"'Deare Ben,' 'Great DONNE,' and 'my Celia,': The Wit of Carew's Poetry,"

Critics: Ada Long and Hugh MacLean
Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 75-94.
Criticism about: Thomas Carew (1595?-1640)

Nationality: British; English

[(essay date 1978) In the following essay, Long and MacLean summarize Carew's verse in order to evaluate his wit and poetic talent.]

Thomas Carew's literary reputation has undergone some reassessment in recent years. For a long time Clarendon's estimate provided the pattern for critical opinions of the man and his work: Carew "was a Person of a pleasant and facetious Wit, and made many Poems (especially in the amorous Way) which for the Sharpness of the Fancy, and the Elegancy of the Language, in which that Fancy was spread, were at least equal, if not superior to any of that Time."1 Often cited by students of Carew's verse, the passage anticipates Rhodes Dunlap's comment that, "unlike Donne's, Carew's wit does not usually spring from the establishment or discovery of new and pregnant relationships within the world of experience; it relies instead on skilful hyperbole and logically extended metaphor."2 Jonson's influence on Carew has been recognized from the first; but most critics have been content, in that regard, to point out Carew's "classicism," or his habit of painstaking revision. Consequently, the effort to anatomize Carew's wit often relapses into admiration of his ability to "weave conceits into a context of easy hyperbole," while the poet is apt to be distinguished merely by his "disciplined professionalism" from the gentlemanly mob of "Cavalier poets."3

F. R. Leavis knew better. Jonson, after all, "was as robustly interested in men and manners and his own talk as in literature and the poetic art"; the Jonsonian mode (which Leavis remarks in Carew) "may be described as consciously urbane, mature, and civilized."4 Following Leavis, G. A. E. Parfitt links Carew with Jonson primarily by virtue of their "basic humanity, which allows moral distinctions to be drawn and gives [Carew's] writing a sense of involvement with the real world."5 Earl Miner, for whom Carew's poetry eminently exemplifies the several aspects of "the Cavalier mode," observes that the complexities of that mode "are essentially those of social relations interwoven with personal relations, and it is just this that distinguishes the aesthetic mode of the Cavaliers from that of the Metaphysicals."6

In the light of these hints, an examination of the poet's particular use of decorum and his related concern with time and change leads to some new suggestions about the character of Carew's wit. The large majority of Carew's poems, whatever their particular genre, fall into three categories. The first includes those poems which explicitly or by implication, but always with due regard for decorum, acknowledge the continuity of tradition in literary or social contexts: these poems, affirming the authority of the past, include such lyrics as "Mediocritie in love rejected," "To my inconstant Mistris," and "The Complement," as well as the first and third of the epitaphs on Lady Mary Villiers. The prime example in this kind is Carew's response "To Ben. Johnson. Upon occasion of his Ode of defiance annext to his Play of the new Inne". The poems of a second group, often recalling the witty manner of Donne, reflect Carew's recognition of time's power over law and custom. The controlling decorum of these pieces is subtly modified, even challenged, by a variety of unexpected elements, which anticipate those changes that the future must bring. This second category includes the second epitaph on Lady Mary Villiers, together with that on Maria Wentworth, and (for choice) the lyric, "Disdaine returned." Chiefly, of course, one thinks of the elegy on Donne. Finally, in some of his most intriguing poems, Carew plainly confronts his age, his time. In these pieces, decorum may be neglected or repudiated; in any event, one feels that it is not of much moment for the poet, who is chiefly concerned to come to grips with "the way we live now." Among the lyrics, "Ingratefull beauty threatened" is especially to the point. Poems in this group are often exercises in self-examination, reflecting the author's gloomy concern to discover where felicity is to be found: "A Rapture" gives early promise of its author's determination to reassess the exhausted codes of a society beset by uncertainty and hazard. One group of Carew's poems, then, is marked by a relatively easy and confident wit, which celebrates enduring values and attitudes; a distinctly more passionate note is struck by another group, where wit typically illustrates the inevitability of change; in the poems of a third group, wit serves at once to temper and ironically comment upon the process of adjustment from a stance of comfortable assurance to one of bleak realism.

While a good many of the more familiar love lyrics fall into the first of these categories, and a significant number of the occasional pieces into the third, the three groupings do not reflect chronology. It is probable that "A Rapture" was written early,7 while the three epitaphs on Lady Mary Villiers were presumably composed in the fall of 1630.8 Available evidence does not lend much support to the hypothesis that Carew's vision of men and manners steadily darkened with the years. What matters is that his wit, taken in the round, need not be measured chiefly in terms of "skilful hyperbole and logically extended metaphor," and that this poet's originality extends well beyond the capacity to "revitalize a conventional genre or attitude."9

To speak of decorum in Renaissance verse is, of course, to attend to the degree of propriety in the poet's matching of image, style, and genre, within the context of "'the cause and purpose he hath in hand'--the poetic subject, be it high invention or lightly considered trifle, commendatory or satirical in intent, grave or fanciful in nature."10 But this is not to imply that the poet's care for decorum is narrowly "literary." For Jonson and his followers especially, the conditioning influence of personal and social relationships on the criterion of decorum requires some emphasis. According to Puttenham,

By reason of the sundry circumstances that mans affaires are, as it were, wrapt in, this decencie [i.e., decorum] comes to be very much alterable and subject to varietie, in [so] much as our speach asketh one maner of decencie in respect of the person who speakes, another of his to whom it is spoken, another of whom we speake, another of what we speake, and in what place and time and to what purpose. And as it is of speach, so of al other our behaviours. ... there is a decency to be observed in every mans action and behaviour aswell as in his speach and writing. ...11

Jonson knew that language "most shewes a man. ... It springs out of the most retired, and inmost parts of us, and is the Image of the Parent of it, the mind"; extending Hoskyns' observations on epistolary style to writing in general, he can agree that brevity, perspicuity, and vigor are all subsumed, at length, by "Discretio ... respect to discern what fits yourself, him to whom you write, and that which you handle."12 The poet's language, which reflects his mind, and answers fitly to the matter in hand, ought properly also to speak to the mind of the person addressed: it is governed by an idea of decorum that takes account of personal and social relationships in all their demanding variety. Thus, Jonson's several poems to friends, together with those on the theme of friendship, as a rule exemplify the plain, "free" manner appropriate to expressions bearing on this subject.

