Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Three)

  Woodhouse (1965:201)  posits that the quality of Keble's verse is "certainly higher in religious than in poetic value".  A perusal of The Christian Year would seem to confirm that Keble harnessed his poetic talent in the service of his religious beliefs rather than the reverse.  The scope of this collection,  which the poet sub-titles:  Thoughts in verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year,  encompasses reflections on the various readings and gospels delivered from the Anglican pulpit throughout the year.  These poems are marked by deep spiritual insight and moments of great elation and simplicity set against the backdrop of a ponderous Victorian pedantry,  expressed in alliterative terms such as lowly lofty brows (53).  An example of the simple elation is found in the ninth stanza of the reflection on the fourth Sunday in Lent  (41-45) :

    As when the holy Maid beheld
    Her risen Son and lord:
    Thought has not colours half so fair
    That she to paint that hour may dare,
    In silence best ador'd.

  There is nothing laboured or artificial about this verse which expresses Mary's silence in the face of the glorious rainbow experience of seeing her Son and Creator restored to her after he had seemed to be lost for all eternity.  To the modern reader,  the fact that the poet seems to over-indulge in preambling turns his poetry into a true rose encompassed by numerous artificial leaves.  Occasionally we discern a gloriously simple stanza like the above but we have to track through a progression of Victorianisms to uncover it.

    In the poem The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  which follows here,  we mark a laborious build-up and a developing argument which,  though it may be excellent theology,  has an almost tranquillising effect on the modern reader,  although there is nothing soporific in the emotion of the penultimate three stanzas:


    And the Angel came in unto her,  and said,  Hail,  thou that
    art highly favoured,  the Lord is with thee,  blessed art thou
    among women.  St Luke  i.28.

    Oh Thou who deign'st to sympathize
    With all our frail and fleshly ties,
    Maker yet Brother dear,
    Forgive the too presumptuous thought,
    If,  calming wayward grief,  I sought
    To gaze on Thee too near.

    Yet sure 'twas not presumption,  Lord,
    'Twas thine own comfortable word
    That made the lesson known:
    Of all the dearest bonds we prove,                                 10
    Thou countest sons' and mothers' love
    Most sacred,  most thine own.

    When wandering here a little span,
    Thou took'st on Thee to rescue man,
    Thou hadst no earthly sire;
    That wedded love we prize so dear,
    As if our heaven and home were here,
    It lit in Thee no fire.

    On no sweet sister's faithful breast
    Wouldst thou thine aching forehead rest,                        20
    On no kind brother lean:
    But who,  O perfect filial heart,
    E'er did like Thee a true son's part,
    Endearing,  firm,  serene?

    Thou wept'st,  meek maiden,  mother mild,
    Thou wept'st upon thy sinless child,
    Thy very heart was riven:
    And yet,  what mourning matron here
    Would deem thy sorrows bought too dear
    By all on this side heaven?                                                 30

    A son that never did amiss,
    That never sham'd his mother's kiss,
    Nor cross'd her fondest prayer:
    Even from the tree he deign'd to bow
    For her his agonized brow,
    Her,  his sole earthly care.

    Ave Maria!  blessed Maid!
    Lily of Eden's fragrant shade,
    Who can express the love
    That nurtur'd thee so pure and sweet,                                  40
    Making thy heart a shelter meet
    For Jesus' holy Dove?

    Ave Maria!  Mother blest,
    To whom caressing and caress'd,
    Clings the Eternal Child;
    Favour'd beyond Archangels' dream,
    When first on thee with tenderest gleam
    Thy new-born Saviour smil'd:  -

    Ave Maria!  Thou whose name
    All but adoring love may claim,                                               50
    Yet may we reach thy shrine;
    For He,  thy Son and Saviour,  vows
    To crown all lowly lofty brows
    With love and joy like thine.

    Bless'd is the womb that bare Him  -  bless'd  (1)
    The bosom where his lips were press'd,
    But rather bless'd are they
    Who hear his word and keep it well,
    The living homes where Christ shall dwell,
    And never pass away.                                                                60
                                                                                      (1)  St Luke  xi  27,  28

  The laborious,  rigorously formal Victorian introduction of this poem lacks the naïve spontaneity of the mediæval Marian lyrics which we find in the penultimate three verses.  Having acknowledged that God the Son is fully human and therefore able to comprehend humanity's need for reciprocated human affection,  the poet tamely asserts that Christ shared a marvellous mother-Son relationship with the Blessed Virgin.  Outstanding among the rest,  one lilting phrase occurs in the eighth stanza:  Mother blest/to whom,  caressing and caress'd/clings the Eternal Child  (43-45).

