THE FANTASTIC SCHOOL OF ENGLISH POETRY.
By A. CLAYTON-BEOCK, B.A., New College, Oxford.
Elizabethan poetry and the Fantastic School . 760
Contrast between the Elizabethan and the Fantastic Poets .761
Donne's passion for argument .762
The wit of the Fantastic Poets .763
Their seriousness and sincerity .764
Donne's Anniversaries . 765
The religion of the Fantastic Poets . 766
The realism of Herbert . 767
Herbert's philosophic power . 768
His introspection . 769
Vaughan's treatment of nature .770
Thomas Traherne . 771
Crashaw's exotic and lyrical genius . 772
Cowley . 773
Marvell and Dryden . 775
THE FANTASTIC SCHOOL OF ENGLISH POETRY.
THE Poetry which we call Elizabethan survived at least to the Restoration. Indeed, the dramatic influence of Beaumont and Fletcher lasted for some time after it in romantic plays such as Dryden's All for Love. But the decline of that poetry had begun so soon as a change fell upon the conditions which produced it ; and signs of that decline and of the poetic reaction which took the form of what is known as the Fantastic Poetry appeared even before the death of Elizabeth. The first and most powerful of the Fantastic Poets was John Donne, who was born about 1573 ; and, according to Ben Jonson, he wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty-five years old. This is not quite true ; but it is true that before the end of the sixteenth century Donne wrote many poems possessing all the characteristics of the new poetry of the seventeenth. He was the chief agent in a poetic revolution, which, though it was far from universal, and though some of its effects were transitory and some injurious, yet deserves to be studied as a part of the history both of society and of literature. The literary changes which it effected were an expression of moral and political changes. The Fantastic Poets were not mere triflers with words and images. Indeed, there have seldom been writers who have tried with more seriousness and honesty to express the truth as they saw it. Much of Donne's poetry may seem preposterously unreal to us ; yet he was praised by his contemporaries mainly for his novel realism. Herbert wrote of his religion with a profusion of homely detail which proves that it was the most real and familiar part of his life to him ; and even a minor poet like Habington could be moved by the spectacle of a starry night to ideas which seem to us both more modern and more profound than any to be found in any Elizabethan poetry except Shakespeare's. The faults of the Fantastic Poets are many and glaring, but they have a peculiar interest of their own. Their extravagances and incongruities, both of style and of thought, reflect the extravagances and incongruities of an age of transition and revolution, an age violent and uncompromising both in action and in ideas.
But, just as the political conflicts of that age produced characters of a beauty and temper not to be found in less exacting times, so the Fantastic Poets in their conflicts of thought produced beauties, " things extreme and scattering bright," to quote the words of Donne, which cannot be paralleled in any other period of our literature.
Donne's object was realism, and he proved this in the Satires which were his first works. But it was his love poems that first displayed his real powers ; and the contrast between them and any Elizabethan love-poetry is very sharp. Donne was a realist not so much of facts as of the imagination. His object when he wrote love poems was not to produce beautiful verses, but to show exactly how his own individual imagination was worked upon by his own individual passion ; and this he tried to do, so that he might explain himself to himself. This is the chief respect in which he and most of the other Fantastic Poets differ from the Elizabethans. The Elizabethans, in their lyrics and their sonnets no less than in their plays, seem to write for an audience-the Fantastic Poets seem to write for themselves alone. And this difference only reflects the difference between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The age of Elizabeth was one of national unity. Poets then, like everyone else, were Englishmen first and themselves afterwards, and their poetry expressed that national unity. Like the Venetian painters of the great age, they were all, in spite of individual differences and disputes, members of one great school, confident in their common aim and in the public understanding and applause. The drama was the chief form of their art, and a living drama is always written for an audience, and lives in the approval of that audience. The drama naturally dominated all other forms of poetry, and imbued them with its characteristics ; and, like the drama, these other forms of poetry were written for an audience. Elizabethan lyrics were, as hymns are now, written to be sung by all the world ; and even Shakespeare's Sonnets, the most individual and passionate love poems of the age, often read like lyrical and rhymed speeches out of his earlier plays. Naturally, therefore, this poetry was apt to express universal rather than individual emotions, since its object was to express what all felt and could enjoy.
