History, Religion and Politics in William Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets

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A complete and thorough study of William Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets emphasizing especially religion and history. The Ecclesiastical Sonnets are a sonnet sequence of 132 poems beginning with the founding of Christianity in England to the state of religion in Wordsworth’s day. Although a later work, they characterize many topics close to Wordsworth’s heart – the idea of history, pantheism, nature and Christianity. This book studies history and religion as well as Wordsworth’s use of sonnet sequence, a genre of his later writing. There has been very little written about the Ecclesiastical Sonnets. This book will help students to achieve a complete view of Wordsworth the young romantic as well as the elder statesman (poet laureate) of England.


“John Delli Carpini’s thoughtful and sensitive study of Wordsworth’s work focuses on this correspondence between the Church’s history and Wordsworth’s spiritual odyssey. He highlights Wordsworth’s retrieval of his childhood faith instilled by his mother and the Church. Other themes which Delli Carpini elucidates are Wordsworth’s valuable insights into the meaning and spiritual power of the Church’s liturgy, sacraments and architecture. The author also interprets Wordsworth’s perception of the Church as “the Communion of Saints”—the holy individuals in her past history, those in the present community on their way to the future goal, eternal happiness and peace with God, and the heavenly saints. The links between time and eternity, between earth and heaven, between sinful limitations and transcendent perfection, are clearly investigated by Delli Carpini, who provides helpful footnotes for non-specialists in theology and Church history….. Delli Carpini’s study is a timely and noteworthy contribution to Wordsworth scholarship and an illuminating resource for readers who seek a deep spirituality that is both personal and communitarian as well as rooted in a mystical awareness of the divine presence in nature. This study can offer people who have lost their confidence in a Church which seems irrelevant or corrupt a new vision of the real purpose and on-going mission of the Church. Wordsworth’s rediscovery of faith and the Church gave him spiritual courage in the face of tragic personal crises such as the death of loved ones. It also provided light, direction and hope when his life seemed so dark, hopeless and devoid of meaning. Wordsworth’s spiritual journey is really Everyman’s—the Christian pilgrim, reborn in the pure waters of Baptism, travels through murky, perilous waters, but still sees by faith the distant goal and home: God, eternal happiness and peace with the saints in glory. Delli Carpini has given us in his graceful commentary on Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets a wise, faith-filled companion for our own journey.” - (From the Commendatory Preface) James J. Collins, S.O.E.D., S.T.L., Holy Family University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“John Delli Carpini’s study of Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets is timely as 21st century Americans struggle to define their religious and ecclesiastical identity. Coming from an age marked by similar religious and institutional struggles, this mid-nineteenth century work will speak eloquently to modern men and women. The polarization within mainstream Protestant denominations and within the Catholic Church as well, suggest that Wordsworth’s artistic expression of his own re-discovery of faith and the meaning of the Church might inspire and help to guide the contemporary faith-seeker. The work is reader-friendly in its provision of footnotes for those of us less familiar with the terrain of nineteenth century history and religious movements. Even more, Delli Carpini provides a clear explanation of the manner in which Wordsworth’s verse is a call to communio, that binding together of fellow believers through the agency of divine worship, the celebration of the Word of God and the external forms of ecclesiastical life. In this sense Wordsworth’s work is as much ecclesial as it is ecclesiastical, i.e., is as much theology as it is literature and history. While the spiritual mood of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets contrasts sharply with the New Age mysticism of so many of our contemporaries, it is this common thread of the inner search for meaning and the ability of the interior life to sustain a life of confusion, difficulties and even suffering that makes Delli Carpini’s work significant. The excellence of his scholarship and the humaneness of his presentation of this forgotten nineteenth century work give Delli Carpini’s volume a unique quality that most readers will appreciate.” - Gabriel O’Donnell, S.T.L., Ph.D., Pontifical North American College, Vatican City, Europe

“This work provides an interesting look into the history of the church through the sonnets of Wordsworth. It provides a far more interesting look into the journey of a soul.” - Gregory Salomone, O.P., M.A., Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
1. A Narrative of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets
2. Wordsworth and Religion
3. Wordsworth and the Sonnet Form
4. History and the Ecclesiastical Sonnets
5. Ideas in the Ecclesiastical Sonnets
6. Historical Personages in the Ecclesiastical Sonnets
7. The Ecclesiastical Sonnets as Religious Autobiography
Texts of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets
Selected Bibliography

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