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1 Chance Wolfe Dr. Gil Final Research Essay 12/17/15 Religion Has an Impact: From Childhood On Abstract: This research paper will focus on the religious verses from John Donne and George Herbert in relation to their religious experiences throughout their lifetimes. I will begin with addressing my paper will consist of through my thesis. As I have a greater emphasis on Donne and his poetry, I will then start with my focus on the histories Donne’s life, and then move on to connecting Donne’s religious experiences in his life to an analysis of “Holy Sonnets” and A Litaine. Then, I will use this same strategy for Herbert, as I begin with focusing on Herbert’s history, and then connect Herbert’s religious experiences in his life to an analysis of “The Altar.” Then I will finish my research paper with a quick side by side comparison of the two poets concluding my research paper. The goal of this research paper is to grasp an understanding as to how Herbert and Donne’s different religious experiences impacted they way in which they expressed religion through their poetry. Introduction 2 John Donne and George Herbert’s religious poetry were significantly impacted by the profoundly different ways in which the poets experienced faith throughout their lifetime; from their childhood religious upbringings as a Catholic and a Protestant (respectively), to their decisions they made in regards to their religion as adults, Donne converted and Herbert devoted, their religious experiences shaped their belief system and dominated how Donne and Herbert expressed religion in their poetry; which, can be identified through an analysis of: the formal dimensions, figurative language, rhythmic pattern, and overall message of Donne’s “Holy Sonnet” and A Litaine, and Herbert’s “The Altar.” Donne’s Religious Experiences Throughout His Lifetime: John Donne was born into a Catholic family in 1572, in the midst of the Protestant reformation which was a very strong anti-Catholic period. Growing up, Donne constantly faced persecution because of his religious beliefs. His family endured silencing their religious sermons to the public, in constant fear that they could be killed. His Catholic beliefs prevented him from receiving degrees from the University of Cambridge or a law degree at Lincoln’s Inn, even though he attended both education facilities. He was constantly sacrificing for his religion. Then when Donne’s brother, Henry, was convicted of Catholic sympathies and died in prison. Donne began to question his Catholic faith, and eventually converted “in 1615 from both the Roman Catholicism of his family and the vibrant skepticism of his youth to 3 the cloth and creed of the Stuart church” (Kneidel 224), a church under the Anglicanism belief system. With this conversion, Donne hoped to have a better sense of religion, and understanding of God in relation to himself. But, even this Stuart church possessed a “myriad of theological, ecclesiastical and political controversies” (Kneidel 225) that caused Donne to never have a stable sense of religious identity, or relationship with God. Although, that did not stop him from coming into priesthood. Soon after his ordination in 1615, he was made royal chaplain to James I and eventually was invited to become Dean of St. Paul’s, London’s largest and most illustrious cathedrals. He was Dean there for ten years giving sermons that are now thought to be a metamorphism of his catholic beliefs from the past, and Anglican beliefs that he conformed to, which caused Donne “perplexity about how much of the Catholic heritage could be retained”(Shami 93) in his sermons as a Dean. Thus, it seems to make sense why Donne portrayed religion and God in his poems in the way that he did. During his lifetime, Donne’s religious views and practices appeared to be ever changing. His childhood left him with distraught emotions towards Catholicism, which in turn resurfaced as an issue during his time at St. Paul’s and the Stuart Church. Donne focused on the form of his poems, and how the subject matter, connected with the content, in order to display his thoughts. Donne’s religious poems, such as the “Holy Sonnets” and The Litanie, portray his uncertainties, his disconnect with God through rebellious forms with dark and erotic undertones. 