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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of George Herbert's Passio Discerpta and Lucus in the context of the tradition of the sacred epigram Alexander, Irene Rosalyn

Abstract

The critical neglect of the neo-Latin poetry of English writers, particularly those of the Renaissance and seventeenth century, presents a difficulty for those students interested in understanding the entire career of an Anglo-Latin author. In Herbert's case, his neo-Latin poetry presents very distinctive aspects of his literary character and techniques, a knowledge of which may enable future readers to better appreciate The Temple, Herbert's major English work. This thesis deals with Passio Discerpta (The Events of the Passion) and Lucus (The Sacred Grove) in particular, and demonstrates their firm place in the tradition of the sacred epigram. In order to form a clearer impression of the tradition and Herbert's work within it and of the contemporary models and sources upon which he drew, Chapter Two surveys briefly the epigrammatic conventions and religious background from which the sacred epigram derived. The differences between the epigrammatic style of Martial and of The Greek Anthology are discussed as well as the similarities between the satiric and the sacred epigram. Chapter Three presents a comparison with other poets of the period working within the same convention, most notably Crashaw, but also such writers as John Saltmarsh, Francis Thynne, and John Pyne. This comparison shows Herbert's superiority to previous writers in his use of the epigram for religious subject-matter. Herbert's skilful use of the conventions of the sacred epigram as a means of expressing his own deep religious feeling is demonstrated in the critical studies of Passio Discerpta and Lucus which form Chapters Four and Five, the core of this thesis. These chapters deal with the poems under the headings of arrangement, imagery, and narrative voice. The analysis of these various aspects reveals significant links between the arrangement of the poems within each volume and the imagery Herbert uses to express his themes. The thematic unity, the conscious selectivity of subject-matter, and the skilful use of the narrative voice as an integral part of the rhetorical structure are shown. On the basis of this study, Herbert's sacred epigrams as exemplified by Passio Discerpta and Lucus are seen as forming aesthetic landmarks in that tradition, and as providing a new perspective from which students of The Temple may understand more fully Herbert's entire literary career.

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