Prayer and Power

George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship

Michael C. Schoenfeldt

Prayer and Power
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Michael C. Schoenfeldt

353 pages | 6 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1991
Paper $34.00 ISBN: 9780226740027 Published August 1991
Michael C. Schoenfeldt here offers the first major exploration of the connections between George Herbert's devotional poetry and the social practices and political discourse of his day. Viewing The Temple and The Country Parson as part of the larger "civilizing process" of Western Europe, Schoenfeldt shows how Herbert discovers in the discourses of courtesy and theology a common vocabulary of authority, selfhood, petition, and discipline.

Before entering the priesthood, Herbert nourished contacts in court, was elected University Orator at Cambridge, and served in Parliament. In turning to God, Schoenfeldt argues, Herbert did not simply turn away from the secular world but also turned its language, particularly the language of courtesy, into the medium for his lyric worship of God. The confluence of courtesy and spirituality in Herbert's poetry provides a fascinating insight into a society searching for an appropriate discourse of reverence in a time of baffling change. The first five chapters investigate the manifold ways in which Herbert's life and works exemplify the interdependence of social and religious behavior in the English Renaissance. The sixth and final chapter extends this investigation into the nervous eroticism of Herbert's poems.

Considering The Temple as well as Herbert's letters, speeches, Latin poems, collections of foreign proverbs, translations, The Country Parson, and less familiar lyrics, Schoenfeldt offers a thorough and detailed reading of Herbert's rich and conflicted corpus. Prayer and Power is not only a bold redefinition of the accomplishment of one of the finest poets of the English Renaissance but also the first sustained study to advance a cultural poetics of the religious lyric.
List of Illustrations
Part I - "The Distance of the Meek"
1. "Subject to Ev'ry Mounters Bended Knee": Herbert and Authority
2. "My God, My King": Socializing God
Part II - "I Live to Shew His Power"
3. "Storms Are the Triumph of His Art": The Politics of Affliction
4. "Engine against th' Almighty": The Poetics of Prayer
Part III - "Love Bade Me Welcome"
5. Standing on Ceremony: The Comedy of Manners in "Love (III)"
6. "That Ancient Heat": Sexuality and Spirituality in The Temple
Index of Herbert's Works
General Index
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