Approaching the Divine: Writing Visionary Space in the European Renaissance Lyric

Duffy, Timothy, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Braden, Gordon, Department of English, University of Virginia
Fowler, Elizabeth, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, Department of English, University of Virginia

Vision and the broader question of what human beings can see and what they desire to see emerged as a defining element of the Renaissance poetic imagination. This dissertation argues that poetic vision emerged in the Renaissance lyric from Petrarch to the English “Metaphysicals” as a tool for historical, cosmographic, and theological inquiry. As poets contemplated, experienced, and even fashioned the divine, they did so through a visionary mode of inquiry that was revelatory, prophetic, and irenic. This project helps to expand and revise a critical legacy that has often explored the development of lyric poetry from trecento Italy to Civil War England either through the divisions between Protestant and Catholic habits of interpretation or the shifting conventions and uses of Petrarchan amatory discourse. By turning to what I refer to as visionary writing—poetry and related texts that extend human sight across temporal and ontological boundaries in the investigation of the divine and the historical foundations of human experience—I track a more transcendent, ecumenical, and transnational process of poetic development in the work of these poets.
My first chapter explores the visionary and historical engagements of the shorter lyrics of Petrarch, Joachim du Bellay, and Edmund Spenser. Exploring the inter-textual relationships between Petrarch’s Canzoniere, du Bellay’s Les Antiquités de Rome and Les Regrets, and Edmund Spenser’s Roman poetry (“The Ruines of Time” and his translations of du Bellay), I map out a poetic visionary technique that triangulates the present, the Roman past, and the divine. Though these poets represent different national, linguistic, and religious traditions, their poetics are often able to find common poetic and spiritual ground. My second chapter takes on John Donne and the linguistic consequences of what has been called the “New Philosophy” and the related “Copernican Revolution.” The spiritual and scientific aspects of Donne’s writing have inspired a long critical history including the work of William Empson, John Carey, and Barbara Lewalski. I build on this critical tradition by moving beyond the question of Donne’s Catholic or Protestant beliefs or the generic background of his poetry’s source material. This chapter reads Donne in dialogue with Giordano Bruno’s writings, arguing that Donne responds to the shifting cosmos by forging a poetic voice that emphasizes lyric poetry’s ability to inhabit and rearrange the cosmologically distant or invisible elements of the universe.
I turn, finally, to the Baroque poetics of Richard Crashaw. Though Crashaw, as interpreted by T.S. Eliot, Mario Praz, and Barbara Lewalski, has been viewed as visually excessive and thoroughly rooted in Continental Catholic art, this chapter shows how Crashaw’s Latin verse (the Epigrammata Sacra) and his major English lyrics (“The Weeper” and “The Hymn to Saint Teresa”) reveal a more structured, sophisticated, and revelatory devotional poetic practice. Building on the work of R.V. Young, I see Crashaw’s poetics as being steeped in a nuanced and hybrid collection of spiritual beliefs that cannot be easily sorted into Protestant or Catholic. I offer, working with Deleuze’s The Fold, a vision of the Baroque that is combinatory, contradictory and yet harmonious, subverting the boundaries between divine and the earthly spaces.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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