Vol. XXXIX (XCV). Krystyna Wierzbicka-Trwoga, Sacred Poetry. Three Religious Cycles of the European Baroque, Warszawa 2014

     The dissertation presents a comparative analysis of three independently conceived works of the European Baroque, written in different languages: Angelus Silesius’ Cherubinischer Wandersmann, George Herbert’s The Temple and Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski’s Poezje Postu Świętego, Poems of Lent. Those three poets share not only a predilection for conceit and for composing poetic cycles, but also motives and ideas, including a characteristic poetological theory. They chose for their works a specific literary form, the poetic cycle, which has only recently received a theoretical description. The Swiss literary historian Rolf Fieguth (in Verzweigungen, Freiburg 1998) created a theory of cycle which is the methodological basis of the dissertation. The major features of the cycle are: the existence of an idea uniting the whole, the construction of the speaker of the cycle (“das zyklische Subjekt”), posed on a higher level than the speakers of separate poems composing the cycle, and the distinct tendency to express metapoietic commentaries in a cycle. These features allow a precise reconstruction of the immanent poetics of a poem. Consequently, the cycle affords special insight into the self-consciousness of an author. This property of the cycle is especially important for the purpose of describing the idea of “sacred poetry” shared by poets who did not even know one of each other.
      The major thesis of the dissertation argues that those three poets express the idea of Godly inspired poetry, “sacred poetry”, which lays the reader open to transcendence in the act of reading. A review of major seventeenth-century treatises on poetry concerning this problem and a historical view of the idea of sacred origins of poetry lead to the conclusion that the desacralisation of poetic creation in Renaissance theories of poetry, due to Aristotelism, existed parallel to a “theological art-theory”, as E.R. Curtius puts it, developed mainly in Spain. This art-theory was founded on the idea of the Divine Logos as the source of poetry, which, according to the major thesis of the dissertation, inspired also Silesius, Herbert and Lubomirski.
      The main part of the dissertation gives a precise consecutive analysis of the three cycles. The analysis presents firstly the life and works of the poet, including the history of the analyzed text and its existent sources, secondly a review of criticism on the text – especially on its meanings as a whole – and on the spirituality or religiosity of the author, in order to describe the historical context, and thirdly an interpretation of the structure of the cycle. The results of the analysis enable to draw the comparison, which follows.
      Silesius’ Cherubinischer Wandersmann has a double design, of the first edition in 1657 and of the second edition in 1675, which is an extension of the first. The structure of the first edition, containing five books of epigrams, represents a spiritual way of five steps leading to God: purification (books I an II), birth of God in the soul of man (books III and IV) and union with God in love (book V). The second edition explicitly maintains the sacred status of the work, in the Dedication to God, from Whom came the “drops of eternal wisdom”, as Silesius called his epigrams, and, as they came from God, must now return to Him. The last epigram of book VI, added in 1675, demands that the reader must become himself “the scripture and the essence”. The whole is united by the idea of Logos, which descends from God in “cherubic epigrams” and changes the reader into the Word, i.e. scripture and essence. It can be concluded from the many epigrams concerning the Word that Silesius understands it mainly as Christ-the-Word born in the soul of man, source of his own words and psalms – poetry. Accordingly, the mission of poetry is to unite the poet and the reader with Christ-the-Word, which Silesius stresses also by number symbolism, determining the structure of his cycle.
      Herbert’s The Temple, also dedicated to God, expresses the same idea of the circulation of the Word, given to the poet by God in order to be brought back to Him in the act of reading. Just like Silesius, Herbert stresses his particular intention by demanding purity from the reader – as shown in the first part of the cycle, The Church-porch. Perirrhanterium. The poem Superliminare, which stands between this first part and the second, The Church, invites the reader to „taste / The churches mysticall repast”, thus suggesting a “eucharistical” status of this poetry. The analysis concentrates on Herbert’s main motifs: the heart, hard as a stone, but changed through Grace, the upward-movement (flying, growing) and the problem of poetic creation; together they give a special meaning to the spatial metaphor governing the cycle – in the speaker’s heart (and together with him, the reader’s), under the influence of the words of poetry, a Temple of God’s Word is being built, literally raising the reader into heaven, where the cycle ends. The role of poetry in this design Herbert names explicitly in The Quiddity: poetry „it is that which while I use / I am with thee [=God]”. Herbert also uses number symbolism to build his temple.
      In the Foreword to his Poems of Lent, Lubomirski turns to Christ for help in writing poetry, and in the epigrammatical section of the cycle as his inspiration serves the Word of God – the Bible. The poet describes the history of Christ’s Passion, beginning with the washing of Jesus’ feet by Mary Magdalen, until His death on the Cross. Lubomirski uses conceits when striving to understand the events of the Passion. His thinking goes in two directions: firstly, his conceits explain worldly reasons for the event, and secondly, they enable him to see in the event a sign of transcendence, unapproachable through reason. The following parts of his cycle: Rhythms on The Holy Cross and the sonnet On The Whole Passion of Our Lord deal with the question poised in the Foreword, the problem of poetry worthy of its sacred subject. Lubomirskis answer can be read from his contradicting opinions and poetical strategies: on one hand he states the inability of poetry to describe the Passion, and on the other he ostentatiously uses most sophisticated poetical forms and figures. For the poet’s task is to create beauty. And beauty in turn cooperates with the Word of God, which at the end of the cycle descends into the poet’s heart: the sonnet stands for the “speech of the heart”, the most appropriate thanksgiving for the Passion of Christ.
      The same deep structure can be found in all three cycles: each cycle begins with stressing the need of purification, and as its goal figures love, awakened in the heart of man through the agency of poetry, uniting man with God, leading him to heaven. The source of this idea is mysticism with the threefold way to a union with God: purification, illumination and union through love. An inscription of a projected union with God into the structure of the cycle indicates their author’s belief in the role of poetry as an agency laying open to transcendence. Such an idea is made possible through a cooperation of the human word with the Divine Word, the Logos. An additional reason for the sacred status of poetry is derived from Neoplatonism, which influenced all three authors.
      The final part of the dissertation forms a critical investigation into the terms used in scholarship to describe poetry expressing religious experience: “mystical poetry”, “metaphysical poetry”, “poetry of meditation”; and an attempt to create a definition of the superordinate term “religious poetry” is made. It is, however, the seventeenth-century term poesis sacra, “sacred poetry”, that most fittingly describes the idea of poetry represented in the three cycles, of poetry, where words are able, if they meet some conditions, to lay open to transcendence, to represent God. Those conditions are the purification of the poet’s word and its complete dependency on the Word of God. Then the Logos can be present in the text in various forms: it can be Christ-the-Word, the Word written by the Spirit on the heart of man, or the Word of the Bible. Poetry becomes then something even more than divinely inspired poetry, for it will be the meeting place with God, the way of establishing contact with Him. It becomes the word sanctified by the presence of the Word.