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Raleighs Quest for Judgement in The Passionate Mans Pilgrimage
Raleigh's Quest for Judgement
In The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage
Sir Walter Raleigh's turbulent life in the British court showed him just how cruel the world of politics could be. When he was imprisoned in a trial that was called a "mockery of justice" (Williams 143), he became very bitter towards the court of England. His anger and opinions were expressed in his writing, and they helped to mold his literary voice. Presumably penned in 1603 upon his imprisonment and sentence of death, The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage addresses the events that brought him to his present condition, as he prepares himself for a much happier life after death. Raleigh constructs this piece using a combination of different metrical and rhythmic patterns to express his defiance of formal structure, and uses the idea of the pilgrimage to illustrate his journey towards the rightful judgement he so desires in heaven.
Raleigh made a point of not conforming to the norms of the stylized poetry at the time. His passion and drive, coupled with his anger and emotion drew from him a style of poetry that was completely his own, and this is all evident in The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage. Instead of writing in the fashionable iambic pentameter - the form mastered by Petrarch and others - this poem has many different metrical and rhythmic patterns throughout. The first stanza is iambic tetrameter with many substitutions. For example, the opening line begins with a trochaic substitution; the stress is on give rather than me. The sixth line ends with a pyric substitution. Rhythmically the first stanza is a-b-a-b followed by a rhyming couplet.
Raleigh uses the pilgrim -"one who journeys (usually a long distance) to some sacred place, as an act of religious devotion" (OED online)- to describe himself, as he prepares for his death. He is about to embark on the ultimate pilgrimage -"the course of mortal life figured as a journey…especially as a journey to a future state of rest or blessedness" (OED online). Raleigh demands for all of the elements needed to take this final pilgrimage, including the scallop-shell (badge of a returning pilgrim) and the scrip (wallet carried by a pilgrim), along with a staff of faith, a bottle of salvation, a gown of glory. It is only after he has these items so important to him -signified by the colon after the word gage- that he will take this pilgrimage. All of these images create the picture of a man preparing for a long journey to a sacred place, in Raleigh's case it is heaven.
The second stanza follows the same rhythm as the first, starting with a-b-a-b followed by a series of rhyming couplets. However, lines seven through twelve are trochaic rather than iambic. Here, Raleigh states that he doesn't want to be embalmed -which was a frequent practice at the time. He wishes for blood to be the balmer, to keep his body pure while his soul travels to heaven "like a white palmer" (line 9) -"a pilgrim who had returned from the Holy Land" (OED online). In lines thirteen and fourteen, "And there I'll kiss / The bowl of bliss", he switches to iambic dimeter, which also occurs again in the next stanza. Raleigh strategically places these shorter rhyming couplets so that they are strongly emphasized, because he is stating that in kissing the bowl of bliss, he will be accepted into the life of continual happiness. Lines fifteen through eighteen are back to iambic tetrameter, and they say that his soul will never be thirsty again, as he will drink eternally.
The third stanza begins again with the pattern of a-b-a-b. Here he says that he will meet more souls, "That have shook off their gowns of clay / And go apparelled
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