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By Jeffrey A. Hammond

Jeffrey Hammond's learn of the funeral elegies of early New England reassesses a physique of poems whose value of their personal time has been obscured through virtually overall forget in ours. Hammond reconstructs the ancient, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they answered to Puritan perspectives on a selected means of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers by way of shaping their event. They shed new gentle at the emotional measurement of Puritanism and the real function of formality in Puritan tradition.

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God’s tropes were inseparable, as far as human perception was concerned, from the ineffable Truth that they conveyed. Biblical metaphors were equivalent, for all practical purposes, to the reality that they set forth, and to use them was to address that reality as directly as language allowed. On this Milton and his New England contemporaries agreed. The radical difference in their approaches to elegy stemmed chiefly from contrasting rhetorical situations, and not from a fundamental disagreement over the uses of Scripture or the theology of mourning.

Thanatopsis” became one of the most popular poems in our literature and a classroom staple, as did Whitman’s expression of similar views: Come lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, In the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later delicate death. (“Lilacs,” lines –) For modern readers, these poems and the sentiments they convey are nearly irresistible. Nor should we resist them, whether as sources of consolation or objects of verbal beauty.

As Charles Angoff stated in the early s, “The Puritans were in possession of everything necessary for the creation of living poetry, with the exception of the most important thing of all – a free soul” (). The postromantic expectation that the serious poem should subvert religious ideology – that it must articulate the unmediated responses of a “free soul” – rendered historically sensitive readings of the Puritan elegy impossible. Ola Winslow flatly stated that “American literature could not begin” until the colonists shifted their interest “from heaven to the thirteen colonies” (xviii).

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