4 Donne’s “Holy Sonnets: II and XIV” Analysis: In Sonnet II of the “Holy Sonnets,” that beings with “As due by many titles I resign,” Donne describes the complex relationship that he has with God through in a similar way that poets would refer to their relationship women. In fact, the “Holy Sonnets,” religious poems, all take form of traditional patriarchal love sonnets instead of the common styles of religious poetry, which Donne does in order to set his religious poetry apart from the other ones during this time. Donne’s change in religious poetry semantics also notions towards Donne’s rebellious feelings surrounding religion enacted by “the uneasy relationship between Donne’s conformity and his conscience, illumining both the historical conversion of the Church of England at the Reformation and the personal consequences of that conversion for Donne’s faith and poetics”(Shami 93). From being prosecuted as a Catholic, to Donne’s continuing uncertainty once he converted to Anglicanism, it seems only reasonable to assume that Donne would speak about his religion in such a rebellious way. Donne uses vivid imagery to explain his servitude and love to God, “Thy blood bought that, the which before was thine; I am they sonne, made with with they selfe to shine,” (4-5) in similar way in which poets describe their love or obsession with a beloved. This is scandalous, to speak of God in a similar was as a beloved because sonnets are not meant to be used for religious purpose, and religious poems are supposedly permitted to speak of God, or religion, in such vivid and physical terms. But in away, Donne’s 5 confusion, pushes him to speak of religion as his beloved, in an attempt to understand it, to understand God. Donne’s unsureness about his relationship with God is evident in Sonnet II because he asks God direct questions, questioning his intentions, why the “devil then unsurpe on mee” (9), ultimately leading to a triplet rhyme at the end of the sonnet: Oh I shall soone despaire, when I doe see That thou lov’st mankind well, yet wilt’not chuse me, And Satan hates mee, yet is lose to lose mee (12-14). Changing the formal dimensions of Sonnet II by adding a triplet at the end as opposed to a couplet, how sonnets are traditionally ended, stops the abba, abba, cddc, rhythm of the poem, causing those last three lines to be read in disconnect from the rest of the sonnet, giving them more weight. This triple rhyme appears unbalanced with the rest of the poem, just as Donne appears unbalanced by his religious experiences. And, when analyzed, the triplet at the end seems to point to Donne’s feelings of powerlessness in respect to his religion. He can not fully be worthy to God because of his sins, and the triplet at the end stresses that because it deviates away from the poems pattern, it fails to connect with the rest of the sonnet, just as Donne is failing to connect with his purpose in regards to his religion. In addition, the extra “mee” at the seems to demonstrate failure as well, it is an extra thing that Donne can not get rid of. It is the flaws he posses, his sins, that keep him at a distance from god, and unable to understand or even have a functional relationship with God. 6 Similarly, in Sonnet XIV of the “Holy Sonnets,” beginning with “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” Donne addresses God in a very rebellious, violent, and sexual tone, “Divorce mee, ’untie, or breake that knot againe” (11), as he feels that the only way he can get close to God is from the brutal task of God recreating him by breaking down and reshaping who he he his is. The formal dimensions of Sonnet XIV are structured with an abba, abba, cddc, ee, and Donne uses this structure to control the experience he is expressing with varying tones from the speaker, which ultimately is a desperate plea for spiritual renewal, “Take mee to you, imprison mee” (12). The erotic undertones of this sonnet are “achieved by a gradual shift of imagery” (Osterwalder 206) from one line in the sonnet to the next. The first quatrain presents a series of emotional commands, and on line 4, the first erotic undercut is mentioned: “make me new” could also mean sexual intercourse when references a male and a female. In the the second quatrain which explains more calmly why Donne needs God’s help, “the besieged town/woman metaphor heightens the potential sexual overtones and hints at the combination of violence and sexuality which is yet to come” (). Then line nine, “Yet dearly ‘I love you,’ and would be loved faine,” signals yet another change in tone, only to revert back to the emotional commands as the poem ends in the final couplet with powerful sexual imagery, comparable to Sonnet II, where the speaker images himself as a woman wanting God to “ravish him.” 7 These purely connotative erotic overtones become explicit in lines 8 and following: paired in binary opposition the vocabulary of worldly love is presented with a crescendo effect: “untrue” versus “love,” “betrothed” verses “divorced,” “enthrall” versus “free,” and finally, “chaste” versus “ravish. The obvious culmination is the rape image in the last line (Osterwalder 206). In the Sonnet XIV the speaker is metaphorically put in the position of a women longing to admit God the lawful conqueror, thus confusing feelings of love and violence as they pertain to religion. Donne’s uncertainty and disconnect to his religious beliefs is addressed, yet again, through Sonnet XIV, as he tries to make sense of his relationship