"Carew's Funerary Poetry and the Paradox of Sincerity,"

Critic: James Fitzmaurice
Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 127-44.
Criticism about: Thomas Carew (1595?-1640)


[(essay date 1985) In the following essay, Fitzmaurice studies Carew's poetic thoughts on death and the artificiality of language.]

Sincerity, inasmuch as it is allied with or derived from intention, is likely to occupy a controversial position in current critical discussion. For what might be called the traditionalists in the evaluation of literature, it is at the root of all creative activity and is especially a criterion in funerary verse. Allowances may be made for poetry which appears mortuary but is not so in the strictest sense, for example, Donne's "First Anniversary," or, for what is both mortuary and concerned with other matters, as in Tennyson's In Memoriam. But that which is truly involved with the death of an individual human being, is directly from our selves and untainted by "slavish" attention to such relative incidentals as style or precedent in form. Style and formal precedent have important places, but are only crucial insofar as they are successfully transcended. Art is not art, as Henri Peyre writes, "unless the artist has committed himself heart and soul to his metier."1 Those who write against the grain of this established manner of dealing with sincerity call into question the possibility of intentionality for a number of reasons. For some, the reader makes the text or, as Wolfgang Iser suggests, performs it, and is hence responsible for all or much of its sincerity. For others, the old new critics, the intentional fallacy was long ago exploded. For still others, the unraveling of codes or the interrogation of textuality is the business of the critic. Individual presence is an ever-present ignis fatuus. Ironically, in the work of these last, the poststructuralists, a closely related concept, authenticity, is claimed as a decisive test. Regardless of approach, some call for "congruence between avowal and actual feeling," as Lionel Trilling puts it, often asserts itself openly or covertly as a criterion.2

Carew as a courtier would, of course, be expected to take a keen interest in sincerity and its simulation, no doubt studying and using what he found in Bacon and Machiavelli. But for Carew the poet, sincerity is paradoxical and exists in a realm where theory and praxis intersect, where problem and problematics coincide. Poetry is inescapably artifice, and even in its most sincere and direct evocation of emotion, the sense of loss which accompanies death, it is something other than direct pronouncement and hence at a distance from a hoped-for pure evocation of feeling. For many of Carew's predecessors indirect expression did not need to entail falsehood. Ruth Wallerstein sums it up thus: "For all these writers poetry is a mediate expression of truth to the imagination in sensuous terms, through a richly elaborated beauty."3 But there is a second, and, perhaps, more pervasive tradition, one which Jonas Barish traces to Plato. "To change, clearly is to fall, to reenact the first change whereby Lucifer renounced his bliss and man alienated himself from the Being in whose unchanging image he was created."4

The substitution of inarticulate statements of loss or the infusion of gesture into a vacuum created by the supposed inadequacy of language is no answer. Sighs and tears are merely an alternative form of language and any limitation on their range of expression is no guarantee of unfeigned feeling. Crocodile tears are a Renaissance commonplace. Silence may or may not be an indicator of true emotion, but its existence outside of caesura within a context, lifetime aphasia, say, has so many possible interpretations as to be no expression at all. Rimbaud may have given in to the "temptation of silence," as Peyre suggests, but that silence would be less forceful if it were not preceded by literary production.5 Poetry, then, is no more necessarily a matter of deceit or indirection than other emotive forms. But if it is open about its nature, it is always, and in funerary poetry especially, in a position akin to what is encountered in the Cretan liar paradox. The paradox states, "All Cretans are liars. I am a Cretan." Funerary poetry which is forthright must state either directly or by implication, "All sincerity is fabricated. This poem expresses sincere loss." Fabrication here is intended to convey both the senses of "put together" and "foisted off deceitfully." It is no accident that Margaret Ferguson runs into an analogous situation in her study of jest and earnest in The Unfortunate Traveller, since intention is fundamental in both cases.6 Carew certainly, and Nashe probably, are in the position of Chaucer's Pardoner. They disclose the trick and call for the audience to kiss the relics, and while Chaucer's Host refuses, when these authors are successful, we do not. The position of the traditionalists and that of those who offer critiques of the standard approach are each essential to a half of the paradox. The one stresses the truth without really being able to disprove the lie and the other shows the lie without negating the truth. Carew's mortuary poetry asserts, with varying degrees of stress on each part according to the piece in question, the truth of sincerity as truth and the truth of it as lie.

