On the Chaotic Metaphors in Crashaw’s “Bulla”

Ali Taghizadeh, Razi University, Iran

Mohammad-Javad Haj’jari, Razi University, Iran

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF


Richard Crashaw is the greatest English Baroque poet, and his “Bulla”, commonly translated as the “Bubble”, is one of the greatest poems in the Baroque sense. It reveals Crashaw’s literary adaptation of the New Science of the Renaissance and the early seventeenth century for his literary/artistic concerns. Highlighting the chaotic undertones of the Baroque, “Bulla” links Crashaw’s sensibility to the new discoveries of the period. Crashaw emphasizes the kinesthetic nonlinearity of the natural phenomena, culminated in the shape and essence of the bubble as a microcosm of the universe. Accordingly, he adapts the behavior of non-human environments to human nature, and then changes it to poetic themes; his poem compares, through intricate metaphors and symbols, the illusory and transient state of the bubble to life and poetry. Through his scientific outlook and interdisciplinary endeavor, Crashaw notifies humanity of the essence of the bubble as it symbolically stands for the transience of worldly pleasures and for poetry, in a universe of dynamic change. Worldly pleasures are, like bubbles, not only alluring and wonderful, but also deceitful and transient. Poetry is also a bubble, for it is attractive and grasping only if it is read; yet it tends to escape interpretation. And all happen in a process of becoming. The very structure and theme of the poem highlight Crashaw’s interest in such chaotic metaphors and symbols for his humanistic, literary, philosophical, and religious concerns, proving the fact that scientific thinking can convey the reality of life and stimulate spiritual thinking.

Keywords: Baroque, “Bulla”, Chaos, Crashaw, New Science


As a representative of the Baroque style, Crashaw’s “Bulla” is a rich poem in bringing the Baroque soul to life. The Baroque art and literature was somehow a reflection of the new scientific discoveries and philosophic ideas of the age as well as the consequent view about mankind’s new position on the earth and his worldly affairs. Crashaw’s poem is a representative one in reflecting these issues through its intricate and chaotic metaphors. Crashaw gives us a graspable sample as part of the newly discovered chaos in the form of a bubble. And then he applies to it to his individual concerns regarding life on earth and the essence of its pleasures.

“New Science” was one of the most remarkable influences on the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets which helped them develop new outlooks toward the universe and its phenomena. Through their scientific perception of nature and their intellectuality, the metaphysical poets rejoiced in expressing “human emotions in terms of scientific terminology” (Sundararajan, 1970, p. 70). With the publication of Copernicus’ On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies (1543) the new worldview began. Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Bacon, Galilei, Kepler, Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, and Newton challenged the former scientific views of the universe throughout the Renaissance and the seventeenth century. Galilei’s “new science” of dynamics, Bacon’s “the school of experience”, Kepler’s discoveries regarding the “celestial motion” and “mathematical speculation”, Descartes’ discovery of analytic geometry, his observation of “geometrical figures in the process of becoming rather than contemplating them as fixed Verities”, and his concern with the features of the curves together with Pascal’s work on probability, all contributed to the New Science (Freidrich, 1965, pp. 108-111). Through Copernicus’ theory, Bruno’s investigations, and Galilei’s expansions, the earth was no longer taken as the center of the universe, and man could no longer be considered the aim of creation. The universe, newly discovered to be center-less, was now taken as “infinite yet uniform, a co-operative and continuous system organized on a single principle” (Hauser, 1992, p. 166).

With this new knowledge, mankind became “a tiny, insignificant factor” in such new world. The traditional “anthropocentric worldview” was replaced by a cosmic awareness of “an infinite continuity of interrelationships embracing man and containing the ultimate ground of his existence” (p. 167). Mankind thus began to develop changes along with the new discoveries. In Pascal’s words, the human nature was “in movement” (qtd. in Battistini, 2006, p. 24). Humanity was upset by the “melancholic sensation” deriving from the depravity of the earth from its centrality and its wandering state in the infinite space, without any “secure points of reference” in a universe of motion (p. 22). Besides the philosophical, political, and religious events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new science influenced the rise and the development of the Baroque sensibility in Europe (Segel, 1974, Passim). Although the discoveries about the concept of movement in nature indicated scientific progress in the age, the evaporation of the ancient cosmology and the familiar world led to forms of “epochal melancholia” and deep anxieties regarding the vastness and chaotic form of the universe. That natural phenomena were in motion and the universe was ruled by chaos stimulated “the baroque obsession with the fragility of the human condition.” These anxieties manifested themselves in the literature of the era through the frequent images of a world which was rotten by “death and decay”, implying a “baroque melancholy” (Castillo, 2013, pp. 43-44). This worldview or “cult of nothingness” was tied to the discovery of infinity, the “indeterminacy of creation”, and the concept of “cosmic vacuum”. The latter concept was proposed by Bruno who held that “a sort of negative ontology” manifests itself in a set of new concepts in different fields of knowledge, all converging in a “praise of nothingness” (pp. 63-64). The Baroque was filled with a reflection of infinity and the interconnectedness of all beings. The object, in the sense of the Baroque, symbolized the universe “as a uniform organism alive in all its parts,” each of which signifying an infinite flux and containing the law which ruled the whole…Full Text PDF

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