American puritan elegy by Jeffrey A. Hammond

By Jeffrey A. Hammond

Jeffrey Hammond's learn of the funeral elegies of early New England reassesses a physique of poems whose value of their personal time has been obscured through virtually overall forget in ours. Hammond reconstructs the ancient, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they spoke back to Puritan perspectives on a particular technique of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers by way of shaping their event. They shed new mild at the emotional size of Puritanism and the real position of formality in Puritan tradition.

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Some of these poems, printed as popular ballads in the newspapers, described sensational deaths like murders or executions and continued to thrive well into the nineteenth century (Coffin –). Others, wedded to theological assumptions softer than those held in early New England and sentimentalized beyond recognition, extended the tradition of accessible poems of loss into the domestic sphere as part of the “feminization” of death described by Ann Douglas (–). These latter poems, precursors of the obituary verses still printed in today’s papers, found their nemesis in Franklin’s fellow printer, Mark Twain.

In early New England, as in preindustrial societies generally, nobody died alone, and Puritan grief was not “private” in the sense that it usually is for us: Puritan mourners could not escape Donne’s conclusion that “any man’s death diminishes me” (“Devotions” ). Not surprisingly, the initial impact of a death on these close-knit communities was frighteningly disruptive. Not only had a beloved person been taken, but God’s workers in the world, scarce enough to begin with, had been diminished by one.

At first, the plainer sort of elegy assumed virtually identical form in both Englands. A poem written in  by “I. ” for Rev. John Rogers of Dedham, Essex, whose grandson would become president of Harvard, features most of the hallmarks of the New England elegy. Celebrating the “happy change and blessed gain” of a generalized saint, the poet praises “Our faithfull Moses” whose “graces” the reader is urged to “imitate”: “So shalt thou live in happy state, / and pleasing in Gods sight” (Draper, Century ).

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