The Elizabethan lyric poet wrote to express, not something that occurred to himself alone, but something old and universal such as any lover could sing to his mistress without incongruity, and his whole poetic energy was spent upon saying these old things better than they had ever been said before. Hence the extraordinary verbal beauty and the high level of execution, even in minor poets of the Elizabethan age. It is clear, however, that Donne was tired of this verbal beauty. Though he was anything but a Puritan himself, there was something Puritanic in his view of his art. He despised poetry which took the line of least resistance, as the Puritans despised men who lived easily. He thought it the duty of a poet to wrestle with all
In his reaction from Elizabethan fluency and ease he was often wilfully harsh and obscure. Ben Jonson said that he deserved hanging " for not keeping of accent " ; and he said this because he knew that the violence which Donne often did to his rhythm was wilful. He was so determined not to smooth his verse away to suit his rhythm, that he would often purposely avoid some rhythmical beauty because it was usual in Elizabethan poetry. This dislike of the obvious is a common disease in writers who come at the end of a great age of literature. It often implies an exhaustion of subject-matter. Poets are careful to say nothing as it has been said before, when they have little to say. But Donne and his chief followers do not lack subject-matter. Far from it. Their defect usually is that they have too much to say, and that much of their subject-matter is not proper to poetry. What poetry ought to express is the result rather than the process of reasoning. But Donne is for ever arguing in his verse. He was the earliest poet of a new age which argued about everything with a passion that has died out of modern controversy; and it is passion which often turns his versified arguments into great poetry. In his case it is not the passion of political or theological controversy, but that of love or devotion, or of an intense contemplation of the mysteries of life and death. Yet that passion nearly always expresses itself in an argumentative form. He is always labouring to prove that his love is not like the love of other men. When he leaves his wife he argues that their bodily separation is not a real separation. In the strange and beautiful poem called Air and Angels he argues with extraordinary subtlety about the incorporeal nature of love and the fallacy that it can only be excited by a corporeal beauty. In another poem, Love's Growth, he discusses the paradox that love is infinite, yet capable of continual increase. And this passion for argument is the real cause of his celebrated " wit " and of his frequent misuse of it.
" Wit " was not an invention of Donne's, nor did he or the other Fantastic Poets get it altogether from foreign sources. It is doubtful indeed whether most of them got it from foreign sources at all. The Elizabethans delighted in " wit," but only as an ornament. They had the superfluity of energy which spends itself in putting old things in a new way. They would often digress into a mere juggling of words, into puns and arbitrary analogies suggested by sound rather than by sense, which, even in Shakespeare, seem to us irrelevant and tiresome. This kind of wit was a favourite amusement not only among the poets, but in fashionable society; yet it was always a mere amusement, the mere expression of a superfluous energy. But Donne's wit and the wit of all the Fantastic Poets was serious. It became their natural medium of expression, even when they were treating the most serious subjects.
Their deepest imagination expressed itself in wit, because it expressed itself in argument. In fact, their wit was the result of an attempt to argue poetically ; for images are natural to poetry, and their wit is usually the condensation of an argument into an image or an analogy. By its frequent incongruity it expresses the incongruity of their aims. They had the ambition to be both poets and metaphysicians in the same breath. They analysed their emotions with as much passion as if they had been simply expressing them. They sought to convince and charm by one and the same process. Argument delights in novel analogies and images. It tries to convince by the very ingenuity of its illustrations. But passion thinks too rapidly to be ingenious, and convinces not by the ingenuity but by the beauty of its expression. That famous image of Donne's of the " stiff twin compasses " might illustrate and advance a prosaic argument very neatly. It is an incongruous illustration of the unity of two lovers, because it is so ingenious that we cannot believe any man in a rapture of devotion could have exercised his mind coolly enough to hit upon it, and because it is not one of those illustrations taken from beautiful objects to which the passion of love naturally flies. The poem in which that illustration occurs, The Valediction forbidding mourning, is a good example of the manner in which Donne's mind, and indeed the minds of most of the Fantastic Poets were apt to work. When he begins, passion and argument are harmonious in his mind, but their harmony is only accidental since they are produced by different instincts. As Donne is writing a love poem, the argument should be subordinate to the emotion ; but it is not, and so their concord is only momentary. After a few verses the reason overpowers the emotion and settles down into an expression, not of that emotion, but of its own ingenuity.
