Posts Tagged ‘religious’

Memento Mori Readings

by   |  10.26.09  |  221-Early Modern

    Up until the plague outbreaks of the seventeenth century, most communities had an unsettling habit of burying people in the church. Wealthy aristocrats and merchants would leave money for a monument or a plaque to be placed in the wall, in an aisle, or, in the days before Henry’s Reformation, in a side chapel where prayers would be said for their soul. One result of this practice was keeping death ever in the mind of the living.
    These memorials to the dead included not only the name and epitaph of the deceased but also a reminder to passersby to look to their own life or remember their end. Memento mori: “remember that you too must die.” This particular inscription, often appearing alongside a skull or hourglass, came to be associated with any work of art used to remind its audience of their mortality. Such monuments represented then a dual memorial, both of the individual’s life and of the universal end.
    In the 2001 film Wit, based on a play by Margaret Edson, Professor Vivian Bearing learns she has stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. As she comments wryly, “There is no stage five.” The persistent irony of the film is that Dr. Bearing was a professor of seventeenth-century poetry all-too-familiar with the subject of death in literature but suddenly confronted by the reality in life.

    Memento Mori clip

    In memento mori poems like Donne’s famous Holy Sonnet 10, we also recognize a dual memorial, both of the reality of death and of the hope of future life. In contrast to the carpe diem poems which responded to death’s insistent approach by recommending pleasure of the moment, “The grave’s a fine and private place / But none I think do there embrace,” these poets turn to religious reflection.

    This week’s discussion will consider how English poets from the seventeenth century responded to the themes of time and death in light of their religious convictions. In poems that range from the intensely personal to the intently public, Donne, Herbert, and Milton confront the ultimate questions of Life, Death, Soul, God, Past, and Present.

Explication Exercise

    Before class, you will need to write another short explication of a poem by the poet you just reviewed (see the Writing an Explication assignment for more information). An explication is a close reading of the most important ideas or elements of a poem. The process of close reading asks you to focus on the parts of a poem and ask how they function in relation to the whole.

    In the 2001 film Wit, Professor Bearing described Donne’s holy sonnets as poetic puzzles, and there is something about the metaphysical wit of Donne and Herbert that seems almost playful in its use of concentrated metaphor, paradox, and language. As with the Carpe Diem assignment, these poems will reward close, attentive reading. How can you break your poem down into its component parts? Do these sections move logically from one to the next? Does the poet use basic poetic units like the couplet, quatrain, sestet, or octave (2, 4, 6, or 8 lines) to develop a single image or cluster of related images? Listen to the following close reading of Holy Sonnet 14 before moving on to complete your own short explication of one of the other assigned poems.

    Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 – read by Dr. Bill Walton, English professor

    Explication of Holy Sonnet 14 – Dr. Walton

    Anniina Jokinen has posted a “quick and rough” explication of Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10 at the link below. Though longer than what you’ve been asked to write, it may also illustrate the kinds of insights a close reading should generate.

    Sample Explication for Holy Sonnet 10

    As you begin your own explication, the steps below should help you get started:

    Step 1. Choose one of the assigned poems and read it once or twice aloud. Since lyric poetry shares a close relationship with music, reading your poem out loud will draw your attention to rhythms and sound effects the poet may be using to develop his ideas.

    Step 2. Next paraphrase the poem (or for longer poems a short section of it) in your reading notebook by translating its meaning into contemporary speech.

    Step 3. Looking at the poem as a drama, who are the characters? (What do you know about the speaker? Who is the auditor or audience?) What is the central conflict? What implied action(s) occurs before, during, or after the poem?

    Step 4. Looking at the poem as a meditation, what imagery is chosen to describe the individual believer? How does the poet describe his relationship with God? How does this relationship address questions of life, death, past, and present?

    Step 5. Now look at the structural and poetic elements of the poem. How does the poet divide the poem into logical parts? How does spacing or punctuation make these logical divisions clear? How does the poet use image patterns or conceits to develop a theme or address a question?

    Step 6. Look up any unfamiliar words in a dictionary. How does the poet employ difficult, unusual, or related types of words to develop an image or set the mood of the poem? Do they help set a tone that is personal, playful, academic, provocative, devotional, or something else?

    Step 7. Before you leave the poem, what questions does it raise regarding contemporary views of life, death, soul, and God? How does the poem challenge or confirm personal views of mortality or a personal relationship with God?

    Step 8. Once you have a clear idea of what the poet is trying to say, write a 1 to 2 paragraph explication of the poem, referencing key lines or phrases that illuminate that purpose for other readers.

