I. 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry:
What is metaphysical poetry? What are its (6) characteristics? What is Platonic Love? How does this concept play into metaphysical poetry? Who first coined the term “metaphysical poet”? What have critics said about these poets? II. Cavalier Poetry:
What values, subjects, and theme are characteristic of Cavalier poetry? How did it get its name?
How does Cavalier poetry differ from Metaphysical poetry?
III. Figurative Language and Rhetorical Devices:
Familiarize and use these terms when explicating and discussing poetry.
IV. Historical Background: England’s Period of Political and Religious Upheaval During the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), son and successor to James I (1603-1625), there was a Civil War between the supporters of the King Charles and his court (known as “Cavaliers”) and the supporters of Parliament (known as “Roundheads,” possibly because they wore their hair short). In general, Roundheads were hostile to anything associated with the court -- including its refined literary forms. The conflict was part political (if Parliament gained more power, the monarch and court had less), part religious (the Roundheads tended to be extremely Puritan(ical), and were shocked at the laxity and frivolity of the court), and part cultural: poetry had traditionally been an aristocratic pursuit and thus was not to be trusted. Poems were mostly written within court circles, for court audiences; poetry tended to be circulated in manuscript form rather than published; skill in writing verses was to a certain extent a sign of good breeding, like dressing well or using the right fork at dinner. The Puritans revived the anti-poetry attitudes that Sir Philip Sidney reacts to in his “Defense of Poesie,” in which “poetry” is understood in the general sense as “literature,” including prose; and had two purposes, to “instruct” and to “delight.” Not surprisingly, during the years of the Puritan Protectorate, following the Puritan revolt and the execution of Charles I (lost his head; very messy business revolution), very little poetry appeared. In the years leading up to the Revolution, however, there was a great deal of poetic activity, primarily centered on the court or aristocratic circles. The two main “groups” of poets were the “metaphysical” poets, of whom the greatest was John Donne, and the so-called “Sons of Ben, ” poets who admired and emulated England's first (unofficial) Poet Laureate, Ben Jonson. The latter group to a certain extent overlapped with the “cavalier” poets, so called because most of them were aristocrats who gallantly supported the lost cause of Charles Stuart (loyalty to the monarch was a part of their aristocratic code). Their subject matter tends to emphasize gallant virtues and aristocratic values; the style and tone are witty and light, and not infrequently there is a thematic connection with the poems of erotic seduction.
Further Critical Reading: Concentrate on Civil Wars and Religious Upheaval http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/17century/welcome.htm
V. The Poets & Poetry: For each poet, read all poems, but explicate only the focus poem. Some poems will be read and discussed in-class.
John Donne (1572-1631)
1. Collect basic biographical information
2. Poems for Analysis:
Broken Heart (In Class/Homework analysis)
The Baite (In Class/Homework Analysis)
The Canonization (In Class/Homework analysis)
The Flea (In Class/Homework analysis)
The Good-Morrow (Focus Poem)
X. Death, be not proud (In Class/Homework analysis)
4. Chief Literary Characteristics:
Masculine persuasive force (Ben Jonson accused Donne of overdoing it. Thomas Hobbes called them “no better than riddles.”) Notoriously obscure: designed to resemble the mind at play; instantaneous expression of thinking; rhythm of thought; his audience enjoyed this Conceits: (usually metaphors) A combination/comparison of dissimilar images. Love poems, secular poem, divine poems (Holy Sonnets)
A total of 19 Holy Sonnets (unsure of the correct order).
1-6 focus on death (“Death Be Not Proud” also categorized under VI) 7-12 focus on God’s love
12-19 have a penitential theme (regretful pain or sorrow for sins). Sonnets reflect Donne’s interest in the formal meditative exercises of the Jesuits (the Jesuits were considered the most militant of the counter-reformation) Themes of the Holy Sonnets also reflect Calvinistic influences In many ways, the Holy Sonnets flip flop the emphasis of the love poems: in the Holy Sonnets, Donne uses the language of love to talk about his relationship with God.
George Herbert (1593-1633)
1. Collect basic biographical information
Brief Biography: George Herbert was born at Montgomery Castle, Wales (Welsh border country). His father died in 1596. His mother, Magdalen Herbert was a patroness of John Donne. Donne preached her funeral when she died in 1627. In 1629 Herbert married Jane Danvers, a relative of his stepfather, Sir John Danvers. He had been ordained a deacon (a lay position) and sent to Little Gidding to restore the ruined church there: he raised the money and did so. In 1630 he was ordained priest in the Anglican Church and became the vicar of Bemerton, a small country church. He ministered to rural folks, Donne to kings. According to the Norton Anthology, Herbert was recognized as “a learned, godly and painful [painstaking] divine” who “preached and prayed; he rebuilt the church out of his own pocket; he visited the poor, consoled the sick, and sat by the bed of the dying-administering true pastoral care to the plowman and peer alike.” He died of tuberculosis in 1633, just three years after beginning the work at Bemerton. He began writing most of his religious poetry in 1627, the year his mother died. He destroyed his secular verse (Donne did not). His primary concern in his poetry is not salvation, which he never doubts (Donne does at times).