This confusion and incongruity of aim are to be found not only in all the most serious verse and prose of the age, excepting only the verse of Milton ; they are also to be found in its entire life. In the seventeenth century there was a general confusion of reason and passion. An elaborate machinery of dialectics had survived from the Middle Ages, when differences of religious belief were determined more often by the sword than by argument, and when argument was mainly about abstract subjects in which the personal interests of the disputants were not deeply concerned. The Reformation and the Renaissance produced enough scepticism to make argument about first principles possible ; and the seventeenth century was an age of Revolution because then men argued about first principles and about matters which concerned them deeply. But the passions engendered by this new kind of argument disordered the old machinery of dialectics which was still employed, and produced a general confusion of mind in which men could not distinguish between their reason and their emotions, and in which poetry and prose were often employed to do each other's work. The object
Both the prose and the poetry therefore are laboured and cloudy ; yet in both cases the clouds are sometimes pierced by dazzling lightnings which could not be kindled except out of so fierce a conflict of reason and passion. Donne, said Ben Jonson, was the first poet in the world in some things ; and in all the great Fantastic Poets things are to be found so deeply and so finely said that for the moment all other kinds of poetry seem to be shallow beside them. Their beauties delight the more because they seem to be undesigned like the beauties of nature and, like the most beautiful actions, to spring out of a war of opposing forces. In their poetry we see not merely the triumphs of expression, but the labour and sweat that have gone before them ; and so the triumphs, when they come, seem the more splendid. The failures of their poetry, glaring as they are, do not incline us to distrust their successes. These failures are not plausible like those of poets whose chief aim is to please. No one could be deceived for a moment into thinking that their defects were excellences. They seem always to be working against the grain-to be following the line of greatest resistance. They court difficulties. They will not pretend to be sure of beauty when they are not sure, to be more impassioned than they are. They will not even yield to passion when they are also possessed by thought. So their passion has to master their thought, if it is to master them ; and when it does master them, and triumphs in their poetry, it is enriched and weighted by all the rebellious mass of thought which it has overcome. It satisfies simultaneously both our sense of beauty and our reason.
It must be confessed that there are not many even of Donne's love poems which, like the magnificent Anniversary, satisfy our sense of beauty from the first line to the last. His other poems, satiric, philosophic, familiar, and devotional, are beautiful only by fits and starts. Only in his youth was he a poet by profession, and he soon came to repent of his youthful amorous verse. He never published it and wished to efface the memory of it. Even in the most reckless moods of that youth he is never really light-hearted, as many Elizabethan lyrists are light-hearted. He argues with a kind of perverted strenuousness in favour of frivolity and inconstancy ; and in later years he became the most serious of men. He brooded over his sins and the thought of his own death like a medieval ascetic; yet he enriched his breedings with all the new critical and analytical methods of his own time.
The most famous of his religious poems, if they can be called religious poems, are the first and second Anniversaries, written at the request of a generous patron in memory of his daughter, Elizabeth Drury, whom Donne had never seen. Donne enumerates her perfections with an extravagance that might seem servile if it were not redeemed with images so magnificent and thoughts so profound. These thoughts and images prove that his real object was not to pay compliments to an individual but to brood upon death as the inexplicable end of things beautiful and excellent ; and not only upon death but upon the whole universe, the spectacle of which, seen in the fitful light of the new knowledge, dazzled and bewildered him for all his passionate faith.
" New Philosophy calls all in doubt ; The element of fire is quite put out ; The sun is lost, and the Earth, and no man's wit Can well direct him where to look for it. And freely men confess that this world's spent, When in the planets, and the firmament, They seek so many new ; they see that this Is crumbled out again to his atomies. 'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone, All just supply and all relation."