with God by comparing himself to a woman, and God as his master. In addition, the erotic undertones of this religious sonnet, coupled with images of violence, also express Donne’s rebellion towards religion, religious poetry, and his relationship with God. Associating the powerlessness, he has under God’s will with the act of rape addresses Donne’s poor relationship with God, which inevitably stems from his uncertainties. Donne’s “A Litaine” Analysis: Donne was nothing if not a reformer, which is evident in both his poetry and his religion. Through his poetry, he is a reformer by using his words in ways in which he associates God to a beloved, or when he expresses sexually erotic undertones, and by using the structure of his poems to signify a disconnect, an uncertainty, or a failure of the poems 8 formal dimensions that associate directly with Donne’s feelings in the matter of religion. Through his religion, he is a reformer when he evokes many different Catholic and Protestant interpretations in his sermons during his time as Dean at St. Paul. Donne was no slave to a singular religious authority, even though he desired to be understood by God, just as his religious poetry recognized no single and definite formal dimension: “Paradoxically, Donne, himself so singular, distrusted most the singularity of the “phoenixes” in religion. And paradox is at the heart of this religion, paradox expressed in metaphors whose power to incarnate ideas made them more powerful than any local manifestation: the “idea” of a Church and not as it was” (Shami 98). Donne’s unease with his relationship with God in terms of his salvation was at the heart of these paradoxes as well. These paradoxes are clear in Donne’s “The Litanie,” a poem following the Order of Catholic Mass, in that it mimics the order in which the congregation asks the various divine and holy entities to pray for them: The Father, The Sonne (Son), The Holy Ghost, The Trinity, The Virgin Mary, The Angels, The Patriarches, The Prophets, The Apostles, The Martyrs, The Confessors, The Virgins, and The Doctors (teachers). To this litany the poet prays to be free from anxiety, temptation, vanity, misdirection, sin and, ultimately death. It is believed that “The Litane” was written at a dark time in Donne’s live, probably around 1613, while he was recovering from an illness that could have killed him, which suggests that this poem was penance because he had never been near death in his illness However, it is curious why he wrote it as penance when in it he challenges Catholic theology, not does Donne create paradoxes within the poem, but the entire poem itself is a paradox. 9 “A Litanie” shows Donne’s shifting and unstable focuses on Catholicism and Anglicanism – “the very religious position enacted so compellingly in the metrical and tropic complexities” (Kneidel 228) of the poem. Donne betrays some of his Catholic leanings in that the form adheres mostly to Catholic Mass, although it also can be interpreted as an Anglican devotion. The stanzas are tetrameter, with a trimester insertion in the sixth line of each stanza. Thus the rhyme scheme of the poem is constantly ababcdcdd, giving the poem a regular but ceremonial formal structure which draws more attention to the subject matter rather than to the meter or the poetic devices. It was more important for Donne to make sure his words were understood than it was to make sure they sung. The lines are generally endstopped, but not ruthlessly, which can be seen mostly in line eight and nine of each stanza. For example, in stanza one, The Father, lines eight and nine, “All vicious tinctures, the new fashioned/ I may rise up from death, before I’m dead,” a single idea is expressed. The poet calls to each entity descriptively. When he addresses The Trinity as “O Blessed glorious Trinity/ Bones to Philosophy, but milke to faithe” (2829) is unknown how deeply he doubts the Trinity as such, as an entity of the Catholic religion. The concept of the Trinity, challenges the Anglican theology but is a central concept of Catholic faith, providing a paradox that appeals to Donne’s uncertainty and disconnected relationship with God. In “A Litanie” Donne appeals to the entities’ characteristic qualities in order to draw away from him the errors, the failures of his own humanity. Stanza five, The Virgin Mary, Donne takes a less than conventional Catholic stance on the mother of God. Rather than ask the Virgin Mary to pray for him: “Our helps, so are her prayers; nor can she sue/ In vaine, who hath such titles unto you” (4445), Donne addressed the divine in a thanks for her prayers and for her “Whose wombe was 10 a strange heav’n for there/ God cloath’d himselfe, and grew” (4142). Donne portrays his character as a curious combination of conscious flaws and arrogance, he is aware of his failure and sins that cause him to not fully be worth to God, but does so in a way that also allows