Poetry of Contemplation

John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and the Modern Period

By Arthur L. Clements

Paperback : 9780791401279, 306 pages, June 1990
Hardcover : 9780791401262, 306 pages, June 1990

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Table of contents



Chapter 1 Contemplative Tradition

Chapter 2 John Donne

Chapter 3 George Herbert

Chapter 4 Henry Vaughan

Chapter 5 Contemplative Poetry and the Modern Period

Appendix A Grouping of the Songs and Sonnets and a General Dating of Poems

Appendix B Selected Bibliography of "The Exstasie"


Works Cited



This is the first systematic and thorough study of mysticism or contemplation in these three seventeenth-century poets and in three modern writers. It not only clarifies the very confused issue of mysticism in seventeenth-century poetry but also connects seventeenth-century poets with modern literature and science through the contemplative tradition; from the Bible and Plato and Church fathers and important mystics of the Middle Ages through Renaissance and modern contemplatives.

The transformative and redemptive power of contemplative poetry or "holy writing" (regardless of genre or discipline) is prominent throughout the book, and the relevance, indeed the vital necessity, of such poetry and of the living contemplative tradition to our apocalyptic modern world is discussed in the last chapter. In this chapter, attention is given to modern science, especially to the new physics, and to philosophical and mystical writings of eminent scientists.

Arthur L. Clements is Professor of English and teaches Modern and Renaissance Literature and Creative Writing at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He has published an edition of John Donne's Poetry, The Mystical Poetry of Thomas Traherne, and a book of poems,Common Blessings.


"The author addresses the subtle, difficult question of whether poetry by its nature has a redemptive quality; that is, has poetry the intrinsic power to transform the perspective from that of the little ego to that of the Self? By studying in detail three poets, the author provides substantial evidence for affirming poetry's redemptive power and carries the implications of the analysis of seventeenth-century poetry into the twentieth century. The boldness of his vision and task is appealing. " —Mary E. Giles