Death was not a simple and tragical fact to Donne, as it had been to the Elizabethans. Indeed no fact was simple to him. He was filled with a new sense of the relations of things. But the relations were not clear in his mind. Life was a tangled web through which he felt, seeking for an end and not finding one; and so he was seldom a poet of pure religion, as he had been seldom a poet of pure passion. The latter part of his life (he was made Dean of St Paul's in 1621, and died in 1631) was clouded with a melancholy produced partly by ill-health, partly by too intense a sense of the mystery of things. The final impression produced by his verse is that he was the Hamlet of poetry ; that he overtasked himself with the process of thought preliminary to writing ; and that his verse, for all its fitful magnificence, never expressed the full extent of his powers.
Apart from Donne, most of the best verse of the Fantastic Poets is religious. Both in their subject-matter and in their way of treating it they express the character of their age. Religion is taken for granted by most Elizabethans. In the seventeenth century it becomes self-conscious, as love becomes self-conscious in Donne. It takes stock of itself and of the world. It reasons and analyses. The religious verse of the Fantastic Poets does not express pure devotion, any more than Donne's love poems express pure passion. These poets did not write hymns any more than Donne wrote songs. They mused in verse, as he did, to satisfy themselves about the truth of the things which most deeply concerned them, and to express that truth when they had
"Who says that fiction only and false hair Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty? Is all good structure but a winding stair? May no lines pass, except they do their duty Not to a true but painted chair?"
It may seem strange that Herbert should protest his intention to be plain ; that he of all men should ask
"Must all be veiled while he that reads divines, Catching the sense at two removes?"
In Herbert's verse as in Donne's the sense often has to be caught at two removes or more. But both Donne and Herbert were probably quite unaware of their obscurities. In their restless eagerness to analyse everything it was natural to them to think of everything in terms of something else. The principle of their realism was to illustrate ideas with objects. They almost tried to turn ideas into objects, so that they might make them plain ; and their minds jumped from the idea to the object which illustrated it with a rapidity hard to follow. Herbert, in intention at least, is the most realistic of poets. He was a close friend of Donne, though twenty years his junior (he was born in 1593 and died in 1632), and he was the closest of Donne's followers among the greater Fantastic Poets. No doubt it was Donne's realism which he admired, yet he was an original poet because, though he imitated that realism, it was naturally suited to the character of his own mind. He was a realist because the subject-matter of his poetry, his religion, absorbed the whole of his life. Everything he saw or felt or did seemed to him, because it had a religious significance for him, a fit subject for his verse ; and so his verse, though much of it is not poetry, is nearly all interesting. In his youth a courtier, though afterwards an Anglican clergyman of the most devout life, he was always more of a man of the world and more interested in other men than any other of the Fantastic Poets except Marvell. Exacting from himself an extreme piety, he could yet make allowances for the worldly preoccupations of others, and his poem Perirrhanterium or the Church Porch preaches a wisdom half religious, half worldly, which is intended to smooth the way from the world to the Church. Yet in this wisdom there is no sordid compliance with worldly aims. Herbert's object is not to show that the saint prospers better than the sinner, but rather to express a heavenly philosophy in earthly terms ; and he produces a series of aphorisms of extraordinary pregnancy and wit, as for instance :
" Pick out of tales the mirth but not the sin. He pares his apple that will cleanly feed." "God gave thy soul brave wings. Put not those feathers Into a bed to sleep out all ill weathers." "Who keeps no guard upon himself is slack, And rots to nothing at the next great thaw."
Sayings like these are not exactly poetry; yet they could not be put so tersely in prose. As a matter of literary history, it may be noticed that they are the beginnings of the prosaic verse of the eighteenth
" became a poet and would serve His pills of sublimate in that conserve"; and he expresses the change of morality from republican Greece and Rome to imperial Rome very tersely and profoundly in this further couplet on the adaptation of sin :
" Glory was his chief instrument of old ; Pleasure succeeded straight when that grew cold."
Lines like these reveal a habit of philosophic meditation upon the course of history which was then quite new to English poetry ; and this habit of philosophic meditation, this kind of criticism of mankind as a whole, is to be found also in Marvell, and also, as was remarked before, in a poet so inferior as Habington.
