“Verse hath a middle nature” : influence and afterlife in seventeenth-century English lyric.


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This dissertation explores how four seventeenth-century lyric poets worked to create, preserve, and influence their own and others’ places in a life after death. Far from leaving bodies behind, these texts uniquely depend on transformative embodiment. Each chapter reveals a different type of “economy” of poetic influence in which the poet uses lyrics to engage in cycles of exchange, transforming their works into bodies that can outlast or overcome death. These economies deal in virtue, fame, light, and even atomic particles. I argue that their focus on afterlife is, in part, a response to the loss of the enchanted medieval world picture due to the advent of new science. In addition to analyzing poetry by the highly influential John Donne in Chapter Two, I also break new ground with understudied poetry by female authors who followed or resisted Donne’s legacy. Chapter Three, on the scientist, philosopher, and poet Margaret Cavendish, focuses on the importance of her neglected poetic works and shows how her aspiration to a lasting earthly fame stems from her desire to transcend death in a world she believes is wholly material. Chapter Four considers Hester Pulter, whose recently rediscovered manuscript provides an important contrast to Cavendish in the way she looks forward to heavenly afterlife while finding purpose in her earthly occupation of private writing. Finally, in Chapter Five, I argue that Lucy Hutchinson uses light and optical theories to shift public memory and illuminate hidden truth through her Elegies in memory of her husband, Colonel John Hutchinson. Examining these authors in comparison from the angle of poetic influence and afterlife gives us a fuller picture of the roles of embodiment and gender in how they perceived the long-term effects of their writing. In so doing, this project also highlights the importance of further study of these poets’ neglected works, a pursuit which continues to shape the afterlives they imagined.