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Spelling the Word:
George Herbert
and the Bible

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Winner of the Book of the Year Award of the Conference on Christianity and Literature (1986)

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"I am interested not only in tracking down Herbert's materials but also in understanding how he succeeds in making them speak with his own voice -- that process by which the past is recovered and put to use. Seeing what a poet works with and what he does with it, we are afforded some insight into the mystery we call poetic creation. When the sources are as clearly marked as they are in Herbert's case, it is possible to glimpse the mind of the poet in the very act of creation, choosing among alternatives, elaborating or excluding, making something out of something. We have only recently begun to recognize that Herbert belongs to the very first rank of English poetry; I hope to provide fresh evidence to corroborate that judgment." -- from the Introduction


"Spelling the Word is a splendid book. Chana Bloch understands the living religious and literary traditions, and gets the scholarly and critical issues straight. She listens with a poet's ear and writes with an unpretentious clarity and charity that reflect her subject. The poems seem fresher than ever." -- Joseph Summers

"This is the best new book on Herbert we have had for years, indeed one of the best ever. Chana Bloch speaks with a tone of authority and mature power . . . . Her own knowledge of the Bible is deep, and her eye for allusions piercing and trustworthy. . . . Yet it is not in such manifestations of sound scholarly competence that the real excellence of Spelling the Word consists, nor in its poised and graceful style, but in Mrs. Bloch's uncommonly precise critical acumen. . . . The result is a critical study that often seems to breathe with the very spirit of its subject. It may not be small praise to note that of all the books that have been written about him, this is perhaps the one that Herbert himself would have found most interesting." -- Michael Piret, Review of English Studies

"[Bloch] has succeeded marvelously at her task. At a time when many critics might aspire to be poets, we should be grateful that some poets still care to be critics, especially one who writes with so much wit, clarity, and sense of purpose. . . . The pitch of the argument, well-handled and responding to something pervasive in Herbert, suggests why [this book] ought to become part of the new canon of essential Herbert criticism." -- Jonathan Post, John Donne Journal

"Only a critic who has felt with George Herbert and inwardly digested him could write of him and his Bible as Chana Bloch does in Spelling the Word. . . . Herbertian in manner as in matter, [her] insight gives the right sort of life, tense and intimate, to the vast evidence of Herbert's way with Scripture. Bloch investigates it richly and without a trace of tedium." -- John Drury, Times Literary Supplement (February 28, 1986)

"No short summary can give an adequate description of the persuasive grace with which Bloch writes, nor a full sense of the extent to which Spelling the Word is a major work of reclamation. . . . Spelling the Word, because it is so temperate, resourceful, and carefully argued, . . . will be read and reread, always with great profit, because it is rarely wrong and often astonishingly right about so much of what really matters when we read Herbert." -- Sidney Gottlieb, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology

Chana Bloch's new book stops a wide gap in Herbert studies. . . . [Her] clear-eyed vision of Herbert working with a great source should keep us reminded of his priorities. . . . 'The words,' she says, 'are the words of Scripture, but the voice is Herbert's own.' Upon finishing her book one feels that one hears this voice more distinctly than ever. " -- Mary Ellen Rickey, Renaissance Quarterly