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 old, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they replied to Puritan perspectives on a particular technique of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers through shaping their event. They shed new gentle at the emotional measurement of Puritanism and the real position of formality in Puritan tradition.
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In this style,” Wallerstein noted, “the Bible abounds” (). While the occasional image – the weeping willow, the ministerial shepherd, and churchgoing ﬂocks – aﬀorded brief glimpses of a quasi-pastoral landscape, the ur-texts for these poems were the great biblical expressions of loss, especially David’s poem for Saul and Jonathan ( Samuel :–). Funeral elegists took seriously Paul’s admonition to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” taking care to “Mind not high things” and to “Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans :–).
To answer these questions is to be pushed inexorably into history. I have recounted the story of the Monuments enduring and otherwise elegy’s reception at some length because it illustrates the persistence of factors that continue to impede a fully contextualized reading of the Puritan poetry of loss. Only when the American elegy began to follow pastoral directives and assert itself as an aesthetic object, divorced from the speciﬁc occasion of death and its situational demands, did it begin to be taken seriously as literature.
As Abernethy remarked, “many a lichen-grown gravestone The American Puritan elegy still testiﬁes to their struggles to express some freak of fancy in punning rhymes” (). Of the “thousands of lines” penned by New England’s earliest poets, Samuel Marion Tucker wrote in , there was “scarcely a line of genuine poetry, or a single poem worth preservation in its entirety” (). Read as a halting expression of an embryonic American character, the New England elegy was granted a certain unpolished strength.