Thematic Guide to British Poetry

By Ruth Glancy | Go to book overview

Religion

Spiritual questions have been explored in poetry from earliest times. What is our place in the universe? Is there a greater power at work in our lives? Where did the world come from? Most religious poetry in English belongs to the seventeenth century, in the genius of John Donne, John Milton, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan, but faith and doubt were explored again in the nineteenth century when the Romantic poets (especially Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge) brought a new sense of spirituality to the rationalism of the eighteenth century. Later, the Victorian poets lived in an age when faith was under attack from the findings of scientists such as the geologist Charles Lyell and the biologist Charles Darwin, whose discoveries cast doubt on the literal truth of the Bible. Tennyson's “In Memoriam A.H.H.” (1850) is the most sustained examination of Victorian doubt, but other Victorian poets like Christina Rossetti held firm in their faith. In the twentieth century, also, some poets have taken up the subject of general attitudes to religion while others have expressed an individual faith. In all ages, poetry has been the basis of hymns and songs of worship and praise. A few of the most famous of these are included here. Poems that touch on religious themes will also be found in the Immortality and Death sections of this volume.

The seventeenth century was a time of appalling religious unrest. Following the conversion of England to Protestantism by Henry VIII in the middle of the sixteenth century, Catholics lived under severe restrictions for most of the 1600s. John Donne (1573–1631), who figures largely also in the Love section of this volume, came from a well-known Catholic family that had suffered severe persecution. An exceptionally clever man, Donne attended Oxford University but was not allowed to receive a degree. He converted to the Church of England (Anglicanism), and

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Thematic Guide to British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Anthologies of British Poetry and Abbreviations Used xi
  • Active and Contemplative Lives 1
  • Art, Imagination, and Inspiration 15
  • Beauty 31
  • Carpe Diem 43
  • Christmas Poems 47
  • Death 53
  • Death of the Young 65
  • Duty 77
  • Fame and Ambition 81
  • Family Relations 85
  • Freedom and Captivity 89
  • The Golden Mean 93
  • Immortality 97
  • Industrialism and the City 105
  • Innocence and Experience 111
  • Love 119
  • Marriage 141
  • Music 153
  • Nature and Country Life 159
  • Old Age 187
  • Patriotism 193
  • Politics and Human Rights 197
  • Pride and Vanity 205
  • Rebellion and Conformity 215
  • Regret, Consolation, and Melancholy 221
  • Religion 229
  • Sleep 243
  • Time and Change 251
  • War 257
  • Biographical Sketches 269
  • Further Reading 293
  • Index 295
  • About the Author 305
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