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Reviews Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, editors, "Too Rich to Clothe the Sunne": Essays on George Herbert. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980. xiv + 260 pp. $16.95. by Anthony Low 'Too Rich to Clothe the Sunne," a product of the 1978 Herbert conference at the University of Michigan—Dearborn, has the same publisher and format as the Herrick Tercentenary volume, "Trust to Good Verses." Like its predecessor it is a good advertisement both for the Dearborn conferences and for the Pittsburgh Press, whose burgeoning seventeenthcentury studies seem to defy the iron law that scholarly books must be printed on larger and larger pages in smaller and smaller type. Since the editors have refrained from generalizing about the contents, one hesitates to do otherwise. The best thing about such collections, after all, is that a variety of contributors do what they do best. But, if Herbert criticism is partly divided between two schools, those primarily interested in close critical reading (like Stein, Rickey, and Vendler) and those primarily interested in reading the poems in a religious and historical context (such as Tuve and Joseph Summers), then at least some of the essays ring changes on that pattern. John Mulder, in an essay related to his work on the persona in Paradise Lost (but less controversial), considers the "poet-persona" of Herbert, a figure who, he finds, often makes wrong choices, inflicts grief on himself, "and ends up putting himself on the cross" (p. 1 1 ). The persona might have taken a straighter path, yet, though "a far cry from the lmitatio Christi," his is still rightly called a "typical record of the Christian life" — if we remember that "the type illuminates the antitype through difference-in-likeness" (pp. 12-13). Anne C. Fowler considers the "various dramatis personae" (p. 129) in 47 Anthony Low the five "Affliction" poems. Noting that those with a speaker who is least advanced (I and IV) are also most successful, she argues that Herbert fails when his persona comes too close to his ideal. I would suggest that the difficulty, which she rightly notes, may be less in Herbert than in modern readers. According to Ilona Bell, the ignorant persona of "The Collar" does not realize until the last minute that in his ranting words may also be heard the countervailing voice of Christ. Her argument, which has much to recommend it, must be read in detail, but I question one conclusion: that "Christ's voice, calling at every word . . . is intended to be divined, with his help, only by the elect who are called to repeat the speaker's experience of error, of divine revelation, and of inspired reassessment" (p. 85). Does this mean, since no critic before Bell read the poem in quite this way, that only she is elect? Probably not. All three essayists temper New-Critical approaches with an awareness of religious implications. Those who have admired Chana Bloch's essay on "Love" (III) (in ELR, 8 [1978], 329-340) will find her once more taking up cudgels against Stanley Fish, who, she thinks, overemphasizes Herbert's pessimism about human nature and desire as a poet to efface and destroy himself by surrendering to an all-consuming God. What Bloch finds is that Herbert is too often a cheerful, humane, and likeable poet to support so radical a view. Bloch's main concern is to examine how the speaker in The Temple wittily and joyfully employs biblical texts to answer his adversaries and resist temptations. "If God's Word checks the pretensions of the prideful self, in the very same poems it rescues, protects, and sustains the believer in his need" (p. 20). Far from disappearing behind the Word, the poet "paraphrases or adapts the text to suit his purpose and clearly enjoys taking such liberties with the sacred Word" (p. 21 ). Bloch is a brisk fighter, and probably Fish can take care of himself, but in a way it is too bad she puts polemics so much to the fore, since they may distract readers from her positive discoveries and her fine sensitivity to the poetry. In recent years seventeenth-century studies have moved toward where England was...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 47-52
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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