“Crashaw is quite alone in his peculiar kind of greatness.” — T. S. Eliot
This is the first new critical edition in more than forty years of an astounding and unjustly neglected poet of sacred eroticism and homoeroticism—the traditional yet nevertheless startling expression of ecstatic religious feeling in sexual terms. Flamboyant, experimental, and cosmopolitan in his literary and religious preferences, Richard Crashaw (ca. 1613–1649) wrote exultant, high-flying verse that remains the most sustained effort in English to render ecstasy poetically. Routinely misunderstood and at times even maligned for his supposed bad taste, Crashaw mixes the languages of erotic and religious rapture in powerful poems about holy women such as Mary Magdalene, Teresa of Ávila, and the Virgin Mary, but also in lyrics about Christ’s naked, crucified body, making Crashaw one of the queerest of religious poets.
Presenting Crashaw to a new generation of readers, Richard Rambuss has newly edited all of his English poems, with modern spelling and full annotations. This volume replicates Crashaw’s books, the 1646 version of Steps to the Temple andCarmen Deo Nostro (1652), and includes his important verse letter to the Countess of Denbigh, as well as manuscript poems. Rambuss offers an extensive critical, biographical, and historical introduction that reassesses Crashaw and his significance and gives a chronology of the poet’s life.
Our usual accounts of the early modern lyric are sorely put to the test when confronted by the extraordinary, untamed instance of Richard Crashaw. As Richard Rambuss argues in his elegant and meticulous introduction, Crashaw’s poetry powerfully confounds our usual categories—Protestant vs. Catholic, Renaissance vs. Baroque, erotic vs. devotional—while bequeathing us some of the most impassioned and indelible images in the language. This edition is a timely challenge to scholars and a genuine gift to readers everywhere who may not yet know the ‘startling weirdness’ that is Crashaw. -- Linda Gregerson, University of Michigan
This edition is a cause for celebration. Long marginalized, misunderstood, and neglected, Crashaw here resumes his place as one of the most inventive and exciting religious poets of the seventeenth century. In its intense fervor, its bodily and spiritual urgency, and its daring exploration of the resources of faith, Crashaw’s poetry, as Richard Rambuss’ elegant, richly informative introduction suggests, should rightly be understood not as eccentric but as ‘devotionally cosmopolitan.’ -- Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University
In his elegant introduction, Rambuss argues that Crashaw belongs not only to the canon of major English poets, but to the gallery of great experimenters in Christian writing. The demonstration is completed by the poems themselves. Freshly presented, deftly annotated, they can now dazzle us as they did Crashaw’s contemporaries. Here is desire for divinity in flesh—and for flesh that draws to divinity. --Mark D. Jordan, Washington University