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Title:The Typological Water-Cycle in The Poetry of Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne
Author(s):Dickson, Donald Richard
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:This dissertation shows that the typological water-cycle--which describes the circuit of the waters of life from Christ to man and back again--is an important pattern of imagery in the poetry of Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne. As in the case with other devotional poets of the seventeenth-century, they rely heavily on biblical poetics and modes of analysis; I argue that the metaphor of the water-cycle has its origins in the complex typology of biblical water-imagery.
To prove my thesis, I show first that Renaissance theologians and commentators were aware of the typological relationship linking images that described the creation and regeneration of the universe and man. A key to my argument is the Christian notion of Sacred History, upon which typology is predicated. Typology developed as a mode of analysis to show the continuity of the testaments by emphasizing the developments taking place throughout time. The beginning and end of time were understood to be related, as their common imagistic structure indicated; but the end, the New Jerusalem, was expected to be far greater than Eden because of the intercession of Christ. I show that the first water-image in Scripture, the source of all life, the waters of the deep, was seen in conjunction with the last, the crystal fountain from which the faithful will derive eternal life. Moreover, Christ through the Crucifixion allows the waters of life to flow to man temporarily as grace, thus emphasizing the suffering connected with spiritual regeneration. In its complexity, the metaphor of water recirculating from its source to man and back again describes both the creation and perfection of the universe and the regeneration and perfection of man. Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne celebrate this mystery in their poetry.
Herbert uses the typological water-cycle to present a basic Christian paradigm: the stony heart made fleshy by an outpouring of the waters of life; from the regenerate heart, rivers of living water will flow to return to their heavenly source. Two basic patterns can be discerned: the major pattern shows the healing waters of life descending as the "dew" of grace, softening the stony heart, and enabling the soul to ascend (as a dewdrop is sublimed by the sun); the other pattern involves the waters of affliction--the sighs and tears that purge the heart (like a violent storm) to enable the dew to fall. Both patterns are laden with rich, biblical associations.
Vaughan relies on typological strategies similar to Herbert's: the heart is a stony flint that must flow with living water like the Rock of Horeb. The poems of Part I of Silex Scintillans are set in a spiritual landscape--the desiccated garden of the soul--and they focus on the affliction that accompanies the splitting of the Rock. Part II then focuses on the speaker's eschatological hopes for the fountains of living water in the garden of the New Jerusalem. Like Herbert, Vaughan uses both kinds of water cycles: the descent and ascent of the waters of life and the raging waters of affliction.
In the Dobell Folio Poems, Traherne uses the water-cycle to depict the primal creative act--the emanation and return of spiritual essence--and the soul's imitation of that act through thinking. God is described as both "fountain" and "end"--that is, God both bestows and receives infinitely. Through the state of spiritual or mystical union which Traherne characterizes as thinking, the soul becomes an "ocean" that receives this divine emanation and then a "fountain" returning love and praise to God. The primary metaphor used to render this complex dependence is the water-cycle, a metaphor that fitly portrays the emanation and return from God to man and back to God again.
Issue Date:1981
Description:243 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8127580
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-12
Date Deposited:1981

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