylor’s literary debts to Herbert are both profound and pervasive is a critical commonplace. Taylor’s editor Donald Stanford declares thatThe Templewas probably the greatest single poetic influence on Taylor, and Louis Martz observes that “like Henry Vaughan, Edward Taylor appears to have a mind saturated with Herbert’s poetry.”¹ There are several more or less obvious allusions and echoes: Herbert’s phrase, “crumme of dust” from “The Temper (I)” occurs five times in Taylor’s “Prologue,” and the opening lines, “Lord, Can a Crumb of Dust the Earth outweigh, / Outmatch all mountains, nay the Chrystall Sky?” especially recall...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 427-428)

    This analysis of the aesthetics governing a major strain of religious lyric poetry from Donne to Taylor intends to set up some landmarks in a vast terrain, much of which requires further exploration. For one thing, we ought to discover how far other religious lyrics of the period participate in the Protestant poetics here described. How well do these terms accommodate Herrick’sNoble Numbers?Or the few but impressive religious lyrics of Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, or even Abraham Cowley? Or the vast quantity of minor devotional verse by Protestant poets such as Robert Aylett, Nicholas Breton, William Drummond of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 429-506)
  12. Index
    (pp. 507-536)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 537-537)