Imagery and symbolism in Hymn to St Teresa

Although there is a small narrative element in Hymn to St Teresa, Crashaw is much more interested in finding what images fit the events or person being described, and how those images may convey the emotional intensity and richness.

Male and female images

The imagery can be divided up into male and female images. The male ones are military or of trading; the female largely of riches and jewels. Between them lies a series of images of wounding, and semi-erotic or sexual images betokening the love of Christ as spouse for Teresa his bride. For example, the passage ll.69-73 goes fairly near to suggesting her martyrdom at the hands of the Moors would be rape:

     some base hand have power to race
Thy Brest's chaste cabinet.

This is counterpoised with the image later of the moon, which traditionally symbolises romantic chastity, and ‘the maiden starrs'.

The ‘blood and sweat' of the male martyrs echoes through the ‘barbarous knife' to love's dart,

    th'immortal instrument
Upon whose choice point shall be spent
A life so lov'd (ll.89-91).

The military images continue in ‘love's souldiers' with ‘their archerie' and ‘the Lamb's warres' (l.153).

Wounds and fire

However, it is the imagery of wounds and of fire that in the end becomes central. There is an oxymoron in ‘delicious wounds' (1.108) leading to the paradox of the self-healing wounds ‘that weep/ Balsom to heal themselves with'. Crashaw has used the balsam image before in St Mary Magdalene l.60, where the image was used of healing tears.

The fire image betokens the heat of passionate love. But it is extended, for example into her actual death, when

     melt the Soul's sweet mansion;
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire …

The image is one of the few we would naturally associate with Catholic liturgy, especially as it goes on to talk of ‘perfuming clouds'.

Investigating Hymn to St Teresa
  • Explore the imagery of Hymn to St Teresa
    • Gather together imagery associated with fire
      • Do you see any particular pattern or coherence?
  • What happens to the early personification of love?
    • When Teresa reaches heaven, is love still around?
  • The description of heaven is created through a series of personifications
    • Can you find them?
  • What particular images have caught your eye (or ear)?
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