Religion And Poetry

Seventeenth-century poets responded to the complexity of religious beliefs in an age that produced exceptionally diverse and rich religious verse: the Laudian and anti-Calvinist poetry of Crashaw was strikingly different from the Calvinist verses of the Protestant Donne or from the anti-Laudian and prophetic poetry of Milton. The religious beliefs which shaped and were articulated by this poetry were themselves often closely interconnected with the world of politics and state power. Thus Laudianism, with its new and controversial emphasis on ceremonial religion, was promoted by the court of Charles I in the 1620s and 1630s. In this section, I want to highlight, using select examples from the period's poetry, some of its principal religious currents, including two conflicting religious movements within the English Church that heightened tensions in earlier seventeenth-century Protestant England: Calvinism and Laudianism.

In the early seventeenth century, Calvinist theology was by and large the orthodox creed of English Protestantism: it dominated the Church of England and, indeed, James I himself was Calvinist, though his son, we shall see, would be influenced in the 1620s and 1630s by conflicting and hostile religious developments. The popularity of the Geneva Bible (1560), which went through at least thirty-nine quarto editions printed in England between 1579 and 1615,22 and the enormous influence of Calvin's own sermons, biblical commentaries, and especially his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536; 1559; translated 1561), contributed to the dominance of Calvinism in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Calvinism emphasized God's eternal decrees, along with his initiative and irresistible grace enabling man's salvation; consequently it downplayed, as Luther did, the efficacy of the works of sinful man and denied that his free will played any role in matters of salvation or damnation. Most significantly, it stressed absolute divine sovereignty and power and the notion of divine predestination (see, for example, Institutes 3.21.5) whereby elevation to Heaven (as one of the elect) or reprobation to Hell depends solely on the will of God: as number 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563), the English confession of faith, read, 'predestination to life is the ever-lasting purpose of God, whereby ... he hath constantly decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind'.23 Calvinist divines suggested, however, that the number of the elect was very few and that most men, women and children would perish: 'Some think one of an hundred, some but one of a thousand shalbe saved.'24

The starkness of Calvinist theology, with its persistent emphasis on human depravity and sinfulness, could generate acute anxiety, doubt, and restlessness. For one thing, Calvinism expelled intermediaries between an omnipotent, often inscrutable God and man's soul: the Protestant Reformation emphasized justification by faith alone, and neither the church nor the sacraments nor religious ceremonies could provide divine grace needed to assure one's salvation. With this emphasis on the individual's personal relation to God, Protestantism could thus make God seem more awesomely distant and yet also bring him more awesomely close.25 Donne's agonistic and intensely introspective Holy Sonnets offer powerful examples of his Calvinistic terror of damnation and sense of sinfulness as he confronts his personal and awesome God; thus at one moment an anxious Donne can become contentious with God as he envies the rest of creation:

If poisonous minerals, and if that tree, Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us, If lecherous goats, if serpents envious Cannot be damned; alas, why should I be?

But then, recognizing the all-powerful nature of this Protestant God who can forget Donne's human sins, the poet retreats from his quarrelsome posture: 'But who am I, that dare dispute with thee / O God?' Indeed, Donne's awesome heavenly monarch possesses a power not unlike that which James I attributed to kings: 'they make and unmake their subjects: they have power of raising, and casting downe: of life, and of death' (James I, p. 519). So in the sonnet 'Batter my heart', Donne's Calvinistic God -capable of making and unmaking his sinful, helpless subject — becomes, in the poem's three successive quatrains, a metal worker, a warrior-king, and a male lover as the resistant Donne himself, paradoxically, demands God to apply his violent force:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blowe, burn and make me new.

The alliteration and forceful verbs of line 4 (God's spirit blows rather than breathes, his face burns rather than shines) convey the divine power and violence needed to break Donne's resistance and make him anew, especially when he is 'betrothed' — as he is in the third quatrain — to God's enemy, Satan. After all, with its deep conviction of human sin, Protestantism simultaneously increased the sense of the enormous and potentially irresistible powers of Satan - that 'prince and God of this world' as John Knox called him.26 Since Donne is betrothed to Satan (though he dearly loves God), Donne urges God's sexual assault and penetration: 'Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again.' For Donne, however, God's enthralment paradoxically enables Donne's freedom, just as God's ravishment paradoxically enables Donne's chastity: 'for I / Except you enthral me, never shall be free / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me'. The dazzling paradoxes, the vivid tropes suggesting God's great force and Donne's complete inadequacy, the imperative mode of Donne's dramatic address - all convey, in a highly individualistic and flamboyant way, intense emotional pressure and the urgent need for God to apply his full power and grace to remake the sinful Donne.

