Poetry & Dogma: The Transfiguration of Eucharistic Symbols in Seventeenth Century English Poetry

Poetry & Dogma: The Transfiguration of Eucharistic Symbols in Seventeenth Century English Poetry

Poetry & Dogma: The Transfiguration of Eucharistic Symbols in Seventeenth Century English Poetry

Poetry & Dogma: The Transfiguration of Eucharistic Symbols in Seventeenth Century English Poetry

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to present some of the consequences for religious poetry in England of the Protestant revision of Eucharistic dogma. My argument rests on the assumption that the dogmatic symbolism of the traditional Eucharistic rite had nourished the analogical mode of poetic symbol, indeed had effected imaginatively a poetic knowledge of the participation (each in the other) of the natural, the historical, and the divine orders.

The capacity of the Eucharistic symbol in poetry to function simultaneously at the levels of the natural, the historical, and the divine is threatened and eventually lost in the course of the seventeenth century. In poetry, "The Blood," "The Body," "The Sacrifice," are reduced to metaphor and below metaphor, finally to cliché. "Fact" and "value" disengage and draw apart. A Christian "spiritism" holds itself aloof from the order of things -- and event. The course of English poetry is thereby divided. One direction will be that of the utterly secular, under the sign of rationalism and materialism. The other will be that of the romantic idealisms and "psychologisms," the pseudo-sacred as against the real profane.

Few, I think, will doubt that this declension and this division did in fact occur. The aesthetic phenomenon -- if you like, "the dissociation of sensibility"-- has engaged the best skill of the "new" critics. The scholar has gone beneath and beyond the aesthetic fact in an effort to explain the phenomenon. Thus we have been led to speculate about the impact of the new science, or Descartes, or the rebirth of scepticism or the "Counter Renaissance," or the social and political revolution. It is none of my purpose to challenge the validity either of the "new" criticism or . . .

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