2. Poems for analysis:
Easter Wings (In Class/Homework analysis)
Redemption (In Class/Homework analysis)
The Collar (Focus Poem)
3. Literary Characteristics:
Problems he deals with are:
1. Subduing his will to God's;
2. Feeling he should be of some use to God;
3. Difficulty accepting what God has done for him.
Herbert's poetic method is what most critics deal with. He experimented with stanza form. Many of his poems are inspired by hieroglyphs or emblems, popular in the 17th century and earlier. An emblem: a motto with a picture with allegorical significance & poem commenting on it. There are three types of hieroglyphic poems in Herbert:
1. Title replaces picture. Poem works out the significance. “The Pulley” 2. Visual. Verse itself becomes the picture. “Easter Wings,” “The Altar” 3. Semi-visual and auditory. Works with rhyme itself, so poem becomes a “sounding picture. “Denial” Stylistic Features:
1. Conceits. Often draws upon unusual sources of imagery, but usually only one at the time. The conceit often appears in the title. “The Pulley,” “The Collar” 2. Puns
3. Paradoxes- basic to religious and metaphysical poetry
4. Irony of understatement
5. Recurrence of certain images-stone, music
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
1. Collect basic biographical information
Biography: Robert Herrick, son of a well-to-do London goldsmith, took two degrees at Cambridge. He formed his poetic style by study of classic lyrists and contact with Ben Jonson, whom he called “Saint Ben.” After some court and military experience, he took orders and was made rector of Dean Prior in Devonshire, of which he says: More discontents I never had
Since I was born than here.
An Anglican minister, he was ejected from his living at Dean Prior by the Puritan government in 1647, restored in 1662, and finally buried there at age 83. There is little evidence that he affected his contemporaries much. Only one book was printed, in 1648. Fame from this volume grew in the 19th century. Some twenty lyrics have made him immortal; the rest are not really inferior, just repetitive. “Corinna's Going a-Maying” is one of the most successful poems ever written in immortalizing a mood and depicting a contemporary scene. In it Herrick praises pagan love and pastoral beauty. “He is the poet of strawberries and cream, of fairy lore and rustic customs, of girls delineated like flowers and flowers mythologized into girls.”
2. Poems for Analysis
To the Virgins to Make Much of Time (In Class/Homework analysis) Delight in Disorder (Focus Poem)
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
1. Collect basic biographical information.
Biography: Andrew Marvell attended Cambridge, graduating with a B.A. in 1638. After a decade of oblivion, he reappeared in 1650 as a tutor to the daughter of Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lord-General of the Parliamentarian forces. In 1657 he was appointed assistant to John Milton, Latin Secretary of the Commonwealth, and is given credit with at least saving Milton from a long jail term and possibly with saving him from execution after the Restoration. In 1659 Marvell was elected to Parliament, a position he held with competence until his death. A moderate Puritan, Marvell supported individual liberty and tolerance. His poetic output is small but of high quality and remarkable diversity. His poetry, which has been described as "the most major minor verse in English," is witty and playful, like Robert Herrick's, but much more profound. During his lifetime he was known as author of satires in prose and verse. His "serious" poetry was published in 1681, three years after his death, by a woman who claimed to be his widow but who probably had been his housekeeper.
2. Poems for analysis:
To His Coy Mistress
VI. Metaphysical Mini Explication Assignment: For each of the focus poems, you are to write a mini explication. Explications must be typed, double spaced and about 1½ - 2 pages in length.
Definition of Explication:
An explication usually goes line-by-line (or by syntactical units) through a poem or short passage of prose and interprets its meaning (a/k/a THEME). It is a commentary, literally an “unfolding” or a “spreading out” of a text. Since literary language is denser, richer than ordinary writing, explications work to bring to the surface the deeper meanings of the text, meanings that may not be readily apparent unless one is reading closely and thinking carefully about a text.
Your task is to make an arguable statement (THESIS) and PROVE that your interpretation is valid. To do so, you will need to go beyond a literal paraphrase of the poem and explain not only its symbolic meaning, but also examine the following elements in the play:
Voice: speaker and tone
Figures of Speech: simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, etc. Symbolism and Allegory
Sound: rhyme (end and internal, alliteration, assonance, etc.) Rhythm and Meter
Additionally, because you are explicating metaphysical poetry, you will also need to consider its various characteristics:
Use of ordinary speech mixed with puns, paradoxes and conceits The exaltation of wit and originality in figures of speech
Abstruse terminology often drawn from science, medicine or law Often poems are presented in the form of an argument (what is the argument?) In love poetry, ideas drawn from Renaissance
Neo-Platonism to show the relationship between the soul and body and the union of lovers’ souls They also try to show a psychological realism when describing the tensions of love.