Although less flamboyant than Donne, the Protestant Herbert, with his emphasis on the religion of the heart, also often focusses on the agony within. Using the Bible as his chief source of imaginative expression, Herbert in 'Sion', for example, contrasts the glorious artifice and architecture of Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 3-4) - which hardly seems to affect God - with the architecture of the New Testament temple found within the individual's heart (see 1 Corinthians 3:9, 16; 1 Peter 2:5):

There thou art struggling with a peevish heart, Which sometimes crosseth thee, thou sometimes it: The fight is hard on either part. Great God doth fight, he doth submit. All Solomons sea of brasse and world of stone Is not so deare to thee as one good grone.27 (lines 13—18)

In Herbert's interior world of arduous spiritual battle between God and the Protestant sinner, 'one good grone' - that simple pained utterance and emission from the heart — is far more effective and spontaneous as an expression of devotion than any ornate or lavish external form of worship. To be sure, Herbert's poetry often refers to the external features and rituals of the Anglican Church (to which he was devoted), but he tends to transform them inwardly so that the altar becomes his heart, its monuments become his flesh, its lock becomes his sin, its marbled floor becomes the basic virtues, and so on. That is precisely the kind of inwardness that the Protestant Herbert emphasizes at the end of 'The Church-floor': 'Blest be the Architect, whose art / Could build so strong in a weak heart' (lines 19—20). But then if God is the powerful artist who creates strong spiritual virtues within the feeble heart of the Protestant individual and poet, what about Herbert's own artistic contribution and mortal agency? This issue is a source of considerable tension in Herbert's work: for as he uses his fallen human art to praise God's transcendent power and art, the Protestant poet, fully aware of his own sinfulness, is indeed often uneasy that he may go too far in his display of artifice and 'weave [him] self into the sense' (Jordan (II)', line 14).

Herbert, moreover, will sometimes characterize the restless relationship between the individual speaker and his omnipotent Protestant God in language reminding us of the close interconnections between politics and religion in earlier seventeenth-century England. For example, Herbert will dramatize that relationship in terms of an unworthy subject serving a powerful king, so that the inner self now becomes the principal site of political power and struggle. In 'Affliction (I)', he begins by writing about God's enticing and 'gracious benefits' and then asks, hoping for a life of mirth without grief, 'What pleasures could I want, whose King I served ...?' (lines 6, 13-14). But once Herbert's speaker encounters strife, sorrow, and sickness, he then becomes rebellious and restless: 'Well, I will change the service, and go seek / Some other master out' (lines 63-4). Elsewhere Herbert complains that this powerful divine monarch frustrates his intentions and will ('things sort not to my will, / Ev'n when my will doth studie thy renown: / Thou turnest th' edge of all things on me still, / Taking me up to throw me down'), prompting the poet to highlight the pain and contradictions of serving an omnipotent God: 'A my deare Father, ease my smart! / These contrarieties crush me: these crosse actions / Doe winde a rope about, and cut my heart' ('The Cross', lines 19-22, 31—3). And when the fiercely rebellious, unruly speaker of Herbert's religious poetry wants to highlight his feelings of rage as a result of his unrequited appeals, he can employ the language of a frustrated courtier: 'Shall I be still in suit?' (line 6) he impatiently asks at the beginning of 'The Collar'. Herbert's awesome God of power, however, is also a benign God of love who can use his penetrating, intimate gaze to rejuvenate the restless, sinful heart: 'If thy first glance so powerfull be ... What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see / Thy full-ey'd love!' ('The Glance', lines 17, 19—20). When the poet anticipates a visit from his heavenly superior ('The harbingers are come. See, see their mark'), he is glad that the approaching monarch's servants leave him his 'best room, / Ev'n all [his] heart, and what is lodged there'; Herbert's God, indeed, is a powerful king capable of taking over Herbert's poetic powers, as well as his interior self: 'My God must have my best, ev'n all I had' ('The Forerunners', lines 1, 7-8, 18).

