Meditation and Devotion in Early Modern Poetry

Module code: EN7244

‘Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,/ Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine’: George Herbert’s poem ‘The Agony’ captures the paradoxical combination of desire, ‘sweetness’, and suffering that is at the heart of early modern devotional writing. This module explores the rich array of meditative poetry composed in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. It explores themes including Catholic and Protestant spirituality; meditation, the role of the imagination, and poetry; the influence of continental and Jesuit writing; the politics of devotion; the Bible and the language of eroticism; and iconography and the role of the emblem book.

Teaching for this module will consist of five two-hour seminars. Students will study a selection of poetry for each seminar, typically including authors such as John Donne, George Herbert, Aemilia Lanyer, Robert Southwell, and Henry Vaughan. All core set reading will be available online (via EEBO or similar archives of primary and critical material) or where necessary, via scanned extracts supplied by the tutor. Students will be assessed by one 3000-word essay, and will be offered the opportunity to submit an essay plan (up to 500 words) and receive oral feedback on it in a one-to-one meeting.


  • 10 hours of seminars
  • 140 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 3,000 words (100%)
  • Formative exercise, 500 words (0%)