Religious poetry in the modern age is significantly different in content, expression and function from its equivalent in earlier ages. This is apparent from a survey of the recent and representative anthology, Scottish Religious Poetry, ed. Meg Bateman, Robert Crawford and James McGonigal (Edinburgh 2000), in which there is a marked concentration on the lyric genre as practised in the last two centuries, with its focus on the individual consciousness. Though this emphasis is today inevitable, it is much less appropriate to the religious poetry of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, in which, between poet and reader, there is an assumption of shared beliefs and principles, coupled with a strong element of didacticism. The appreciation of such works necessitates on the part of the reader a willingness to make adjustments of critical attitude and approach. It is argued that the effort is well worth making: understanding is not coterminous with assent, and the search for felicity (of whatever kind) is a psychological urge common to readers of all ages.


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