But Herbert is best known for his personal poems of religion, and they best display his genius. Some of them, of course, are trivial, mere formal puzzles and exercises of barren wit, such as his age, retaining some medieval childishness of intellect with all its new interest in ideas, still delighted in. But, at his best, he writes of his unworldly hopes and fears, his ecstasies and shortcomings with the same mixture of realism and passion that inspires the love poems of Donne. He wrote, as Donne wrote, to express his own individual experiences; to explain himself to himself. He was, like many other imaginative and pious
" How should I praise thee, Lord ? How should my rhymes Gladly ingrave Thy Love in steel, If what my soul doth feel sometimes, My soul might ever feel? Although there were some forty Heavens, or more, Sometimes I peer above them all ; Sometimes I hardly reach a score ; Sometimes to Hell I fall."
Here the poetic temperament begins to criticise and to analyse itself. Here is an early instance of that modern impatience with the physical infirmities of the human imagination which was to produce so many poetic laments in the nineteenth century. Herbert, however, like most poets when they try to understand themselves, has only half managed to do so. He notes the unevenness of his moods, but imputes it to the infirmities of his soul, not of his body. He lived in an age which was critical both of itself and of the universe, but whose criticisms all took a religious form ; to which all folly and infirmity appeared as sin, and all wisdom and strength as righteousness ; and in which one kind of philosophy of life expressed itself as Calvinism, another as Roman Catholicism, and yet another as Anglicanism. Herbere was an Anglican, trying to find a middle way of orderly freedom and sweetness and light between what seemed to him two dark contending spiritual despotisms. He wished himself and all other men to be in immediate communion with God ; and he also laboured to prove that God was loving and kindly, and that a high and reasonable joy must be the noblest result of communion with Him. His poems are records of an unceasing effort to attain that joy, which came to him only fitfully, as it must come to all men of eager and searching imagination ; and his inspiration was as fitful as his joy-for he would not force it, would not pretend to be in a poetic rapture when his devotion had strained itself into morbid misgivings and searchings of heart. And for that very reason his beauties, when they come, are the more moving. The reader knows that they have been achieved at a great cost, that they express a spiritual joy which is the issue of a long spiritual conflict. Nowhere in our literature is the tired yet happy tranquillity, which may come to a noble mind long vexed with its own terrors, more finely expressed than in Herbert's poem of The Flower:
"And now in age I bud again; After so many deaths I live and write ; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing: O my only light, It cannot be That I am he On whom thy tempests fell all night."
Herbert had many imitators, for there were many men in his age who thought and felt as he did, yet who lacked his original genius. But the chief of his imitators was also an original poet of a genius very different from his own. Henry Vaughan (1621-22-1695) was a Welshman of whose secluded life very little is known. Like Herbert, he was an Anglican ; and, like Herbert, he often expresses his own spiritual shortcomings and misgivings in his poetry. Yet he seems to do this mainly because Herbert did it. His most original poems are much more abstract and more immediately concerned with beauty than Herbert's. Vaughan, indeed, is most remarkable for his treatment of nature, a treatment quite novel in his own day, and anticipating the treatment of Wordsworth, Shelley, and other poets of the nineteenth century. Yet it was the religious earnestness of his age working upon a natural delight in the beauties of nature, which led Vaughan to see a new significance in these beauties. He, like Herbert, was anxious to find links between earth and heaven, to reconcile things terrestrial with things celestial; and, as Shelley scanned the world for hints and symbols of that idea of beauty on which his heart was set, as Wordsworth felt and laboured to express a growing intimacy between the soul of man and the beauties of nature, so Vaughan found in those beauties both an assurance of the goodness of God and an image of His mysteries. The Elizabethans saw in them only ornaments to the life of man, and external images of human beauty. Nature for them has no independent life of its own. It suggests comparisons, but not ideas. But in Vaughan's poetry it ceases to be an ornament. It becomes mysterious and significant of things outside the life of man, because he recognises in it symbols of beauties and mysteries which the mind of man is incapable of comprehending.
Vaughan never consciously expresses such a doctrine of the independence of nature as later poets have expressed. Yet his poetry is filled with unconscious expressions of that independence. He can write thus for instance of a fallen tree :
" Sure thou didst flourish once ; and many springs, Many bright mornings, much dew, many showers Passed o'er thy head ; many light hearts and wings, Which now are dead, lodged in thy living bowers."
