Religion and the poetic imagination : a study of the relationship between religious vision and poetic expression in Scotland from the fifteenth century to the present
Donnelly, William J.
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The revival of Scottish letters in the twentieth century has helped re-instate the late Middle Ages as perhaps the most creative period in the history of Scottish literature. This has been accompanied by the recognition of the part played by subsequent historical events, such as the Reformation and the Union of Crowns, in undermining the national culture and therefore in dislocating the cultural tradition. However, the present study springs from the question as to whether this modern response has not itself largely failed to recognize the essential qualities of the pre-Reformation heritage, which is likewise to mis-interpret the true nature of the subsequent loss, and is indeed ultimately a testimony to the fact that on this level, the cultural disjunction still pertains to those who seek its remedy. Part One of this study, which consists of the first four chapters, seeks to ascertain the true nature of the medieval poetic vision. Chapters I and II are concerned with the poetry of Robert Henryson, as the poet most conscious of its nature. However, Chapters III and IV will illustrate that this same presence is at the heart of the poetry of the other major pre-Reformation poets, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries respectively. Part Two consists of Chapter V, which seeks to comprehend the nature of the decline which marked the seventeenth century, Chapter VI, which considers the eighteenth century revival, and the manner in which its directions were determined by the earlier cultural disruption, and Chapter VII, which following those directions into the nineteenth century, examines the crisis produced by their confrontation with the modern world. Part Three contains the last two chapters of the study. Firstly, Chapter VIII attempts a brief survey of European cultural trends in the post-Reformation era, in order to ascertain how far the factors which separate the modern Scot from his medieval past coincide with those which divide him from the general European cultural heritage. Finally, Chapter IX considers the cultural situation in the present time in the light of what has gone before, and seeks to arrive at some general conclusions as to why we are where we are, and in what directions we might now consider moving.