Dr. Gary Kuchar: "George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Art of Hearkening"

Fri. Jan. 29 12:30 PM - Fri. Jan. 29 01:30 PM
Contact: Kelly Batson (
Location: 3C01

“George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Art of Hearkening: Listening for The Odour.

A Public Lecture by Dr. Gary Kuchar, University of Victoria

Although the protestant Reformation is generally viewed as a revolution in reading, most people in early modern England likely heard the bible more often than they read it. The oral nature of biblical culture in early modern England was part and parcel of its general tendency to ethically privilege hearing over sight. Such attitudes and practices raise the question of what, exactly, it meant to listen to God’s Word in seventeenth-century England? What could John Donne have meant precisely when he prayed, as indeed he did, for "circumcised ears"? Less cryptically, what were the physics, physiology, and theology of early modern sound and hearing and how do such ideas animate religious writing in the period? To address these questions, I attend to George Herbert's representation of sound and listening in The Temple (1633), focusing particular attention on what it meant to hearken in early Stuart England. By tuning into early modern frequencies, we will discover that hearing and sound sometimes mean different things for Herbert than they do for us and that such differences have crucial consequences for understanding his poetry and seventeenth-century devotional writing more broadly.