To complicate matters further, the term elegy, which Carew uses in several cases, and the practice of writing verses on the deaths of individuals had a number of meanings and associations in England in the early parts of the seventeenth century. "Elegy" was firmly established as a designation for funerary poetry and had been so used for a hundred years, but on the Continent elegiac poetry was more frequently amorous, following the tradition of Ovid and Propertius, and the term could refer to any poem in the elegiac mode, that is, having a distich of hexameter and pentameter. Perhaps using this Continental practice as a basis, there appeared a number of poems in English which laid claim to being elegy or elegiac without any substantial connection to the theme of death. Gascoigne's Complaynt of Phylomene, an Elegye (1576) does not even use hexameters and is simply a mythological poem. Most famous, of course, are Donne's elegies, which are mainly erotic. To this looseness of generic specificity may be added the difficulties connected with a newly popularized form, the stigma, it might be said, of fad. The poetry occasioned first by the death of Sidney and later by that of Prince Henry made verses on the deaths of individuals, particularly individuals of note, a very modish phenomenon. The sincerity, or truth of feeling, of a poet might be called into question, hence, for either of two reasons. He might be writing on the subject simply to show that he could compose funeral elegy, or he might be writing to flatter influential relatives. The charge of flattery, of course, is always a danger with writing on this sort of topic and critical reception often turns out either very positive or very negative. Chaucer's motive for composing The Book of the Duchess is often taken to be a key issue in the evaluation of the poem and is generally held to be laudable. He wrote the poem, it is said, to express true feeling, and its power comes from its movement away from artificiality towards the direct. At the end of the piece the man in black drops all ornateness from his style and says simply, "She ys ded." "At a stroke," John Fisher tells us, "this converts the insincere language and sentimental imagery of dying for love into poignant reality."7 Spenser's Daphnaida, on the other hand, often has been taken to be artificial and therefore unfelt. In the words of Renwick, otherwise one of Spenser's admirers, the poem is probably "the payment of a social--for all we know a material--debt."8 But Chaucer is more detached than he is often given credit for being and is more acutely aware of the problems of sincerity. Likewise, Spenser is more involved than might seem to be the case. The death of Lady Douglas Howard is more than an excuse for an ornamental and unfelt poem.

In any case, criticism in the last twenty or thirty years has gone a long distance towards a revaluation of Carew's poetry as a whole, an effort perhaps started by a small remark in F. R. Leavis's now-famous essay.9 But the poems on the subject of the deaths of individuals have largely been ignored. Edward Selig's The Flourishing Wreath is for the most part confined to the amorous verse, and Lynn Sadler's Thomas Carew, while more complete, shows a preference for the funerary poems (aside from the poem on Donne) which have traditionally received attention, those on the deaths of children or young people. "Maria Wentworth" and the three pieces on Mary Villiers are, as she says, reminiscent of Jonson's poetry on the deaths of his children and on Solomon Pavey.10 The corpus of Carew's mortuary verse, however, tells a fuller and, I believe, a more interesting story.

"Obsequies to the Lady ANNE HAY" provides a good place to start with the poetry itself. It appears to be a simple, uncomplicated poem on the death of a worthy lady, but is much more. "ANNE HAY" is a treatment of the problems that face the poet because of the inadequacy of language to express loss and it is also a poem which immediately and convincingly conveys a sense of that loss. In the opening lines a "sleeke / And polisht Courtier" shed "reall tearse," the strength of the image coming, as G. A. E. Parfitt suggests, from our association of the court with deceit.11 The speaker of the poem goes on to claim his personal involvement in the lady's death by contrasting his current profound feelings with his previous superficial emotional experiences, encounters with "private sorrow" which were no more than what resulted from the frowns of his froward mistress. He now adduces his desire to write from the heart and in a direct fashion. He will not use the mechanics of art to evoke the beauty of his subject. He will eschew the techniques of Apelles. He will not "here a feature, / There steale a Grace" in describing her physical being. Nor will he plunder the vast store of material on virtuous women to describe her character. Such is the province of "base pens," who appropriate "holy Dittyes" to the hearses of common strumpets. His refusal to follow Apelles, known as the premier painter of antiquity for his composite Venus and for his Calumny (later imitated by Botticelli), is a refusal of all artificiality in his expression of sorrow.

