Williamson, Karina
September 2004
Review of English Studies;Sep2004, Vol. 55 Issue 221, p527
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
Ideas and images of harmony were commonplace in seventeenth- and eight- eenth-century descriptions of the system of the universe. In particular, the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres, which was based on Ptolemaic cosmology, survived the Copernican revolution and continued to be used by poets to represent the beauty of the planetary system designed by God and revealed by Newton. It has been argued that the persistence of such ideas and images contradicts the view that the rise of new science caused a breakdown in metaphysical beliefs. Poets in the Augustan period, it is claimed, adjusted to the challenge by assimilating Newtonian science to traditional principles, and continued to use the traditional musical metaphors for world harmony. This article contends that use of such metaphors indicates rather the strain of adjusting poetic language to the new metaphysics. They are employed for rhetorical purposes in a struggle to conserve the spiritual and aesthetic values invested in the older classical and Christian world-view. The concept of `silent harmony' evolved as a means of retaining the potent appeal of the music of the spheres even while acknowledging its fictionality.


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