Renaissance Colloquium

Herbert the Outsider
Feb 29, 2024, 4:30 pm6:30 pm



Event Description
Molly Murray

Among his poetic contemporaries, George Herbert stands out as a virtuoso of containers and containment: The Temple’s strong architectural conceit implies a delimited physical structure, within which lyric poems — often featuring boxes, cases, bags, and other vessels — call attention to their own formal limits of line and stanza, while simultaneously depicting the private, interior motions of the soul.  This paper will push against this notion of Herbert as a poet of interiors by considering the handful of poems that stand outside the walls of the 1633 Temple:  several Latin poems, the two “New Year’s Sonnets” to Magdalen Herbert, a few poetic addresses to friends and patrons including Donne, Bacon, and Elizabeth of Bohemia, and a small number of devotional lyrics that indicate theological positions that differ dramatically from those of the published poems (especially an alternative version of “The Holy Communion”).  These poems obviously differ in form, content, and occasion; taken together, however, they give us a fresh Herbert, or a Herbert al fresco: opening the hermetic world of the The Temple to a wider social sphere of dialogue and debate, and gesturing toward larger arenas of formal and doctrinal experiment.  In this group of poems, we see Herbert variously renegotiating the charged, connected binaries of inside and outside, self and community, privacy and publicity, orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

Molly Murray teaches and writes about the non-dramatic literature of early modern England. Her main scholarly interests lie at the intersection of religion, politics, and poetic form; additional interests include autobiography, intellectual history, and the history of criticism. Her research interests include the intersection of religion and politics with sixteenth and seventeenth century English poetry, as evidenced by her previous monograph, The Poetics of Conversion in Early Modern Literature: Verse and Change from Donne to Dryden, (Cambridge, 2009),. She is currently at work on a book-length study of literature and imprisonment from Wyatt to Milton.

  • Department of English
  • Bain-Swiggett Poetry Fund
  • University Center for Human Values
  • Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities