A History of English Literature

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
Blindness’). This remoteness was increased for rational Anglicans by the Puritan
enthusiasm of the 1640s. Herbert’s simple faith was not simple-minded; Renaissance
Christianity did not lack mind or drama. Herbert, formerly Public Orator of
Cambridge University, spoke fluent Latin and (unlike Donne) used art to hide intel-
lect. His is the studied simplicity of New Testament parables. Words danced for him:
‘Lovely enchanting language, sugarcane, / Honey of roses, whither wilt thou fly?’
(from ‘The Forerunners’). He could, when he wished, astonish. ‘Prayer’ is an arc of
metaphors, ending: ‘The milky way, the bird of paradise, / Church bells beyond the
stars heard, the soul’s blood, / The land of spices, something understood.’
Herbert’s usual note is given in the openings of ‘Virtue’ – ‘Sweet day, so cool, so
calm, so bright’ – and of ‘The Flower’: ‘How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean /
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring.’ Later in ‘The Flower’, after a barren
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing.
The verses are often complaints – unresolved in ‘Discipline’, or distressed, as in
‘Deniall’: ‘Come, come, my God, O come!/ But no hearing.’ ‘The Collar’ ends,
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Methought I heard one calling,Child!
And I replied,My Lord.
The title is both the clerical dog-collar and choler, a fit of temper.The Temple leads
up to ‘Love (III)’, a eucharistic prayer. Herbert likens taking Communion to a visit
to a tavern. It begins, ‘Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back’ and ends, ‘You
shall sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: / So I did sit and eat.’
Donne, Herbert and Traherne had Welsh connections. Herbert’s disciple Henry
Vaughan (1621–1695) was Welsh. His Christianity was Platonic: ‘My soul, there is a
country/ Far beyond the stars’ and ‘I saw eternity the other night / Like a great
ring of pure and endless light.’ ‘They are all gone into the world of light!’ contains
the verse:
I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light does trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.
Mystical vision is stronger in the work ofThomas Traherne (1637–1674), whose
wonderful poems and Ce nturies,prose meditations, were printed only in 1908.
Vaughan and Traherne, like Herbert, were devotional poets who wrote no secular
verse. An earlier ‘son’ of Herbert was Richard Crashaw (1613–1649). An Anglican
priest turned out by Parliamentary Commissioners, Crashaw wrote his baroque
Steps to the Temple before exile and Catholicism. These Anglican pietists lack
Herbert’s stamina and syntax; Vaughan’s second couplet (quoted above) falters.
There were devotional poets also at the ‘godly’ end of the religious spectrum, such as
Gerr ard Winstanley (c.1609–1676),leader ofthe Diggers, or True Levellers, whose
strong writing in verse and prose has attracted renewed attention in recent years, in
part due to a current renewal of interest in the ideal of a republic. Here should be


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