Apelles' eclecticism is, in fact, much a part of Carew's method, and obviously so. Apelles culled classical beauties for a composite Venus while Carew proposes to collect a group of contemporary "Virgins of equall birth, of equall yeares," who, in aspects of their physical and moral beings, will each represent a part of Anne Hay's perfection. Equal, of course, refers to equal to Anne Hay, but in a second sense it recalls the classical precedents of Apelles, creating a paragone of women as well as arts. One of the English girls will exemplify her eyes, another her teeth, and so on with the result that a living blazon will be created. The transformation of this temporal event into a permanence like that of art will not be through "bribed pens" or "partiall rimes" but by the presumably continuous word of mouth of peers, "partners of [her] youth," from generation to generation. The point of this poem is that it, itself, is not the real poem. Still it is the only indication of Anne Hay's passing that has had an importance for following generations. Pope's piece "On General Henry Withers" owes no debt to Anne Hay or any putative collection of virgins. It may take some inspiration from "ANNE HAY"12

A circumstance which adds to the undercutting of the claim of unfeigned grief and praise is to be found in the poet's casual but repeated reference to the fact that he has never met Anne Hay. How can one feel the absence of someone who has not been present and can never be? How can one be at pains to describe the delicate beauty of someone one has never seen in the flesh? In a less forthright situation, these references would be omitted. Because they are included it is clear that we are being told that the poet's knowledge of Anne Hay is an artificiality, a creation of her reputation and, as is specifically indicated, the renown of her family. When the poet tells us of her lineage, we get the most honest admission that superficialities are involved. When he switches from "noble Carlil's Gemme" and "the fayrest branch of Dennye's ancient stemme" to the "white and small / Hand," we may get the false impression that he has had direct contact with the lady. But in either case the poet has no claim to firsthand knowledge of his subject. "ANNE HAY" is, in short, a funerary poem that claims not to be what it is, even as Dylan Thomas's "Refusal to Mourn" is not really a refusal. It is a composite which rejects composites and a poem based not on actual observation of anyone but solely on authorial imagination and family connection, a poem which at the same time disdainfully ridicules the report of "engag'd kindred." As Thomas Cain has made clear, the praise of gens was conventional in epideictic poetry, so Carew is under no obligation to distance himself from Anne Hay's family.13 That Carew need not question the propriety of mentioning family makes his questioning of it especially significant. This is, however, one of the funerary poems we, as audience, are liable to accept as a genuine expression of loss. The honesty about never seeing the girl fits in with the various indications of artificiality, frank admissions that poetry can only go so far. Smoothness of line and appropriateness of diction both serve to convey the impression of real emotion because they indicate care in composition. We must either give in and say that this poem shows sincere feeling or at least admit to the poet's power to feign it. The piece has it both ways. It is an expression of sorrow and loss and it is an examination of the problems of expression.

Or shall I, to the Morall, and Divine
Exactest lawes, shape by an even line,
A life so straight, as it should shame the square
Left in the rules of Katherine, or Clare,
And call it hers, say, so she did begin,
And had she liv'd, such had her progresse been?

(pp. 67-68)

The answer is both yes and no.

"To the Countess of Anglesie upon the immoderately-by-her lamented death of her Husband" is a funerary piece cast in the form of a poem of advice. It is a more complicated poem that "ANNE HAY" in the sense that it is about the reaction of one person to the death of another. It is also a poem that deals with feeling emotion and with dissimulation. The Countess is admonished not to continue her elaborate grief over the loss of her husband because the appearance of excessive mourning indicates insincerity. Those "Whose love was doubted" may pour out their tears, but such zeal is inappropriate for her "whose whole life / In every act crown'd [her] a constant Wife." The assumptions on the part of the speaker are all wrong, for if the lady is sincere about her grief, no concern with public reception should come into play. Further, acting in the role of a woman of the time, she might be expected to indulge herself. But, most importantly, the poet does not bother to take his own advice. Convinced of her sincerity by the "surfet" of her grief, as others would be inclined to doubt it, according to the system he proposes, he proceeds to "tell the world, upon what cates [she] sit[s] / Glutting [her] sorrows. "What follows is the epitome of hyperbole, sincere or insincere.

In motion, active grace, in rest, a calme
Attractive sweetness, brought both wound and balme
To every heart. He was compos't of all
The wishes of ripe Virgins, when they call
For Hymen's rites, and in their fancies wed
A shape of studied beauties to their bed.
Within this curious Palace dwelt a soule
Gave lustre to each part, and to the whole.