Sonne, and my Friend, I had not call'd you so
                    To mee; or beene the same to you; if show,
Profit, or Chance had made us: But I know
                    What, by that name, we each to other owe,
Freedome, and Truth; with love from those begot.
                    Wise-crafts, on which the flatterer ventures not.13

Again, the clarity and order of those lines in Jonson's epistle to Lady Aubigny (The Forest, XIII) that describe the even tenor and single purpose of her life, a model for other "great wives," reflect the "even, and unalter'd gaite" of one "that can time and chance defeat"; when the poet considers the directionless course of those who, "giddie with change," inhabit "the maze of custome, error, strife," the rhythms of his verse stagger and halt, mired in a welter of complex constructions.

Decorum, finally, as E. B. Partridge remarks, is rooted in "what is natural. Jonson clearly anticipated that sense of 'nature' which became a central dogma in the neo-classic age: that is, the natural is the normal and the universal."14 Jonson's Lady Aubigny is a "faire tree," for whose "ripe and timely issue" the future reserves high honor; but for those others who blush at her, no emblem serves so well as the "maskes" worn by a society careless of "truthes complexion," and quite unable to perceive "right, the right way." As for Selden's decorously seasoned style, notably his artful pairing of "Newnesse of Sense, Antiquitie of voyce,"

                                        Nothing but the round
Large claspe of Nature, such a wit can bound.15

The wit of Jonson's poetry, then, is regularly dimensioned by the poet's care for a decorum much more than narrowly literary.16 Carew's poetry is also marked by this concern for a "larger" decorum; but with a difference. Jonson's poems, even those of the later years, bravely continue to set the decorum of virtue, nature, right, against their indecorous opposites: misfortune and neglect scarcely disturb the poet's certitude. But Carew, making poetry chiefly in the sinister twilight of those decades just preceding an era of social change and upheaval, is evidently struck by time's power to transform established moral codes, even to render decorous what in an earlier age might well be decorum's antithesis. And the wit of his verse is affected accordingly.

Although the greater number of Carew's love lyrics answer to the demands of a decorum sufficiently conventional and familiar in this mode, these poems include some instructive examples of the directions his wit may take, in terms of the three categories proposed in this essay. Bruce King draws attention particularly to the "aggressive attitude" regularly on view in the lyrics;17 the degree and kind of aggressiveness, however, are not everywhere identical. For instance, the song, "To my inconstant Mistris," thematically recalling odes by Catullus and Propertius,18 in no sense starts away from an established decorum. Generations of Renaissance poets had composed verses in which a betrayed lover appeals, by way of theological conceits, to a controlling God of Love from whom an appropriate response may reasonably be expected. This is not to say that Carew's wit is altogether commonplace, for he expertly matches the oaths and vain tears of the inconstant lady (excommunicate and damned) with those of the constant lover (crowned in glory), while slyly acknowledging that the speaker's real reward is the love of another than she to whom he has remained constant. By virtue of its wit, in fact, the poem aptly enough exemplifies Carew's talent for "revitalizing a conventional genre or attitude." But the dimensions of its governing decorum--the manner of its imagery, the speaker's stance, the implicit recognition that Love is supreme appellate judge--essentially conform to those of an established tradition.

With another "aggressive" lyric, "Disdaine returned," the case is somewhat altered. Properly speaking, the first two stanzas, of six lines each, are not witty at all; employing the familiar epithets of minor Elizabethan verse, Carew rather lifelessly rehearses a Renaissance commonplace: only that love which reaches past sense-experience may expect to baffle time's power. In the final stanza of eight lines, however, sententious generalization gives way to particular experience, aptly couched in direct address.

No teares, Celia, now shall win,
                    My resolv'd heart, to returne;
I have searcht thy soule within,
                    And find nought, but pride, and scorne;
I have learn'd thy arts, and now
                    Can disdaine as much as thou.
Some power, in my revenge convay
That love to her, I cast away.19

If Celia's "pride, and scorne" parody the ideal of a "stedfast mind," the speaker can at least be sure of his own "resolv'd heart," wittily proposing to complete a bitter exchange: his love for the lady's disdain. It is worth noting that he should appeal at last, not to an explicitly identified God of Love, but to "Some power" that employs "conveyance"20 to satisfy this lover's desire for revenge. Given that the final stanza makes an ironic comment, in the light of actual experience, on the bland antitheses of established theory, Carew may well be inviting the reader to associate this "power" with that of time itself. In any event, while the poem preserves the facade of a decorum usual in these cases, doubt and disenchantment have evidently undermined the easy assumptions of old orthodoxy.

If the world of "To my inconstant Mistris" is controlled by a familiar God of Love, and that of "Disdaine returned" implicitly subject to powers other than those directly exercised by men and women, the scene of "Ingratefull beauty threatned" is dominated by the speaker himself, who acknowledges no other power than his own, to create, know, destroy.

Know Celia, (since thou art so proud,)
                    'Twas I that gave thee thy renowne:
Thou hadst, in the forgotten crowd
                    Of common beauties, liv'd unknowne,
Had not my verse exhal'd thy name,
And with it, ympt the wings of fame.
That killing power is none of thine,
                    I gave it to thy voyce, and eyes:
Thy sweets, thy graces, all are mine;
                    Thou art my starre, shin'st in my skies;
Then dart not from thy borrowed sphere
Lightning on him, that fixt thee there.
Tempt me with such affrights no more,
                    Lest what I made, I uncreate;
Let fooles thy mystique formes adore,
                    I'le know thee in thy mortall state:
Wise Poets that wrap't Truth in tales,
Knew her themselves, through all her vailes.

In this poem, all to brave clearness is indeed reduced, as the speaker, explicitly asserting absolute rule over the lady's beauty, power, and reputation, employs an idiom that is plain, abrupt, and at length brutally realistic.21 Celia's "sweets," her graces and her killing beauty, are no more than noticed: their sphere is after all a borrowed one. The poet's wit, ranging through degrees and kinds of knowing, bears on wisdom and folly at various levels; to "know" proud-foolish Celia in her "mortall state" (as her bemused admirers cannot) is to claim kinship with those truly "Wise Poets" whose knowledge speaks through the fictions they made. And by implication, when time has worn the tapestry of social decorum to shabby and threadbare posturing, to recognize its inadequacy is to reaffirm that truth of nature which decorum should steadily reflect.22

Other such "sets" might be cited to illustrate the parti-colored character of Carew's wit, as it operates in decorously various contexts.23 But it is in his occasional verse that the larger dimensions of his wit may most fruitfully be observed, notably the verse-letter to Jonson and the elegy on Donne; and "A Rapture" must make a third, for if it is not precisely an "occasional poem," the piece is distinguished less for its extravagantly sensuous imagery than for the bold challenge to conventional decorum that informs its wit.

The verse-letter to Jonson has been sensibly analyzed by Edward Selig, who shows that the poem aptly illustrates the principle of decorum "according to the kind or genre": as he observes, "the speaking voice and the epistolary style coincide," and his supportive discussion of the poem's colloquial idiom makes the points that matter.24 Selig also attends to the decorous requirement "that one consider carefully to whom he [writes]," noticing the witty combination of "supreme compliment, and ... supreme rebuke" that brings the poem to a close; he adds that "the theme of time seems to underlie the entire poem, and to coordinate the images, which ring variations upon the theme."25 These latter areas of Selig's discussion, however, are touched on rather than explored: the full range of decorum in this poem, and the reach of its wit, are therefore in some degree obscured. That "the wiser world holds Jonson in the highest possible esteem"26 may be granted; but Carew is addressing Jonson in the contexts of art and of friendship, and those contexts chiefly determine the poem's decorous expression. For Jonson, the marks of a poet include a capacity for "Exercise of [one's wit], and frequent"; a talent for imitation, especially of "one excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him, till [one] grow very Hee"; and that art of crafty revision which alone confers perfection upon nature.27 Carew draws attention to just these matters.

Repine not at the Tapers thrifty waste,
That sleekes thy terser Poems, nor is haste
Prayse, but excuse; 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.

He addresses a poet held in universal esteem, no doubt; but he speaks to the particular qualities considered by that poet to be principal elements of his art. Again, while the poem is undoubtedly decorous "according to the person addressed," it is so also "in respect of the person who speakes": effectively, its decorum is that appropriate to friends. This is in fact to say that Carew's sensitive response to the value set by Father Ben on friendship, and to the special character of that Jonsonian virtue, accounts for the poem's tone, by turns affectionate and sharp. Indeed, Jonson might be said to have given the informing principle for Carew's epistle in Underwood, XXXVII:

Little know they, that professe Amitie,
                    And seeke to scant her comelie libertie,
                    How much they lame her in her propertie.

Another passage (in Underwood, XXVI) might have served as text:

Yet doth some wholsome Physick for the mind,
                    Wrapt in this paper lie,
Which in the taking if you mis-apply,
                                                                                You are unkind.

In this poem to "deare Ben," Carew has fulfilled the two basic responsibilities of a friend: loyal support, frank advice. And he has gracefully maintained a delicate balance between admiration and honesty: praise keeps criticism from impudence, criticism checks praise this side of flattery.28

If the poem's wit reflects the author's concern for decorum of genre, style, and person addressed, its character answers to a larger vision: Carew's confidence in a traditional ideal of friendship (made flesh by way of the Tribe), and in enduring principles of art that time cannot erode. In this regard, the allusions to time are subtler than Selig's analysis would allow. The poem begins and ends by drawing attention to the limits imposed by nature, but also to its room and promise. It is altogether natural that poets, being men, should rise to a zenith of accomplishment, then decline, and yield their place in time: that is "what happens." Yet the apt and measured use of time, the patient labor by one's "watchfull Lampe," conforms to the deliberate rhythms of nature just as hasty impatience, eager after variety and difference, runs counter to them. "Time devoures" and cancels the trivial malice of a "detracting world"; Jonson's art, in its causes and methods linked to a "Nature [that] is alwayes the same, like her selfe," "shall outshine the glimmering light / With which all stars shall guild the following night."29

Carew's stance in this poem, then, consistently reflects his reliance on an established and natural order of things that is proof against mutability, that contains and controls each kind of change. To adopt this standpoint is to adopt a "larger" decorum: that "sense of the harmonious whole which ... implies that harmony is natural to man and that man is more than the sum of his activities."30 The wit of Carew's poem accords best, perhaps, with OED 11.7: "Quickness of intellect or liveliness of fancy, with capacity of apt expression. ..." Yet its character is, at bottom, relatively sober and restrained: it surely implies, even turns on "wisdom, good judgment, discretion, prudence" (OED 11.6). Certainly the wit that consists in "the apt association of thought and expression, calculated to surprise and delight by its unexpectedness" (OED 11.8) has not much place in this traditionally oriented celebration of values that, defying time's changeful vicissitudes, remain still themselves.31

