The Dwelling Place of God: the Significance of Structure in "The Temple"

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Critics now generally agree that The Temple is a unity, that it has a definite and deliberate structure and that George Herbert is a poet of order who ordered the collection in a very specific way. There is some agreement on the patterning of the initial poems and the last few, but agreement has not been reached concerning the precise nature and extent of the sequences. When the layout of poems in the Williams manuscript is taken into consideration, it can be seen that Herbert intended the layout of the poems on the page to reinforce associations between poems, particularly with the use of facing pages, and to show where sequences begin and end. The evidence suggests that some of the poems act as internal structural markers to define sequences (for example, "The Altar" and "Easter-wings"), and that seven major sequences so defined organise the central section of The Temple, "The Church". Within some of these lie smaller sub-sequences sometimes overlapping one another, sometimes containing yet smaller clusters of poems. In some sequences the poems are sequentially arranged while in others the poems are scattered throughout the collection. A new dimension is added to the reading of each poem when read with an understanding, of its place within its sequence and within the larger work. The collection as a whole is organised around a number of organising images including the Old Testament tabernacle, the physical building and liturgy of the Church of England, the people of God, the individual believer, and the Bible. In the past, critics have argued the case for one organising image as opposed to other possibilities yet the fabric of The Temple is much richer than this and, in effect, layers of images exist simultaneously, informing and enriching one another. Herbert's careful ordering of The Temple is what one would expect given his training and the intellectual and religious climate in which he lived. An examination of seventeenth century ideas of structure explains why Herbert structured the collection as he did. Rhetorical structures and spatial concepts in memory training, emblematic and numerical structures, the structure of formal meditation and catechistical structures shaped Herbert's thinking and his ideas about form.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Humanities

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The Temple

George Herbert





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