Spenser’s and Donne’s devotional poetics of scattering
in Spenser and Donne
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‘In no poetry more than the religious did the English genius in the seventeenth century declare its strong individuality, its power of reacting on the traditions and fashions which, in the Elizabethan age, had flowed in upon it from the Latin countries in Europe,’ announced Herbert Grierson in the introduction of his 1921 Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems. Since Grierson’s volume, scholars have proposed numerous genealogies for seventeenth-century religious verse. Such genealogies are inevitably teleological: the question governing them is how English poets made the leap from the psalm translations and paraphrases of Thomas Wyatt, Anne Locke, and the Sidneys to the original devotional poetry of John Donne and George Herbert. Curiously, Edmund Spenser’s poetry is rarely considered in this context. And yet religion is central to virtually all of Spenser’s poetry, from the ethico-religious programme of the Faerie Queene to the Protestant vision of love in the Amoretti and the Neoplatonic ascent to divine love in the Fowre Hymnes. This chapter reconsiders Spenser, especially the Fowre Hymnes, as part of the history that leads to Donne’s poetry of devotional praise in the Holy Sonnets, raising fundamental questions about our categories of religious verse.

Spenser and Donne

Thinking poets

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