"King James said Dr Donne's verses were like ye peace of God they passed all understanding."
Is John Donne a twentieth-century invention? Donne stands next to Shakespeare among Renaissance or Early Modern writers in the importance and attention which this century has accorded him. Yet Donne himself, while properly and intensely concerned for his soul, manifests little concern for the afterlife of his writing. What follows investigates seventeenth-century views of Donne the poet, and in particular those of Donne's exact contemporary Ben Jonson and of Donne's finest elegist, Thomas Carew. Special attention is given to Jonson's and Carew's predictions regarding the likely fate of Donne's poetry when subject to the test of time as a means to question the extent and adequacy of our century's claims to understand John Donne.
Unlike Donne, Ben Jonson does not take the Barthesian news of the death of the author lying down. Quite literally so, since he is buried upright in Westminster Abbey. Funerary idiosyncrasies apart--if John Donne was "much possessed by death," then Ben Jonson was much exercised by the possibilities of posterity. Although anarchic, comedic impulses produce complicating and enriching eruptions everywhere in his work, Jonson, as is commonly recognized, is a deeply conservative and "authoritarian" writer, the great maker of catalogues and inventories, a preserver. Thus at a time when the ownership and the interpretation of literature are both fraught and fluid issues, Jonson strives to exercise exceptional control over the life and meaning of his writings. Jonson's plays are typically hedged around by prefaces, inductions, and epilogues in which Jonson seeks further to direct his readers' and audiences' understanding. Tangible evidence of this desire to retain authorial control appeared in 1616 with the publication of the folio of Workes--a project which Jonson himself is usually supposed to have overseen in some detail. These Workes, of course, include the ephemera of the theater, "but Plaies," as Suckling has it, now audaciously invested by their author with greater permanence and status. (Jonson had, after all, very immediate experience of the material vulnerability of his writings to the ruinous and "Greedie flame" of Vulcan, as fire "ravish'd" so much of his lifetime's work in "a minutes rage.") As death approached, Jonson took his characteristic care in passing his writings to Sir Kenelm Digby, his literary executor.
Because Jonson was a professional writer, and writing was thus a large and important part of his identity, it is unsurprising that one manifestation of Jonson's concern for posterity should focus on the fathering of a whole tribe of literary sons. It is unsur-prising, too, that the literal role of a father, all of whose sons sadly were to predecease him, should coalesce with the life of writing to produce, in the submerged pun on making in "On My First Sonne," Jonson's most moving conceit: "here doth lye / BEN. JONSON his best piece of poetrie." Jonson's highest praise of Shakespeare, or of an idealized Shakespeare, in the literary elegy which itself fathers all the poems discussed here, is again characteristically concerned with time. Moreover, such praise should not be mistaken for, nor denigrated as, the bland complacency of essentialist, ahistorical humanism: "He was not of an age, but for all time!" has a rare exclamation mark on it, which it well deserves. The concern to stand the test of time is entirely characteristic of Jonson and Jonsonian values, but here it is also an extraordinary, aggressive, almost defiant claim made on behalf of a writer who, however great, was only now, as Jonson writes, embarking on time's trials. Hindsight, in this case, is unwise in its underreading of Jonson's praise.
Moreover, it is only comparatively recently that we have again been reminded, specifically in the work of Harold Bloom and in thinking about intertextuality, that literary relations are neither a straightforward story of venerable traditions nor a rhythm of overthrows and originalities, but something altogether more mixed, messy, and fraught. Of necessity, perhaps, literary criticism has domesticated Harold Bloom's abstruse theories. For Bloom, the workings of influence are unconscious; influence is emphatically not overt nor explicit. Bloom himself is dismissive of "verbal resemblances." If for Bloom all poems are "necessarily about other poems," it is nevertheless the case that the poems which are my subject here--elegies expressly and overtly about the death of another poet--could not be further from Bloom's own interest and emphasis. Bloom's Freudian paradigm, with strong son unconsciously in combat with strong father, has only limited relevance for consideration of relations between poets of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Bloom's notion of the anxiety of influence, like Walter Jackson Bate's "burden of the past," is, after all, historicized, albeit impressionistically so in Bloom's case, with the real crisis coming only with the belatedness of Romanticism and after. Bloom's anxiety, moreover, may have a distinctively American and Emersonian cast and context. His model of creativity, while dialectical, is also highly individualistic; it takes less account of the larger literary landscape and is less suited to a period of negotiation between classical and vernacular literatures, a period in which the problem is not primarily one of "it all having been said before" but rather one of furthering the expressive and formal range of English in competition with other literatures. And, in the context of a literature so intimately and directly related to the life of the court, and to the politics (in the narrow-est and immediate sense) of the nation, terms derived from Bloom's Freudian family should not too easily displace another arena which, as the poets themselves knew, readily supplies notions of power, anxiety, and struggle to illuminate the poetic process and the politics of poetic relations: Carew, after all, is to describe Donne as a poetic Charles I, "a King, that rul'd as hee thought fit / The universall Monarchy of wit." For these poets, the life of politics proper cuts across the life of the poetic family. Poetry in this period--as Arthur Marotti has shown, albeit reductively on occasion--is rarely an end in itself but often also a means to social advancement, and political rather than literary patronage. Literary hierarchies mesh with social and political hierarchies in mutually complicating ways.