(p. 70)

The husband is in all ways perfect, and only the thought that the Countess will further sorrow by hearing the catalog of virtues stops the poet from continuing to list them.

The details of the poem's stated reason for its encomium of the husband further point up the difficulties inherent in distinguishing sincere and insincere manifestations of grief. In line twenty-seven the reader is brought into the poem as if he were present. The speaker seems convinced that the lady, who still has not stopped crying, has come to appear ridiculous to the audience. Certainly the image of the Countess stirring her tears with her husband's dust in order to keep it from flying away in the storm of her sighs is bizarre, but it is a creation of the poem and scarcely a reference to life. The poet is projecting a fiction in which the reader does not hear the expostulation to the lady and only sees her gestures, misinterpreting them according to the conventions of the time, when, in fact, the reader knows only what he has read on the page before him. Any intervention to put things straight can only make matters worse because it calls into question what otherwise might have been accepted. Further, the shift of "you" from lady to reader between lines twenty-six and twenty-seven interrupts the illusion of unseen audience presence as the reader adjusts to his direct participation in the poem. The reader suddenly finds himself an important figure in what he is reading, even as what he is asked to believe is called into question by further protestations of the genuine, claims that point to an infinite regress of further and less convincing claims. Using the terms of the poem itself, it may be said that the breath of the poet neither fans the flames of old sorrows nor blows away the funerary ashes. The piece is about the vicissitudes of art, not life. Nevertheless, the impression that the figure of the poet and, perhaps, beyond the poet, the author, both feel unfeigned grief can function in a legitimate reading of the poem. An audience may well be convinced the feeling expressed is true by the very kinds of artificiality it has been told to suspect, smoothly polished lines and unabashed overstatement.

                Then let him rest joyn'd to great Buckingham,
And with his brothers, mingle his bright flame:
Looke up, and meet their beames, and you from thence
May chance derive a chearfull influence.
Seeke him no more in dust, but call agen
Your scatterd beauties home, and so the pen
Which now I take from this sad Elegie
Shall sing the Trophies of your conquering eye.

(p. 71)

The countess is admonished to take heart from her husband's spirit, is told his memory will help her to live life.

The poem "On the Duke of Buckingham," like that to the Countess of Anglesie, involves a dead man and a mourning wife. The piece on Buckingham contains a set of statements designed to give the impression of complete and unmitigated sincerity. But the poem shows that it is really a kind of filter through which the audience receives an account of his life and death. Writing, according to many poststructuralists, has been less privileged than speech because it has been taken to be secondary, less immediate. It does not give the impression of direct feeling as does the spoken word. The figure of the wife in the poem puts it succinctly, "His Actions let our Annals tell: / Wee write no Chronicle" (p. 57). The poem in fact suggests that even speech is suspect. But, in an image reminiscent of that in which the Countess of Anglesie mixes her tears with her husband's ashes, the wife's tears are cooled by her sighs and, compounded, make a piece of stone. The artificiality of the image may serve to undercut the poem's claims to be taken solemnly, and other factors operate along these lines as well. A record of the wife's lament is fashioned by a stonecarver from the rock that her tears have made. The poet downgrades the importance of the carver, "So he the fashion onely lent," and elevates the unverbalized feelings of the lady, "Whilst she wept all this Monument." Still, it is clear that without the poet as carver or carver as poet all that would remain to remind us of Buckingham would be an inchoate block. The hand of the carver, it turns out, is the hand of hands, the hand which records the "desperate hand, thirstie of blood" that belongs to the murderer and the hand that causes "Truth's hand / [to] Incize the story" of Buckingham's virtue. Further, Buckingham himself is less the subject of the poem than are the patronage of two kings, the barbarity of the murderer, and the grief of the widow. The poem purports to be a record of immediacy unadulterated by language, but language, of course, is always present. It is clearly there in the punning phrase that speaks of sincerity showing the "chast Wifes pregnant eyes." Still, the smoothness of line and apparent straightforward praise can serve to convince the audience of the sincerity of feeling, which might be said to be "behind" the poem.

                                            This Pile
Weares onely sorrowes face and stile,
Which, even the envie that did waite
Upon his flourishing estate,
Turn'd to soft pitty of his death,
Now payes his Hearse.