  The alliteration,  which is used repeatedly,  is so uninspired that it is not clear why it has been introduced.  Word pairs such as frail and fleshly  (2),  mourning matron  (28)  and Son and Saviour (52) appear laboured and unimaginative.  Only in the final stanza  -  and then mainly on account of the broken,  halting effect of the caesura  -  does the alliteration achieve an arresting effect:

    Bless'd is the womb that bare Him  -  bless'd
    The bosom where his lips were press'd

  After the ponderous introduction of the five stanzas,  marred by the sentimental:  On no sweet sister's faithful breast/Wouldst thou thine aching forehead rest/On no kind brother learn;  (19-21),  the sixth verse,  though it starts off with a simple,  stark,  clean line in:  A son that never did amiss  (31)  is tarnished by the regrettably mawkish Victorianism:  That never sham'd his mother's kiss  (32).  The line:  nor cross'd her fondest prayer  (33)  might have been likewise contaminated if it had not been redeemed by the arresting pun.  A similarly effective pun is contained in the third line of the fifth stanza in which the poet tells the Blessed Virgin:  Thy very heart was riven  (27).  Here the imagery of anguish piercing Mary's heart as the nails pierced Christ's hands and feet,  the thorns penetrated his brow and the side cut into his side is effective,  demonstrating that what is good in the poem chiefly owes its existence to the depth of Keble's spiritual fervour,  which often leads him to touch his reader's heart profoundly.

  Incremental poetic tension marks verses seven,  eight and nine,  which jointly constitute the poem's climax,  containing as they do the essence of that love for the Blessed Virgin which the poet both expresses himself and appears to be endeavouring to enkindle among his readers.  To achieve this end he employs repetition.  The three times he addresses Mary in the words of the angelic salutation by saying:  Ave Maria (31;37;43) have the effect of intensifying the sentiment of humility before one so uniquely privileged.  The last four lines of the final stanza disappoint on account of their watering-down effect. 

Dr Luky Whittle
Edited by Catherine Nicolette

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Two)

  Although the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood only began after the decline of the Oxford Movement,  the ideas and ideals of the followers of the two movements became interlinked,  as they had their intellect,  their metaphysical leanings and a number of literary and artistic skills in common.  both organisations drew their leadership and followers from among prominent theologians,  artists and/or poets of their day,  whose strong metaphysical leanings were frequently expressed in art and literature.
  Consequently,  their works came to have a marked influence on the religious tenor of English poetry of the day,  and their espousal of the neglected cause of Marian poetry had the curious effect that this genre was initially enkindled not by a Catholic poet but by an Anglican one,  the clergyman John Keble,  whose example was followed mainly by Anglican and Protestant poets, several of whom later abandoned the Thames of the Church of England for the Roman river Tiber.

  The Oxford Movement arose as the result of a concern felt among Anglicans at the stagnation of the Church of England,  emphasised by the breakaway of the Methodists under Founder John Wesley.  A factor which made a puzzling and even somewhat implausible contribution to the revival of Anglicanism appears to be that the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott  (1771-1832)  had rekindled an interest in the colourful traditions of mediæval times.  Scott himself wrote a three stanza poem titled Ave Maria in honour of the Blessed Virgin which he ensconced in The Lady of the Lake  (Canto IV) :


    Ave,  Maria,  Maiden mild  -
    Listen to a maiden's prayer;
    Thou canst hear though from the wild,
    Thou canst save amid despair.
    Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
    Though banished,  outcast and reviled  - 
    Maiden,  hear a maiden's prayer;
    Mother,  hear a suppliant child.
    Ave,  Maria.

    Ave,  Maria,  undefiled  -                                        10
    The flinty couch we now must share
    Shall seem with down of eider piled,
    If thy protection hover there.
    The murky cavern's heavy air
    Shall breathe of balm,  if thou hast smiled  -
    Then,  maiden,  hear a maiden's prayer;
    Mother,  list a suppliant child.

    Ave, Maria.
    Ave Maria,  stainless styled  -
    Foul demons of the earth and air,                             20
    from this their wonted haunt exiled,
    Shall flee before thy presence fair.
    We bow us to our lot of care,
    Beneath thy guidance reconciled  -
    Hear for a maid a maiden's prayer;
    And for a father hear a child.
    Ave,  Maria.