And there are more struggles in the Freudian family than that between father and son. Notoriously Bloom's Oedipal poetic struggle is an exclusively masculine affair. Moreover, while there is much talk here of the "sons of Ben," this is also a period of literary brothers--Shakespeare and Jonson in the theater, the poets Jonson and John Donne, both born in London in the same year. A cynical, Bloomianly devious reading of Jonson's "To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR Mr. William Shakespeare: And what he hath left us" might find there Jonsonian legerdemain which transforms the elder-born Shakespeare, now dead, into an aftercomer: thus Jonson's poem prefaces the belated Shakespeare Folio of 1623, alerting readers to Jonson's own folio of Workes of 1616 which stands as the precursor of, and model for, this present Shakespearean volume. Jonson's poem itself, transforming and reversing Jonson's often repeated criticism of Shakespeare--that he "wanted Arte"--into a didactic celebration of art, of the hard work of revision, of striking the "second heat / Upon the Muses anvile"--famously has denied to its interpreters any agreement in respect of its tone, its attitude, or, indeed, its true subject matter. Is Jonson's poem truly about Shakespeare? Or an idealized Shakespeare? Or, more generally, about the ideal of the poet? Or about Ben Jonson himself?. Time too changes our orientation to Jonson's poem: our contemporary Shakespeare, Shakespeare the reviser, sits more comfortably with the image in Jonson's poem than did our Shakespearean image of twenty or thirty years ago. As Lawrence Lipking has quite brilliantly shown, strange things happen when one poet writes about the death of a near-contemporary: such poems may form "the heart of literary history," but they are poems in which interests clash and "respect and animus contend." In particular, these poems have been identified as a "major form of criticism" in the early seventeenth century and defined as a minor genre, "the critical elegy," where the elegy's conventions of lament, praise, and consolation have been turned to specific literary-critical ends. And like similar poems in other periods, these "critical elegies" afford only difficult "mixed messages." It is uncontroversial to see Jonson's poem on Shakespeare as the father of this tradition.
One such critical elegy on John Donne, by Sir Lucius Cary, suggested that William Laud should have preached Donne's funeral sermon and that Ben Jonson should have written Donne's elegy. Neither Laud nor Jonson did so, and there is no significance in that. (Although there is a suggestive significance, as others among Donne's elegists recognized, in the fact that Donne seemed to preach his own funeral sermon.) While silent on the occasion of Donne's death, Jonson had much to say on other occasions. And Jonson's relation to his poetic brother John Donne proves no less complex than Jonson's relationship with Shakespeare. Much brotherly affection and admiration were expressed, both formally and in conversation, both privately and in more public forms. Yet Jonson's poems on Donne have proved uncharacteristically obscure. Jonson's censure of Donne becomes more overt in the comments Jonson made to William Drummond (if Drummond's recall may be trusted). "[H] e esteemeth John Done the first poet in the World in some things" is doubly and self-evidently equivocal, both in the phrase, "in some things," and in the intended meaning of "first," where the emphasis may fall on time or rank or both. More obviously and emphatically negative (and casually violent) are the declarations that "Done for not keeping of accent deserved hanging" and that "Done himself for not being understood would perish."
One further strand of Jonson's censure of Donne may be found in Timber:
Others, that in composition are nothing, but what is rough and broken: Que per salebras altaque saxa cadunt. And if it would come gently, they trouble it of purpose. They would not have it run without rubs, as if that stile were more strong and manly, that stroke the eare with a kind of uneven<n>esse. These men erre not by chance, but knowingly, and willingly; they are like men that affect a fashion by themselves, have some singularity in a Ruffe, Cloake, or Hat-band; or their beards, specially cut to provoke beholders, and set a marke upon themselves. They would be reprehended, while they are look'd on. And this vice, one that is in authority with the rest, loving, delivers over to them to bee imitated: so that oft-times the faults which he fell into, the others seeke for: This is the danger, when vice becomes a Precedent.
Here Donne is not named, and Jonson's editors have proposed "Marston's early style before Jonson purged it in Poetaster" as the primary target. But Algernon Swinburne, admittedly an uneven critic of Jonson, was first to suggest that Jonson was thinking of Donne here, and the Oxford editor thinks it a suggestion worth preserving. But perhaps the greater authority for this identification lies in the coinciding here of the terms of Jonson's hostile description with those characterizations of Donne's "masculine," stout, and stubborn style to be found in the elegies by Carew and others. Jonson's digression into matters of outre and exclusive fashion--his concern with what fits and is fit, and how fashion makes often unfitting transition from one wearer to the next--finds some kind of parallel in the defiant rhyme of "fit" and "wit" which echoes throughout the elegies on Donne, occurring twice in Carew's poem itself. And, as if to confirm Jonson's anxieties, doubts about Donne's influence were to find in Jonson's namesake a powerful authority who, in "The Life of Cowley," was certainly to provide a weighty body of specific evidence of metaphysical obscurities--obscurities the fitness of which subsequent critics have always found difficult to justify. It would seem that if Jonson, much exercised by the possibilities of posterity, despairs of Donne's survival, then Jonson the poetic patriarch yet might be more fearful of Donne's influence. John Donne should not be imitated.
So much aggression and rivalry between Jonson and Donne have found a critic, Roger B. Rollin, prepared to translate Bloomian anxiety of influence, by way of Melanie Klein, into "artistic sibling rivalry," an anxiety not of influence but of identification. And what we know of Jonson--Rollin portrays him as a "great creative egotist"--lends great plausibility to such an explanation. But there is of course an alternative possibility--the possibility that Ben Jonson is simply right about John Donne.
