Bruce Aardsma

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Bruce Brandt


In modern times literary criticism has seen a renewed interest in the poetry of the seventeenth century metaphysical poets, commonly referred to as ''the poetry of meditation." Based on the Augustinan philosophy, the act of meditation became a devotional process through which a person could attain a union with the Godhead by following a prescribed method. This method included the stages of purgation, illumination, and unification, through which the meditant first becomes aware of his own sinful nature and hopeless condition and then discovers the way of salvation and commits himself to the service of God. The final stage of unification focuses on a direct communication with God, where the meditant, through a type of mystic revelation, comes to understand the mysteries of God, with the poetry as a written response. In the seventeenth century the Roman church, in an attempt to bolster religious commitment and counteract the Reformation, simplified this meditative structure and methodology. This was accomplished principally through the work of St. Ignatius, and was further simplified by St. Francis de Sales. With respect to the particular poetry written by the English metaphysical poets, literary criticism has concerned itself with the relationship between the meditative process and the poetic response. While critics are agreed on the fact that the poetry is the result of meditation, they are not unified on the type of meditation practiced by the individual poets. The focus of this paper will be a discussion of the two principal types of meditation, Salesian and Protestant, with respect to their application to the poetry of George Herbert.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Herbert, George, 1593-1633 -- Criticism and interpretation
Mysticism in literature



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University