Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Burton Hatlen

Second Committee Member

Benjamin Friedlander

Third Committee Member

Tony Brinkley

Abstract

According to Burckhardt, the Reformation was an escape from discipline. The Reformation changed both the cultural and the religious reality of early modern Europe. Reformation theology and the new Renaissance understanding of self and of individuality required a radically new language in which to address God and at the same time demand a response. Medieval rhetoric of praise could no longer sustain the versatility of the Renaissance reader and could not provide the medium of searching for that response. The poetry of the metaphysical poets, Herbert in particular, bridges Christian discourse, rhetorical strategies, moral expression, radical dissention. Herbert was an orator and a theologian. Just as he distinguished between a secular, political world and a world of praise and divinity, he recognized overtones of divine language and human language. For Herbert, human discourse explicates processes of communication, questioning, irresolution, and doubt. It is essentially a conditional language that creates spaces within which the speaker can complain and criticize as if complaining and criticism were possible. The strategy of "if' in Herbert's The Temple is to rewrite the stories that reader and speaker already know in a way that makes them accessible to experience. Thus Herbert encourages the reader to grasp the humanity of the speaker's voice beyond theological dogma. The yearning and desire in Herbert's "if' language confront the stable fixity of divine "must" language. In one of his early essays dealing with language, Walter Benjamin discuss fallen human language and language as such. His distinctions pertain to the function of language as freeing agent. In language, God has relieved man of "divine actuality" and let him be creative. Along the same lines, Herbert tries to explicate the adequacy of fallen language to serve as a medium of speaking and writing. His plea is that if we could only "hear," and if we could only "spell," we would have access to the stable and fixed language of God; but such access is in fact impossible to human beings. However, when humans speak and write, they transform the Word into a meaningful experience, and Herbert's poetry is an exercise in articulating that process.

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