him to demonstrate his wit even as he struggles with humility. The tension displayed by the poet’s arrogance and humility throughout “A Litanie” shows the unbalanced focus that had Donne developed from his religious experiences. Donne would not let go of his religious discrepancies when praying or writing this poem of faith. He needs to question the paradoxes involved in embracing faith while also trying to make sense of where he stands in relation to religion and God. Herbert’s Religious Experiences Throughout His Lifetime: George Herbert was born in 1593 into a family that were prominent members of the Protestant aristocracy. The Herbert’s were a distinguished, noble Welsh family (his brother, Edward, became the father of English deism), but his father died when Herbert was only three, leaving his mother with the task of raising her ten children on her own. She homeschooled Herbert, focusing much of her lessons around the importance of religion and an individual’s relationship with God. In fact, his first two sonnets, sent to his mother in 1610, maintained that the love God is a worthier subject for verse than the love of a woman, the two are not comparable. Eventually when George was of age he went to Westminster School, a school created by the Church of England, and then Trinity College in Cambridge, where in 1620 he became the universities “public orator.” 11 From then on Herbert’s career continued to climb. He became an ordained deacon, and in 1630 he was at “last presented with the livings of Bremerton St. Andrew and Fuggleston St. Peter in the heart of Wiltshire” (Mills 106). However, that very same year after he got married, Herbert gave up his secular ambitions and prepared to enter the holy orders, and devote his life to religion. He spent his final three years on the rural countryside. Where he rebuilt the Bremerton church with his own money, visited the poor, consoled the sick and dying, reconciled neighbors. He became known as the “Holy Mr. Herbert.” Throughout his life Herbert was devoted to his religion, and although there are instances of his struggle in attempting to interpret it, as both Anglicanism and Puritanism are seen in his religious texts, he never seems to question the validity of God or his beliefs. He was born into the popular Christian religion at the time, Protestantism, and therefore was positively influenced by his religious experiences as a child. Also, he was constantly being exposed to his religious beliefs as he went to religious schools, and could speak about his faith in public without fear of persecution. Herbert’s religion never seemed to have a negative impact on him and this is shown throughout his religious poetry. His religious verses explored and celebrated the ways of God’s love as Herbert discovered them within the fluctuations of his own experience. Herbert was never disconnected to his faith because it was a constantly there. There is no uncertainty of God, or his religious devotions, it is apparent that Herbert approaches religion with no 12 insecurities, but with triumphalism. There is not tension, and there is no confusion in his verses. His religious poetics are pure and neat, yet plain and customary. Herbert writes his religious verses in order to explain, or describe the importance of faith in God. His religious verses display “a dizzying variety of styles, shapes, line-lengths, and stress-patters” (Cruickshank 82), that sets him apart from other religious writers at the time. The forms of Herbert’s poems are often structured in ways that literary create an image out of words. Herbert creates images from his words to illustrate how dangerous idolatry is. Herbert believed that there should not be any praise to other witness of devotion apart from God himself, and raised this issue by images he created in his poetry. These religious poems are thus viewed with concern to their formal dimensions before their expression of words, in order for Herbert to emphasis the dangers of admiring an image because one could be so distracted by the image that they then do not focus on the meaning of the words that have created the image. Herbert’s “The Altar” Analysis: “The Altar” is one of Herbert’s stylistic attempts to conjoin content and form were a unity of sight and word, at once a purification of the aesthetic and a denial of the mediation of language. This poem is shaped as an Altar the would be seen in a church, and thus calls attention to itself as made objects, becoming the thing it represents as a part of a pattern of poems in 13 Herbert’s Temple, whose aesthetic work was to model its format after the physical structure of a church: In that page-turning, the hand of the reader forced the “turn,” an action imitating the surprise of entering a new space, an allegorical movement, after which we symbolically step into the Church proper, immediately to confront its Altar. Church and Altar (during the 1670s) both