Posterity, looking back to the seventeenth century to construct a critical heritage for Donne, has tended to disregard or downplay the difficulties of Jonson's view of his contemporary in favor of Thomas Carew's seemingly unequivocal praise of Donne. Yet Carew's "Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne" cannot be extricated from Jonsonian values: if Carew's subject matter is John Donne, then his form and genre are Jonsonian, and, on reflection, it thus seems unlikely that Carew's positive evaluation of Donne can be set in any straightforward opposition to Jonsonian doubts. Indeed, Carew's elegy pours Donnean wine into aJonsonian bottle, pleasing two literary fathers and yet securing independence from both. A wonderful yet still obscure poem, it remains one of the great documents of Donne criticism, and a document which itself has increasingly attracted commentary and interpretation. But, insofar as there is a consensus about the interpretation of Carew's poem, it is a consensus confined to fragments, lines, images: the poem's larger argument and larger significance remain controversial, provoking varying, often contradictory emphases in its interpreters and contextualizers. Thus Sidney Gottlieb rightly notes Carew's local accuracy, his "convincing way of fixing Donne in formulated phrases ... [which] remain the almost inescapable terms of Donne's poetic legacy": the "holy Rapes" committed "upon our Will"; "the deepe knowledge of darke truths"; the "line / Of masculine expression"; the "imperious wit"; the "universall Monarchy of wit." And the kinds of conceit deployed by Carew are also persuasively right: the scorching flash of lightning in the dark, the heart distilled through the eye, the "Mine / Of rich and pregnant phansie" (lines 37-8)-all insist on a writer who suddenly and startlingly illuminates the deep and dark, the far from obvious--in contrast perhaps to T. S. Eliot's Ben Jonson as the poet "of the surface" (although this may be to misappropriate Eliot's difficult description). Moreover, "mirror technique" is a common feature in the critical elegy of the early seventeenth century, and in parts, Carew's poem brilliantly mimics the characteristic movement of Donnean verse. The audaciously elaborated and audaciously controlled parenthesis, for example--
But the flame
Of thy brave Soule, (that shot such heat and light,
As burnt our earth, and made our darknesse bright,
Committed holy Rapes upon our Will,
Did through the eye the melting heart distill;
And the deepe knowledge of darke truths so teach,
As sense might judge, what phansie could not reach;)
Must be desir'd for ever.
And, most famously, perhaps--
Since to the awe of thy imperious wit
Our stubborne language bends, made only fit
With her tough-thick-rib'd hoopes to gird about
Thy Giant phansie, which had prov'd too stout
For their soft-melting Phrases.
(Even here, the precise nature of the images or conceits, unannotated by the poem's various editors. remains, to this reader at least, less than obvious. Such conceits move into one another with a Donnean fluidity and rapidity which contribute to the obscurity: the individual word "bends," for example, shifts or bends its own meaning as it slides from the submissive bow of an imperial court into an entirely other metaphorical space, a new space occupied by "tough-thick-rib'd hoopes" girding fancy, but a space which I, for one, should be reluctant to specify.)
Beyond these local, although admittedly cumulative, insights and effects, Carew's elegy proves difficult. It has prompted a deal of critical tail chasing, but its own wit threatens to render the critics, despite the Chinese box of paradoxes they describe, leaden-footed. Such an elegy is, of course, highly conventional, but conventions--unless, as seems unlikely here, they are deployed indiscriminately--are in their particular expression, in their inclusion or omission, and in their arrangement together, richly expressive. Told to contextualize, historicize, and politicize, literary critics have done so in respect to this particular poem--with differing, at times opposed, results. And it can seem that the more context, the less of an already elusive John Donne. But however literature and literary values may be at present suspect and supplanted by history and politics, there remain, in these critical disagreements, underlying and disabling literary assumptions-assumptions which neither Carew nor indeed Donne himself need have shared--that Donne is a classic; that he withstands the test of time; that he is influential; that, though difficult, he is intelligible.
For the critics there are specific areas of contention arising from Carew's poem. But such areas intertwine. There is the difficulty in reconciling the Carew of the Donne elegy with the Carew who wrote--at much the same time--"To Ben. Johnson. Upon occasion of his Ode of defiance annext to his Play of the new Inne." Though locally and immediately critical of Jonson's intemperate reaction to The New Inn's hostile reception, Carew's poem is more broadly and emphatically admiring of Jonson. And when Carew's admiration of Jonson is put alongside Carew's admiration of Donne these two poems are held, by some critics, to reflect "contradictory literary ideals." Carew advises Jonson to look to posterity, to ignore the disdain of the present "sotted Age" and to trust to the praise of "after dayes." And Carew justifies Jonson's classical borrowings as martial triumph:
and if thou overcome
A knottie writer, bring the bootie home;
Nor thinke it theft, if the rich spoyles so torne
From conquered Authors, be as Trophies worne.
In contrast, of course, Carew praises Donne's exiling of the "traine / Of gods and goddesses," his silencing of the "tales o' th' Metamorphoses," and, more broadly, his rejection of "imitation" in favor of "invention." Donne
The debts of our penurious bankrupt age;
Licentious thefts, that make poetique rage
A Mimique fury, when our soules must bee
Possest, or with Anacreons Extasie,
Or Pindars, not their owne ... 
In thrall to Greenblattian notions of self-fashioning, RenEe Hannaford finds contradiction between Carew's Donne and Carew's Jonson, but is untroubled by it, ascribing the divergence to Carew's "fragmentation of self," his "modification of identity or role-playing."
But other critics have remained worried by Carew's attitudes to Greek and Latin authors, and by the more general problem of imitation. Typically they locate tensions between what Carew says and what Carew does in his elegy on Donne but rationalize such paradoxes differently. In the poem, Carew states, more than once, that Donne cannot be imitated, and thus, overtly at least, deprives readers of the consolation of an after-life for Donne's influence: there is none of the customary reassurance, in this respect, that the mourned author is not really dead. Yet, in the course of his poem, Carew does imitate Donne. For Michael P. Parker, Carew's assertion is refuted by his practice. Picking up the theological strand in the poem's language ("whatsoever wrong / ... was done ... / Thou hast redeem'd ... "), Parker argues:
Carew suggests that Donne, like Christ, embodies an ideal that can be approached but not perfectly attained. Like the imitatio Christi, the imitation of Donne must necessarily be partial. And in good Pauline fashion, Carew and his fellow Carolines are imperfect disciples, able to recognize the genius of Donne but unable to match it.
And this familiar but somewhat old-fashioned resort to theology on the part of the scholar of Renaissance literature thus allows Parker to argue that "Carew ... transmutes imitatio into consolatio to assure the reader that Donne lives on." More persuasively perhaps, Parker sees Henry King's elegy "To the Memorie of my Ever Desired Friend Dr Donne," published prior to Carew's poem but probably written after it, as "a response to Carew's poem and a refutation of it." Certainly King seems to echo Carew, insisting on Donne's unique and inimitable poetic nature. But, unlike Carew, King himself eschews anything which might appear to be imitation. Parker gives what might seem a reductive biographical explanation of King's diffidence--"King ... seems to have been unusually given to self-deprecation." And, for Parker, King reverses much of Carew's images and arguments, castigating and correcting Carew's "impiety" in venturing to imitate Donne and thus to break the silence that should attend on Donne's death. "Yet," argues Parker,
[King's] strategy is inherently paradoxical. In asserting Donne's inimitability, King is forced to fall back on Carew's imitation of Donne to make the assertion. In capturing his opponent's guns in order to turn them against him, King implicitly admits the excellence of Carew's artillery; blame becomes an indirect form of praise.
But this kind of paradoxical twist can operate nearer to home, on Carew himself and with opposite results. Joshua Scodel, in his excellent study of The English Poetic Epitaph, offers an account of Carew's poem even more vertiginous than Parker's:
Carew ... demonstrates his ability to praise Donne in a Donnean style even as he protests that he cannot adequately praise the deceased. Yet because Carew stresses Donne's rejection of imitation in favor of "fresh invention," his imitation of Donne paradoxically underscores his mournful distance from the absent Donne, the great original. Indeed Carew's simultaneous imitation and praise reveals his quite un-Donnean, Jonsonian neoclassicism, since the model for his strategy is Horace's panegyric imitation of the great original poet Pindar, whom Horace imitates in the course of claiming inimitable (Ode 4.2.1-27). Carew's Horatian stance toward Donne is highly ironic: Carew praises Donne for not having a "Mimique fury" that would merely borrow "Anacreons Extasie, / Or Pindars," but Carew himself self-consciously does "worse" than imitate such Greek originals, since he himself imitates neither Anacreon nor Pindar but the Latin imitator of both Greek poets, Horace. In the elegy Carew is twice removed from the original invention he seeks to capture. The elegy thus wittily reveals that imitation of Donne can only lead to a highly successful enactment of poetic defeat.
For Parker, imitation overrides Carew's assertions of inconsolability and affords consolation; for Scodel, imitation merely confirms and deepens those very same assertions.
Finally, although poetry of the seventeenth century thrives on paradox, and in spite of Stanley Fish's arguments for self-consuming artifacts, it is worth wondering whether this particular form of paradoxicality, where an assertion undermines itself in the very act of its making, does not belong more persuasively to our Derridean, deconstructive critical moment than to the poetic moment of Carew's poem.
When we shift from literature to politics, and when Carew's poem has been recast in political terms, mixed messages remain. Historians such as Kevin Sharpe are right to caution against too monolithic a notion of the "Cavalier," and against the retrospective construction of the political sympathies of poets, some of whom, including Carew, "died before the first blood had been spilled in the English civil war."42 Reinforcing this caution, John Kerrigan has demonstrated how, in the 1620s, the writings of the "Cavalier" Carew were on occasion associated with families who "[c]ulturally ... belonged to that fraction of the gentry which could favour, in the 1640s, insurrection," and Kerrigan has insisted "[t] hat Carew and his writings enjoyed such a variety of connections does not raise him above the conflicts of his age, but it reminds us how complex they were." Critics' political contextualizations of Carew's elegy on Donne may not be adequate to that complexity. Carew's elegy is undeniably rich in the language of contemporary politics--from "crowne" in its third line through Donne's "imperious wit" and "strict lawes" which others will "repeale" (lines 3, 49, 61, and 63), Donne's "just raigne" in which some are "banish'd" and others "silenc'd" (lines 64-6), to the "universall Monarchy" of the poem's concluding epitaph (line 96). Picking up on such political language, Joshua Scodel thus argues that by the end of Carew's poem, Donne's words and example have already been, in Auden's phrase, "modified in the guts of the living": Donne is finally subsumed by Carew's concluding epitaph in a "polemicization of the dead" which serves as an endorsement of Charles I's personal reign. Donne and Charles both rule as they think "fit" (line 95)--and not as their critics would have it, as they please, Donne is identified as one of the "Flamens" (line 97), a priest rather than a minister, and moreover, in the original Roman context, a priest who was an officer of state ritual. And yet this unequivocal pro-court reading sits uneasily with a poem which itself transgresses the "strict lawes" of the poet-king who is, at least, its ostensible subject. And another critic, Diana Benet, reverses Scodel's interpretation of the relation between Donne and Charles I in the poem, seeing the political monarch subordinated to a superior monarch of wit and locating in the poem covert political subversion. In transferring Charles I's principles, and the language and categories of the existing political and social orders to the monarchy of letters, Carew, Benet argues, does not flatter Charles but rather appropriates "the absolutist rhetoric of his kings to create a monarchy whose power surpasses theirs." She suggests that "since the kings' absolutist stance depends on their claims of being unique sources of authority, imitating them produces a challenge to, rather than an affirmation of, their rank and governance." And Benet's supporting evidence is biographical: she argues that poetic elitism, intellectual and aesthetic superiority, served Carew as compensation for "the inferiority others assumed for him in the social hierarchy" of the court.
Differing emphases, differing political and historical evidence and contexts yield, yet again, mixed, indeed, contradictory messages. Carew's elegy is not an overtly political poem--in the narrower sense--and it seems improbable that we are likely to reach much beyond a general sense of this complex poem's oblique relation to the complexities of its political context. Contexts often have less explanatory power than we are at present inclined to credit them with.
The simple if unfashionable approach is, then, to turn from context to text, to take Carew at his word--however conventionalized and apparently hyperbolic, yet however circumspect, qualified, and elusive Carew's words have proved to be. On such a reading, Carew's Donne coincides with Ben Jonson's Donne. For Jonson, Donne will not survive, and that is an indictment of Donne. For Carew, Donne will not survive, and that is an indictment of time and of language. For Jonson, Donne should not be imitated. For Carew, Donne cannot be imitated. Jonson's equivocating "first poet in the world in some things" and Jonson's fear that "vice becomes a Precedent" are answered by Carew's Donne, who "shalt yield no precedence, but of time, / And the blinde fate of language." Carew transforms Jonsonian censure into praise. Carew and Jonson see the same Donne but value him differently.
Above all, Jonson, the professional poet, prizes present and future understanding. We can infer that the "non-bookish" coterie poet who never had his Workes printed after Jonsonian fashion, and who once told Jonson that "he [Donne] wrott that Epitaph on Prince Henry ... to match Sir Ed: [ward] Herbert in obscurenesse," delights, on occasion at least, in obscurity. From this the elitist Carew seizes a Pyrrhic victory:
Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time,
And the blinde fate of language ...
Yet thou maist claime
From so great disadvantage greater fame.
(And it is worth noting, in passing, that "blinde fate" is itself an opaque and indeterminate phrase, defeating, for example, any recourse to the OED, the great linguistic work of historicized precision and authority, in an attempt to stabilize the phrase's meaning and illuminate its obscurity.)
In the course of his poem, Carew constructs a large scale historical narrative of past, present, and future in which Donne is celebrated precisely because he is the fleeting anomaly to be brushed aside by time. Prior to Donne:
As in time
They [the ancient poets] had the start, so did they cull the prime
Buds of invention many a hundred yeare,
And left the rifled fields.
From such "bare lands," John Donne "gleaned more / Than all those times, and tongues could reape before" (lines 57, 59-60). But the future, without Donne, will resume the pre-Donnean past: "But thou art gone, and thy strict laws will be / Too hard for Libertines in Poetrie" (lines 61-2). The gods and goddesses will be repealed, lines and pages will stuff and swell, verse will (re)turn ballad rhyme, and "old Idolls bee / Ador'd againe" (lines 69-70). Indeed, as critics familiarly note, the muses, the "Delphique quire," the Metamorphoses, Orpheus, and Apollo have already begun to encroach on this very elegy: Carew's poem enacts its own prediction.
At times Carew's praise of Donne advances to wonder and teeters on the edge of regret or even rebuke, as words like "dispense" and "tyre" play through diverse meanings and implications:
Have we no voice, no tune? Did'st thou dispense
Through all our language, both the words and sense?
'Tis a sad truth ...
Though every pen should share a distinct part,
Yet art thou Theme enough to tyre all Art.
Yet, in this poem, Carew creates a space for himself from which to praise but not necessarily to endorse. A play of mind is at work here securing a distancing and independence, particularly by way of adjectival interventions which open up possibilities of exceptions, alternatives, even reservations. Orpheus is "good / Old Orpheus" and the gods and goddesses a "goodly exil'd traine" (lines 39-40, 63; emphasis added). Donne does not purge the Muses' garden, but purges it of "Pedantique weedes" (line 25). Invention does not supplant imitation: rather "servile imitation" is rejected in favor of "fresh invention" (lines 27, 28; emphasis added). Donne does not redeem all thefts and borrowings from Greek and Latin--only " icentious thefts" (line 30). And so Ben Jonson goes innocently and triumphantly home bearing "rich spoyles" from "conquered" classical authors: literary licentiousness is not a crime of which Ben Jonson could ever stand justly accused. Careful readings of "An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne" and "To BEN JOHNSON. Upon occasion of his Ode of defiance annext to his Play of the new Inne" do not suggest that Carew's two poems contradict one another as readily as is sometimes supposed.
Insofar as Donne is imitated in Carew's elegy, it is imitation locally controlled and confined. It is valedictory imitation and reveals Donne's influence growing feeble by the poem's close, as the conceit of the turning wheel explains and justifies:
Oh, pardon mee, that breake with untun'd verse
The reverend silence that attends thy herse,
Whose awfull solerune murmures were to thee
More then these faint lines, A loud Elegie,
That did proclaime in a dumbe eloquence
The death of all the Arts, whose influence
Growne feeble, in these panting numbers lies
Gasping short winded Accents, and so dies:
So doth the swiftly turning wheele not stand
In th'instant we withdraw the moving hand,
But some small time maintaine a faint weake course
By vertue of the first impulsive force.
By the end of the poem, the Donnean voice has gone, and that rhyme of "fit" and "wit," first impelled into the middle of the elegy in forceful run-on lines of Donnean masculine strength, has resettied, with greater poetic propriety, in the closed couplets of the epitaph:
Here lies a King, that rul'd as hee thought fit
The universall Monarchy of wit;
Here lie two Flamens, and both those, the best,
Apollo's first, at last, the true Gods Priest.
Other elegies provide us with a literary-historical context in which to test such a reading of Carew's elegy--to some degree. The quality of the elegies written on Ben Jonson and John Donne is decidedly variable, and here, on occasion, the conventions of the highly conventional elegiac form are deployed indiscriminately and bizarrely. Yet some broad distinctions may be tentatively drawn. The very title of the book of Jonsonian elegies, Jonsonus Virbius (1638), which bears the name given to Hyppolytus when restored to life after his murder, insists on Jonson's literary immortality. And in Jonsonus Virbius the sons of Ben flowed with a facility that should perhaps, on occasion, have been stopped. Presumably too late for his poem's inclusion in this elegiac volume, Sir Thomas Salusbury wondered
Shall I alone spare paper? in an age
When euerie pen shedds inke, to swell a page
In Johnsons Elegies ... 
A more satirical edge emerges as Clement Paman writes "Upon Elegies to Ben. Johnsons memory":
The Grave is now a favourite, we see,
All verse waites on the rise of Elegie
Who now in her late Empire scornes to looke
Through one poor page or Poem, but a Booke.
She's now voluminous, A whole Churchyard,
Wch tother day was one small stone or sheard,
Death's not more comon now then she, who growes
So vulgar, shortly we sha'nt dye in prose.
Viewing the prolix "vulgarity" of the elegies on Jonson, we are remote from the elite obscurity of Donne, whose death had barely left "dowebak't prose" (Carew, "Elegy," line 4).
After death, Jonson proves universal and ubiquitous in loquacious verse far from the singularity of Donne's poetic kingdom. Jonson echoes and re-echoes in the long line of his own elegies: "His wit and language still remaine the same / In all mens mouths ..." Individual writers recognize that they are joining a "Quire," that silence is near impossible, and that poetic prolixity is virtually inevitable: "what Muse can silent be, / Or little say, that hath for Subject, Thee." And "Who ever shall reherse / Ben: Jonson; cannot chuse but make a verse." There is nothing to fear since nothing can go wrong:
Let not our Poets feare to write of thee,
Great JOHNSON ...
Nor thinke what ere they write on such a name,
Can be amisse ...
Sidney Godolphin puts it in verse finer than most, verse in which Jonson's sociable influence shines lucidly with a superlative light very different from the scorching heat of the Donnean lightning which "made our darknesse bright":
The Muses fairest light in no darke time,
The Wonder of a learned Age, the Line
Which none can passe; the most proportion'd Witt
To Nature, the best Judge of what was fit;
The deepest, plainest, highest, cleerest PEN;
The Voice most eccho'd by consenting Men.
Donne's elegists, much fewer in number than Jonson's, are, by contrast, not having an easy time of it. Typically, as the editor of The Critical Heritage observes, the faint line of Donneans are more comfortable with Donne the divine than with Donne the poet. The great majority of their elegies are given over, almost exclusively, to what they present as the impossibility of the task. Some turn away from Donne entirely to attack other poets and other readers. Some are too fearful to be comfortable at all: "Who then shall write an Epitaph for thee, / He must be dead first, let'it alone for mee."
In contrast to the Jonsonians' fluency, so many of the Donneans--including again Godolphin--wonder about how to begin, self-consciously puzzling the occasion and terms of their poetic engagement in ways that go back to Jonson's parent elegy on Shakespeare, a poem which announces its own beginning only in its seventeenth line. And these poets often manage little more than a beginning and make little logical progress beyond a recognition of their own incapacity. Even their titles insist self-defeatingly that Donne is "ever desired," "incomparable."
There may be implications here, which I shall adumbrate, for the history of Donne's reception and for twentieth-century Donne. Jonson, as we have seen, is the great poet concerned with posterity, concerned to survive and to ensure a continuity of understanding of his works over a great stretch of time. In contrast, seventeenth-century views of Donne, whether favorable or hostile, do not share Jonson's concerns, and indeed, at their wittiest, turn Jonsonian values on their head to present Donne's elite obscurity and the irrelevance, for Donne, of the test of time as signs of Donne's finest triumph. To reformulate the distinction in the light of one recent influential, if extreme, strand of critical theory: the Jonsonian text, it seems, continues stubbornly to assert its presence in the class, but can we say the same of Donne? Here the birth of so many Donnean readers may well be at the cost of the death of the author. The extraordinary proliferation of diverse Donnean interpretations emerging from the academy in this century appears to support rather than to contradict Stanley Fish's ideas that interpretations are entirely the product of readers, and, more precisely, of "interpretive communities." And, for some readers, reluctant to "stop worrying" and capitulate to Fish's joyously cynical interpretative prolixity, this state of affairs may raise the specter that our fulsome understandings of Donne are, to a greater or lesser extent, illusory.
The recent publication of both T. S. Eliot's The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry (Eliot's Clark and Turnbull Lectures) and William Empson's Donne and the New Philosophy is a timely reminder that Donne's present canonical status is owed to the yoking together of some magisterial but controversial editing with two of the most brilliant, but also the most idiosyncratic and inimitable, critics of this century. In his recent book, Misrepresentations, Graham Bradshaw puts it succinctly:
in this literary terrain we use something that is still recognizably the alternative mapping provided in Eliot's essay [in contrast, that is, to Dr. Johnson's map]. We may read Donne, George Herbert, and Marvell in un-Eliotic ways, but we read these poets rather than Cowley, Denham, and Waller; if and when we do read Cowley we remain unshaken in our belief that it is more important to read Donne.
But where does that leave us?
This century Donne has received an extraordinary amount of critical attention. J. B. Leishman sought to place the monarch of wit in the context of his own sources and influences. Wilbur Sanders had Donne keep psychological company with the likes of Henry James and D. H. Lawrence in a study which present criticism, politically self-conscious but psychologically impoverished, may be too quick to dismiss. Donne has been portrayed as the egotistical elitist among the masses, as the coterie poet on the make, and so on ...
Yet Donne has never been comprehended in anything approaching the fullest sense. His place in history of literary appreciation--despite the arguments of Joseph Duncan and Kathleen Tillotson for a much more continuous history--is intermittent and unstable, as has been our understanding of his work and of each of his individual works. I am not here engaging primarily in the larger theoretical and general arguments about canon formation, or about hermeneutics and interpretation, but seeking to make a particular point about Donne. Thomas Docherty, in his John Donne, Undone, published in 1986, uncovered an unintelligible Donne, "releas[ing] Donne's texts into their full obscurity." But Docherty's theory-led approach, at once too powerful and too undiscriminating, could be and has been deployed, with minor adjustments, to undo any writer. Theory matters and is inescapable, but its being brought to bear on an individual writer can too easily constitute a mismatch, preempting and overriding attentiveness to the stubbornly particular and distinctive. Another critic, Judith Scherer Herz, has written refreshingly of Donne's difficulty, describing the "problem of how to assess the poem's language, of what to hear in a line" and suggesting that the reader "takes ... solace in the fragment, for the poems as a whole do not often create [a] resting place for the imagination." But, intimidated both by Donne's reputation and by criticism's professional need to master its subjects, even Herz rushes to rationalize, to justify, to explain and to explain away what she notices: thus she is too quick to reassure us that what she describes is intentional, a Baroque effect, instability and dislocation being not accidents but ends.
