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Changing the Object Herbert end Excess by Richard Strier Louis Martz has argued that "there is more in common between Herbert and Crashaw than Is ordinarily conceded." ' Malcolm Mackenzie Ross agrees, finding Herbert's poetry lacking in "Anglican reticence" in the way in which ¡mages of "cosmic weeping" are "crossed with imagery of purification and ecstasy in an almost Teresan yearning after the 'wound of love' which hurts much yet is desired."2 In Herbert's poetry, Ross continues (maintaining the parallel with Saint Teresa), "the flaming dart of grace pierces, but it caresses too."3 Ross's comments identify Herbert with what is perhaps the most striking feature of Counter-Reformation art and devotion— its willingness to "baptize excess," to use images of sensual .especlally sexual, indulgence positively in religious contexts. Martz sees "the aesthetic of the CounterReformation " epitomized in Southwell's assertion that "there is no passion but hath a serviceable use."4 "Passions I allow," says Southwell, "and loves I approve, onely I wish that men would alter their object."5 The aim of the CounterReformation , in these terms, is to alter the object, not the passion .6 Their use, as Crashaw puts it, "is chang'd, not lost." 7 The poems of Herbert's that Ross cites and alludes to in support of his claim are "Love"(ll) and "Bitter-sweet." It Is interesting that neither he nor Martz cites "Marie Magdalene" in this context. The Magdalen was the great example of changing "the object," but not the passion. Walter Montagu cited Mary to support his belief ("without any levity of conceit") that "hearts wrought intoa tenderness by the lighter flame of nature are easilier cast into Devotion than others of a hard and less impressive temper." 8 Herbert, however, does not present Mary erotically in his poem; the single allusion which he makes to Mary's past is studiedly abstract.9 In "Dulnesse," Herbert rejects the analogy between the religious man and the earthly lover — "ev'n wrongs /Sharpen(thé|Muse" of lovers, but the poet is dependent on God even for the ability to "look toward" Him, let alone "Praise thee brim-full." ' ° 24 HERBERTAND EXCESS Let us look again at Ross's claim. It is significant that his highly allusive sentences ascribing "Teresan yearning" to Herbert contain no allusions to Herbert's poetry. The "wound of love" is a phrase which Crashaw constantly, but Herbert never, employs; Crashaw would certainly have appreciated Ross's adaptation of Cleopatra's description of "the stroke of death... Which hurts, and is desir'd," but there is nothing like this in Herber*. It is true that in "Love"(ll) Herbert presents God as kindling passionate desire for Himself in men's hearts— "Then shall our hearts pant thee" (line 6) — but the attitude which the poem takes toward earthly love is harshly negative. It does not view such love as "the infancy of true charity, yet sucking natures teate." " It also does not further develop the imagery of "panting." No breast "heaves with strong desire" ,? in Herbert's poem, and it ends on a vision of praise, not ecstasy ("All knees shall bow to thee; all wits shall rise, /And praise him who did make and mend our eies"). The "dart of grace" which both pierces and caresses also never appears in Herbert's poetry. Its closest analogue is the occurrence of something like a "Heavenly Cupid" image in "Discipline": Love is swift of foot; Love's a man of warre, And can shoot, And can hit from farre. Who can scape his bow? (II. 21 -25) But here again, the "arrow" of Love is not erotically treated, and in the lines which immediately follow, the archer- image is summarily and characteristically dropped in favor of a completely abstract presentation: That which wrought on thee, Brought thee low. Needs must work on me. (II. 26-28; italics mine) 25 Richard Strier Herbert's emphasis is on the power of Love to produce humility, not ecstasy. The single divine "dart" in Herbert's poetry leads us directly back to "Bitter-sweet," Ross's most important and suggestive piece of evidence. At the end of "Longing," Herbert beseeches that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 24-37
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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