That the elegy on Donne is couched "very much in the style that Donne himself affected"32 has been recognized by several critics. Decorum "according to the person addressed" governs and directs the play of flashing wit that has earned for the poem its special renown. The shocking figure with which the elegy opens, the rugged syntax of those rhetorical questions that follow, in particular the rapid movement of suggestive images in 11. 25-60: all are calculated to evoke the polymorphic figure of "great DONNE," who planted, mined, wrought, but chiefly "redeem'd" the literary sins of an age. Carew's association of Donne with Prometheus and Christ at once is, after all, not very extravagant in a poem that celebrates "Apollo's first, at last, the true Gods Priest"; while the range of imagery inevitably recalls the language of Donne's tenth Holy Sonnet: "bend / Your force, to breake, blow, burn, and make me new." Further, since "praise is the essential element of the [funeral elegy],"33 one would expect that a poet of Jonson's train, schooled in decorous tradition, would undertake to point and adorn his wit especially in lines given over to praise.

In a related aspect, however, the poem breaks sharply with established decorum: that of genre. "Praise, lament, and consolation," as Hardison notes, "are the three major components of funeral elegy."34

A natural progression of mood imposes itself on most funeral poetry, as Scaliger's instructions show. The poem that Scaliger describes will have a definite movement from dejection to consolation. It will open with a brief summary of the greatness of the individual (praise) and then develop the same material in much more detailed form (demonstration of loss) through biographical detail heightened by the devices of amplification. Recalling the deeds of the dead person intensifies the grief of the survivors and leads to a lament. Grief is then consoled, and the poem ends on the exhortation that the audience imitate the virtues of the subject of the poem.35

Finally, while the consolation of immortality is "frequently mentioned [but] not heavily stressed" in classical elegy, "the Christian consolation of immortality ... is one of the distinguishing features of Christian funeral poetry."36 From this established pattern the structure of Carew's elegy on Donne significantly diverges. In effect, the poem consists almost entirely of praise and lament. An introductory passage (11. 1-24) artfully combines these elements; then follow thirty-six lines of praise and twenty-five of lament; at length the poet, unwilling and unable to do more, summarily returns to the topos of praise in the concluding epitaph. In short, there is no hint of consolatio or of an "exhortation that the audience imitate the virtues of the subject of the poem." That is at the least unexpected, even indecorous (in the context of genre), given that this is an elegy on "the Deane of Pauls."

Yet in another sense the omission is quite appropriate.

                    I will not draw the envy to engrosse
All thy perfections, or weepe all our losse;
These are too numerous for an Elegie,
And this too great, to be express'd by mee.

"Great DONNE," after all, broke traditional molds, "And fresh invention planted"; his wit and his alone could bend "Our stubborne language"; the form itself of elegy is inadequate to mark his passing. And there are grounds more relative even than this. The poem to Jonson sturdily affirms that the artist's constancy to his purposes, disparaged by a "dull age," is finally at one with nature and time, and will be justified in "after dayes." The elegy (making every allowance for the wide-ranging implications of Donne's affinity with natura naturans) emphasizes instead the failure of a mission. Time at last will put an end to the influence of that "first impulsive force," and re-establish the incongruous rule of "those old Idolls," in whose name "poetique rage" is made "A Mimique fury." Donne gone, the world cannot hope for a successor in whom his spirit will be re-animated. By inference, to trust that time, and harmonious universal law, will confirm the insight of those who teach "deeper knowledge of darke truths," is an illusion. Still, if change tears at the fabric of established tradition, and soon cancels the influence of bright stars like Donne, it recurrently brings new vitality to art and life. The counterpoint of stylistic decorum "according to the person addressed," and of structural indecorum "according to the kind or genre," is, then, quite appropriate to this ambivalent poem. While Carew could see the point of Jonson's remark that Donne "for not being understood would perish," he must needs also agree that Donne was "the first poet in the world in some things."37

The poem's wit matches this balance. The brilliant play of imagery informing the central passage of praise is familiar; but the poem is witty also by virtue of its structure. Essentially, the elegy responds to four rhetorical questions (posed in the opening lines), each somewhat wider in scope than that preceding it, thus:

(a) Can we not produce one elegiac poem to memorialize Donne?

(b) Can we not produce even an elegiac memorial in fitting prose?

(c) Has our capacity for song been quite cut off by his death?

(d) Was Donne in fact the "dispenser" of language itself?

Lines 11-24 respond to the second of these questions, confirming its inference. Lines 25-70 respond affirmatively to the third ("nobler Poems" and "Verse refin'd by thee" give way to "windy Page" and "ballad rime"); and lines 71-87 return an emphatic affirmative to the fourth question: only by "dumbe eloquence" may those who remain acknowledge "The death of all the Arts." This being so, there can be but one response to that first and immediate question: Donne's "perfections" and other men's limitations (together with those of art) effectively deny the possibility of elegy. All that can be managed is an epitaph.38 The witty transmutation of elegy to epitaph finally confirms the truth of Carew's tribute to Donne. As its structural indecorum fittingly recalls Donne's capacity to discard "The lazie seeds / Of servile imitation," its structured movement toward a point of wit emphasizes the incapacity of lesser men. "We are time's subjects, and time bids begone."39

