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By Jeffrey A. Hammond

Jeffrey Hammond's research of the funeral elegies of early New England reassesses a physique of poems whose significance of their personal time has been obscured via nearly overall overlook in ours. Hammond reconstructs the historic, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they answered to Puritan perspectives on a selected strategy of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers by way of shaping their adventure. They shed new mild at the emotional measurement of Puritanism and the $64000 position of formality in Puritan tradition.

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Extra resources for The American Puritan Elegy: A Literary and Cultural Study

Sample text

The Westfield minister, who apparently never sought publication for any of the other verse that would make him famous two centuries after his death, must have taken considerable pride in the poem. If he thought that it had not performed its sad task competently, even well, it is unlikely that he would have allowed it to appear in a permanent commemoration of so beloved a citizen as David Dewey, least of all a commemoration that the minister probably guided into publication. Not everyone, even at the time, would have been pleased with Taylor’s efforts.

Some had been converted by that poem, and Taylor took special pride in having used his God-given eloquence to bring them to Christ. The thought that some of those people, now in late middle age, were filing slowly behind him made him smile inwardly despite his dark mood. As the procession gathered around the gravesite, Taylor nodded to several young men, who slid Dewey’s coffin from the wagon and placed it gently on the ropes lying next to the open grave. Although fierce winds and rain had pelted the valley the night before, there had been a recent stretch of unusually warm weather, and the gravediggers had managed to do their work without too much difficulty.

Samuel Eliot Morison, agreeing that “Colonial conditions are never favorable to poetry,” also tried to approach the verse of early New England “as an expression of the thought, feeling, and emotions of the times” (Intellectual Life , ). But the resistance to historical relativism in assessing these poems remained strong. Suggesting that the elegies were a predictable response to a lack of funerary ritual,  The American Puritan elegy Morison concluded that these poems, like most occasional verse, were “indifferent” in quality.

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