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This book examines the poetry of George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and R. S. Thomas in light of their shared experience as poets who were also priests. While having twin vocations is a constant that unites them, the poets’ vocational experiences differ markedly in line with the variable periods in which they wrote. Thus each comes up with quite different answers to the question of whether the Voice of the Muse is the same as the Voice of God.


“Solidly grounded in the philosophies and theologies of the seventeenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, McKenzie’s focus nevertheless remains predominantly literary. His interest is in how the poetry is formed and informed by the concept of vocation, and equally by the effort to live out that concept in the messy detail of everyday life. He brings to his reading of the poems both acute sensitivity and stringent analysis, and he writes with a lucidity that is fast vanishing from much academic prose. This study is to be savoured, not just for the insights it provides into each poet, but for the richly satisfying and thoughtful thesis it advances: that for each of these priest-poets, their attempts to negotiate some balance between two vocations is a vital part of the effort to discover a unity of interior life.” – Peter Whiteford, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

“McKenzie engages his reader not only with a rich and insightful analysis of the poetry of George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins and R. S. Thomas, but also with a significant exploration of the nature of vocation in all its complexity. The dual vocation which McKenzie explores throws valuable and original light upon the nature of priesthood in the 21st century…. It will prove a delight for all who love poetry and seek to encounter these writers more deeply, for those seeking for God in all life’s experiences, and those trying to make sense of the profound longing which is at the heart of all vocation.” – Helen Stanton, East Anglian Ministerial Training Course Director of Pastoral Studies; author of Christian Feminism (Darton, Longman & Todd); editor of Tissa Balasuriya’s Mary and Human Liberation (Morehouse); review editor for the journal Political Theology

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Introduction: Priest-Poets and the Decline of Faith
1. Vocation in a Fragmented World: Cosmological Incoherence and Religious Order; Herbert and the Certainty of Faith; Hopkins’ Vocational Leap; Thomas – Faith at Seventy Thousand Fathoms; Vocation and the Quest for Unity of Interior Life
2. Called to Priesthood: Origins of the Christian Priesthood; Theological and Historical Context of Herbert’s Priesthood; Hopkins’ Theological and Sociological Context; Thomas’ Theological and Social Context ; Thomas – the Priesthood of Lonely Perseverance; Herbert and the Preparation Within; Hopkins – the Heart of the Host as the Heart of the Cosmos; Christ, Humiliation and Poetry
3. The Use of Poetry: Religion in the Poetic Tradition; Herbert – Poetry as the Poet’s Offering; Hopkins – Poetry as Inscape; Thomas – Finding Poetic Airways for the Spirit; Joyful Submission, Painful Sacrifice, Spiritual Vision
4. Vocations Under Strain: The Priest-Poet and Suffering; Hopkins – the Priest of Gall and Heartburn; Herbert – the Parson as Teacher and Guide; Thomas – the Priest as the Prophet; Poetry and the Liberation of Priestly Vocation
5. The Calling of Christ: The Christological Problem; Hopkins – Christology of Christ?; Herbert’s King of Joy and Grief; Thomas – the Signpost that Points in Different Directions; Christ as Vocational Mover
6. Conclusion: Fools for Christ’s Sake; Torn in Two
Bibliography; Index

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