The elegy on Donne, an undoubted tour de force, has some claim to be considered the most remarkable poem in the canon of Carew's verse. As a rule (to speak generally), the poet's wit is honed to a finer edge in the poems that chiefly reflect Donne's influence than in those that recall Jonson's style and outlook. Nonetheless, it is arguable that the poems of a third group are of special interest, for in these pieces Carew is clearly his own man. "Obsequies to the Lady Anne Hay" makes one of this group, together with (for example) the second elegy on Buckingham, and the lines to George Sandys, "on his translation of the Psalmes"; as well as "A Rapture," which probably antedates the other pieces. Here, typically, the poet acknowledges that decorum demands a particular stance or mode; then he goes his own way, in effect declaring his independence of literary decorum. And the break from formal tradition is in each poem matched by an expression of Carew's disenchantment with a variety of orthodox attitudes which for his society have the force of established truths. Striking through the mask of literary decorum, Carew is thereby enabled to speak his mind in larger social contexts. All these poems are in some degree ironic, but the character of each poem's wit is distinct and individual. The witty exuberance of "A Rapture" is certainly "calculated to surprise and delight by its unexpectedness"; in the other poems, while one perceives "quickness of intellect or liveliness of fancy, with capacity of apt expression," their elegiac tone ensures that wit shall be somewhat more solemn sad, expressing thoughtful wisdom and good judgment. These poems find Carew neither justifying universal harmonies nor bringing decorum to the bar of change, but seeking rules to live by in a dangerous world; anticipating, in effect, the view of Henry Thoreau (who admired Carew's art): "Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe."40

"A Rapture" appears to have been composed about 1624. By that time, the emphasis of English poems informed by the "carpe diem" theme had altered from that of such pieces composed in Spenser's day. The "lovely lay" chanted in Acrasia's bower (FQ, II.xii.74-75) may serve to epitomize the older tradition of this genre: the singer advocates an enjoyment of love while youth and beauty are at the full, since time must at length destroy all that. One seizes the day, therefore, with a certain poignancy of mood. Among seventeenth-century poems, Herrick's "Corinna's going a Maying" and "To the Virgins, to make much of Time" continue this tradition, together with such relatively minor efforts as "Cupids Call," by James Shirley, or Waller's "Goe lovely Rose," not to mention Carew's own "Perswasions to enjoy." But the genre also developed in quite another way, one that (curiously enough) emphasizes precisely those elements in the title of Carew's lyric: persuasion, enjoyment. Examples include "Upon Love fondly refus'd for Conscience sake," by Thomas Randolph; Shirley's "Love for Enjoying"; and William Cartwright's "Beauty and Deniall." Poems of this kind seem to have three characteristics. Looking not to Spenser but to Marlowe's Hero and Leander, especially to the rhetorical brilliance of Leander's persuasive analogies, the authors who adopt this approach are primarily concerned, it seems, to parade their wit, chiefly by the play of intellectualized analogy. Again, while the end of all (in the context of a given poem) is certainly sexual pleasure, the speaker's posture is one of cool sophistication; explicitly sexual allusions are either absent or (as in the poems by Shirley and Cartwright) reserved until the very end. Finally, the dimensions of the lovers' world have perceptibly narrowed from those that obtain in poems attuned to the Spenserian mode. Time threatens, no doubt; but that matters less than the collocation of natural examples to justify the lover's urgent need for his lady's favors. If Elizabethan poems in this kind are apt to place the lovers within a larger time-span than their own, the emphasis in Jacobean and Caroline examples of the genre falls rather on the immediacy of present desire. If the one charms by way of its meditative and thoughtful cast, the other relies on quick wit and dramatic surprise to arrest attention. By the time of Charles I's accession, in fact, an established decorum of style and kind in this regard has very generally given place to decorous standards of another sort.

The originality of "A Rapture" consists primarily in the fact that, while it reflects in some degree the features of each position, it exemplifies neither one.41 Intellectually witty (and not at all poignant or wistful) in the fashion congenial to so many of Carew's contemporaries, the poem quickly launches into a frank exposition of sexual pleasure; coy hints and arch reserve have no place in this boldly explicit account of love-play. Supportive analogies are not drawn simply from the realm of external nature, but from the most familiar instances of love's power in classical and Renaissance song and story; yet the force of these analogies depends in each case on the poet's impudent reversal of orthodox tradition. What gives the poem its special mark (even beyond the splendid shock of its sensuality) is the pattern of thought, developed throughout in terms of man's faculties and, finally, of moral values. To examine the structure of the poem is to perceive that "A Rapture" is a witty discourse about the proper uses of time, directed to a society that has lost its sense of moral equilibrium.

The poem is clearly divided into four parts. Opening in the present, it turns at line 21 to an elaborate account of the delights awaiting these lovers. With line 115, the speaker, turning to the past, undertakes to re-interpret various legends of constancy. At line 147, finally, the poem returns to the present, emphasizing now the larger issues implicit in the encounter of this lover, this lady. Against the panoramic backdrop of time future, past, and present, four faculties receive successive emphasis: the will, the sense, imagination, reason.42 That the will should take first place is quite in keeping with Carew's purpose: the poem's title in fact anticipates this. The title of Donne's "The Extasie" retroactively achieves witty surprise as the interpenetration of sense and spirit is progressively revealed. The bearing of Carew's title in that regard is soon clear, but it is witty in another way: if a religious is enraptured, this lover undertakes actively to enravish (inviting the lady to respond kindly, to be sure). That initial emphasis echoes in the assertive confidence of the opening, "I will enjoy thee now my Celia," and especially in the injunction to "be bold, and wise," which effectively informs the poem as a whole.43 The prime function of these first twenty lines is to sound a call to action, here and now, in the light of a distinction between truth and falsehood. Since honor is "not as we once thought / The seed of Gods," a traditional dichotomy of pure spirit and corrupt nature will not serve. Instead, man's natural courage, the instrument of his will in his fallen state: timidity, greed, and the demon holdfast. To these the "Gyant, Honour, that ... is but forme, and onely frights in show," owes its borrowed being; one is therefore wise to be bold, challenge the "stalking Pageant," and emancipate the natural man.

