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Litanic Verse II

Britannia, Germania et Scandinavia


Edited By Witold Sadowski, Magdalena Kowalska and Magdalena Maria Kubas

The book contains comparative analyses of the development of litanic verse in European poetry, from medieval to modern times. Litanic verse is based on different syntactic devices, such as enumeration, parallelism, anaphora and epiphora. However, it is not to be seen merely as a convention of versification as the popularity of different variants of the verse in Europe reflects the religious, intellectual, social and political history of various European regions. The essays in the second volume focus on litanic verse in the Germanic languages. They discuss predominantly the literatures of Protestant countries (Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Norway), but also Austrian poetry.

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“O Lord, deliver us from trusting in those prayers”: Early Modern England


Since my imprisonment in my bed, I have made a meditation in verse, which I call a Litany; the word you know imports no other than supplication, but all Churches have one form of supplication by that name […]. Mine is for lesser chapels, which are my friends […].1

In a letter to Sir Henry Goodyer John Donne presents his own definition of a litany: he sees it not so much as a communal prayer, addressing wider issues, but as a private meditation in verse, aimed at his own friends (is meant “for lesser chapels”) and their individual needs. This shows that in the seventeenth century, poetry was imagined as something akin to prayer, even though it was not agreed whether prayer of a private or communal nature is best.

Donne also claims that every Church has its own litany. This could not have been truer in the sixteenth century, when the English Litany came into being. Dating back to 1544, it is the earliest piece of liturgy in English sanctioned by King Henry VIII after his break with Rome. Although three years later processional liturgy was banned by the Royal Injunctions, the Litany was originally conceived of by its chief architect — Archbishop Cranmer — as “an English service to be used in processions throughout the province of Canterbury, with plenty prayers for the royal person and dire warnings against dissent and rebellion.”2 It was the first building block of The Book of Common Prayer...

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