(p. 57)

The second of the poems on Buckingham's death consists by and large of unadulterated praise, but the opening lines invert the idea of the first, that stones rather than words are eloquent. This reversal may be a veiled reference to the ugliness of the monument later recorded in the DNB.14

"An Elegie on the La: PEN: sent to my Mistresse out of France" compounds the problem of sincerity in funerary poetry with its counterpart in love lyric, and it goes a step in complication beyond "To the Countess of Anglesie" by inserting a hostile audience, the mistress, into the poem. This unlikely combination has elicited the reasonable suggestion that the poem is simply witty erotic verse.15 But the piece may be treated as mortuary poetry equally well, part of a virtuoso performance in which the poet demonstrates the difficulties of sincerity in any mode by trying to serve two masters. He must praise the dead lady but not diminish his position with his mistress, and again sincerity is rendered problematic. In the opening lines the mourner-lover appears to abandon the audience of the title and addresses a fictional rejected lover, a comrade in suffering. He admonishes this lover to "forbid / His eyes to weepe that losse" and rather to turn his sorrow to a fit object, making good use of tears "which else would be but brine." He goes on to argue the topos of the precedence of public sorrow over private. The original audience, the mistress, though not addressed, is still present, and presumably would take offense at this reordering of emotional priority. But insult, direct or indirect, is a characteristic mode in Carew's love poetry, as Selig has shown, and may, itself, be taken to be a sign of sincere feeling. Indifference, it is said, cannot elicit a barbed attack. Still, difficulties in interpretation must follow as we, the audience, or the mistress as audience, think through the consequences of this argument. If the lover says he loves the mistress, he may or may not be sincere. If he says or even suggests he doesn't, presumably he may love and may only be fooling himself or trying to fool others. An infinite and ridiculous regress is possible, for the lover may simply be pretending to be bitter at rejection in order to convince the mistress of what is really feigned sincerity, or he may not know that behind this is real sincerity, and so on. In any event, the mourner-lover in "La: PEN" changes course and apologizes directly to the subject of his poem, a third audience, for shedding only one tear at her grave, a tear which is singularly meaningful. It writes on the earth of her burial plot. Apparently fearful that even this small token will enrage the mistress, he immediately apologizes to her, too. The pair of apologies could set off a whole string, but the mourner-lover, in the manner of Donne, explains that the tear for the lady is really a tear for the mistress, since the death of the lady indicates that the mistress is also mortal.

The resolution of the conflict between mistress and lady is achieved in the remainder of the poem not through this sort of wit, though there is plenty of it present, but by a pairing of the two women in religious reference. Although religious imagery is in evidence from the beginning (tears become manna), the first connection of it to the women comes when the lady is designated "faire soul" and the mistress "sweet Saint" in the apology sequence. The terms are then exchanged as the lady becomes a saint taken from the earth, leaving a few "good soules" behind. The lady goes to heaven and there the mourner-lover fears she will experience the envy of other saints, a fate more appropriate to an amorous than to a religious situation.

But what can heaven to her glory adde?
The prayses she hath dead, living she had,
To say she's now an Angell, is no more
Praise then she had, for she was one before;
Which of the Saints can shew more votaries
Then she had here? even those that did despise
The Angels, and may her now she is one,
Did whilst she liv'd with pure devotion
Adore and worship her; her vertues had
All honour here, for this world was too bad
To hate, or envy her: these cannot rise
So high, as to repine at Deities.

(p. 21)

The imagery remains religious as the mourner-lover writes of his martyrdom and addresses the mistress as "Idoll of my soule." Until the last lines of the poem the women are brought together in imagery and kept distinct in syntax. This separation collapses in the phrase "Rest then blest soule," which syntactically looks backward to the mistress and forward to the lady. The mistress may rest because the poem, her competition with the lady, is over, and the lady may rest because her song of praise is finished. Ironically, the very last word, promised a few lines before to the mistress, is given to the lady. The reason for collapsing the two women together is clear enough. Funerary poetry and love lyric are remarkably similar, and vary, as the poem says, mostly in superficialities of "stile." Sincerity in both cases can be problematic and the intricate confusion of the women simply underscores the importance of illusion or impression and the relative unimportance of individual people as subjects. While the poem has variously been interpreted as being on Lady Pennington and on Lady Peniston, it is also, and perhaps most interestingly, as the abbreviated title suggests, on the Lady Pen, that is, on writing. At the beginning of the poem the fellow rejected lover is told to "take off his pen, and in sad verse bemone." This is the essential paradox of mortuary poetry. It must be both unartificial and artificial, though the strength of "La: PEN" lies less in an audience being impressed by the poet's sense of sorrow and more in its awareness of his urbane ability to juggle two commitments to two women.

