Kuchar 2008

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Kuchar, Gary. The Poetry of Religious Sorrow in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

“vast technology of mourning”

”While traditions of religious sorrow are especially characteristic of the later middle ages, post-Reformation culture did not exorcise itself of the medieval fascination with sacred grief so much as it complicated what was already a complex set of practices.” (1)
”I seek to explain how in the process of expressing what repentance, ‘’compassio’’, or despair feel like as lived experiences, early modern English poets find themselves addressing the most vital doctrinal and philosophical issues of the post-Reformation period.” (2)

religious sorrow as discourse, not just a theme

”less an emotional state than it is a language — a grammar of tears, so to speak” (2)

in Donne, “godly sorrow is an incarnationist language that speaks the Christian paradoxes which confound human thought.” (9)

devout tears as gateways between human and divine


Catholic — gift of compunction must be passively accepted to be salvific

Protestants — receptive passivity is irrevocable sign of grace

The poetry of tears and the ghost of Robert Southwell in Shakespeare’s Richard II and Milton’s Paradise Lost

Southwell, “St. Peters Complaint”

"His poems demand an active, even critical, response from readers. Through characterization by peripety, readers are being attuned to the gap between intention and meaning; they are being encouraged to recognize how the Spirit signifies in excess of Peter’s knowledge as the saint tarries with the double motions of compunction, its oscillations between sin and grace.” (34)
”devotional reading consists of a form of critical reading — one attentive to gaps, silences, and inadvertent meanings” (37)

The poetry of tears and the metaphysics of grief: Richard Crashaw’s ‘The Weeper’

"the faith, hope, and love embodied by Magdalene’s tears saturates the speaker and reader with an abundance of signification that is presented as being impossible to fully absorb. In this respect, the metaphysics of grief in Crashaw’s poem is predicated on the paradox that in godly sorrow lack turns over into excess, suffering sublates into pleasure, and alienation becomes communion. The relation between the polarities expressed in the poem is not that of a binary but more like two sides of a Mo ̈bius strip; by experiencing sorrow profoundly and authentically, the emptying form of kenosis reveals itself in the fulfilling form of pleroma.” (83)

ending of “The Weeper” rewrites Herbert’s “Grief”

"“Grief ” insists that the outward form of representation has an accidental rather than essential relation to the spiritual meaning conveyed through it. In “Grief,” poetry is figured as too “wise,” in the pejorative sense of self-aware and cultivated, to express the unmediated violence of godly sorrow. For the speaker of Herbert’s poem, poetry’s courtliness renders it inadequate to the raw sincerity of penitent grief.” (88)
"Crashaw’s poem does not call for a giving-up of poetic feet, as does “Grief,” but rather it seeks to enact the sacramental moment at which figure becomes reality, where metrical foot becomes flesh. The ending of Crashaw’s poem is not so much about the gap between poetry and affect, between medium and message, but rather it is an effort to close this gap, to make present in language that to which language refers. Crashaw tries to turn the grammar of poetry into the grammar of tears – making word and affect fully coincident with one another.” (89)
"“The Weeper” offers a more deeply sacramental metaphysic of tears than “Grief,” to the extent that it tries to express the Eucharistic moment of Real Presence through the animating impetus of prosopopeia. Where “Grief ” gestures at the ineffability of Christ’s aliena vita in the soul, “The Weeper” offers a poetic gesture that aspires to realize a sacramental mystery. In short, Herbert articulates a poetics of difference whereas Crashaw aspires towards a poetics of similitude.” (89)
"By repositioning The Temple within the continental tradition that Southwell brought to England, Crashaw seeks to soften the extent to which “Grief ” is in sympathy with the idea expressed in “The Quiddity,” when Herbert asserts that true poetry “never was France or Spain” (6). As a reading of Herbert’s “Grief,” then, Crashaw’s “The Weeper” positions Herbert’s poem as being continuous with the Catholic traditions from which it disassociates itself. In this way, “The Weeper” anticipates the kinds of debates that continue to this day in Herbert studies.” (90)

The poetry of tears and the metaphysics of Andrew Marvell’s ‘Eyes and Tears’

"If Crashaw reworks Herbert’s “Grief” by substituting a poetics of difference for a Eucharistic poetics of similitude, then Andrew Marvell’s “Eyes and Tears” responds to “The Weeper” by furthering the Calvinist ethos of The Temple. In the process, Marvell sums up the poetry of tears as a genre from a more discernibly Protestant viewpoint, giving the coin- cidence of “eyes and tears” a very different theological valence than their “kind contrarietyes” possess in Crashaw’s “The Weeper.”” (99)

Sad delight: Theology and Marian Iconography in Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

grief as feminized in early modern literature

”Lanyer grounds both her poetic and priestly authority, as well as the Virgin Mary’s priestly authority, on the early modern practice of figuring divine sorrow as feminine.” (124)
"the poem’s account of the Virgin Mary participates in a late medieval tradition of representing the Virgin as a physically anguished priestly co-redeemer – a role that is considerably at odds with the general Protestant view of her as having no active or direct role in the work of redemption.” (125)

Lo spasimo controversy: should Mary have a firm, dignified pose, or be seen swooning?

Cajetan — swooning was not becoming of the Blessed Virgin; she would have had more physical composure

"By insisting on Mary’s physical reaction to her emotional strife, Lanyer goes against the protocols of temperate mourning characteristic of post- Reformation homiletics.” (127)

locating her authority in immediate feminine (as opposed to culturally mediated and therefore masculine) discourse (136)

Catholics — Mary’s active role in birthing Jesus; Protestants — passive receptacle (140)

Christ and Mary sharing physical agony, fairing and weeping (143-4)

"Insofar as Mary constitutes an impossible ideal of chastity, bodily perfection, and self-sacrifice, she stands at the center of a religious regime that is destructively asymptotic in nature – leading faithful women to strive for a form of being that is, by its very nature, impossible to attain. By drawing on an iconographical tradition that emphasizes Mary’s physical suffering – a tradition Counter-Reformation authorities disavowed precisely because it calls Mary’s bodily perfection into question – Lanyer presents a version of Mary that is more deeply human and thus more relevant to the lived experience of women than the other-worldly Mary venerated in the official post-Tridentine tradition.” (145)