Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The 1646 edition of Richard Crashaw’s Steps to the Temple, apparently edited by the anonymous author of the preface, also includes a section of secular poems called “The Delights of the Muses,” equivalent to another volume. The 1648 edition contains revisions of some of the originals and many new poems, including “The Flaming Heart,” a famous poem about Saint Teresa of Ávila in Spain and her mystical religious ecstasy. This discussion will focus on the sacred poems composing the first edition.
The central, unifying metaphor of the title was based on a collection of poems called The Temple (1633) by Welsh poet George Herbert. Crashaw’s modification of Herbert’s title invites comparison between the two poets; indeed, Crashaw included in his volume the poem “On Mr George Herbert’s Book entitled ’The Temple of Sacred Poems.’” In this poem, Crashaw poses as a donor of Herbert’s book to a lovely, pious woman. The poem tells the lady reader that she will, by reading the lines, kindle in herself the fire that lies in the words of the meditational poems. Unlocking the secrets of the poems will be like finding an angel and grasping its wings. This angel will transport the perceptive reader daily to heaven, where she can become acquainted with the glories that await her among the gentle souls residing there.
The simple eighteen-line poem, written in rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets, ends with a strange act of...
(The entire section is 1804 words.)
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