  Several of the poem's passages, including the section dealing with the foul demons  (20)  are direct translations of parts of the lyrics to Schubert's musical composition  "Ave Maria".  From the wild haunts of nature,  Scott calls to the Blessed Virgin and ascribes to her protection the ability to turn discomfort into bliss,  converting the flinty couch  (11)  to an eiderdown  (12).  He indicates Mary's uniqueness by her ability to bestow safety and sleep on people who have been banished,  outcast and reviled  (6).
  Addressing her as maiden and mother,  he expresses full confidence in her ability to put to flight foul demons of the earth and air  (20).  The poem is effective because it describes every form of human fear and discomfort without yielding to exaggeration or despair,  expresses a calm confidence in Mary's power to ease the human situation and the maternal disposition which causes her to do so.

  According to Sampson  (1970:555),  Scott's mediæval novels  "had made pre-Reformation worship strangely attractive"  and caused his readers to feel a nostalgia for the innocence of their ancestors which they themselves had lost.  The time was ready for a renewal and,  thanks to a number of Oxford clerics and their friends who were to wield a great influence over the people of England,  preparations were in place for a renascence of the Anglican religion and by implication of reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Sampson  (1970:555)  writes:

    . . . the first blast of the trumpet came from John Keble 
     (1792-1866),  who,  in the Assize Sermon at Oxford delivered
     in 1833 denounced the Erastian stagnation of the Church as
    national apostasy.  Newman regarded Keble's sermon as the
    beginning of the Oxford Movement.

  In his sermon,  Keble addressed Mary as the blessed Maid, Lily of Eden's fragrant shade . . .  whose name all but adoring love may claim  (Graef  1965:106),  signifying unequivocally that in his view it was permissable to venerate the Blessed Virgin,  provided that the veneration did not ferment feverishly into latria.

  Although Keble was the original author of these words,  it was not the first time he had used them,  for he had struck his first blow for the resuscitation of Marian poetry several years earlier with the publication in 1827 of his anonymous book of verses in two volumes titled The Christian Year,  which includes his poem The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  also known as Ave Maria.  Graef  (1965:106)  asserts that Keble had written the first stanzas of this hymn as early as 1823,  when he was inspired by the death of his mother.  Keble was palpably careful to ascribe the assertion that Mary's womb was blessed when it bore Jesus Christ to its source in Luke's gospel,  doubtless in order to refrain from causing scandal.

Dr Luky Whittle
Photograph by Catherine Nicolette, with thanks to the Wall Artist

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (One) - Byron and Shelley

During the first half of the nineteenth century,  just as it appeared as though all composition of Marian poetry had come to an end in the wake of three centuries and it appeared as if there could be no poets left interested in resuscitating the genre,  two associations arose,  known respectively as the Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,  each of which enkindled in its membership a sense of nostalgia for mediæval forms of worship and schools of art and literature.

Before the movements came into being,  however,  two of England's most famous nineteenth-century poets had already put pen to paper in praise of Mary.  They were George Gordon,  Lord Byron  (1788-1824)  and his close friend Percy Bysshe Shelley  (1792-1822).  Both poets lived lives riddled with scandal and tragedy and died young. Though little in their lives indicated that they had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,  each of them left a poem in her honour.

Byron's Ave Maria, which comes from Don Juan  (1819-1824)  is a poem marked by serenity in which the poet expresses a diffident reverence which seems uncharacteristic of him and of the context,  the satire Don Juan (1818-23).  However, it was in this work in which Byron,  according to Sampson  (1970:522),  attained to the "full disclosure of his personality and the final expression of his genius.  The variety both of matter and style is infinite".  The praise of the mother figure as embodied by the Blessed Virgin comes as a surprise from Byron who as a child had a difficult relationship with his mother.  In the almost awkward diffidence of Ave Maria,  we see the instinctive shrinking of the poet as he addresses the mother figure, coupled with his yearning for her acceptance:


    Ave Maria!  blessed be the hour!

    The time,  the clime,  the spot,  where I so oft
    Have felt that moment in its fullest power
    Sink o'er the earth so beautiful and soft,
    While swung the deep bell in the distant tower
    Or the faint dying day-hymn stole aloft,
    And not a breath crept through the rosy air,
    And yet the forest leaves seem'd stirr'd with prayer

    Ave Maria!  'tis the hour of prayer!

    Ave Maria!  'tis the hour of love!
    Ave Maria!  may our spirits dare
    Look up to thine and to thy Son's above!
    Ave Maria!  oh that face so fair!
    Those downcast eyes beneath the Almighty Dove
    What though 'tis but a pictured image-strike?-
    That painting is no idol,  'tis too like.