In a quite another context, Gillian Beer surprised critics with the reminder that readers often "choose to cease reading" and that many books remain unfinished, half-read. In the case of Donne, criticism needs to relearn the least fashionable of lessons, a lesson which is indeed anathema to the academy--to relearn the humility which admits the varying and variable limits of its own understandings: the particular Donne poem which seemed lucid twenty years ago no longer does so; a particularly obscure line becomes, for the moment, clearer. For us, both censure and praise seem premature. The suggestion may seem a step backwards, but it may be a way to be more adequate to the poet whom Ben Jonson feared would perish, and to the poet who himself "doubt[ed] wisely" and who declared in The First Anniversarie that his literary endeavors were undeterred by "incomprehensiblenesse."
The epigraph is from Thomas Plume's notebook, quoted in John Donne: The Critical Heritage, ed. A. J. Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 74-5. The king in question is, of course, James VI and I. There is some doubt that the remark was made of Donne--Francis Bacon has also been proposed.
As the story goes, Jonson could not afford the six feet required for burial in the usual fashion and so asked the dean of Westminster for two feet by two feet. The request was granted. See Jesse Franklin Bradley and Joseph Quincy Adams, The Jonson Allusion-Book: A Collection of Allusions to Ben Jonson from 1597 to 1700 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1922), pp. 195-6. The information office of Westminster Abbey informs me that in 1849 the clerk of works there found evidence of Jonson's upright burial while excavating an adjacent tomb.
See Richard C. Newton, "Jonson and the (Re-)Invention of the Book," in Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1982), pp. 31-55; and Jennifer Brady and W. H. Herendeen, eds., Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1991).
John Suckling, "'The Wits' or 'A Sessions of the Poets,'" The Non-Dramatic Works, vol. 1 of The Works of Sir John Suckling, ed. Thomas Clayton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 71-6, line 20. Quotes from seventeenth-century poetry in this essay preserve original spelling and typography where possible; in the interests of clarity, however, the use of i, j, v, and u has been modernized.
Ben Jonson, "An Execration upon Vulcan," in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford, Percy Simpson, and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925-52), 8:202-12, lines 3 and 56.
Jonson, "On My First Sonne," in Ben Jonson, 8:41, lines 9-10.
Jonson, "To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR Mr. William Shakespeare: And what he hath left us," in Ben Jonson, 8:390-2, line 43.
Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975), p. 19.
Bloom, p. 18. For elaboration of the view of Bloom suggested here see my "Anxiety of Criticism: Jonathan Bate on Shakespeare and the Romantics," KSMB 5 (Autumn 1990): 105-17.
Thomas Carew, "An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne," The Poems of Thomas Carew with His Masque "Coelum Britannicum," ed. Rhodes Dunlap (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), pp. 71-4, lines 95-6. Further references to the "Elegie" will appear parenthetically in the text.
See Arthur E Marotti, "John Donne and the Rewards of Patronage," in Patronage in the Renaissance, ed. Guy Fitch Lytle and Stephen Orgel (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 207-34; and Marotti, John Donne, Coterie Poet (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1986). On Marotti's reductiveness, see Joshua Scodel, The English Poetic Epitaph: Commemoration and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991), p. 126 n; and Graham Brad-shaw, Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 230-2.
"Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden," in Ben Jonson, 1:128-78, line 50.
Jonson, "To the memory of ... Shakespeare," lines 60-1.
See, for example, Gerald Hammond's recent vigorous defense of an unironic reading of Jonson's poem in Fleeting Things: English Poets and Poems, 1616-60 (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 146-53.
Lawrence Lipking, The Life of the Poet: Beginning and Ending Poetic Careers (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 138 and 140.
Avon Jack Murphy, "The Critical Elegy of Earlier Seventeenth-Century England," Genre 5, 1 (March 1972): 75-105, 93 and 76.
Sidney Gottlieb, "Elegies upon the Author: Defining, Defending, and Surviving Donne," JDJ2, 2 (1983): 23-38, 35.
Sir Lucius Cary, "An Elegie on Dr Donne," The Epithalamions, Anniversaries and Epicedes, ed. W. Milgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 91-3, lines 13-8. With the exception of the elegy by Thomas Carew, elegies on John Donne are quoted from this edition, pp. 81-107, hereafter EAE.
For a discussion of the difficulties of these poems, see Roger B. Rollin, "The Anxiety of Identification: Jonson and the Rival Poets," in Classic and Cavalier, pp. 139-54.
"Conversations with Drummond," lines 117-8.
"Conversations with Drummond," lines 48-9 and 196. For a defense of Donne's metrical practices, see Graham Bradshaw, "Donne's Challenge to the Prosodists," EIC 32, 4 (October 1982): 338-60. Jonson's prediction of Donnean obscurity might find a seventeenth-century echo in the essay on poetry by Dudley North in his Forest of Varieties (1645): North's essay is reprinted and discussed in L. A. Beaurline, "Dudley North's Criticism of Metaphysical Poetry," HLQ25, 4 (August 1962): 299-313.
Jonson, Timber: or, Discoveries, in Ben Jonson, 8:555-649,585.
Herford, Simpson, and Simpson, eds., notes to Timber: or, Discoveries, in Ben Jonson, 11: 210-94, 234 n. 696.
Algernon Charles Swinburne, A Study of Ben Jonson (London: Chatto and Windus, 1889), pp. 141-2; and Ian Donaldson, ed., Ben Jonson (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985), p. 742 n. 709.
