Monday, February 3, 2014

Poetry, the Divine, and Two Very Different Views

Though I’ve read the Miller’s Prologue and Tale in the past, I have never read it with such a Christian-focused lens.  After reading Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, I couldn’t help but focus on all of the contradictions between what Sidney says and what Chaucer does.  When Sidney wrote his Apology, it’s clear that he wasn’t referring to the Miller’s Tale.    

Written in the late sixteenth century, Sidney’s work clearly shows the widespread Christian influence of the time.  He continually refers to poetry in religious contexts, calling it “a heavenly poesy” (85), through which God exposes himself as “a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty...” (85).  He compares poets to God himself, calling them both “makers” (85).  When writing, the poet experiences the closest earthly thing to godliness.  Sidney continues by saying that the best and oldest poems can be found in the Bible, where psalms and proverbs “imitate the inconceivable excellencies of God” (86).  Clearly, poetry is the ultimate experience of religion and spirituality for Sidney.  Fittingly, he believes that all of the best poems will convey religious truths.  Though written a good two centuries prior to Sidney’s defense, The Canterbury Tales, ironically about a group of religious pilgrims, are not nearly the Godly experiences Sidney describes.     

Though he employs religious imagery, Chaucer’s message is quite the opposite of Sidney’s.  Invoking the story of Noah’s Ark, Chaucer doesn’t bring his reader any closer to God; instead he reminds the reader of human sinfulness.  Something about a cuckolded husband, an adulterous wife, and two conniving lovers doesn’t exactly evoke the “divine consideration of what may be, and should be” that Sidney speaks of (86).  Or, maybe it does.  Perhaps Chaucer’s insistence in portraying the “religious” as sinners suggests a different kind of encounter with God and perfection that is not necessarily apparent to Sidney.    

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