True, the poem goes on to trace a rather fanciful connexion between the tree and a murdered man ; yet its real inspiration comes from Vaughan's sense of the tree as something to be loved and pitied like a human being ; and this sense came to him because he was wont to look for a kind of soul in natural things, for a life as significant of the divine mysteries which engrossed his mind as the life of man.
Thus his images derived from nature have a new simplicity and profundity. They are as natural and as mysterious as the things from
" All naked, innocent, and bright And intimate with Heaven as light."
His own poetry, from his communion with nature, has that same intimacy with the divine, for it was through nature that he gazed upon and seemed to pierce the secrets beyond nature :
" lie that hath found some fledged bird's nest may know At first sight if the bird be flown ; But what fair dell or grove he sings in now, That is to him unknown."
In childhood as in nature he found a revelation of divine things, and the most beautiful of all his poems anticipates and is said to have suggested Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality.
Another poet, Thomas Traherne, whose works have only lately been given to the world by a fortunate discovery, made much of his poetry out of that theme. Traherne, who was born perhaps in 1630, and died in 1674, was an Anglican clergyman, and perhaps a Welshman like Vaughan. His life, like Vaughan's, appears to have been secluded and uneventful. His poems, though full of quiet beauty, never reach the heights attained sometimes by Herbert or Vaughan ; but they are remarkable for the persistency with which they work out certain ideas such as that of the remembrance of heavenly things in childhood. English minor poets have never been so much occupied with ideas as in the seventeenth century, or at least have never held them with so much conviction or applied them so consistently to their lives. Traherne appears, both from his poems and from extracts published from his prose Centuries of Meditations, to have been more of a philosopher than either Herbert or Vaughan ; and philosophic ideas are developed in his verse with a closeness of reasoning which sometimes hampers his inspiration. The object of all his arguments is to prove that connexion between earth and heaven which so absorbed the minds of Herbert and Vaughan. Like them, he is an unworldly poet who will not write of the lust of the eye and the pride of life, who pursues his own private meditations and seeks his own spiritual joy remote from other men. But Traherne had neither Herbert's knowledge of life and intensity of experience, nor Vaughan's prophetic sympathy with nature. He deals more with abstractions than either of them. In argument he is their superior, but he is their inferior in poetry.
Richard Crashaw began as an Anglican poet like Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne. He was, indeed, the son of an Anglican clergyman. He was born perhaps in 1616, and was educated at the Charterhouse and at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. He was ejected from his fellowship at Peterhouse in 1644, because he would not subscribe to the Covenant.
After this he became a Roman Catholic and went to Paris, where Cowley rescued him from destitution. He went to Italy and died at Loretto, where he is said (though this seems more than doubtful) to have been appointed to a canonry about 1650.
There is something in all Crashaw's poetry more congruous with Roman Catholicism than with Anglicanism. He is not, like Herbert or Donne, a critic of life, a searcher of his own heart. He does not argue. He has no anxiety to justify the ways of God to man. He does not look with curious, wistful eyes, like Vaughan, upon the beauties of the earth. His gaze is set upon visionary celestial glories. His ecstasies are troubled by no misgivings. He is in fact, like Shelley, one of those purely lyrical poets whom English literature produces now and then, and who are always rebels against the current English ideas of their day. For the English love of compromise and submission to existing facts are repellent to that lyrical temperament which times of revolution are apt to produce in England like a kind of glorious freak. Just as extreme continental ideas of liberty inspired Shelley, so Crashaw was inspired by Spanish and Italian extremes of faith ; and as the later poet's interest was rather in freedom as an abstraction than in any practical politics, so Crashaw was not concerned with the means by which men may come to a certain trust in the goodness of God, or with those by which they may apply that trust to all their dealings with the world. His aim was only to express the raptures of a faith which he assumes as an instinct. He is the poet of saints and martyrs, of
"The heirs elect of Love, whose names belong Unto the everlasting life of Song."
Indeed he conceives of righteousness not, like Herbert, as a troubled and anxious thing picking its way through the darkness of doubt and error, but simply as an "everlasting life of song," a state of abstract joy insensible to the delights and threats of the world. This conception he derived, no doubt, from the great Spanish mystics, especially from St Theresa, to whose "name and honour" he dedicated one of the greatest pieces of lyrical poetry in our literature. He wrote it while still an Anglican; for, when he had become a Roman Catholic, he made an apology for its shortcomings in which he says,
"Oh pardon if I dare to say Thy own dear books are guilty. For from thence I learnt to know that love is eloquence."
