[Author's Preface] / Lecture I: Introduction: On the Definition of Metaphysical Poetry
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[ 609 The Clark Lectures Lectures on the Metaphysical Poetry of the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to Donne, Crashaw and Cowley Madonna, lo fine del mio amore fu già il saluto di questa donna, forse de cui voi intendete; ed in quello dimorava la beatitudine, ch’e il fine di tutti li miei desiri. La Vita Nuova1 I want someone to treat me rough. Give me a cabman. Popular Song2 [Author’s Preface]3 It is the intention of the author to rewrite these lectures as a book. Beyond the obvious alterations – the conversational style and the constant repetitions to be removed – the whole argument is to be reformed; assertions must be proved; much detail of fact and authority must be added. The divers parts must be made more coherent; I am aware that in the present form my fundamental ideas remain quite obscure. In particular, the whole of my case turns upon my interpretation of the Vita Nuova, which is only hinted at in Lecture III, and my interpretation of the childhood of Dante. This must be developed very fully. The completed book on The School of Donne will be very much longer thantheselectures,andwillincludedetailedexaminationoftheworkofother poetsoftheepochwhohaveherebeenonlycasuallymentioned.Itisintended asonevolumeofatrilogyunderthegeneraltitleof“TheDisintegrationofthe Intellect”: the other two volumes will deal with Elizabethan Drama, its technical development, its versification, and its intellectual background of general ideas; and with The Sons of Ben – the development of humanism, its relation to Anglican thought, and the emergence of Hobbes and Hyde. The three together will constitute a criticism of the English Renaissance. 610 ] Lecture I Introduction: On the Definition of Metaphysical Poetry My purpose in these lectures is to arrive if possible at a systematic description of the common characteristics of the poetry of the Seventeenth Century in England commonly known as metaphysical, and further to seek for a definition of the nature of metaphysical poetry in general. It suits my purpose if the subject has, as I believe it has, a certain actuality and contemporary bearing. We have seen in the present century and increasingly within thelastfewyears,anawakeningofinterestinthisseventeenth-centurypoetry. However this arose, it undoubtedly contains besides pure literary appreciation , a consciousness or a belief that this poetry and this age have some peculiar affinity with our own poetry and our own age, a belief that our own mentality and feelings are better expressed by the seventeenth century than by the nineteenth or even the eighteenth. Donne is more frequently used as a critical measure than ever before.4† Contemporary poets are by their admirers likened to Donne or to Crashaw; some of them no doubt study these writers deliberately and elect to receive their influence; there are not wanting voices to declare that the present age is a metaphysical age. This actuality of the subject does not merely make it fashionable; it is a subject upon which it is vital to have clear and distinct ideas. If the likeness exists, then it is valuable to understand the poetry of the seventeenth century , in order that we may understand that of our own time and understand ourselves. If the likeness is only fancied, then it is worth the trouble to clear up the misconception, for the same reason. And if as is antecedently probable, the likeness exists in certain particulars along with utter dissimilarity in other particulars, then it will still more usefully clear up our notions about the seventeenth century and our own, if we can arrive at a proper analysis. It may reveal to us tendencies and attitudes in ourselves and our age of which we were conscious and which we must make up our minds either to forward or oppose. But in any case we should be able to find good reasons for our likes and dislikes in this age or any other. And here it is necessary for me to point out, both in guidance towards the method to be adopted and in common modesty, that these lectures will [ 611 Clark Lecture I: introduction not continue or develop the work of scholarship. I shall make use, with due sense of obligation, of the work of scholars, such as Mr. Saintsbury and Mr. Grierson, who have done so much to make the material available and to make possible a proper understanding of it.5 But my point of view is not that of scholarship, but that of literary criticism, and particularly that of one type of literary criticism. My attitude is that of a craftsman who has attempted for eighteen years to make English...