Like Byrom in the seventeenth century and Rossetti and Wilde in the nineteenth,  Byron is seen here describing a picture of the Annunciation.  The poet relies on repetition to get his poem into motion, emphasising . . . the hour/The time,  the clime,  the spot  (2)  but, rather than providing emphasis as the figure of speech normally does, in this case the repetition creates an effect of stammering, indicating that the poet may have had to conquer a shrinking sense of inadequacy,  lest his love for his mother,  existent at the kernel of the poem and focused on Mary,  would be flung back at him.  But his genius soon asserts itself and the conclusion of the first stanza brilliantly describes the stirring of the forest leaves as denoting the prayerful hands raised up to the Blessed Virgin by people from all generations who accept her as mother,  both those who did and those who did not feel loved by their biological mothers.

Strong imagery is found when Shelley in Epipsychidion,  addresses the Blessed Vorgin as Seraph of heaven:

    Seraph of heaven!  too gentle to be human,

    Veiling beneath that radiant form of Woman
    All that is insupportable in thee
    Of light,  and love,  and immortality!
    Sweet Benediction in the eternal Curse!
    Veiled Glory of this lampless Universe!
    Thou Moon beyond the clouds!  Thou living Form
    Among the Dead!  Thou Star above the Storm!
    Thou Wonder,  and thou Beauty,  and thou Terror!
    Thou Harmony of Nature's art!  Thou Mirror
    In whom,  as in the splendour of the Sun,
    All shapes look glorious which thou gazest on !
    Ay, even the dim words which obscure thee now
    Flash, lightning-like with unaccustomed glor;
    I pray thee that thou blot from this sad song
    All of its much mortality and wrong,
    With those clear drops,  which start like sacred dew
    From the twin lights thy sweet soul darkens through,
    Weeping, till sorrow becomes ecstasy:
    Then smile on it,  so that it may not die.

In this poem,  Shelley makes use of light and darkness imagery to contrast his disillusionment with the world, this lampless Universe  (26)  and his contrition for the deficiencies of his own poetry,  the dim words which obscure thee now  (33)  with an unwavering faith in Mary whose eyes,  tears,  the sacred dew  (37) spilling from the twin lights  (her)  sweet soul darkens through  (38)  will blot from this sad song/all of its much mortality  (35-36)  so that it may prove immortal.  Thus far this request of Shelley,  whom many believed to be an atheist as he professed during his lifetime,  appears to have been granted,  since it is still being transcribed in our present time.

The early deaths of the prodigies Byron and Shelley were partly instrumental in causing the Romantic Movement of poetry to flow to a halt.  The stage was being set for the introduction of the Oxford Movement and subsequently for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  These two schools of poetry were founded to bring back a spiritual dimension into the world of verse for the benefit of those who - like their members - hungered for more than mere verbal splendour in a human or pagan setting.  For its appeasement,  this craving needed more spiritual poetic sustenance than that which was provided by the two brief Marian poems of Byron and Shelley,  inspired and enduring though these may have proved to be.

Dr Luky Whittle
With thanks to the Tapestry Artist - Photograph by Catherine Nicolette

Marian Poetry in England in the Transition Period During and After the Reformation: ( Part Twelve )

All was well,  meanwhile,  with other literature in England.  Drama had been coming into its own since Elizabethan times and the English novel was growing "quietly to its full stature"  (Sampson 1970:418).  The eighteenth century also marks the emergence of historians,  such as David Hume  (1711-1776),  and Edward Gibbon   (1737-1794),  an Oxford man who became a Catholic in 1753 and consequently  "flew headlong on the road to social perdition"  (Sampson  1970:453).  The best-known Catholic poet of his era, Alexander Pope  (1688-1744),  who was likewise discriminated against on account of his religion, did not seek to exacerbate the evils of his situation by drawing attention to his religious affiliation in his poetry.  He no more than any other Catholic of the era contributed to the corpus of Marian poetry representing the eighteenth century.

At this time,  the Anglican Church was experiencing a decline in fervour.  To counteract this situation,  the Methodist revival was started by John Wesley  (1703-1791)  and his brother Charles  (1707-1788).  The latter led a group of young men who fasted,  gave alms,  engaged in prayer and received Holy Communion weekly.  Other religions which arose as the period progressed include the Congregationalists,  Nonconformists and Unitarians.  Of the Roman Catholics little or nothing was heard while 
    the Anglican public schools and universities continued their 
    ancient routine;  the modernist dissenting academies
    gradually dwindled into decay.  They had no root of
    authority,  civil or religious.
                                                      (Sampson  1970-461).

