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80Book Reviews Douglas Thorpe, A New Earth: The Labor of Language in Pearl, Herbert's Temple, and Blake's Jerusalem. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1991. ? + 220 pp. $39.95. Review by John N. Wall Douglas Thorpe's A New Earth is grounded in a trinity of beliefs: in a specific anthropology, in a theory of language, and in a view of history. Thorpe begins his study with a quotation from Octavio Paz that encapsulates this constellation. "Split asunder since birth," Thorpe quotes from The Bow and the Lyre, one "is reconciled with himself when he becomes an image, when he becomes another." Thus, for Thorpe, the human situation is characterized by inner division, which can be healed or reconciled through the finding of an image or metaphor that can "lead us out in order to bring us home" (p. 1). Further, this understanding of the human condition and its relationship to certain kinds of language is useful in any period of human history, at least in England. It is as valid in the fourteenth century as in the seventeenth or the nineteenth, as helpful for interpreting the Pearl poet as it is for reading Herbert or Blake. I describe Thorpe's position in terms of faith — as a set of beliefs rather than, say, a set of propositions — because Thorpe does not so much ground his claims, or defend or seek to demonstrate them, as use them as working premises, as though they went without saying, and as though their applicability in at least three quite different times for at least three quite different religious poets also went without saying. And, as Thorpe's theoretical premises are articulated as a kind of credo, so this book is as much modeled after works of spiritual instruction or devotion as it is works of literary theory or criticism. This work is imbued with a spirit of faith, a personal commitment, and, I think it not too much to say, a spirit of evangelism, for the experiences it wishes to teach us to find in the poems it examines are ones which the author finds immediate, meaningful, sustaining in present experience, and which he wishes us to share. This aspect of the work is the source, to me at least, of this book's greatest interest and also its greatest frustration. Much in Thorpe's account of the use of metaphor in these three poets is pleasing, insightful, helpful, enriching. Especially in his reading of Herbert I find much to admire. For Thorpe, reading Herbert is to engage in a sacrificial journey, one of paradox and inclusiveness, in Book Reviews81 which "there is no way out of journeying if one wishes to find rest; no way out of being broken if one seeks wholeness" (p. 73). For Thorpe's Herbert, writing poetry is the poet's work of "ongoing conversion," for our "labor in this world is our dance with the divine," and also the way we take up our cross, "that we might be raised: both crucified and resurrected" (p. 117). This is a view I find congenial, if not entirely novel, having been anticipated by Heather Asals and others. Thorpe's approach yields similarly interesting readings of Pearl and Blake, showing how each finds through metaphor ways of refiguring human experience so as to provide the experience or at least a glimpse or promise of healing or wholeness or hope or meaning. I am deeply sympathetic with Thorpe's efforts to read these poets as exploring "the nature of language even as they straggle to extricate themselves from [the] political, theological, and psychological dualism, or fall, into which they and we were born" (p. 4). Thorpe's concern with language enables him to make often quite striking connections with the work of Ricoeur, Derrida, Kristeva, and other contemporary explorers of the complexities and intricacies of language and meaning. He usefully reminds us that contemporary anxiety about the paradoxes and slippages to which language is prone actually has a history, and that such features of language have their uses and virtues under at least some circumstances. There is the promise here of a reconciliation of vocabularies, such as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 80-82
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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