                                   for as ghosts flye away,
When the shrill Cock proclaims the infant-day,
So must I hence, for loe I see from farre,
The minions of the Muses comming are,
Each of them bringing to thy sacred Herse,
In either eye a teare, each hand a Verse.

(p. 21)



The image of the stampede of completely sincere poets fully given over to the lady contrasts humorously with the more controlled and hence more sophisticated figure of the mourner-lover.

"Epitaph on the Lady S. Wife to Sir W. S." and the first of the set of short pieces on Mary Villiers are more traditionally funerary than the preceding poems in that sincerity in them is more evidenced than it is questioned. But in both cases an evocation of the deceased is combined with allusion to the difficulty of direct, and hence sincere, knowledge. The praise of Lady S. is based on the concept of the correspondence between inside and outside beauty, another Renaissance topos. Although the "darke Vault" of burial has no such connection with its contents, the lady when alive displayed an external beauty that matched the inner beauty of her virtue. Since the inward virtue is what really counts and since it is hidden, the observer has only her outward traits as signs of what must be praised. Appropriately, the detailed list of the lady's qualities, wisdom, devotion, cheerfulness, gravity, and seriousness, are all described as jewels on a coat, a coat that recalls, as the poem tells us, "Aaron's Ephod." In Aaron, as the Geneva Bible attests, the priest-hood is initiated and his robe is its visible sign.16 The poet's knowledge of the lady's exemplary soul, sure as the poem indicates it is, is a matter of understanding at a distance, even as the priestly class provides contact with God (perhaps necessarily) in an indirect form. Despite these admitted problems of indirection the poem is able to provide a touching picture of its subject.

The harmony of colours, features, grace,
Resulting Ayres (the magicke of a face)
Of musicall sweet tunes, all which combind,
To crown one Soveraigne beauty, lies confind
To this darke vault. Shee was a Cabinet
Where all the choysest stones of price were set;
Whose native colours, and purest lustre, lent
Her eye, cheek, lip, a dazling ornament:
Whose rare and hidden vertues, did expresse
Her inward beauties, and minds fairer dresse.

(p. 55)

The contrast of past fullness of life and present loss is similar to, though more violent than, the pairing of the image of the snow-cloud of geese and the picture of the little girl propped with pillows to receive a last look before burial in Ransom's "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter." The compliment is also paid in terms of biblical typology, since the urim and thummim of the ephod are transformed in the lady, as in the New Testament, into the Pearl of Great Price.

The second and third of the epitaphs on Mary Villiers along with the short poem on the death of Maria Wentworth are essentially unmixed in their mortuary evocation. That is, they contain virtually no analysis of the problems of this sort of verse. The "chaste Poligamie" of Maria Wentworth, the virgin married to "every Grace," has justly been singled out as a memorable figure.17 More characteristic of the three poems is simple, direct, controlled statement.

And here the precious dust is layd;
Whose purely-tempered Clay was made
So fine, that it the guest betray'd.
Else the soule grew so fast within
It broke the outward shell of sinne,
And so was hatch'd a Cherubin.

(p. 56)

The first epitaph on Mary Villiers presents a different picture. Not the virtue of the girl herself, but a possible connection between the reader and her family is stressed. Failing this connection, the reader is given an even more tenuous tie. He, too, may have a loved one and when he returns home he may find his "Darling in an Urne." It is the brutality of this last image, most distanced of all from the death of Mary Villiers, that testifies to the strength of feeling of the poet even while it shocks the audience. If the three epitaphs on Mary Villiers are taken as a group (as we take Herrick's three short poems "To his Booke," "Another," and "Another"), it is possible to see a movement from confrontation of the fact of death in a blunt, almost crude fashion, to an increasingly literary treatment. In the final poem in the set we are told we are free of the tyranny of love now that Mary is dead. The thought, borrowed from Ronsard,18 is out of place in a poem on the death of a child and attracts the criticism of Sadler for its artificiality. "The more Carew draws on conventional imagery--no matter how well he may convert images of love to the rites of death--the less sincere he seems in the elegies."19 Still, there is no compelling reason that art cannot be the terminus of sorrow.