were meant to be taken in at the same moment… manifest two parts of the same program (Achinstein 441). And, With the vantage point of the altars location all pupil could be observed in the church, and the simultaneous viewing of the altar and the pupil take on the metonymic significance of the importance of both the Word and Sacrament: ministry and ritual, in Herbert’s religious poetry. Additionally, the image of the altar in Herbert’s poetry emphasizes the surge of iconoclasm during Herbert’s lifetime, and is a prominent characterization of how Herbert wrote his religious poems: precise and direct language, a metrical versatility, with metaphysical poetic techniques. In “The Altar” the functions of the poem follow after the importance of the form of the poem. Just by looking at “The Altar” it is apparent that its meter is irregular. Some of the lines are shorter than others as a consequence of the formal structure of the poem. However, even with this irregularity every line is still comprised of iambs: The first two lines are in iambic pentameter; lines three and four are iambic tetrameter; lines five to twelve are iambic dimeter. Then, 14 the meter is brought back up again with lines thirteen and fourteen as iambic tetrameter, and lines fifteen and sixteen as iambic pentameter. Thus, even though the poem seems to have no pattern at first glance, after analyzing the iambic verse, it can be proved that Herbert writes it with some predictability. “The Altar” also has a very aesthetically pleasing rhyme scheme to go along with its aesthetically pleasing form. It is composed of seven couplets thus the rhyme scheme is aabbccddeebbgghh, where the b couplet is repeated to emphasize the importance of the “frame” which signifies the objectivity and lifelikeness of the poem, as not just words but the importance of religious understanding. From just the formal dimensions of “The Altar” is is apparent that Herbert’s caution towards images is basically a distraction away from what is really important, analyzing the poem in order to figure out its meaning. The poem’s words describe a devout man, one dedicated to making scarifies for, and praising his God. A man he isn’t questioning his God, and will do whatever he must for God, for his religion. The poem builds a metaphorical altar made out of one’s heart, to begin the first stages of one’s relationship with God, which is inevitably mirroring what Herbert believes to be true and important in his religious beliefs, as he is saying the heart is where religious faith, sacrifice, and praise of God truly begin. Herbert makes it clear that building an alter is a difficult and sometimes painful task, “Made of a heart, and cemented with tears/ “O let they blessed SACRIFICE be mine” (2 & 15), but that its ultimately worth is because the metaphorical altar will 15 continue to praise God long after the speaker ceases to exist, “The if I chance to hold my peace/ These stones to praise thee may not cease” (13- 14). Herbert always expressed that even if all his poetry ceases to exist his poetry no longer existed, he could still show his devotion to God by his heart, by his faith. Herbert would prove his “devout poet” title in other ways apart from his poetry, which is referenced in line six, “Is such a stone,” the word “stone,” is an idea of inner attitude of the speaker and how his heart feels, which was a real emotion and not a feeling just expressed with the poem itself. Just on the first line, Herbert acknowledges that he is imperfect, and the he too sins, “A broken Altar.” He breaks down from then, as seen through the shorten of iambs, expressing his devotion for God, the need the speaker has for God to be in his life. Herbert makes a number of biblical references in “The Altar,” such as in lines nine through sixteen. In lines nine through sixteen there is a change of tone which can be called trusting hope. This change is due to his confidence that God can change his heart. Herbert realizes that the parts of his once "hard heart" are still the same, but now they are directed toward a new end. Herbert finally extends his stone metaphor to the place where he has fulfilled the symbolic words of Christ concerning the stones. That is to say, this may be an allusion to the words of Christ at his Triumphant entry to Jerusalem. At that time when the "crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen ... some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" Jesus replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 17:37 40). 