Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas' Les semaines and the development of English poetic diction
This dissertation first sets out to place Du Bartas' Les Semaines in its religious and epic setting, and argues that the poem's mission is to exist as poetry and as religious instruction at the same time. From this and its philosophical backdrop emerges a poetry that emphasises equation, or fusion, over comparison. Antique-type similes are therefore summarily examined and connected with the "primary" sensibilities of Homer. The proper fusive style and language of Sylvester's translation are then considered. Its style is found to be conscious to a degree, relying especially on repetitional devices of catechistic value, such as anaphora and symploce; on devices of oxymoronic and paradoxical metamorphosis, such as agnominatio; and on devices of epigrammatic summary, such as chiasmus. The language of Sylvester's Du Bartas is then examined closely in two domains, those of its scientific and natural description. The two are not wholly separable. It is found that Sylvester's language, as Du Bartas, must be interpreted at more than its literal level; that three levels of interpretation along the lines of three levels of allegory are implicit. This is so in respect the italicised language so prominent in Divine Weeks, discussed in Chapter 5, and in respect of the adjectival and verbal language discussed in Chapter 7. One way of designating the organising principle lying behind these language hieroglyphs is as emblem book turned purely into words. This is insensitive to the poetic third level of Operation, which seeks to do more than teach, which seeks to inspire. This dissertation relates Sylvester's language to two traditions of English poetry, as different one from the other as noun is from adjective: the metaphysical school and the Augustan period. It argues that metaphysical poetry is enthralled with Du Bartas' conceits in Sylvester's translation, is influenced by them, and takes them up. These conceits are nonetheless often one-word, substantive, and hieroglyphic. Augustan poetry on the other hand takes up a Sylvestrian diction, often unaware of its implications, because it deems this language the true language of poetry. The rather dramatic place given to Divine Weeks in the development of English poetic diction is dealt with at a statistical level in an excursus on Sylvester's word and language formulations.