By the time the nineteenth century came to England,  the English Church had reached a point where a spiritual revival had become necessary.  The stage had been set for the so-called Oxford Movement which was to "shake the whole Church of England and change the very nature of its being"  (Sampson 1970:555) 
and lead to the resuscitation of Marian poetry in English.

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that although very little Marian poetry survives from the sixteenth century, probably because only little may have been written for fear of political recriminations,  the Marian contributions of Southwell and one sonnet from the pen of Henry Constable appear to have been mainly responsible for saving the genre from total destruction during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth.  
Southwell particularly,  however,  made so great a contribution to Marian poetry that his efforts compensated for much of the barrenness the genre was exposed to during the era.

The situation was considerably improved in the seventeenth century,  due mainly to contributions from members of the metaphysical poetic fraternity.  Since from the extant Marian poetry available it appears that contributions to this genre were spearheaded in the sixteenth century by Southwell and in the seventeenth by Crashaw, it appears that it was mainly Catholics who refused to surrender this devotion during these centuries.

This state of affairs was about to change.  Writers of the negligible quantity of Marian poetry that survives from the eighteenth century,  such as Nahum Tate  (1652-1715),  do not appear to have been Catholics, and while many of the Romantic poets seem to have made at least one venture into the corridors of Marian poetry,  they appear to have been either unbelievers or Christians belonging to different denominations of Christianity.

For our purposes,  the poems of the Romantic poets,  most of whom lived well into the nineteenth century, will be dealt with in the section pertaining to this era.

Dr Luky Whittle
Edited by Catherine Nicolette
With thanks to the Wall Artist, Photograph of Wall Art by Catherine Nicolette

Marian Poetry in England in the Transition Period During and After the Reformation: ( Part Eleven ) John Byrom

John Byrom (1692-1763 ) was the son of a Manchester linen-draper and a Cambridge graduate, and in his own right a stenographer, who wrote a number of religious poems. His familiarity with shorthand may explain the economy of language of his poem in honour of the Virgin, inspired, as later poems by inter alia Rossetti and Wilde would be, by a picture of the Annunciation.

    ( Verses written under a print from a design of Anthony
    Crypel )

    See represented here,  in light and shade,
    The angel's visit to the blessed maid; - 
    To Mary,  destin'd,  when the time should come,
    To bear the Saviour in her virgin womb: - 
    Explaining to her the mysterious plan
    Of man's redemption-his becoming man.

    When ev'ry precious wonder had been done,
    The virgin then was to conceive a Son;
    And to prepare her for the grand event
    From God,  his Father,  Gabriel was sent,                                  10
    To hail the chosen organ of his birth
    Of God with us,  - of Jesus upon earth.

    Unable to express celestial things
    Imagination adds expanded wings
    To human form exact,  and beauteous face;
    Which angels have,  but with angelic grace,
    Free from all grossness and defect;  nor seen,
    But with a pure chaste eye,  divinely keen.

    Such Mary's was,  whose posture here design'd
    The most profound humility of mind;                                         20
    Modestly asking how the thing could be;
    And saying,  when informed of God's decree,
    Behold the handmaid of the Lord!  His will
    Let Him,  according to thy word,  fulfill

    What fair instruction may the scene impart
    To them who look beyond the painter's art!
    Who,  in th'angelic message from above,
    See the revealing of God's gracious love
    To every soul, that yields itself to all
    That pleases Him,  whatever may befall!                                    30

    Whatever circumstances of heav'nly grace
    Might be peculiar to the virgin's case,
    That holy thing,  that saves a soul from sin,
    Of God's good Spirit must be born within:
    For all salvation is,  upon the whole,
    The birth of Jesus in the human soul.

The poet, while praising the Blessed Virgin for her beauty, within and without, sees her as an example for the rest of humanity to follow, so that God's Kingdom may spread worldwide. The third stanza, with its almost scientific analysis of of the nature of angels is different from the simple faith expressed in the lyrics of the Middle Ages as well as the metaphysical embroidering on a conceit as done so expertly by poets such as John Donne. The crux of Byrom's argument is expressed in its concluding couplet:  For all salvation is, upon the whole/The birth of Jesus in the human soul  (35/36).  The poet discerns that Christ's message, by-passing humanity's inborn lust for power, focuses on the possession of the organ which renders man vulnerable:  his soul.  As such this is not strictly a Marian poem but rather one in praise of her Divine Son.

Dr Luky Whittle
With thanks to the Wall Artist - Photograph by Catherine Nicolette