Given Herbert's painful question in 'The Temper (I)' - 'Will great God measure with a wretch?' (line 15) - we may ask whether all Anglican poets of the period convey an equally strong Protestant sense of anxiety about inherent human weakness and sinfulness. In an age of diverse religious expression, this is by no means always the case. Thomas Traherne, like Herbert and Vaughan, was devoted to the Anglican Church; yet his poetry and prose, with their emphasis on the visionary and divine powers of childhood, deny original sin and corruption as hereditary: 'Misery proceedeth ten thousand times more from the outward Bondage of Opinion and Custom, then from any inward corruption or Depravation of Nature: And ... it is not our Parents Loyns, so much as our Parents lives, that Enthrals and Blinds us'.28 As an infant free of inward guilt, Traherne writes in his poem 'Innocence', 'I felt no Stain, nor Spot of Sin' (line 4). How different this is from Donne who keenly feels our paradoxical spiritual state which begins the very first minute of our life 'in our mother's womb' when 'we become guilty of Adam's sin done 6000 years before'; for then the image of God and original sin coincide: 'Powers, that dwell so far asunder, as Heaven, and Hell, God and the Devil, meet in an instant in my soul.'29 According to Traherne, however, it is the evil customs and devices of society and men that cause depravity and prevent us from enjoying the radiant pleasures of a paradisal vision:

Cursd and Devisd Proprieties, With Envy, Avarice And Fraud, those Feinds that Spoyl even Paradice, Fled from the Splendor of mine Eys.

Although Traherne's poetry continually reminds us that evil does exist, it conveys a much more optimistic sense (than, say, does Vaughan's religious poetry) that the visionary poet can truly regain a state of innocence and a paradise within.

One Anglican poet sympathetic to Laudian ceremonialism, Robert Herrick, even deflates the Calvinist notion of divine predestination itself; for him, it hardly seems like a terrifying concept at all, as his little epigrammatic poem by that name makes clear: 'Predestination is the Cause alone / Of many standing, but of fall to none.' Even Herrick's religious poetry from His Noble Numbers (1647) most explicitly evoking a sense of spiritual helplessness and doubt hardly conveys the same level of terror, fear, and emotional pressure we associate with Donne's tormented Calvinistic verse in poems like the Holy Sonnets-, as Herrick writes in his 'His Litany, to the Holy Spirit':

When (God knowes) I'm tost about, Either with despaire, or doubt; Yet before the glasse be out Sweet Spirit comfort me!

When the flames and hellish cries Fright mine eares, and fright mine eyes, And all terrors me surprize,

Sweet Spirit comfort me! (lines 33-6, 41-4)

Herrick's petitionary refrain - 'Sweet Spirit comfort me!' - in this litany focussed on last things, emphasizes the relief rather than the terrifying anguish of his predicament. How different this emotional response is from Donne's!

The most powerful challenge to Calvinism in the age came from the highly controversial figure of William Laud (1573-1645), who became

Bishop of London in 1628 and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Supported by his patron Charles I, he in effect ruled the Church of England until he was impeached by the Long Parliament in 1640. Indeed, the policies of Charles and Laud were themselves deeply intertwined: 'the church and state are so nearly united and knit together', Laud observed in 1626, 'that... they may be accounted but as one'.30 Laud's principal innovation was his new emphasis on the role of ceremony and ritual in religious practice. His sacra-mentalism stressed the formal and outward aspects of worship: it placed emphasis on the holiness of church buildings, on the sanctity of the altar (which was to be raised and railed off), on confession to the priest, on set forms of prayer (as opposed to preaching), on the belief that salvation came through the church and the sacraments. As Laud himself put it, he was concerned 'that the external worship of God in this church might be kept in uniformity and decency, and in some beauty of holiness'.31 This was clearly a challenge to the Protestant belief that the supremacy of the individual conscience and the individual response to the holy scriptures are much more important than the correct performance of church ceremonies. Under Laud, priests were elevated to a position of privilege and power, while bishops, he claimed, acted by divine right. We might at first think of Laud as a conservative reactionary in matters of religious policy, but as Patrick Collinson has more accurately put it, he is best seen 'as the principal agent provocateur of religious revolution'.32

Laud was in fact rejecting major aspects of the Reformation, including Calvinist predestinarianism. His innovations were often associated with so-called 'Arminianism', the name applied to those thought to follow the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (died 1609), who had allowed that men could participate in the scheme of salvation by exercising their free will. Such a belief only infuriated orthodox Calvinists (however, Milton who hated Laudianism but valued free will would later assume a kind of radical Arminianism). For Arminians, salvation was especially made possible through the rituals and sacraments of the church, and through the mediation of the clergy. Given the new emphasis Laud placed on ceremonies and ritualized worship, as well as on the authoritarian hierarchy of the church, his counter-reforming policies generated fear and horror among many Protestant Englishmen who believed that he was subverting religious liberties and assuming 'an absolute and unlimited power'.33

