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Carew, Suckling, Lovelace

miércoles, 26 de octubre de 2016

Carew, Suckling, Lovelace

  From A Critical History of English Literature, by David Daiches. Thomas Carew (1594-5-1640) both praised Ben Jonson for his successful spoliation of the ancient classics—

Nor think it theft, if the rich spoils so torn
From conquered authors, be as trophies worn—

and paid tribute to Donne as the poet who "ruled as he thought fit / The universal monarchy of wit":

The Muses' garden with pedantic weeds
O'er spread, was purg'd by thee, the lazy seeds
Of servile imitation thrown away,
And fresh invention planted.

In combining the classical influence of Jonson with the metaphysical influence of Donne, Carew produced a mixture especially suited to the atmosphere of the court of Charles I. As Sir Herbert Grierson expressed it, "in Carew's poems and Vandyke's pictures the artistic taste of Charles's court is vividly reflected, a dignified voluptuousness, an exquisite elegance, if in some of the higher qualities of man and artist Carew is as inferior to Wyatt and Spenser as Vandyke is to Holbein." This is true Cavalier poetry, polished, gay, and witty. Without the formal precision of Jonson, the adroit Roman paganizing of Herrick, or the gentlemanly ease of his younger contemporary, Sir John Suckling, Carew has his own kind of urbanity. The gallantry of his love poems does not always conceal a cynicism at the core, but the control, the restrained touch of stylization in all his best workl shows a sense of style in living that truly reflects the Cavalier spirit of the time and is not unattractive. Occasionally, as in the well-known song, "Ask me no more where Jove bestows", he combines Jonson's lapidary elegance with a stately singing note as well as a touch of metaphysical ingenuity, and the combination is perfectly achieved. Sometimes he echoes Donne in the frank psychological curiosity with which he explores an emotional or a sensual situation (as in "To a Lady that desired I would love her" and, in a different way, "A Rapture"), but he has a tendency to laugh off the implications of his conceits with an elegant shrug, lacking Donne's ability to carry through to the end fusion of passion and wit. It is "wit" in Carew, too—almost in the modern sense—rather than thought. There are many echoes of Donne in his poems, but the exhibitionist quality in his conceits often derives as much from Marino as from Donne. Carew's songs were meant to be sung, and lose something when merely read. His longer poems often run into mere showiness. But he had an artistic conscience; even his showiness is carefully modulated, and he always knwe what he was doing.

Another heir to both Jonson and Donne is Sir John Suckling (1609-42), though both streams are shallower now. Lively, gay, very much the worldly courtier, Suckling looks to the cynical strain in Donne's early love poems and to the lighter of Jonson's lyrics. His poem, "Oh, for some honest lover's ghost" is an altogether more superficial performance than Donne's "I long to talk with some old lover's ghost." His "Hast thou seen the down i' the air" is a flippant parody (turned to satire)of Jonson's exquisite song of compliment, "Have you seen but the white lily grow." He is at his best where he combines a colloquial ease with a neatly patterned song-stanza, as in the well-known "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" or "I prhithee send me back my heart" or "Out upon it I have loved / Three whole days together." "A Session of the Poets" is a lively trotting poem in thirty four-line stanzas with a deliberately crude accentual meter, describing himself and his fellow-poets competing for the laurel, only to see it given in the end by Apollo to an alderman on the grounds that "it was the best sign / Of good store of wit to have good store of coin." The poem is interesting in giving Suckling's views of his contemporaries. Carew's "muse was hard-bound, and th' issue of 's brain." Suckling describes himself as an amateur who "loved not the muses so well as his sport." The description is accurate enough: Suckling's poetry shows the Cavalier at play.

The true Cavalier poet is, however, Richard Lovelace (1618-58), whose gallantry has in it a truer strain of chivlary than Suckling's, a strain that links him with Sidney and Sir Walter Ralegh and the older tradition of Renaissance courtesy. The royalist ideal was indeed grounded in that older tradition, as we can see in Lovelace and, most clearly, in the few but noble lyrical utterances of the Scottish royalist, James Graham, marquis of Montrose. Lovelace's "To Althea from Prison" uses imagery that is as much Petrarchan as metaphysical, but the poem brings a new kind of idealism into the English lyric of the period. The same can be said of "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," which has the lapidary quality of Jonson at his best as well as a simple gravity of tone that we cannot find in Suckling. More metaphysical in imagery, if classical in inspiration, is the interesting poem, "The Grasshopper" where a description of the heedless grasshopper is adroitly turned into a celebration of friendship. There is something of the strength of Wyatt in Lovelace at his best, as well as echoes of the Sidneian and Spenserian association of ideal love and beauty with honor and the good life. The seventeenth-century royalist ideal was perhaps anachronistic, and a somewhat faded neo-Platonism often lay behind it; but Lovelace at least gave it effective expression.

Of the minor Cavalier poets, mention may be made of Sidney Godolphin (1610-43)., the majority of whose poems remained in manuscript until the twentieth century. He, too, has the graver note which we sometimes find in Lovelace (in Suckling's "Sessioin of the Poets" Apollo advises Godolphin "not to write so strong"), together with a restrained metaphysical touch which adds just the right note of subtlety to the quiet clarity of his style. The influence of Donne and Jonson combine here most happily.

Richard Corbet, bishop of Oxford and Norwich (1582-1635), is a minor lyrist of the period whose character and poems reflect a robust joy of life which was to become one element in Cavalier opposition to the Puritans. His one famous poem, "A Proper new ballad, intituled The Fairies' Farewell, or God a Mercy Will," gives lively expression to the sense that the Puritan spirit had killed the happy superstitions of Old England:

Farewell, rewards and fairies,
    Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
    Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep the hearths no less
    Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
    Finds sixpence in her shoe?

Lament, lament, old abbeys,
    The fairies lost command;
They did but change priests' babies,
    But some have changed your land,
And all your children sprung from thence
    Are now grown Puritans;
Who live as changelings ever since,
    For love of your demains.

"There never was a merry world since the fairies left dancing and the parson left conjuring," said John Selden in the middle of the century, and this remark, together with Corbet's poem, shows that there was much more than political or theological opinions involved in the Civil War and also helps to explain why the large majority of those interested in the arts and letters (Milton was the great exception) were on the royalist side.

Andrew Marvell



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