John Donne and the Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poets

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Thomas Traherne: Naked Truth,
Transparent Words, and the
Renunciation of Metaphor

Traherne included extracts from Donne's sermons in his Church's Year‐ Book, as well as the whole of Herbert's poem, "To all Angels and Saints." Moreover, Traherne's poems, rediscovered in 1896 after falling into oblivion for more than two centuries, were first ascribed to Vaughan.Yet despite these links, both Traherne's theology and his part 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 the world as the infant matures. His Neoplatonic conception of man's dignity and unlimited spiritual potential (often echoing Pico, Hermes Trismegistus, Theophilus Gale, and the Cambridge Platonists) is grounded upon the conviction that man's will is free and that he may always choose to live within the spiritual rather than the mundane order. Also Neoplatonic (and some feel, mystical) is Traherne's celebration of vision as the means whereby Christians may experience even now the bliss of eternity. In all this, Traherne seems to abandon the fundamental Protestant paradigm of the spiritual life with its Pauline classifications and its metaphors of struggle and pilgrimage. He seems also to avoid the Protestant emphasis upon providential history, which tends to assimilate individual Christian lives to typological patterns. Instead, as Stanley Stewart has noted, Traherne's pervasive imagery of cir

From Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. © 1979 by Princeton University Press.


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