Margery Kempe, Then & Now

by   |  09.12.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Sarah Standbury’s site at Holy Cross helps illustrate the importance of Margery Kempe’s achievement as a believer, as a woman, and as an author: 

      Margery Kempe’s spiritual biography is often called the first autobiography in English. A married woman who attempted to live a life devoted to Christ, Margery sought official Church recognition for her status as a spiritual woman and mystic, while continuing to live and travel in the secular world. She experienced intense emotional visionary encounters with Christ, which have at times a strikingly homely quality. Her Book, dictated by her to a scribe, records these visions as well as her travels in Europe and pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her particular spiritual trial, according to her Book, was to be misrepresented, persecuted, and rejected by many of her clerical and lay peers. The recording of her spiritual life, despite severe difficulties and her own illiteracy, became a symbolic act in itself, representing both her claim to spiritual status and evidence of her special relationship with God. Rich in detail about the people and places Margery encountered, the Book is a fascinating record of life in turbulent early 15th century England. (Mapping Margery

    This site maps the intersections of religious belief and social attitudes represented by The Book of Margery Kempe through examples of the material culture of fifteenth-century England. Spend 15-20 minutes exploring images which investigate the place of the Parish Church, the Cathedral, Devotional Images, and Pilgrimage in the life of a medieval believer. How do these images help illustrate or challenge your idea of Catholic Christianity in the century before the Reformation?

    The site also includes an Outline of Kempe’s text with a detailed Glossary of unfamiliar terms such as anchorite, brewing, or chaste marriage which may be useful as you read.

    Mapping Margery Kempe

Margery Live! Interview

    After reading and reflecting on The Book of Margery Kempe, this week you will have the unique opportunity to see an interview with the author. Her story was first transcribed by a priest, then lost for almost 500 years, before reappearing in 1934 to be recognized and reinterpreted by secular critics. Now, after a long meditative silence, Ms. Kempe has decided to go back on the record to respond to charges of indecency, heresy, and lunacy. Don’t miss this exclusive interview hosted by Dr. Bill Rankin. 

    Margery Live! – Video

    Margery Live! – Audio

    This interview is based on a live chat Margery held with ACU Online students several years ago. If you have trouble with the video, you’ll find a transcript of that event below.

    Margery Live! transcript

The Televangelists Tale

by   |  09.09.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    At the end of the Pardoner's portrait in the “General Prologue,” Chaucer calls him a “noble ecclesiaste.” Whatever else readers think of him, most surely recognize the personality of an impressive churchman or preacher. The Pardoner's actual “Tale” ends like any good sermon with the rioters’ fate underscoring the main text: “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But neither the sermon nor the tale is over. Listen to the following reading of the Pardoner's final words and how it presents the clergy.

    Pardoner's Closing Invitation – read by Dr. Bill Rankin, English professor

    The Pardoner is a timeless character. In our day he would certainly have been a televangelist. Consider the following short profile from Wikipedia on a leading proponent of the “health and wealth” gospel and see if the pitch sounds familiar:

      Robert Tilton regularly taught that poverty was a result of sin. Tilton's ministry revolved around the practice of making “vows,” financial commitments to Tilton's ministry. When a person made a vow to Tilton (Tilton's preferred “vow,” stressed frequently during his broadcasts, was $1,000), Tilton preached that God would recognize the vow and reward the donor with vast material riches . . .

      One of Tilton's most frequent sermon topics was the Biblical story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16). In the story, Elijah comes to a widow who is almost out of food and asks her to prepare him a meal. She replies that she has only enough food for one last meal for herself and her son. Elijah asks her to prepare him a meal first and then promises that God will not let her food be exhausted. In faith she does so, and her food supply indeed does not run out. Tilton regularly used this story in the context of asking viewers to send money to his ministry.

    For more on the Pardoner's successful successors, consider the following sites, both biased and blessed:

    Benny Hinn on Wikipedia and in his own words

    Reverend Ike on Wikipedia and on his own website

    Robert Tilton on Wikipedia and in his own marketing

Life and Death in Christian Europe

by   |  09.05.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Through a period defined by social and political change, the Church provided a surprising continuity to the religious and cultural life of medieval Europe. It was the “catholic” or universal Church which set the shared calendar that established feast and fast days. It was the Church that authorized a shared liturgy spoken in a shared language “Latin” in cathedrals, monasteries, and parish churches from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

    For most men and women, whether highborn aristocrats or of the laboring majority, it was the local church that unified their lives as well. The life-cycle of Christian Europe was organized by holy sacraments administered in the church, from their baptism to their confirmation, from their marriage to the christenings and weddings of their children, until finally they received extreme unction or last rites and were buried on the grounds of the church facing east to await a common resurrection.

Life and Death in Dartford Exercise

    A day’s ride from London, the pilgrims’ first stop would have been the small town of Dartford. This village represents an interesting crossroads in Britain’s history as not only a hostelry for travelers but also as the reputed home of Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt. Take a moment to read the following summary of Wat Tyler’s Revolt. What does this conflict, which lead to the murder of another Archbishop of Canterbury, say about the relationship between the authorities–church and state–and the commoners?

    Before class, spend 15-20 minutes learning about life and death in medieval Dartford. Your research will focus on the “Population and the People” articles on the Dartford Town Archive (especially those on the lives of the Rich, the Poor, and Pilgrims). As you read, take note of interesting details including typical life expectancy and factors influencing quality of life for both rich and poor. What details surprise you? How do you account for such high infant mortality or low life expectancy numbers? Bring details and observations to class this week or use them as the foundation for your own Blog Post #1.

    Medieval Dartford

    (Once you’ve finished, you might compare life expectancy in medieval Dartford with recent statistics for the US or the UK from the World Factbook. What parts of the world today have figures closer to medieval Dartford’s and why?)