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Breaking the Silence

Poetry and the Kenotic Word

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Edited By Malgorzata Grzegorzewska, Jean Ward and Mark Burrows

This book of essays on poetic speech, viewed in a literary-critical, theological and philosophical light, explores the connections and disconnections between vulnerable human words, so often burdened with doubt and pain, and the ultimate kenosis of the divine Word on the Cross. An introductory discussion of language and prayer is followed by reflections linking poetry with religious experience and theology, especially apophatic, and questioning the ability of language to reach out beyond itself. The central section foregrounds the motif of the suffering flesh, while the final section, including essays on seventeenth-century English metaphysical poetry and several of the great poets of the twentieth century, is devoted to the sounds and rhythms which give a poem its own kind of «body».
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Word-As-Flesh Made Artefact: Andrew Marvell’s Poetic Moulding Of The Word

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When Andrew Marvell chooses a proper noun, the name of a group of islands, as the title of his poem, this noun might be expected, like all proper nouns, to have one stable referent, pointing in this case to a precise geographical location: the Bermudas. However, to any linguist this would seem a naïve way of looking at things: actually, few proper names have a single possible referent. Accordingly, when the word “Bermudas” becomes the title of Andrew Marvell’s poem, it doubles its denotation: it is now as much the name of a poem as it is the name of a place. Thus duplicity and referential instability enter here in the very title, and exactly at the moment when that title seems to promise the ultimate destination for the travellers in an English boat, who seem to be so near the shore. But they are like Keats’ “bold lover” who will always be “winning near the goal”, for the rowers in Marvell’s poem never reach the island. Contrary to what Nigel Smith suggests (the sailors “initially appear to be landing on the coast for the first time, but they already know what is ashore, as if they are merely about their daily colonial business”, 56), I would argue that the echoic structure of the poem and its referential indeterminacy keep the travellers floating near their goal, while it is constantly being deferred. When the poem ends they are still in the boat, rowing and singing:

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