"The natural sin of language": poetic authority and the Christian lyric

Jacobs, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia
Albright, Daniel, Department of English, University of Virginia
Laird, Holly, University of Virginia

By the time John Donne and George Herbert became the chief architects of the Christian lyric in English, the increasing prominence of English Protestantism had provided ample doctrinal justification for a poetry of the individual's spiritual experience. Nevertheless, the practical and technical problems generated by the complexity of the task were and still are enormous. The Christian lyrist--in Donne's time or our own--assumes a double burden of good faith: he must do justice not only to his experience, but to tile God and the doctrine which he believes give rise to that experience. And the sensitivity of such a poet to the needs of his audience-- a sensitivity virtually demanded by the always implicit evangelical impulse of Protestantism--only increases this burden. My study looks at the resources available to this kind of Christian lyric and the restraints placed upon it by the climate of its reception. The chief topics investigated include: the poet's understanding of the resources of language, as he situates his discourse along an axis whose termini are Babel and Pentecost; the poet's control of the reader's response by means of internal commentary; the possibility of divine inspiration for the lyric; the means by which the Christian poet creates a distinctive and compelling voice, the poetic representation or presentation of a subject; and the evangelical uses of the music of poetry, chiefly considered under the rubric of "affective metrics." In the process of investigating these issues I attempt to show how Christian poetry of personal spiritual experience must often be situated at the boundaries of that large and nebulous genre called the lyric.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Christian poetry, English -- History and criticism, Protestantism and literature
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