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American puritan elegy by Jeffrey A. Hammond

By Jeffrey A. Hammond

Jeffrey Hammond's learn of the funeral elegies of early New England reassesses a physique of poems whose value of their personal time has been obscured via virtually overall overlook in ours. Hammond reconstructs the ancient, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they answered to Puritan perspectives on a selected technique of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers by way of shaping their adventure. They shed new mild at the emotional size of Puritanism and the $64000 position of formality in Puritan tradition.

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Nearly every formulaic trait satirized by Franklin made survivors feel like participants in an insistent and ongoing rewriting of death into victory. Although these poems came with greater frequency as the seventeenth century progressed, their underlying form remained essentially unchanged from the first settlement to Franklin’s day. Such stability, though it defies modern demands for originality, suggests that the Puritan elegy worked, and worked well, within the ritual of grieving that it was written to demonstrate and encourage.

Franklin’s attack on what he saw as extreme sentimentalism and rote convention, however, bears comic witness to what happens when Puritan verse is isolated from the theology that fueled it and from the psychological processes that it was written to promote. No type of poem, certainly, was more popular among Puritan readers than the elegy, and none offers a better point of departure for reconstructing the experience of poetry as most early New Englanders knew it in their daily lives. As John Draper noted seventy years ago, the public role of elegiac verse makes it “an admirable medium for the study of social ideals” (Funeral Elegy viii).

Lilacs,” lines –) For modern readers, these poems and the sentiments they convey are nearly irresistible. Nor should we resist them, whether as sources of consolation or objects of verbal beauty. But if we wish to understand another view of death and another way to mark its occurrence, we need to recognize that our preferences are not inevitable. We live in a culture that is still very much influenced by the romantic aestheticizing of death as a philosophical abstraction. We should remember, too, that this construction has less to do with immediate loss and sorrow than with postromantic assumptions of a universal human condition – the same universal condition that the canon was staking out as its special territory as elegy criticism developed.

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