Open the Bones: Lyric, Liturgy and Revelation in George Herbert

Hamm, Joshua, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Fowler, Elizabeth, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia

It is well established that George Herbert was a sacramental poet. It was C.A. Patrides who said “the Eucharist is the marrow of Herbert’s sensibility,” and scholars like Regina Schwartz, Kimberly Johnson and others have since fleshed out ways in which this claim might ring true. Schwartz argues that Herbert’s poetry was part and parcel of a larger cultural movement, following the English Reformation, to displace the much eschewed doctrine of transubstantiation onto the literary function of poetry. On Schwartz’s account, Herbert’s poetry functions sacramentally insofar as it engages the notion of signs “containing” what they signify. Johnson, however, argues that Herbert’s poetry is preoccupied with “its own surface, asserting the sign as such as an object rather than treating the text as a transparent conduit to content.” Herbert’s sacramentality, according to Johnson, is a function of his poetry foregrounding its own surface qualities as its substantial significance, thereby rendering its physical text on the page a “site of immanence.” Though distinct in their expository claims and approaches, these scholars assume that Herbert’s sacramentality is primarily informed by and preoccupied with the semiotics of traditional sacramental theology the Church of England had inherited from the Roman Catholic Church. This thesis aims to articulate an alternate reading of sacramentality in Herbert that: a) foregrounds the role of the Anglican via media in shaping the eucharistic sensibility Herbert brings to bear on his lyrics; and b) that registers his lyrical mobilization of Anglican sacramentality as a function of tuning readers’ perceptions to a more immediate experience of divinity in and through poems and their material referents, rather than apprehension of them as divine signs.

MA (Master of Arts)
Herbert, George, sacramental, poetics, lyric, liturgy, revelation, eucharist, theology, reformation, anglican, via media, poetry, The Temple
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: