Clarke 1997

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Clarke, Elizabeth. Theory and Theology in George Herbert's Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
"Before Herbert's volume, no English poet had dared to claim that his work could be labelled 'Sacred Poems'." (8) -- later Vaughan and Harvey adopt his title

Kenneth Fincham, four categories in early Stuart Church: radical Puritans, moderate Puritans, conformist Calvinists, anti-Calvinists

  • Herbert is in 3rd category (10)
  • "Herbert's attitude to Church authority as expressed in The Country Parson is deeply conformist, which is why Barnabas Oley published it in 1652 as an example of ideal Anglican practice: the stress on 'decency' and 'order' in the chapter on church furnishing, and the resonance of the words 'Authority' and 'uniformity' throughout the work, would have endeared him to Laud." (10)

Herbert's via media -- "a complex synthesis of various elements in the European Christian tradition, rather than a narrow theological position" (13)

Clarke disagrees with Stewart 1986 that the Harmonies are key to understanding Herbert's work; "These wholly unremarkable biblical compilations seem to me unable to yield the hermeneutic Stewart tries to derive from them." (13-4)

Savonarola, St. Francois de Sales, Juan de Valdes: intellectual/theological contexts for Herbert's poetry (15)

models of the Christian poet, from Platonic ideals to Sidney (21) -- moving the readers to virtue through energeia

"At the beginning of the seventeenth century, then, Herbert was formulating his role as a Christian poet within a nexus of influences whereby assurance of salvation, the inspiration of authorship, the sinful passions of the flesh, and the power of effective rhetoric are all signified by internal impulses, or 'motions'. In practices, it is almost impossible to separate the discourse of theology from the discourse of rhetoric in this period." (23)

Herbert and Savonarola: The Rhetoric of Radical Simplicity

"Savonarola has two main quarrels with poetry, both to do with authorship. The first is its source: most poetry is pagan, and therefore inspired by the Devil. howver, there is also something in the nature of the public production of words that is in itself deeply suspect, and self-publicizing. As Herbert would have put it, the self becomes woven into the sense." (30)


Herbert -- using "'things of ordinary use' as metaphors to explain the catechism to his less intelligent parishoners" (33)

for Savonarola, "those who are simplex are called so because heart and words and deeds are in harmony." (34)

Country Parson encourages the Parson to read the bible and make "a diligent Collation of Scripture with Scripture" (qtd 37)

  • "In this view of Scripture Herbert is very close to Savonarola, who sees in the Bible the working out of his principle of simplicitas, unity in diversity" (37)
  • "It was from a very similar conviction that the Harmonies, or Concordances, were produced at Little Gidding, showing how the Gospel writers could be combined into one master-narrative, and how Chronicles could be harmonized with Judges. Herbert, who loved the Harmony that was sent to him, celebrates this very concept in the second of his sonnets on 'The H. Scriptures'. His metaphor for the profound unity of the Bible is very reminiscent of Savonarola: it is the same principles as orders the stars." (37)
"It is in truth, not words, that the beauty of the poetry consists [for Herbert]: the words that describe the true things must be clear in order that their beauty will shine through." (47)
"In both sermons and poetry, then, the words simply copy out what is already written on the heart, a process of which Savonarola would have thoroughly approved." (50)
"it is possible to see the careful correspondence between subject and form that characterizes Herbert's poetry as an example of simplicitas, the principle of integrity that can draw together complex elements such as typography, forms, and meaning into harmony." (61)

Moxon, "dressing" words in the physical medium of typography" (ii.212) (62)

poem in memory of his mother, who taught him to write (66)

An Introduction to the Devoute Life and The Temple: 'The Poetry of Meditation' or 'Private Ejaculations'?

Ferrar's translation of Carbo's Introductio Ad Catechismum, approved by Herbert but not for publication

"I will be showing that the attitude to religious language represented in An Introduction to the Devoute Life is actually alien to Reformation spirituality , and to much of Herbert's poetic practice, although there are superficial similarities in style, tone, and occasionally, form." (74)

St Francois "saw no incompatibility between the poetic muse and the Holy Spirit" (75)

  • rhetorical strategies are devotional (94-5)
"In the highly finished, seamless discourse which is poetry, and particularly Herbert's poetry, there could be no trace of God's presence: if God had successfully copmleted the human poem, the reader would not be able to see the join." (98)

not clear if Herbert chose the subtitle for the Temple; it doesn't appear i neither manuscript; if he didn't, probably Ferrar did, suggesting a more secure link to de Sales (102)

English use of "ejaculations" "seems to be characteristic of a Reformed doctrine of prayer" (103)

"It is the architecture of human consciousness that is the real subject-matter of Herbert's poetry, and the poems show how it feels for a human being to be reconstructed as the temple for the Holy Spirit." (111)
"the nature of the persona created in The Temple is of an author whose constant preoccupation is legitimate use of language. The most compelling conclusion for a reader is that an author who representes his own consciousness in this way is most likely to resemble his rhetorical creation." (115)
"The 'ejaculatory' poets were of the same political persuasion as Cosin: i would suggest tha tHerbert's lyrics offered them an alternative model of divine inspiration to the disturbing spontaneity of radical 'inspired' discourse in the Interregnum." (126)

'Ejaculations' and the Poetry of the Psalms: Herbert's Role as Contemporary Psalmist

