This essay analyzes the Middle English contemplative treatise, the Cloud of Unknowing, to show how its prose style is designed to embody the experience of spiritual practice. The prevalence of monosyllabic words in the treatise originates in how the Cloud-author understands time as being “atomic.” Into the “atoms” of time the contemplative must fit his will in the work of contemplation, so that each atom of time contains an atom of will. The enfolding of will into time is meant to approximate divine eternity, and, thus, produce a feeling of God. The tool that the Cloud-author recommends in this work of folding will into time is monosyllabic prayer. He models this in his monosyllabic prose style, creating an aesthetic correlative of contemplative work. His choice to embody this work in monosyllables reveals his motivation for vernacular composition: English, unlike Latin, is a language rich with monosyllabic words.
Research Article| May 01 2011
Eleanor Johnson; Feeling Time, Will, and Words: Vernacular Devotion in the Cloud of Unknowing. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2011; 41 (2): 345–368. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-1218340
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