Will having made a way, it is the senses' turn. Again, boldness is true wisdom. To explore, in love, the full potential of every sense is to perceive their power to instruct fancy (l. 42), allow the soul a share in pleasure quite beyond its proper reach (42-44), and at length call down from "those powers / That blesse our loves" a condition of "Halcion calmenesse" that will "fix our soules / In steadfast peace, as no affright controules" (95-98). Further, "the Queene of Love" who presides over these ceremonies counts in her train both "Innocence ... and Nature." Concealment, deceit, hypocrisy are banished; absolute candor holds sway in this realm, where

All things are lawfull ... that may delight
Nature or unrestrained Appetite;
Like, and enjoy, to will, and act, is one,
We only sinne when Loves rites are not done.

Again, therefore, to be bold is at once to realize the full range of sense's potential, and to sweep away those tired forms that bind and limit men and women.44

The imagination is by its nature free; yet Carew very well understands that the artist's imagination, blending myth and history in persuasive poetry, exerts in despite of time a singular power over the imaginations of other men. That fancy may resume its naturally active role, a boldly creative stroke is required: nothing less than a fresh reading of traditional story. Some slight authority exists, of course, for a Penelope that "doth ... display / Her selfe before the Youth of Ithaca."45 But Carew, consistently with his practice throughout the poem, breaks away from authoritative tradition in two ways. The gods who balked Apollo's pursuit of Daphne were not kind but "angry"; implicitly, then, perhaps not gods at all. Certainly they fix and fetter men: by contrast, "artfull postures, such as be / Carv'd on the barks of every neighbouring tree / By learned hands," instruct and encourage fullness of being. Nature and art, that is to say, combine that men and women may be in every way "enlarg'd." More than this: if mankind might ordinarily be thought to accumulate wisdom by gradual progression, in the course of time's passage, the expertise of Carew's Lucrece, matched as it is with that of Renaissance artist and Greek courtesan, reminds a reader that the vital energies of nature need not await the slow labors of men in their generations, but in every era may be tapped, known, and rifled by those who have nerve enough to thrust past ancient authority. By the boldly imaginative revaluation of past record, long-hidden wisdom may be revealed.

After all this excitement, the concluding section of "A Rapture" may seem to be something of an anticlimax; but these final twenty lines complete the poem's pattern in more than one sense. Returning to the present and to the matter at hand, the speaker reaffirms his initial determination, the more confidently now for having presented the case with such persuasive eloquence. Yet these last lines assign an equal emphasis to the principles implicit in this meeting: the passage, in fact, identifies those larger values (beyond the lovers' immediate satisfaction) for which men and women are to be made free. This final section provides the poem with its real point.

Carew began with an arrogant expression of male dominance: "I will enjoy thee now my Celia." But as the poem turns to its conclusion, that language is modulated: "Come then my Celia, wee'le no more forbeare / To taste our joyes. ..." In the light of that gentle allusion to "your soft sex" (held fast in fetters), and especially of the question that brings the poem to a close, one may think that if Carew is not quite proposing absolute equality of the sexes, he is at the least advocating a considerably increased degree of mutual responsiveness and regard; certainly also a candid recognition, and reappraisal, of male and female roles in social converse. It appears, further, that men and women ought to keep the "lawes" of "humane Justice, and ... sacred right." Given Carew's persistent appeal to "Nature" throughout the poem, coupled with his repudiation of "th'angry Gods" and of codes that claim an authority more than natural, the allusion to "sacred right" may appear disingenuous. But the demand that concludes the poem throws light on this matter. To paraphrase these lines: by serving the monstrous idol called "Honour" (which supplants true justice by its wild parody, revenge, and the duellers' code, condemned by the church), men effectively turn atheistical; by the same token, why should not women (whose desire for gain or power matches and urges on male lust, thus permitting revenge to thrive) be recognized equally for the whores they are? Strict logic governs one possible response to the cruelly cynical wit of this poser: men are atheists, women whores. It follows then that theirs can be only a brutish equality, and that "humane Justice" or "sacred right," in the context of Carew's courtly society, must be meaningless. But the carefully developed structure of the poem invites another response, one that is surely Carew's own. To repudiate "Goblin Honour," together with its logical cage of custom that confines those who adore the giant, is to free human reason. And that in turn is to enable the new-building of a just and equal society, where human rights are in fact as sacred as old religion thought its idols were. In that society, men and women are neither atheists nor whores: they are free to be themselves.46

"A Rapture," then, in some sense provides a model for those later occasional poems in which Carew typically thrusts past formal decorum, employing a relatively plain idiom for the serious effort to challenge change. These pieces have wit enough, but to be witty is not now the poet's special care. To speak of his "philosophy" is to fly too high; still, in these compositions it appears that his chief concern is the identification of an enduring system of values that need not collapse in course of time. These poems really call for a separate essay, which would deal with their formal art in the context of Carew's troubled career, not forgetting Clarendon's statement that the poet "died with the greatest Remorse for that License [of earlier years], and with the greatest Manifestation of Christianity that his best Friends could desire."47 Given their various occasions and genres, one can at the least say that these pieces consistently disappoint expectation. While the elegiac lines "On the Duke of Buckingham," for instance, manage to combine praise, lament, and consolation, and to bring all to a gracefully witty conclusion, the companion piece, "An other," is very different. The extended passage of praise that makes up the greater part of this poem depends on a wistfully conditional fancy ("If Fate / Could constant happinesse create"); noting that the stars, for good or ill, govern our conditions, Carew gloomily concludes that universal justice and the happiness even of one individual are, by nature's law, denied to mankind. The first poem is decorously elegiac; the other, in spite of that encomiastic catalogue, permits sorrow to burst its formal bonds and reach on to desperate conclusions that would effectively cancel the idea itself of elegy.

