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Herbert's "Love" Sonnets and Love Poetry by Anthony Martin The diptych of sonnets entitled "Love" in The Temple has been regarded by a number of readers of Herbert as a major part of the poet's attempt to deal with the problematic relation between profane and religious lyrics. Estimation of the success of this pair of poems, however, seems to depend on how far Herbert is seen as controlling the tendency in his own verse towards an erotic and self-maintaining intensity. Stanley Fish, for example, sees the poems as attacking secular poetry on the grounds of its invalid inspiration, but claims that Herbert fails to acknowledge his own poetry's ontological difficulty: What he does not yet seem to realize is that in these terms, the critique of secular poetry is implicitly a critique of poetry per se (that is, of its presumption ), irrespective of its impulse or rationale.1 Fish goes on to describe the experience of reading other texts where the poet self-consciously and intentionally elicits a set of responses which lead to an acknowledgment of human insufficiency. However, we must take it either that Herbert is completely unaware of the unresolved problematic of authorial presumption in the "Love" sonnets, or that he is conscious of the problem but chooses to let it remain in situ, recalling and resolving it in later poems. Richard Strier, on the other hand, seems to suggest that there is a self-conscious control of the imagery in "Love" (I) and (II): "The concern of . . . 'Love' (I) and (II) [is] with sublimating and redirecting eroticism." Strier regards Herbert as being "intensely aware of the erotic component in his earliest relation to poetry," but claims that he redirects this latent eroticism by "nondetached expression."2 Strier thus recognizes an authorial problem, of which the poet is aware, without necessarily providing a complete resolution. By focusing on Herbert's ambiguous attitude towards eroticism, rather than the more straightforward question of the evocation of eroticism in secular poetry, it may be possible to read these sonnets not simply as attacks on secular poetry (and thus problematic for 38Anthony Martin Herbert's own poetry), but rather as texts which reproduce the energies and ambivalences of love poetry. "Love" (I) begins with an invocation of the supremacy, and originating role of divine love: Immortali Love, authour of this great frame, Sprung from that beautie which can never fade; How hath man parcel'd out thy glorious name, And thrown it on that dust which thou hast made,3 The description of Love in the first line as an "author" is unusual for Herbert. He uses the word infrequently, most often in his "Notes" to Valdesso's Considerations (published in 1638), where the word always refers quite simply to Valdesso.4 The use of the word in "Love" (I) is the only use in The Temple. It is at least possible, then, that Herbert intends the word to be understood in a literary sense as "writer" or "poet," and not merely as a synonym for "maker." In his commentary on the poem Hutchinson takes "this great frame" that the "authour" writes as being the world and alludes to similar uses in Shakespeare and Milton.5 While Herbert does use the word "frame" in this sense in "The World," he more usually applies it to the human body or the heart,6 a usage he explicates in "Sion" where he refers to the internalization of the Temple of the Old Testament: "For all thy frame and fabrick is within" (1. 12). In "The Altar" the word is used twice, first in making the altar-heart connection ("Whose parts are as thy hand did frame," 1. 3), and then to refer explicitly to the text of the poem itself: Wherefore each part Of my hard heart Meets in this frame, To praise thy Name: (H. 9-12) The world is clearly the context of "Love" (I), being the site of secular poetic activity, but the use of the demonstrative "this" would also seem to follow "The Altar" in directing the reader's attention to the structure of the poem itself. (Admittedly, the adjective "great" would redirect attention to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 37-49
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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