Language and tone in St Mary Magdalene

The language of nature

Much of the language of St Mary Magdalene derives from the poem's imagery. The diction is often of Nature: flowers especially, vines, April showers. Particularly, as we would expect from the central conceit, the nature diction centres on water: showers, dewdrops, streams, fountains, rivers. The human body is the source of much of this water, particularly the face, though the woman's face is left remarkably undetailed. There is a hint that her hair must be golden (Mary Magdalen was usually depicted in European paintings with the ‘flaming' hair of a harlot) There is a stereotyping of the female body that leaves it strangely characterless. Hair, eyes, cheeks are mentioned, but the point about these features is not to convey human characteristic or emotion, but just how capable they are of new conceits: that is, it is the idea of them that concerns Crashaw. Stanza 15 is a good example.

The language of wealth

Photo by Yair Haklai, available through Creative CommonsThere is diction to support images of worth, wealth and royalty. Also, of course, religious language: of Christ as ‘the lamb' (stanza 18); of heaven (for example stanza 12); but strangely, to Protestant ears anyway, mixed with talk of rather sensuous cherubs (stanza 5) and Cupids (stanza 18), the latter deriving from Roman mythology.

More on love language: sacred and divine: see Batter my heart by John Donne

Sorrow is mythologised also (stanza 7) as a queen, if not a goddess. And this is typical of a tendency to personify. The tears are addressed at the end; the cheeks are addressed in stanza 15.

Investigating St Mary Magdalene
  • Consider the language of St Mary Magdalene
    • Explain ‘Balsom may be for their own greife' (stanza 10)
    • List words that have to do with lushness and profusion
    • List words that convey the idea of wealth
  • What is ultimately the value of the weeper's tears?
    • … and their worth?
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