Imagery and symbolism in St Mary Magdalene

The imagery is what makes the poem. Some of the Nature images are simple enough to understand without further comment. Others seem more outlandish, and remind us that Crashaw was writing in the Metaphysical style as well as being influenced by European mystical styles of writing, many of which are metaphysical in their own way.

Tears as milk

The imagery of tears as milk (stanzas 4-5) brings us by association to breasts (‘Heaven's bosom'), perhaps linking back to the ‘snowy hills' of stanza 1. The paintings of the time certainly depict ladies with ample bosoms. The woman's past sexual life is kept at bay by Crashaw, but there is certainly the hint of sexuality in the milk conceit.

Precious tears

Stanzas 2-3 are interesting in that stanza 3 seems to be drawing attention to the fictiveness of stanza 2 (‘But we are deceived all'), but only to re-affirm the image, that the tears really are stars, real stars, not stars as seeds. The preciousness and value of the tears is returned to later, when they are seen as pearls (stanza 22). Images of value are also found in stanzas 20-21, with the tears as silver, the hair (which wiped the feet of Jesus) as gold. This ties in with the idea of Christ's royalty.

Continuous tears

What perhaps does not work so well are images of the continuous supply of tears. Crashaw's failure is one of proportion. He does not know when to stop.

Investigating St Mary Magdalene
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