Sypher, Wylie
March 1984
Sewanee Review;Spring1984, Vol. 92 Issue 2, p300
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
The article focuses on the history of confluence of religion and poetry. Anthropologists would surely agree that interpretations of literature usually descend historically through three phases: as religion, as art, as document--this last phase devoted to scrutiny of the text itself. In the history of English poetry, the issue of authority is central. The poetry of inspiration--secure in its vision of a transcendental order and supported by sacred texts--is weakened and finally lost in the poetry of imagination--a domain of art--created by a poet who has no effectual authority and must himself, without validation from the sacred, establish a fiction that seems scriptural. The Protestant sought unmediated vision, and Milton hoped to provide a text that had the authority of the Bible. But the Protestant was also a breaker of images, and this iconoclasm allows the poet to impose the human order on the divine. Turning from poet William Shakespeare, John Milton, a poet, distrusted the imagination as fantastic images that denied his authority as poet and prophet. Poet Edmund Spenser, who intruded secular romance into sacred quests, was at last defeated, like Milton, in the attempt at bridging poetry and piety. When whatever is not truly inspired is only imagined, the supernatural must be naturalized.


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