For an Anglican royalist poet like Herrick, however, the Laudian emphasis on ceremonialism was clearly appealing. Singing of maypoles and maying in his collection of verses, Hesperides (1648), Herrick reveals his sympathy with the renewed emphasis on ritual, festivals, and recreations promoted by Charles I and Laud. His 'Corinna's going a Maying' is a spirited holiday poem that refers in its second stanza explicitly to the controversial Book of Sports issued by James in 1618 and then reissued by Charles himself in 1633, a proclamation that officially sanctioned various traditional Sunday and holiday pastimes:34

Can such delights be in the street And open fields, and we not see't? Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay The Proclamation made for May, And sin no more, as we have done, by staying; But my Cortnna, come, let's goe a Maying. (lines 37-42.)

With the proclamation of the Book of Sports, both the church and king associated themselves with old festival culture and traditional customs: indeed, for royalist sympathizers maypoles themselves became symbols of release from godly reformation of the church encouraged by Puritanism (see below). Of course, Laudian ritualism and the protection of rural sports and revels only incensed Sabbatarian reformers who thought that such activities appealed to what was unregenerate and undisciplined in men.35 Yet for Herrick, the poet of mirth and pleasure, such cultural conflicts are not particularly troubling; what is important for him is the licensed festivity and May games made possible by this proclamation issued by the church and state - a proclamation that condones the festive even as it encourages obedience to the traditional political and ecclesiastical authorities with which Herrick himself was aligned.

Those Protestants hostile to Laudian ceremonialism frequently linked it with popery and Catholicism. Indeed, the poet whose extravagant, ornate verse perhaps most exemplifies such Laudian church tendencies is Richard Crashaw who sought refuge, during the mid-i630S, from religious and political controversies in the Laudian sanctuary of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Crashaw wanted a religion that put on 'A majestie that [might] beseem thy throne' ('On a Treatise of Charity', line 20):36 he would have found that at Peterhouse whose chapel was elaborately decorated with stained-glass windows, a marble altar, gilded candlesticks, a large crucifix, a wooden statue of Peter and the crossed keys, among other ornaments. This religious enclave, however, offered seclusion from the upheaval of civil war only until 1643 when Crashaw was expelled from Cambridge by Puritans hostile to Laudian innovations. For Crashaw the exile from the cloistered, protected world of Laudian Peterhouse was, as he wrote in his one surviving letter, nothing less than 'a dislocation of my whole condition'.37 Fleeing to the continent, he entered the Roman Catholic church in 1646: the Protestant emphasis on spiritual doubt, introspection, and inward struggle that we associate with poets like Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan clearly did not appeal to Crashaw's Counter-Reformation sensibility and imagination, which focussed on saints, sacraments, the cult of tears, and the worship of the Holy Name of Jesus. His religious and creative sensibility was much more attracted to the world of elaborate church ritual and sacramentalism that we have associated with the Laudian milieu he encountered in Cambridge during the 1630s and early 1640s.

While strikingly different from much of the Protestant verse we have been looking at, Crashaw's poetry can reveal its own extreme intensity of emotion as he writes, for example, about Mary Magdalene's tears or about the martyrdom, spiritual ecstasy, and burning piety of St Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and key figure of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Mary Magdalene's tears in 'The Weeper' are so plentiful, as well as sensual, that a cherub in heaven can feed upon them:

Every morn from hence A brisk Cherub somthing sippes, Whose sacred influence

Addes sweetnes to his sweetest Lippes. (lines 25—8)

Laudian and Counter-Reformation in his religious sensibility, Crashaw can imagine a cherub mediating between heaven and Mary Magdelene, whose bubbling and nourishing stream of tears rises upwards in this poem. Crashaw's poetics of excessive emotion and extravagant adoration reaches a climax in his veneration of St Teresa's mystical and sensuous death:

O how oft shalt thou complaine Of a sweet and subtile paine? Of intollerable joyes? Of a death, in which who dyes Loves his death, and dyes againe, And would for ever so be slaine!

