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Poetic Relations

Intimacy and Faith in the English Reformation

What is the relationship between our isolated and our social selves, between aloneness and interconnection? Constance M. Furey probes this question through a suggestive literary tradition: early Protestant poems in which a single speaker describes a solitary search for God.

As Furey demonstrates, John Donne, George Herbert, Anne Bradstreet, and others describe inner lives that are surprisingly crowded, teeming with human as well as divine companions. The same early modern writers who bequeathed to us the modern distinction between self and society reveal here a different way of thinking about selfhood altogether. For them, she argues, the self is neither alone nor universally connected, but is forever interactive and dynamically constituted by specific relationships. By means of an analysis equally attentive to theological ideas, social conventions, and poetic form, Furey reveals how poets who understand introspection as a relational act, and poetry itself as a form ideally suited to crafting a relational self, offer us new ways of thinking about selfhood today—and a resource for reimagining both secular and religious ways of being in the world.

224 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2017

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Religion: Christianity, Religion and Literature


“Furey has written an important book…the use of a wide range of writers who are seldom discussed together helps to strengthen Furey's argument that the trend in early modern England and in the American colonies was not to use poetry merely as a means of introspection; rather the poems reflect attempts to build relationships and community with the audience, be that audience lover, patron, or God. Furey's historicized close readings of the poems are illuminating and compelling. This wonderful book deserves to be read and discussed, and it should prove influential in the years to come...Essential.”


"Constance M. Furey’s Poetic Relations: Intimacy and Faith in the English Reformation brings the author’s expertise as a religious studies scholar and wide-ranging familiarity with literary scholarship in early modern religious poetry. . .guided by the astute perception that ‘form is the medium of relationality,’ [it] may attract interest for its conceptual rigor."

Recent Studies in the English Renaissance

Poetic Relations benefits from Furey’s wide learning in the fields of literary and religious studies. Using a variety of human relationships—from friendship to love to marriage—as models, Furey investigates the nature of the ties between the speaking I of the lyric poem and the reader. She argues that poems should be understood as essentially relational encounters rather than private utterances. This ‘relational poetics’ encourages an important ethical reimagining of poetry and of selfhood, proposing that we understand both lyric texts and people as fundamentally dependent on connection.”

Kimberly Johnson, author of Made Flesh: Sacrament and Poetics in Post-Reformation England

“In this compelling and deftly argued book, Furey dismantles binary assumptions about selfhood that remain prevalent in gender studies and religious studies. Contending that early modern Puritan poets should not be dismissed as grimly solitary or solipsistic individuals, she ​​demonstrates how these poets stand as crucial resources for grasping the relational and poetic constitution of selfhood.”

M. Gail Hamner, author of American Pragmatism: A Religious Genealogy

“This beautifully written and incisive study insists that no single model of relationality is definitive of the era; on the contrary, it is the richness of the ways in which relationality is enacted within the poetry of Donne, Lanyer, Herbert, and others that propels Furey’s timely book and makes it so exciting to read.”

Amy Hollywood, author of Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History

"Furey is a sensitive reader of poetry and a graceful, accessible writer; she is both confident and generous in situating her readings amid other critics'."

Journal of Religion

Table of Contents

On Poetry

1 Authorship
2 Friendship
3 Love
4 Marriage

Notes References Index


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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