"An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne" has long been singled out as the finest of the tributes to that poet contained in the 1633 volume of his poetry and as one of Carew's best pieces. It is also, unlike the poems treated so far, a tribute to a fellow poet and to a major literary figure of the age. Hence the task Carew sets himself is anything but trivial. It is widely accepted that much of the force of the tribute comes from Carew's ability to deliver a poem in praise of Donne in Donne's style.20 That correspondence provides a key to the poem in a variety of ways. Certainly Carew's poem displays the qualities of Donnean wit and Donne's characteristic roughness of syntax,21 and in so doing it demonstrates "masculine expression" while avoiding "servile imitation," to use the language of the poem itself. It performs the same sort of illusion as we find in the master, because the indirect (the feminine) and the copied (that contaminated by previous use) appear to be shunned. The reader as a consequence is likely to feel a strong sense of the sincere involvement of both poets. Nevertheless, that impression cannot be achieved without indirection and imitation, not necessarily servile but imitation just the same. It is the sort of imitatio Greene attributes to Erasmus's Praise of Folly, "parody," in which a later author interacts with an earlier one.22

The first line of the poem introduces the theme of the masculine in poetry as rape, in both its senses as sexual assault and as seizure. Now that Donne is dead, times will be difficult for poets, who will have to "force from widdowed Poetry" their verse, including the poem presently being composed. This is precisely what the poem tells us Donne has had to do because the Greeks and Romans were there first to claim all the smooth and pleasing subjects with "their soft melting Phrases." Likewise Latin and Greek are mellifluous languages while English has a harshness demanding the rough, direct expression which is the hallmark of Donne. Many poetasters, unsuccessful imitators of the ecstasies attributed to Anacreon and Pindar, once abounded but were put to shame and hence silenced by Donne. In his absence, they may appear again. Missing in Carew's poem is any reference to the tradition of the shocking and unpleasant to be found in Juvenal and Martial or in the imagery and action of the English stage as it ultimately derives from Seneca.

Several aspects of this poem, however, show just how much Carew is aware of the illusions about which he writes and which he, as funerary poet, embodies in his own writing. At the beginning of the poem and later on, the silence of poets in the absence of Donne is stressed, even though its end makes manifest that this funerary poem is one of several by several hands. The poet stops writing and concludes his praise, he says, to give others the opportunity to have their say on the subject. Dumbness in the face of death is normal and conventional (it is a case of the inexpressibility topos described by Curtius),23 but Carew's invocation of it along with his purported rejection of the classics are in the category of "holy Rapes upon our Will." We know better than to let him get away with it but because of the affectionate spirit of the poem we do so anyway. Similarly, the suggestion that Donne has purged English poetry, which had become rife with allusion to classical myth, is not quite consistent with the praise which compares Donne to Prometheus and makes the poet inspirer of the "Delphique quire" and weeder of the Muse's garden. The assertion that an English poet is on a par with or better than all prior and contemporary practitioners is reminiscent of Jonson's poem on Shakespeare, and the appeal to British audiences, regardless of sincerity one way or the other, probably is the same. Donne's poetry, Carew goes on to tell us, gains its strength from the immediacy of its visual reality. Through the eye the heart is made liquid. "Sense might judge, what phansie could not reach" is part of an elaboration on this visual power. Sense is imagery not simply taken as imagery but felt as if by the senses. It is fancy accepted as fact. In the reader this acceptance must take place regardless of whether he knows that transformation is involved. It is Donne's "Giant phansie" changed in the audience into giant sense that gives the feeling of reality which, in turn, adds to the impression of sincerity. The conspicuous irrelevance, to borrow a term from Harry Berger, Jr., of the title, and the irony of form of the last line enclose the poem in contradictions, confirm it in its dominant mode. The piece is not, as the title implies, primarily about the death of the Dean of Paul's and only incidentally about the poet John Donne, here rendered distant from the poetic audience by the title of doctor. That such titles and church offices are dry as dust is immediately adduced in the passage on the "uncisor'd Churchman" who will speak at Donne's graveside and in the reference to the pulpit with "her plaine / And sober Christian precepts." The poem's title is pointedly the reverse of descriptive and the last line is simply one more instance of contradiction between stated criteria and practice. The poem says it abhors classical precedent but ends with an echo of a common and respected classical form, chiasmus, "Apollo's first, and last, the true Gods Priest."