Crashaw indeed felt compelled to write a further poem defending his verses on St Teresa against the anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish sentiments of his Protestant countrymen: 'O 'tis not spanish, but 'tis heav'n she speaks!' ('An Apology', line 23). Crashaw's point, of course, is that such religious devotion, and the creative sensibility it inspires, transcends national boundaries; nonetheless his strongly Laudian, anti-Puritan, and Counter-Reformation aesthetics articulate, with a distinctive poetic voice, what was in England one of the more extreme (but far from insignificant) forms of High Anglican devotional expression in an age remarkably full of diverse and contradictory religious beliefs. Indeed, the religious sensibility represented by Crashaw's poetry and Laudian orientation generated great hostility, especially among Puritans.

RELIGIOUS CONFLICT: PURITANISM AND THE ENGLISH CHURCH

Every good Christian believer, Milton observed in one of his anti-prelatical tracts, is 'more sacred than any dedicated altar or element'.38 Indeed, Puritans (a term not always easy to define with precision in seventeenth-century England) were those vanguard English Protestants who most strongly opposed the sacramental elements of worship and vigorously wished to eliminate what they considered vestiges of popery from the church. In the 1630s they viewed the ceremonialist Charles with mistrust and considered Archbishop Laud a dangerous popish innovator in his religious policies. Attempting to live their lives according to God's Word, Puritans elevated preaching, the authority of scripture, and the individual conscience above the sacraments, church ritual, and priestly intervention. (The term Puritan itself was frequently an abusive epithet referring to Protestant religiosity.) Puritans were often associated with Calvinist doctrine (especially after the 1620s), though Milton himself chose to dissent from Calvinist orthodoxy in his passionate belief in human free will. Seeing themselves at war with the ungodly world, Puritan saints formed communities of the godly and tended to highlight the doctrine of divine providence. Puritanism was not necessarily subversive of the established order, though in the Civil War years the appeal to scripture and the liberty of conscience unleashed forces — some of them quite militant - that challenged constraining authorities in the state and church: 'this license of interpreting the Scripture', Thomas Hobbes observed, 'was the cause of so many sects, as have lain hid till the beginning of the late King's reign, and did then appear to the disturbance of the commonwealth'.39 Two poems of the period - Marvell's 'Bermudas' and Vaugh-an's 'The British Church' - can illustrate important elements of the Puritan imagination as well as the religious conflicts it generated during the English Civil War.

Marvell's 'Bermudas' dramatizes the emotional and spiritual experience of the persecuted Puritans fleeing a stormy England at the height of Laud's power in search of an earthly paradise and a safe haven where episcopal worship is no longer enforced:

Where the remote Bermudas ride In th'Oceans bosome unespy'd, From a small Boat, that row'd along, The listning Winds receiv'd this Song.

What should we do but sing his Praise That led us through the watry Maze, Unto an Isle so long unknown, And yet far kinder than our own? Where he the huge Sea-Monsters wracks, That lift the Deep upon their Backs. He lands us on a grassy Stage; Safe from the Storms, and Prelat's rage, He gave us this eternal Spring, Which here enamells every thing; And sends the Fowl's to us in care, On daily Visits through the Air. He hangs in shades the Orange bright, Like golden Lamps in a green Night. And does in the Pomgranates close, Jewels more rich than Ormus show's. He makes the Figs our mouths to meet; And throws the Melons at our feet. But Apples plants of such a price, No Tree could ever bear them twice. With Cedars, chosen by his hand, From Lebanon, he stores the Land. And makes the hollow Seas, that roar, Proclaime the Ambergris on shoar. He cast (of which we rather boast) The Gospels Pearl upon our Coast. And in these Rocks for us did frame A Temple, where to sound his Name. Oh let our Voice his Praise exalt, Till it arrive at Heavens Vault: Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may Eccho beyond the Mexique Bay. Thus sung they, in the English boat, An holy and a chearful Note, And all the way, to guide their Chime, With falling Oars they kept the time.