Crashaw, in fact, is one of the least English of our great poets. More than any of our Fantastic Poets he was infected with the conceits of the Fantastic Poets of Italy, especially Marino, one book of whose Straffe degli Innocenti he translated into verse alternately splendid and absurd. The extent to which Donne or Herbert were influenced by Italian poets is doubtful. Wit was fashionable in English poetry before
" That Glory's self should serve our griefs and fears : And free eternity submit to years."
In strokes such as this he combines the searching, exacting thought of Herbert or Donne with his own lyrical fire, just as Shelley sometimes in Ādonais turned a later philosophy into music. Both of these poets, in fact, were lyrists of great universal emotions ; yet both were children of their own age and got substance and force both from the ideas of their age and from their rebellion against certain of those ideas.
Cowley, the friend and benefactor of Crashaw, was born in 1618, and educated at Westminster and Trinity College, Cambridge. Like Crashaw, he was expelled from his fellowship, and in 1646 went to Paris to the Court of Henrietta Maria. He died in 1667, having returned to England at the Restoration. Cowley was once esteemed the chief of the Fantastic Poets. He has lost that eminence, because with all his ingenuity and pleasant fancies he was only half a poet by nature, and certainly not a Fantastic Poet. Indeed, he was one of the first writers of that prosaic kind of poetry which became the rule in the eighteenth century. Yet the great poetic conventions which still persisted in his time influenced him enough to make him write usually against his nature. Like Crashaw, he was misled into the use of ornaments incongruous with his ideas, though incongruous for different reasons. For whereas Crashaw was too poetic for his conceits, Cowley was too prosaic. Cowley was always straining himself to give expression to an imagination which he did not possess, and to emotions stronger than those which were really his. The loose rhymed verse, which suited Crashaw's genius so well, was in his hands only the irregular instrument of very well-regulated passions. His intellect is exercised in all his poetry, but often
Andrew Marvell, the only one of the great Fantastic Poets who sympathised with the Puritans, was also a philosophic versifier of simple pleasures, and a link between the more extreme Fantastic Poets and the prosaic poets who came into vogue after the Restoration. Marvell was born in 1621, and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was tutor to the daughter of Lord Fairfax, and assistant to Milton in his secretaryship to Cromwell. After Cromwell's death he became member of Parliament for Hull, and was active in opposition to the abuses of Charles IPs Government until his death in 1678. He was therefore a man of affairs ; and his poetry was the diversion of a man of affairs who also happened to be a poet. It is usually free from the worst excesses of the Fantastic Poets. It is not usually religious. It often deals with subjects most commonly treated in prose. Yet, for all that, Marvell was one of the great Fantastic Poets. He has their intensity of labouring thought, their command of ideas, and their critical and analytical spirit. He, like Donne, is a master of " things extreme and scattering bright "" ; and he produces them with less appearance of labour. He is the only one of the Fantastic Poets who has the tact to trifle imaginatively or rather to kindle his imagination on trifles ; and his wit is more easily enjoyed to-day than the wit of the others, because of the extraordinary skill with which he can transfer it from small to great matters. The lines To his Coy Mistress, which pass from witty trifling to witty sublimity, are the best example of this unique power.
Marvell in fact was more reconciled to the world than the other Fantastic Poets. He tries to express no extremes of righteousness or passion, but rather to make the best of life as it is, and to show what mystery and beauty there are in common things. Thus he resembles Vaughan somewhat in his treatment of nature, except that he writes with the careless tenderness of a man of affairs for whom the enjoyment of nature is only a diversion. He expresses the subsidence of all that revolutionary confusion and turmoil which trouble the poetry of his predecessors so deeply. He is deeply troubled, but with actual events, not with his own ideas and passions ; and his troubles are expressed in his Satires, which are not fantastic poetry at all. Yet his poetry is enriched with the last echoes of the great conflict of ideas. He is not a strainer after infinity himself, yet he is the master of an art exercised in straining after infinity ; and there is a sense of infinity,