"Obsequies to the Lady Anne Hay" illustrates the point in another way. Three-fifths of the poem is given over to disavowals by Carew of his competence to undertake this task, and to repudiation of the usual patterns to which the poem might conform; he notices too, with a touch of impatience, that time, by cutting short the lady's life, has rendered the elegist's assignment especially difficult. When the poet does at length turn directly to his object, he is clearly less interested in praising her beauty or virtue than in developing an aptly paradoxical fancy. If "sleeke / And polisht" courtiers can weep "reall teares," and grief can unite "all the Courtly throng," no ordinary elegiac convention will answer: a trial by her envious rivals must confirm this lady's quality. The poet's wit, brushing frankly past established conventions of style and kind, is freshly decorous for the occasion and his time. This is not quite to say that its unexpectedness is calculated to surprise and delight; rather it expresses the full irony of the fact that, to disturb the complacency of enamelled sophisticates, and stir their hearts, virtue must needs die.

As for the lines to Sandys, their occasion would seem to have called for some considered praise of his friend's art as translator, an acknowledgement that A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems everywhere bears witness to God's directive inspiration, and (perhaps) a gracefully turned reminder that God employs the several talents of men for His divine ends. In short, complimentary verses in this kind might be expected to dwell on Sandys' art and its place in a divine scheme of things. But Carew breaks away from these familiar patterns, chiefly in that the poem becomes a vehicle for the expression of his own uncertainties, doubts, fears. It is true that he briefly pays court (ll. 29-32) to the exemplary power of Sandys' art; but these expressions of conventional piety are relatively unconvincing, for unease, apprehension, wanhope even, inform the poem's mood, and speak through its conditional verbs. Most striking in this regard is that allusion to "the dry leavelesse Trunke on Golgotha." It is, at the least, a singularly unapt figure in this context, one that all but obscures the bright promise of new dedication. One recalls Shakespeare's Claudius, kneeling hopelessly before a shrine that holds no absolving promise for him. Carew has turned the genre (and its decorum) inside out: the poem is by no means a formal and witty acknowledgement of Sandys' inspired art, but a realistic and plain-spoken, yet strangely diffident, confession of his own natural inadequacies.

This essay has been concerned to enlarge the dimensions of the critical context within which Carew's wit is ordinarily taken under consideration. A good many lyrics in the canon have perforce been passed over; yet those singled out for comment include the most significantly representative of Carew's poems. On the evidence they provide, the critic who would take the true measure of this poet's accomplishment must recognize that Carew's witty manner (through its full range of modes) consistently reflects a determination to explore and chart the effects of "times trans-shifting" on the character of those decorous considerations that govern social converse as well as the poet's art.


1The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1760), I, 28.

2Poems of Thomas Carew, ed. Rhodes Dunlap (Oxford, 1949), liv-lv.

3Seventeenth Century Poetry: The Schools of Donne and Jonson, ed. Hugh Kenner (New York, 1964), p. 332; Robin Skelton, The Cavalier Poets (London, 1960), p. 23.

4F. R. Leavis, Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (London, 1962), pp. 21, 19.

5G. A. E. Parfitt, "The Poetry of Thomas Carew," Renaissance and Modern Studies, 12 (1968), 56-67.

6Earl Miner, The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton (Princeton, N. J., 1971), p. 12. Cf. also Hugh Richmond, The School of Love: The Evolution of the Stuart Love Lyric (Princeton, N. J., 1964), pp. 217, 301.

7Poems of Thomas Carew, p. 236.

8Poems of Thomas Carew, pp. 239-240.

9Parfitt, p. 57.

10Rosemond Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago, 1961), p. 192.

11George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, in Elizabethan Critical Essays, ed. G. G. Smith, 2 vols. (London, 1904), II, 175, 181.

12Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford, Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford, 1925-1952), VIII, 625, 633.

13Underwood, LXIX. Cf. also Underwood, XVII, XXVI, XXXVII; and Geoffrey Walton, "The Tone of Ben Jonson's Poetry," in Seventeenth Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticsim, ed. W. R. Keast, 2nd edition (New York, 1971), pp. 152-173.

14E. B. Partridge, The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson (London, 1958), p. 171. Cf. H. S. Wilson, "Some Meanings of 'Nature' in Renaissance Literary Theory," JHI, 2 (1941), 430-448.

15Underwood, XIV.

16One might argue that, as Thomas Kranidas asserts of Milton, Jonson's concept of decorum is also "in its highest sense an ideal of unity. ... at once the tool and ideal for adjusting proportions, relationships, colors to achieve a radiant whole" (The Fierce Equation: A Study of Milton's Decorum [The Hague, 1965], p. 48).

17Bruce King, "The Strategy of Carew's Wit," REL, 5 (1964), 42-51.

18Catullus, viii, 12-19; Propertius, II, iii, 25.

19Joseph Haslewood thought the last stanza "not of the same highly poetic turn" with the first two (Poems of Thomas Carew, p. 222). But the form and tone of these lines certainly suggest deliberate calculation on Carew's part.

20The term in this context seems to have the primary force of OED 11b: "Cunning management or contrivance; underhand dealing, juggling, sleight of hand."