Besides reflecting an interest in the discovery of the New World (the Bermudas had been discovered in 1515 and the English had colonized them in the seventeenth century), Marvell's poem nicely conveys the experience of a group of English Puritans, the tiny community of the godly, in exile and responding to a providential universe. It is likely that Marvell wrote the poem after July 1653 when he was living in the house of a Puritan divine, John Oxenbridge, who had fled to the Bermudas during the Laudian persecution of the 1630s; for it was then that the Archbishop of Canterbury had fiercely opposed the Puritans with what the religious exiles of Marvell's poem call his 'Prelate rage'. Indeed, for attacking the Laudian church and its popery during the 1630s, the Puritan pamphleteers John Bastwick, Henry Burton, and William Prynne had famously suffered the consequences of that rage: they underwent the brutal punishment of having their ears cropped. The Puritans Marvell has imagined in his 'Bermudas' have escaped such harsh repression and offer a song of thanksgiving to God and a vision of an unspoiled paradise awaiting them - an island 'far kinder than our own'.

The central portion of Marvell's poem (lines 5-36), the Puritan paean of praise and gratitude conveying an inner assurance of salvation, is itself modelled on the biblical psalms: it captures the Puritan understanding of God's role in the drama of history, as well as the post-Reformation emphasis on God's sovereignty and immediate providences.40 Puritan providentialism, a major force in English life and politics from 1620 to 1660, included the sense that God intervenes continually in the world (with signs of his presence) and the sense that Israelite history serves as a parallel to English experience.41 Marvell's poem conveys the sense of the godly community having been led by providence — God having rescued these latter-day exiles and 'led [them] through the watry Maze' to a promised land. Consequently the Puritans' song conveys a vision of the workings of divine purpose with God as the agent, presenting him repeatedly as the active subject of its main verbs: 'He lands us on a grassy Stage'; 'He gave us this eternal Spring'; 'He makes the Figs our mouths to meet'; 'he stores the Land'; and so on. Although these exiles travel in 'a small Boat' on a vast ocean, having been cast out of one potential paradise, they have faith that God is indeed guiding them towards a new one. The fact that their song mixes verb tenses as it describes God's numerous providential acts only further underscores the sense of divine control in both the past and present. The providential universe, then, is by no means indifferent to the needs of these Puritan pilgrims who flee the intolerance of a hostile, ungodly world - the Arminian England of Laud and Charles I. To the contrary, the catalogue of natural delights reveals the kind of earthly paradise and rewards God's power might provide for those Puritan believers who have faith.

That God 'did frame' a temple for their worship among the rocks of their new land is no less significant for understanding the Puritan sense of the way providence has provided for their spiritual needs. Unlike Laud, who had emphasized the holiness of church buildings, these Puritan exiles have no need for any kind of elaborate ecclesiastical structure, nor for any kind of ceremonial religion with set forms of prayer and rituals. Rather, their song of praise is spontaneous and they can worship anywhere - even the rocks of this newly found paradise will serve perfectly well as their temple. Moreover, they clearly hope that their 'chearful' song will not only reach heaven but 'perhaps' reach 'beyond the Mexique Bay', thus encouraging the godly reformation of religion in other parts of the Roman Catholic New World as well. Of course, the fact that Marvell has set off this song and vision of unspoiled paradise with four lines at the beginning and four at the end - with both framing passages in the third person - gives the central section of the poem a particularly dramatic quality. Marvell often creates dramatic voices, sometimes putting them in perspective with his own narrative voice: the poet reminds us at the end that this godly community is still in its small'English boat' and not yet arrived at its paradisal garden. Through the exiles' song, he has recreated sympathetically the Puritan vision of providential order and history, but reminded us that it is sustained by, more than anything else, an unwavering faith in the power of God to provide the godly with both material and spiritual blessings.

Vaughan's 'The British Church', from his collection of religious verse Silex Scintillans (1650), offers an entirely different response to the rise of Puritanism in this period. His poem poignantly expresses the response of an Anglican poet to the terrible plight of the Church of England under the revolutionary Puritans during the 1640s. An Anglican royalist educated in Oxford and London, Vaughan returned to his native Wales at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642; anti-Puritan in his sentiments — he had little sympathy for Protestant sectaries — and deeply shocked by the royalist defeat, he lamented the destruction of the national church caused by the conflicts of the Civil War. His powerful poem, in which he imagines the impassioned response of the Bride of Christ, conveys a profound sense of loss and anxiety over the disappearance of the traditional ecclesiastical order:

Ah! he is fled! And while these here their mists, and shadowes hatch,

My glorious head Doth on those hills of Mirrhe, and Incense watch. Haste, hast my dear, The Souldiers here Cast in their lots again, That seamlesse coat The Jews touch'd not, These dare divide, and stain.

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  • Sara K
    Why were the divorce and politics controversial during the seventeenth century?
    2 months ago

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