Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level





Sean Dempsey

Committee Member

William Quinn

Second Committee Member

Mohja Kahf


Language, literature and linguistics, Religion, Romanticism, Sacramental poetics, Secularization


A sacramental poetics requires a particular mode of being-in-the-world. Religiously-minded poets, from Dante and Milton to Donne and Herbert, have long considered how the individual becomes attuned with creation and God’s will. But what happens when modernity and secularization challenge long-held assumptions about the universe and how humankind fits into it? A reevaluation is then needed. My thesis begins with an examination of how William Wordsworth, who sort of falls into modernity, seeks to reoccupy the functions of religion in an increasingly secularized landscape. One consequence of the European Enlightenment is the disentangling and distancing that occurs in regards to what cannot be empirically proven or trusted, such as religion and spirituality. Thus, Wordsworth’s poetic strategy for reoccupying religion’s functions asks that individuals become entangled—with the environment, with other people, and with the Divine. I argue that Wordsworth employs a sacramental poetics that embraces the unknowable as a means of invoking a religious phenomenological experience. Further, at the heart of this phenomenological experience is this sense of connectedness that binds everything together. Beginning with the Romantics, a sacramental poetics objectifies the unknowable qualities within ourselves and the world in order to awake a sense of purpose and meaning. The subsequent chapters on Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” and C.S. Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces confirm that a sacramental poetics depends upon not only our ability to perceive the world as capable of producing a sense of fullness but also our ability to feel this sensation with our bodies and other affective aspects of our being, thereby maximizing our sense of purpose and connectedness. A sacramental poetics preserves certain characteristics of religion, such as liturgy and ritual, to emphasize that we are embodied creatures, feeling our way in the world. As will become clear, there is something efficacious in this pursuit.