16 The formal and logical dimensions expressed in “The Altar” directly express the ways in which Herbert viewed his religious beliefs, and his relationship with God. He grew up with his religion surrounding him. It was always a stable source for him; it was a comfort. His religious experiences throughout his life lead him to be completely devotional to God. Herbert did not question God, nor did he rebel against the sanctity of religion in poetry. Herbert’s religious poems stressed the importance of religion over materialisticworldlythings by creating images from the words in his poems. Herbert is confident in his religious poetry because he is confident as to where he sands in regards to his religion, or his relationship with God. He seems to have faith that God will be there. Herbert does not mock, or demand, from God, but he simply seeks direction from him. Placing Donne and Herbert SidebySide: The different decisions, and the ones they were inherently born into, that George Herbert and John Donne made throughout their lifetimes in regards to their religion, directly impacted the way in which they expressed religion through their poetic verses, and even just they way they viewed their relationship with God as humans. Herbert was fortunate enough to be born into a family that were Protestants during the time of the reformation; however, Donne was not as a lucky and faced religious persecution throughout most of his life until he converted in 1615. There seems to be an undeniably direct relationship between Herbert and Donne’s religious upbringing compared to the ways in which they express their religious in their poetry. Herbert’s religion was stable, and he was constantly surrounded by it growing up causing him to full comfortable about his relationship with God, and thus confident in his religion, which is exemplified in “The Altar.” Donne’s religion never seemed to be at a stable state, as he was 17 prosecuted as a Catholic during his childhood, to still being unsure of the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism one he converted and became and Anglican priest. Donne’s uncertainties about his faith and his relationship with good are emphasized in Sonnet II and Sonnet XIV of his Holy Sonnets, and in A Litanie. Herbert is devoted to God, where as Donne is disconnected from and thus treats his religious poems in a way that is offensive to the sacrament of religion, or that is how Herbert would view it at least. Donne writes his religious poetry in sonnet form as rebellion from the religious uncertainties that he has. He also writes Sonnet II and Sonnet XIV with very sexual erotic undertones that compares the speaker’s relationship with God similar to that of a speaker’s relationship with a woman. The reasons he does this are not quite clear, bur seems to be another rebellious tact from Donne’s uncertainty and disconnect towards his relationship with God. Donne’s focuses if more on the form of the poem, to show triplets or things that do not belong, failures in his poetry that he assimilated to his failures with God. It is apparent that Donne is confused or unsatisfied with his religious state, as he writes very demanding, dark, and some what desperate religious verses. His emotions towards religion based on his religious experiences throughout his lifetime, leave his tense and unsure, and this confusion is echoed in his poems. As for Herbert, he writes religious poetry in a variety of different but always insures that they could be read as a sermon. His poems are serious, and they express Herbert’s love towards God, his unlimited devotion. He creates images in his poetry, in an attempt to get his readers to realize the the form of the piece is not as important as the words. Herbert does not approach his religious beliefs with the negative undertones that Donne does. In Herbert’s poetry the speaker 18 always seems to trust God, and seek redemption from him, while often Donne’s religious poetry undermines the sanctity of religion. John Donne and George Herbert’s religious decisions and experiences that they made throughout their life were embodied in their religious verses: Donne’s unstable and disconnected experiences with religion left him to write verses that evoked a rebellious the speaker’s confusion and discomfort, while Herbert’s stable and grounded experience with religion allowed him to write verses that expressed the speaker’s strong sense of assurance about God’s love, and his devotion to God. 19 Works Cited: Achinstein, Sharon. "Reading George Herbert in the Restoration." Wiley 36.3: 43065. Print. Cruickshank, Frances. Verse and Poetics in George Herbert and John Donne. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. Print. Kneidel, Gregory. "John Donne's "Via Pauli"" University of Illinois Press 100.2: 22446. Print. Mills, Jerry Leath. "Recent Studies In Herbert." English Literary Renaissance: 10518. Print. Osterwalder, Hans. ""Nor Ever Chaste, except You Ravish Me": The Love Imagery in John Donne's Secular and Religious Poems." AAA: Arbeiten Aus Anglistik Und Amerikanistik 20.1: 199210. Print. Shami, Jeanne. "Trying to Walk on Logs in Water": John Donne, Religion, and the Critical Tradition." Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance Et Reforme, New Series / Nouvelle Serie 25.4: 8199. Print.