Early Modern Poetic Exegesis: Henry Vaughan’s Leprous Pharisee and Marcan Wilderness

Michael Andrew Cop


Early modern English poets often put events from the life of Jesus to verse. They drew liberally from the four canonical gospels to do so, but those gospels sometimes relate events with unique or seemingly conflicting details (e.g., a man who is both leprous and a Pharisee). The shortest of the four gospels, the Gospel of Mark, often has the fewest unique details for poets to use. This relative paucity of unique details did not mean that early modern poets neglected Mark’s possible contributions to their work—even if more modern literary critics seem to neglect Mark’s possible contributions to early modern biblically based poetry. By contextualizing Henry Vaughan’s “The Search” in biblically based early modern verse and exegesis, this article argues that the fullest reading of “The Search” relies on an understanding that Vaughan followed Mark’s terse account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness instead of Matthew’s and Luke’s much more full accounts.


Early Modern Biblical Poetry; Henry Vaughan; John Milton; The Temptations

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/rsrr4-2-500