21Although Dunlap cites Propertius, II, xi, for its anticipation of Carew's theme, the austere and rueful irony of the Latin ode has not much in common with the threatening tone of the English poem, nor with the brusque impatience informing its conclusion.

22Cf. also the discussion of "Disdaine returned," and of "Ingratefull beauty threatned," by Hugh Richmond, pp. 205-207.

23For instance, "An Hymeneall Song on the Nuptials of the Lady Ann Wentworth, and the Lord Lovelace," "On the Mariage of T. K. and C. C., the morning stormie," and "A married Woman," thematically linked by the topic of marriage, are sharply distinguished by virtue of Carew's stance in each poem.

24Edward Selig, The Flourishing Wreath: A Study of Thomas Carew's Poetry (New Haven, Conn., 1958), 150-160.

25Selig, pp. 150, 160.

26Selig, p. 156.

27Ben Jonson, VIII, 637-639.

28Cf. Hugh Maclean, "Ben Jonson's Poems: Notes on the Ordered Society," in Essays in English Literature from the Renaissance to the Victorian Age, ed. Millar MacLure and F. W. Watt (Toronto, 1964), 46-51.

29Cf. Ben Jonson, VIII, 567.

30Joseph Summers, The Muse's Method (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), p. 21.

31In this connection, "To the Reader of Master William Davenant's Play" may usefully be contrasted with "To my worthy Friend, M. D'avenant, Upon his Excellent Play, the Just Italian." The first of these occasional pieces, which appeals to a traditional, even elite, standard of wit, falls clearly in the first of those categories outlined above; the other (and earlier) poem in some measure anticipates the very different standpoint of the elegy on Donne.

32J. W. Draper, The Funeral Elegy and the Rise of English Romanticism (New York, 1929), p. 35. Cf. also Louis Martz, The Wit of Love: Donne, Carew, Crashaw, Marvell (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1969), pp. 97-100, esp. p. 97: "If we grasp the poem we grasp Donne."

33O. B. Hardison, The Enduring Monument: A Study of the Idea of Praise in Renaissance Literary Theory and Practice (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1962), p. 114.

34Hardison, p. 22.

35Hardison, p. 114.

36Hardison, p. 114. Cf. Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique, ed. R. H. Bowers (Gainesville, Fla., 1962), pp. 83-105.

37Ben Jonson, I, 138, 135.

38Cf. Puttenham, Arte, II, 58-59: "an inscription such as a man may commodiously write or engrave upon a tombe in few verses, pithie, quicke, and sententious."

39Carew's handling of the formal epitaph is relevant in this regard. The first and third of those on Lady Mary Villiers, classically chiselled and restrained, demonstrate his mastery of the Jonsonian manner, but the complex figure that informs the second ("The purest soule that e're was sent") indicates some concern to enliven the mode. As for the epitaph on Maria Wentworth, the witty first, second, and sixth stanzas contrast very curiously with the weary catalogues that make up the rest of the poem. This epitaph might well stand as an ironic parody of the genre.

40H. D. Thoreau, Walden (New York, 1950), p. 292. Cf. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, ed. B. Torrey and F. H. Alden, 2 vols. (New York, 1962), I, 134.

41That particular lines and expressions reflect the influence of Donne, and that the denunciation of Honour recalls a passage in Tasso's Aminta (I. 656-723), may readily be granted (Poems of Thomas Carew, 237-239). What is at issue here is Carew's combining of variegated elements to make a poem quite his own.

42Memory is subsumed and effectively re-cast by the creative power of the imagination: cf. lines 115-146.

43While one cannot be sure that Carew means to recall Spenser's Britomart, adjured to "Be bold, be bold ... Be bold ... / Be not too bold" (FQ, III.xi.54), the relish of a traditional wisdom that tempers boldness with caution (not to mention the contrast of virginal Britomart with pliable Celia) is quite apt in the world of "A Rapture," where for all practical purposes boldness is wisdom.

44For a perceptive commentary on this section of the poem, cf. Miner, pp. 80-82.

45Cf. Pausanias, Description of Greece, VIII.xii.

46This article was accepted for publication before the appearance of "Carew's 'A Rapture': The Dynamics of Fantasy," by Paula Johnson (SEL, 16 [1976], 145-155). While we are generally in agreement that the poet's use of shifting tenses is significant (and also with Ms. Johnson's remark that, "like all good erotica," the poem is "fun"), our reading of the poem differs from hers chiefly on three counts. "A Rapture" is not, after all, about any kind of real Celia but rather about the evolution of the poet's attitude. In earlier stages of the poem Celia may well be "the most completely passive female in erotic literature" (Johnson, p. 149), but by the end, when the poet has broken through into a redefinition of social customs and values, he responds to her in different terms: she is no longer an object but a partner. Secondly, the dominantly directive role of the will in lines 1-20 effectively undercuts Ms. Johnson's view of the poem as "the wish-fulfilling dream of an adolescent, graceful, charming, and utterly self-absorbed" (p. 151). Finally, her statement that the concluding analogy could work only if one found "a term for unchaste women that would carry positive overtones" (p. 155) is puzzling; there is, after all, no such term provided for a man either. The analogy works precisely because "whores" balances "atheists." Far from relapsing into conventional morality, then, the concluding terminology suggests the inadequacy of that morality and hints at an option. The very crudity of the word "whore" in this context signals the inadequacy of the moral assumptions implied by that term.

47Clarendon, Life, I, 36.

Source: Ada Long and Hugh MacLean, "'Deare Ben,' 'Great DONNE,' and 'my Celia,': The Wit of Carew's Poetry," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 75-94.