Approaches to Poetry, Theology and Philosophy
Edited By Martin Potter, Malgorzata Grzegorzewska and Jean Ward
This collection of essays explores poetry’s contribution to the expression of theological wonder, which can occur both in ordinary life and in the natural world or can arise in the context of explicitly supernatural mystical experience. Poets have a special role in capturing religious awe in ways beyond the power of discursive language. Some essays in this book approach the subject on a theoretical level, working with theology, philosophy and literary criticism. Others provide close readings of poems in which the engagement with a variously understood idea or experience of wonder is prominent, from the English-language tradition and outside it. Poets from culturally and historically different backgrounds are thus drawn together through the focus on the meaning of wonder.
“The wonder of his pittie”: Shock and Awe in George Herbert’s Temple
Abstract: George Herbert’s poetry speaks to a wide range of meanings of wonder: awe at divine presence, radical amazement, aesthetic bliss, delight before blooming nature, bafflement at freak circumstance, stupor in the face of suffering – as well, often, as bemused surprise at everyday beauty. I follow wonder as it flares throughout Herbert’s lyrics: its brief varied appearances in “Affliction”, “Misery”, “The Flower”, “The Glance”, “The Banquet”, and “The Church Militant”; the stupefying via dolorosa of “The Sacrifice”, Herbert’s engagement with Ignatian and Tridentine devotion; and finally the awestruck Augustinian sonnet “Redemption”.
Keywords: wonder, surprise, grace, via dolorosa, redemption
“Behold, I show you a wonder!” All English-speakers will register the difference between a statement like this – with its exclamation point – and the inquiring “I wonder?” or “I wonder …” – with a question mark or trailing ellipses. The former statement proclaims awe in the presence of some marvel; the latter two insinuate a query, perhaps tinged with scepticism. This essay collection invites us to “wonder” in both senses. In particular, it asks us to consider poetry, philosophy, and theology as ways into wonder; and at first it would seem that the proper mediators of the marvellous are poetry and theology, whereas philosophy is the chosen instrument of inquiry. Certainly David’s Psalms, or Aquinas’s Summa – or for that matter Calvin’s Institutes – address and celebrate the awesome incomprehensibility of God; whilst philosophers usually set aside reverence for reason. Yet these three modes of discourse frequently interpenetrate. Poets often probe...
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