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 Self and the World: The Modernity of Edward Thomas
Abstract: Focusing on the concept of epiphany, the essay demonstrates how Edward Thomas’ poetry destabilises the perceiving human subject, subjectivises the outside world and exposes the self-referentiality of poetic language. Thomas’ provisional epiphanies thus display more affinities with those of his modernist contemporaries than with those of his Romantic predecessors.
Keywords: epiphany, nature poetry, lyrical speaker, Romanticism, modernism
Perhaps in answer to the philosophical explorations of English empiricism, ever since Romanticism the broadly speaking epistemological questions concerning the relationship between the self and outside reality have been the focus of interest of English poetry. As Earl R. Wasserman asserts, all major Romantic poets “face the central need to find a significant relationship between the subjective and objective worlds” (346), making the very act of perception, the “transaction between the perceiving mind and the perceived world” their main poetic subject (332). Despite their widely differing answers to this epistemological problem, Romantic poems seem nevertheless to share important similarities. Their speakers tend to take the centre stage in the presented world, with which they engage primarily through the medium of (variously defined) imagination. They experience a moment of epiphany,1 when the wonder of the world and its perfect harmony is revealed in a sudden vision. They also report their insights into the timeless spiritual order that they perceive manifested in the material world in a language which, thanks to their poetic power, is able truthfully and reliably to report those insights to the reader.
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