Rollin, p. 151.
Gottlieb, p. 23.
T. S. Eliot, "Ben Jonson," in Selected Essays, 3d edn. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), pp. 147-60, 148.
See Michael Murrin, "Poetry as Literary Criticism," MP 65, 3 (February 1968): 202-7.
The exception is David Hopkins, who, in his English Poetry: A Poetic Record, from Chaucer to Yeats (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), conjectures that in these lines "the conceit perhaps refers to the hooping of barrels with metal bands, perhaps to the whalebone hoops which women wore beneath their skirts; if the latter, the conceit would be taking up, playfully, the earlier reference to Donne's 'masculine' expression: the tough intractability of the English language was a suitable undergarment for (was fit to 'gird about') Donne's imagination; only such an 'imperious wit' as his could subject such a stubborn garment to adequate control" (pp. 122-3).
Renee Hannaford, "'Express'd by mee': Carew on Donne and Jonson," SP84, 1 (Winter 1987): 61-79, 78.
"To Ben. Johnson. Upon occasion of his Ode of defiance annext to his Play of the new Inne," in Carew, pp. 64-5, lines 2 and 44.
Carew, "To Ben Johnson ... Ode of defiance," lines 39-42.
Carew, "To Ben Johnson ... Ode of defiance," lines 63-4, 66, 27, and 28.
Carew, "To Ben Johnson ... Ode of defiance," lines 28-33.
Hannaford, pp. 62 and 62-3.
Michael P. Parker, "Diamond's Dust: Carew, King, and the Legacy of Donne," in The Eagle and the Dove: Reassessing John Donne, ed. Summers and Pebworth (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1986), pp. 191-200, 193. (Parker compares Carew's elegy with Henry King's "To the Memorie of my Ever Desired Friend Dr Donne," in EAE, pp. 81-2.)
parker, p. 196.
Parker, p. 191.
parker, p. 196.
Parker, p. 198.
Scodel, pp. 130-1.
Kevin Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 27-8.
John Kerrigan, "Thomas Carew," Proceedings of the British Academy 74 (1988): 311-50, 313-4 and 315.
W. H. Auden, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," in The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927-39, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), pp. 241-3, line 23.
Scodel, pp. 136-9.
Diana Benet, "Carew's Monarchy of Wit," in "The Muses Common-Weale": Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Summers and Pebworth (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1988), pp. 80-91.
Benet, p. 91.
Benet, p. 80.
Benet, p. 91.
Ada Long and Hugh Maclean are unusual in seeing that Jonson's (hostile) view of Donne and Carew's praise of the same poet are reconcilable. See their "'Deare Ben,' 'Great DONNE,' and 'my Celia': The Wit of Carew's Poetry," SEL 18, 1 (Winter 1978): 75-94.
Newton, p. 47.
"Conversations with Drummond," lines 125-7.
This conceit is discussed by Anthony Low, "The 'Turning Wheele': Carew, Jonson, Donne ... Law of Motion," JDJ 1, 1-2 (1982):69-80.
Thomas Salusbury, "An Elegie meant upon the death of Ben: Jonson," in Ben Jonson, 11:485-6, lines 1-3.
Clement Paman, "Upon Elegies to Ben. Johnsons memory," in Ben Jonson, 11:481-5, lines 1-8.
John Beaumont, "To the Memory of him who can never be forgotten, Master Benjamin Johnson," in Ben Jonson, 11:437-9, lines 50-1.
Thomas Hawkins, "To the Memory of M. Benjamin Johnson," in Ben Jonson, 11:439-40, line 4.
Hawkins, lines 5-6.
George Daniel, "To the Memorie of the Best Dramaticke English Poet Ben: Jonson," in Ben Jonson, 11:491-2, lines 63-4.
Thomas May, "An Elegie upon Benjamin Johnson," 11:443, lines 5-12.
Sidney Godolphin, "The Muses fairest light in no darke time," in Ben Jonson, 11:450, lines 1-6.
A. J. Smith, introduction to John Donne: The Critical Heritage, pp. 1-28, 11.
Richard Corbett, "On Doctor Donne," in EAE, p. 84, lines 17-8.
Sidney Godolphin, "Elegie on D. D.," in EAE, pp. 104-5.
Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980).
T. S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard (London: Faber and Faber, 1993); William Empson, Donne and the New Philosophy, vol. 1 of Essays on Renaissance Literature, ed. John Haffenden (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993).
Bradshaw, p. 242.
See J. B. Leishman, The Monarch of Wit: An Analytical and Comparative Study of the Poetry of John Donne (1951; rprt. London: Hutchinson and Co., 1965); Wilbur Sanders, John Donne's Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971); John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art (London: Faber and Faber, 1981); and the writings of Arthur F. Marotti cited previously.
Joseph E. Duncan, The Revival of Metaphysical Poetry: The History of a Style, 1800 to the Present (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1959); and Kathleen Tillotson, "Donne's Poetry in the Nineteenth Century, 1800-72," in Essential Articles for the Study of John Donne's Poetry, ed. John R. Roberts (Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1975), pp. 20-33.
Thomas Docherty, John Donne, Undone (London: Methuen, 1986), p. 6.
Judith Scherer Herz, "'An Excellent Exercise of Wit that Speaks So Well of III': Donne and the Poetics of Concealment," in The Eagle and the Dove, pp. 3-14, 8 and 5.
Gillian Beer, Arguing with the Past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 6.
Donne, "Satyre III," in The Satires, Epigrams, and Verse Letters, ed. W. Milgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), pp. 10-4, line 77.
Donne, The First Anniversarie: An Anatomy of the World, in EAE, pp. 20-35, line 469.
By JOHN LYON
John Lyon, of the University of Bristol, works and publishes on questions of influence, and on elegy, over a broad historical range.