8 oct. 2010

If I had another lifetime, 17th century English poetry would be a good place to start. Marvellous. Everyone from Jonson and Shakespeare to Waller Rochester and Dryden. I have the same birthday as Robert Herrick. Hell, throw in the 16th too. Chapman, Wyatt...

There's an elegy to Rochester that Pound included in the ABC of Reading. It's amazing. It might be by Oldham or it might be anonymous. I'm going to have to do a bit more research. Pound says there's a single principle that makes it musical, and that the student should stare at it his whole life to figure it out. I still don't know what he was referring to though I do have a theory.

Poetry could be anything. Satire, elegy, epic. It could be sacred or profane. It could be obscene or polemical. The 18th century narrowed the scope, squeezing out even the lyric. In the 16th and 17th century, poetry was king. Prose lagged far behind. In the 18th century, even the verse was prose, as Eliot famously remarked.

7 comentarios:

Sarang dijo...

I feel like there's a sleight-of-hand here: all the best polemical work is from the Rochester-Dryden era, at which point verse was generally profane (one might make an exception for Dryden's prosy but good religious poems) and not especially lyrical. The flip side is that in the Metaphysical/Cavalier period, there wasn't all that much formal diversity -- all the good stuff is lyric poetry. Analogously, one could (e.g.) say isn't it amazing that the 17th cent. had both Webster and Congreve. But it isn't, really.

Jonathan dijo...

Well, but what about MIlton? Is he that far off from the Cavalier period? And isn't there formal diversity in Donne's work? Is an Ode to Cromwell a lyric poem in the same way as "To His Coy MIstress." ? Of course certain strains dry up by the last third of the century...

Sarang dijo...

Yes, Donne wrote a lot of non-lyric poems, but none of them (except the 2nd anniv.) are among his best work. (Similarly, Pope and Johnson wrote defensible lyric poems. Not to mention Gray and Collins.) The only major poems from the first half of C17 that are not in the songs-and-sonnets mold are the anniversaries and Jonson's Penshurstish stuff (and Lycidas I guess). There is a lot of satire, none of it very good. (Remember someone trying to make a case for Marston but I don't buy it.)

The transitional Civil-War work -- Marvell and Milton -- is a different story, and I'm quite willing to acknowledge that the "Horatian Ode" would have been impossible in a more settled age. I'm not sure how much this proves though. Even agreeing that the 17th cent. produced more good English poetry than any other, it is misleading to flatten out its internal chronology: it makes a series of rapid transitions seem like a period of stable diversity, which it wasn't.

Jonathan dijo...

Anyway, in my enthusiastic haste I muddied the waters a bit. My original point was supposed to be that if I had another lifetime, I'd love to be a scholar of English poetry from Wyatt and Spenser to Rochester and Dryden. That period (several periods) was rich in a lot of genres and forms, and verse not prose was ascendant. It's very true that all those things were not happening all at once. Even if you narrow it to Jonson through Milton, there is an awful lot of good stuff there, but it wasn't all happening at the same time.

Lawrence LaRiviere White dijo...

Regarding the trick to the poem, Robert Pinsky told us (& I assumed he'd gotten it from Yvor Winters), that it has to do w/long vowels getting the stresses in the meter.

Jonathan dijo...

I always thought it was about using long vowels in the weak positions as well and evening out the flow. I can't be sure what Pound had in mind, though.

Lawrence LaRiviere White dijo...

Your idea sounds good to me. My copy of ABC is under a big pile of books that await a stalled remodel to get going again, so I've got nothing more to add. But I'm glad you mentioned the poem. It's so gorgeous.