Of Paradise and Light: Essays on Henry Vaughan and John Milton in Honor of Alan Rudrum

By Donald R. Dickson; Holly Faith Nelson | Go to book overview

Biblical Structures in Silex Scintillans:
The Poetics and Politics of Intertextuality

Holly Faith Nelson


I

IN THE CRITICAL DEBATE OVER THE NATURE OF LYRIC COLLECtions, Mary Thomas Crane argues that the structure of many Renaissance poetic collections “undermines attention to narrative sequence” and forestalls a “narrative history of personal experience.” 1 Such collections present a series of lyric subjects; they do not fashion a coherent narrative of self. Gérard Genette reaches a similar conclusion about the structure of lyric collections in general: “In a collection of short poems, the autonomy of each piece is generally much greater than the autonomy of the constituent parts of an epic, a novel, or a historical or philosophical work. And even though the thematic unity of the collection may be more or less strong, the effect of sequence or progression is usually very weak, and the order of the constituent parts is most often arbitrary. Each poem is in itself a closed work that may legitimately claim its own title.” 2

Earl Miner, however, claims that poetic collections are not necessarily generically distinct from narrative. He identifies “integrated collections, ” defined as “minimal” or “plotless narratives, ” among which he numbers George Herbert's The Temple. These plotless narratives afford one who reads sequentially “a pleasure and significance not available to one who reads the lyrics separately.” 3 Such integrated collections are governed by principles of “sequential continuousness ... progression, recurrence and varying relation between the units of a collection.” 4 Annabel Patterson adopts a less radical view when she suggests that there are categories and thematic groupings in, for example, the miscellanies of Jonson and Marvell and that such groupings in sequence produce order and coherence in texts previously thought an assortment of unrelated or loosely related verse. 5 Miner and

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