English Seminar: Jennifer Clement, ‘“Sighs Make Joy Sure”: Joy and Grief in Seventeenth-Century Sermons and Poetry
Jennifer Clement, Sighs Make Joy Sure: Joy and Grief in Seventeenth-Century Sermons and Poetry
For every work on joy in early modern English literature, you can probably find ten on grief and melancholy. Yet joy, as well as its lack, was essential to early modern understandings of religious experience. Just as joy was thought to be a marker of God’s presence and a sign of justification, many feared that the lack of joy might point to damnation. And if joy was a necessary accompaniment to the experience of God’s grace and presence in the soul, many people worried that, conversely, grief or melancholy must indicate the lack of justification.
In this paper, I show how early modern Communion sermons represent the problem of grief as a communal rather than an individual problem. In this they share common ground with poetry by Amelia Lanyer, Henry Vaughan, and George Herbert, whose writing represents Communion as potentially grief-ridden but ultimately joyous for its promise of union with other believers and with God. Reading the Communion sermons of Richard Sibbes next to these poems, I show how both poets and preachers offer a pathway to joy that leads through grief, not around it. In the process, these writers suggest that grief and joy might be harder to tell apart than we often assume, and they take an often explicitly pedagogical stance to teach others what joy means and how it might be cultivated.
Jennifer Clement is a Senior Lecturer in Literature at the University of Queensland. Her book Reading Humility in Early Modern English Literature came out in 2015, and she’s also published numerous articles on religion and early modern literature, Shakespeare and film adaptation, and teaching. This talk is taken from her current book-length project on seventeenth-century English sermons and emotions, tentatively entitled Godly Affections: Rhetoric, Persuasion, and Teaching the Emotions in the Early Modern English Sermon, 1600-1642.
EMLAC is the University of Sydney’s Early Modern Literature and Culture research group which is based in the English Department. It meets on the last Friday of the month during term from 1-2.30pm.
EMLAC is a friendly and supportive gathering of early modernist researchers including tenured staff, casual staff, research students, alumni and honorary associates. We are mainly focussed on English literature, but have strong cross-disciplinary interests.
All meetings will be delivered via Zoom.
Contact: Liam Semler (firstname.lastname@example.org).