Richard Crashaw and the Capucins: Images and the Force of Belief

  • Patrick Grant


Richard Crashaw is a most peculiar poet who tends to stimulate among his critics either extremes of revulsion or of deliberately argued admiration. This sharp division in taste tends to correspond also to a methodological distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘historical’ approaches to his work. To those who read his poems without concern for devotional conventions the images of wounds and mouths and blood and nests are soon revolting and the sense grows strong of something awry in the poet’s sensibility, something smacking of perverse eroticism. Those who wish to defend Crashaw nearly always begin by acknowledging the lurid and sensuous qualities and then, producing a range of examples from contemporary Baroque devotional practice, go on to say that the sensuality must be understood not literally, but as emblematic of certain spiritual states.1 One critic claims that the images should be read with no corporeal significance attached to them at a11,2 and in this light Crashaw becomes less an enraptured mystagogue and more a careful and intellectual manipulator of conventional materials: a cool and aloof arranger of brightly coloured beads,3 not a febrile and over-excited case of arrested development.


Physical World Spiritual Life Spiritual Exercise Divine Love Rational Appetite 
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  1. 1.
    Marc F. Bertonasco, Crashaw and the Baroque (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1971), pp. 9, 21, 38, et passim.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Julius D. Locke, ‘Images and Image Symbolised in Metaphysical Poetry with Special Reference to Otherworldliness’, Diss. University of Florida, 1958, cited in Bertonasco, Crashaw and the Baroque p. 139.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    A. Alvarez, The School of Donne (London: Chatto and Windus, 1962), P. 92 IfGoogle Scholar

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© Patrick Grant 1979

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  • Patrick Grant

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