Although the poems mentioned thus far in this essay do not by any means exhaust Carew's thinking on death or artificiality in language in poetry, they do, with one exception, cover what he has to say about the deaths of specific people. The remaining poem, that written in reply to Aurelian Townsend's letter on the death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus, starts out with praise for the fallen king, "His actions were too mighty to be rais'd / Higher by Verse," but it rapidly turns against that subject and even, as Louis Martz has observed, suggests that the king's wars are not admirable.24 He might as well be buried in Germany rather than Sweden, since he has turned Germany into a graveyard. The poem goes on to expatiate on the place of art in a peaceful society and ignores Gustavus Adolphus for the remainder of its length. Carew's vision in this poem is, as Earl Miner tells us, one which depicts a good king presiding over the vita beata.25 This, the last of the funerary poems in Poems of 1640, is, finally, what Carew has sometimes claimed in pieces which precede it. It is a mortuary poem which is not a mortuary poem.

Lionel Trilling and Henri Peyre, each quoted earlier in this essay, come to opposite conclusions about the course of sincerity in literature. Peyre believes that sincerity in the twentieth century is "a proud and royal way," that what in earlier literature was bypath is now main highway.26 To Trilling the obvious ridiculousness of statements that imply reference to authorial earnestness make the current era one in which sincerity is no longer a viable standard.27 Taken together, the two positions evoke a strong pair of emotions which coexist in many scholars today, love for and hatred of sincerity as a critical standard. Simultaneously we want to embrace what has been called "presence," the direct and unadulterated emanations of another human being, and to reject as illusory such contact. We desire complete sincerity while skeptically denying that any sort of sincerity either is possible or makes sense as a concept. It is true that many scholars don't hold much with the quiddities of any theory which would "deconstruct" individual consciousness. Still, these scholars might find themselves a little embarassed by the excesses of writers too fully committed to expression of Wordsworth's "essential passions of the heart." Perhaps one of the strengths of the poetry of G. M. Hopkins is that he can take us so close to the edge of maudlin and unconvincing sentimentality in, say, "Binsey Poplars," and not ask us to descend into it. Sincerity has distinct limits as a criterion. But there are only a few critics, perhaps Paul de Man the most notable among them, who would go so far as to reject it altogether. If it is an illusion, it is persistent, strong, and, I would say, indispensable.

Notes

1Henry Peyre, Literature and Sincerity (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), p. 1.

2Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), p. 2.

3Ruth Wallerstein, Studies in the Seventeenth-Century Poetic (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1950), p. 26.

4Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1981), p. 105.

5Peyre, p. 312.

6Margaret Ferguson, "Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller: The 'Newes of the Maker' Game," ELR 11 (Spring 1981):165ff.

7John Fisher, The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977), p. 543.

8William L. Renwick, Edmund Spenser, An Essay on Renaissance Poetry (London: E. Arnold, 1925), p. 63, rpt. in The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw et al., 11 vols., The Minor Poems (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943), 1:432.

9F. R. Leavis places Carew above Herrick in stature. Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (New York: George W. Stewart, 1947), p. 36.

10Lynn Sadler, Thomas Carew (Boston: Twayne, 1979), p. 125.

11G. A. E. Parfitt, "The Poetry of Thomas Carew," RMS 12 (1968):57.

12See The Poems of Thomas Carew, ed. Rhodes Dunlap (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), p. 248, hereafter referred to as Dunlap. All quotation from Carew in the present essay follows this edition. References are given by page number.

13Thomas Cain, Praise in "The Faerie Queene" (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1878), p. 6.

14Dunlap, p. 244.

15Dunlap, p. 223.

16Exod. 28:41.

17Leavis, p. 38. See also Rufus A. Blanshard, "Carew and Jonson," SP 52 (April 1955):207.

18Dunlap, p. 240.

19Sadler, p. 125.

20Rufus Blanshard, p. 195; Lynn Sadler, p. 87; and Louis L. Martz, The Wit of Love (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1969), p. 98. Martz, however, recognizes the irony of the poem and points out that "Carew well knows that he himself is a writer of 'soft melting Phrases,'" p. 99.

21Edward I. Selig, The Flourishing Wreath (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1958), p. 165.

22Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1982), p. 45.

23Ernst R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard B. Trask, Bollingen Series 36 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), p. 159.

24Martz, p. 78.

25Earl R. Miner, The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 83-84.

26Peyre, p. 306.

27Trilling suggests that Leavis's standard of seriousness is "engagingly archaic," p. 6.

Source: James Fitzmaurice, "Carew's Funerary Poetry and the Paradox of Sincerity," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 127-44.


   
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