English 165

Special Topics: (note new topic) Religion and Poetry in the Renaissance

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2011 Marno, David
Marno, David
TTh 11-12:30 300 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets (ed. di Cesare); Milton, Complete Poetry (ed. Kerrigan); OR The Major Works (eds. Orgel and Goldberg) (or any scholarly edition that includes Paradise Lost and the shorter poems). Additional texts will be distributed electronically.


What does it mean to speak to God through a sonnet? Why would someone retell the story of the Biblical Fall in verse? Why rewrite the Psalms in rhyme royal? In this course, we’ll do a case study of sixteenth and seventeenth century religious poetry to answer these questions. We’ll keep a dual focus throughout: what makes religious poetry a fascinating object for study is precisely that it is both poetry and religion, and it reflects the irreverent creativity of poetry as well as the reverence that religion seems to demand from its practitioners. In the odd cooperation of poetry and religion, both are often forced to show their unknown faces and hidden tendencies; our main goal in the course is to notice the moments when religious poetry tells us something new and exciting about poetic invention or religious belief.

In theory, there are three types of religious poetry in the early modern period: devotional poetry, prophetic poetry, and mystical poetry. Devotional poetry can be loosely defined as poetry that enacts or resembles religious practices such as prayer or liturgical acts. Prophetic poetry corresponds to the Scriptures in that it reports of a story and its report is ostensibly based on revelation. Finally, mystical poetry tends to focus on some sort of experience of the divine. We will approach the religious poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with these three categories in hand, but also with an open mind to any alternatives, variations, or departures. Although the course focuses on religious poetry, we’ll also look at secular poetry because, as we’ll see, religious and secular are not entirely separable categories in the period.

Authors include Philip and Mary Sidney, John Donne, George Herbert, Aemilia Lanyer, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Traherne, and John Milton.

This course satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

This class is open to third- and fourth-year English majors only.

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