"Herbert's poems are not about God as an entity outside of the subject: they are set, however, in the only place God can be known, the temple where He dwells and is worshipped, which is the human heart." (138)
"The Christian poet can copy Love because it has already been written on his heart, and become that copia which Erasmus envisaged for the Christian writer, a plenitude produced by dynamic inward imitations of Scripture, a living library." (139)

penetential psalms, a history of English translation (141)

"It is a Protestant article of faith that Scripture is about the Christian's experience: the interpretation of the sacred text involves finding Scriptural parallels for his own circumstances, so that experience acts as a commentary on the text. This is exactly the function of Psalm meditation in English Reformation spirituality." (142-3) -- see "The H. Scriptures (ii)"

introduction of non-scriptural speeches by God -- dubious exercisee by Protestant, with emphasis on biblical authority

"Paradoxically, however, it is the Protestant mode of appropriation of Scripture which allows for such daring on the part of authors. The act of reading as a two-way conversaiton demands both a profound identification with the original writer and a belief that the words spoken by God i nthose original circumstances could be annexed, no matter what the gap in space and time, by a Christian individual in similar circumstances. ... The genre of Psalm meditation established a strong tradition for assuming that God will speak to the believer in the same tone and manner as the biblical text, but not necessarily in the same words. This is on literary context for George Herbert's religious lyrics, which freely invent dialogue for God." (144)
"The usefulness of Psalm language as opposed to ordinary human language is that it is authorized by nature of its direct inspiration from God, and therefore can represent no sinful attitudes. ... The Psalms function as a sort of safety-valve for the 'troublesome motions' which affect all human beings." (149)

Ferrar described the Temple "in the same terms as the book of Psalms: 'a harmony of holy passions'" (149-150) (qtd from Walton)

"This is the theology which ultimately underpins the theory of the effectiveness of non-verbal ejaculations. Unconscious expressions, particularly of grief, are likely to be direct signifiers of the interceding presence of the Holy Spirit within. By implication, He is the one who does know how to pray, and thus these wordless exclamations are the most effective prayer language." (165)
"In allowing the reader to eavesdrop on his conversation with god Herbert is following a precedent set by the sacred Psalm text, as well as the tradition of Psalm meditation which was well established by the early seventeenth century." (174)
"The daring aspect of these true poems of meditation is the extent to which human imagination is employed, in the setting, in the creation of a persona, and most audacious of all, in the words put into the mouth of God. Although herbert will have found precedent for this practice i nthe Protestant Psalm meditation, as we have seen, his integration of divine language into poetry raises different kinds of questions. ... The Christian world was not yet ready to accept the fruits of the imagination whole-heartedly as from God: the only alternative, and the only acceptable origin for such writing, is that it is divinely inspired." (175)
"As Horton Davis has shown, neither Laudians nor Puritans could ccept metrical poetry into their worship until the very end of the seventeenth century, thanks to 'the conviction that metrical Psalms were the Word of God while hymns were human compositions'." (177)

Reading herbert Reading Valdes: Antinomian Disruption, The Hundred and Ten Considerations, and The Temple

Valdes translation "part of the Little gidding project to rectify the dearth of works on spirituality in a newly Protestant nation" (180)

"In approving the publication of The Hundred and Ten considerations, Herbert is taking up an anti-Arminian position, and clearly intended this treatise to be a Calvinist intervention in the debate." (189)

The Sanctification of Poetry

turning point in seventeenth century: previously Scripture was criterion to test faith; now Holy Spirit is the touchstone for experience, including of the Bible itself (Nuttall, qtd 224)

ordering of Temple, alternating joy and desolation: analogous to the process of sanctification (241)

"The Method" -- model of interiority is the book; "There is little sense of inner depth here: the impression is of a reader, book in hand, musing to himself over the contents. God's instructions are plainly written there, but the poet has ignored them. ... The poem assumes the conventional meditative trope of the soula s a book: it attempts to make God's writing special by announcing it with rhetorical questions, and marking it off from the rest of the page in italics. However, the 'divine' discourse cannot be finally separated from the human language of the rest of the poem: the fact that Herbert has to distinguish it with fairly crude techniques shows that by itself it is not distinctive. However true Herbert may have been to an inspiring divine impulse, however precisely he may chart the movement of the divine Spirit, all he has to work with, and all there is for his readers to deal with, is the rhetorical and typographical surface which is human discourse." (247)

"Simplicity replaces complexity in Herber's poems, in a dynamic that simulates mortification: Nicholas Ferrar described Herbert's poetic style as 'naked simplicitie'." (248)

similarity of some poems to popular ballads (248)

"However, neither correctio nor deliberate simplicity are Herbert's favoured way of simulating mortification. The method he chooses is daring: it involves the rhetorically created sense of an entirely separate voice for God. In many poems the words of God come as audible voices from a separate identity -- a 'friend'. These scenes appear to take place in a setting external to the poet, again creating a sense of materiality for the divine voice." (249)
"However powerful the sense of God speaking at the end of the poem, it cannot erase the sinful human words at the beginning. Yet it is the apparent openness to coreection by the divine voice which is important to Herbert's seventeenth-century readership." (250)
"Paradoxically, to a readership that understood the dynamic of mortification, the explicit acknowledgement of the flawed authorship of the poems confirmed their status as inspired lyrics." (256)