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Sinful Self Saintly Self

Hammond, Jeffrey
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Sinful Self Saintly Self

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Sinful Self, Saintly Self is a comprehensive study of early New England verse in light of Puritan notions regarding the nature and uses of poetry. Through a new historical reading of three major Puritan poets - Michael Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet, and Edward Taylor — Hammond reconstructs this aesthetic framework using Puritan theology, artistic and exegetical traditions deriving from the Bible, and Puritan assumptions about the psychology of the saved soul.

Despite the current resurgence of interest in early American literature, Puritan poetry remains only dimly understood and appreciated. With the exception of Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations and Anne Bradstreet's personal lyrics, it is often viewed as a poetry of gloom and doctrine rather than of affirmation and inspiration. In reconstructing the Puritan experience of poetry, Hammond argues that this widespread view reflects a persistent tendency to approach these poems from a modern perspective. The contemporary critical bias against didactic and conventional writing has made Bradstreet and Taylor seem to be the only Puritan poets worth reading. The most popular poet of the era, Michael Wigglesworth, author of the infamous Day of Doom, remains virtually ignored because of this bias. Moreover, Bradstreet and Taylor are often interpreted and assessed in terms of the poetic preferences of the modern reader.

Hammond contends that by understanding how Puritans felt when they wrote and read verse, modern readers can appreciate these writings on their own terms. "There was a Puritan way of reading," he maintains, "and it was not like ours. . . . Puritans were not merely content with their poetry but seem to have delighted in its didacticism and conventionality - the very qualities that distance the texts from us." Sinful Self, Saintly Self provides an important corrective to anachronistic interpretations and allows contemporary readers to confront the "otherness" of Puritan poetry. By historicizing the experience of seventeenth-century New England verse, Hammond argues for the interpretation of older writings in their cultural and psychological contexts.

Hardback: 305 Pages
Publisher: University of Georgia Press (1993)

ISBN 9780820315003Binding Hardback