Poetry and the Fountain of Light: Observations on the Conflict between Christian and Classical Traditions in Seventeenth-Century Poetry

Poetry and the Fountain of Light: Observations on the Conflict between Christian and Classical Traditions in Seventeenth-Century Poetry

Poetry and the Fountain of Light: Observations on the Conflict between Christian and Classical Traditions in Seventeenth-Century Poetry

Poetry and the Fountain of Light: Observations on the Conflict between Christian and Classical Traditions in Seventeenth-Century Poetry

Excerpt

There are many ways of looking at the cultural and intellectual revolution that takes place in England in the seventeenth century. It is a period which, in the twentieth century, has inspired a variety of explanatory formulas. One reason for this, apparently, is the feeling among moderns that in explaining what happened in the seventeenth century they are also explaining their own condition. It is felt that the period of conflict between medieval and modern habits of mind illuminates, in a peculiarly critical light, the nature and problems of the modern world; that the great turn toward secularism in Western civilization that set us on our present track was cornered most sharply here in England in these years, and that this is consequently a dramatic and instructive moment in the history of ideas. Modern thinkers find themselves in sympathy with the minds that felt the pressures of this turn most acutely, particularly with those minds which, like Sir Thomas Browne, seemed to keep their balance under such pressures. Those who find a loss of equilibrium in their own century feel a kinship with and admiration for such minds. Undoubtedly the appeal that seventeenth-century poetry has had in modern times has derived in part from an admiration for a certain kind of sensibility, which is believed to have prevailed at this time more than at any other. Formulas of varying complexity have dealt with this phenomenon; some formulas, like T. S. Eliot's 'dissociation of sensibility', taking departure from the special character of the seventeenth-century setting and sensibility, have been expanded into whole theories of literary history and aesthetics.

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