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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 by way of nearly overall forget in ours. Hammond reconstructs the ancient, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they answered to Puritan perspectives on a selected strategy of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers by means of shaping their event. They shed new mild at the emotional measurement of Puritanism and the $64000 position of formality in Puritan tradition.

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The vocational theme reached its culmination in “Lycidas”: Milton’s momentary questioning, in the face of Edward King’s untimely death, of his own dedication to the “thankless muse” leads to a recommitment expressed by and embodied in the poem – a recommitment always seen, of course, with hindsight afforded by the later achievement of Paradise Lost. To be sure, Milton confirms a Christian apotheosis for Lycidas, “sunk low but mounted high / Through the dear might of him that walkt the waves” ().

People die but the ideal elegy remains, monumental and enduring. Should an elegy offer beauty or solace? While it’s easy to say both, this confident answer begs two fundamental questions: whose definition of beauty? and whose definition of solace? To answer these questions is to be pushed inexorably into history. I have recounted the story of the Monuments enduring and otherwise  elegy’s reception at some length because it illustrates the persistence of factors that continue to impede a fully contextualized reading of the Puritan poetry of loss.

Such comments fit well with that species of geographical determinism which wedded the Puritan psyche to the flinty land that supposedly nurtured it. In  Julian Abernethy observed that the Puritan “renouncement of all aesthetic influences left an impress upon the character of New England that is even yet visible, like the barren stretches of rock that scar its green-robed mountain sides in summer” (). The early elegies and epitaphs confirmed a stifled artistry well matched with this rugged protoAmerica.

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