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Touching Davlcfs Harp: 6eorge Herbert end Ralph Knevet by Amy Charles Within a few years of the publication of 77»· Templo in 1 633, other poets wereendeavoring to follow George Herbert's example in writing devotional verse, and for the next decade or two they reflected in their work the extent or the limits of their understanding of what he had undertaken in 77»· Templo. ' Some wrote stiff, superficial imitations of the shaped verses; a few comprehendedmore fully what Herbert had implied about subject, method, manner, diction, tone, and any other category we care to try to establish, not least the poet's attitude toward God Before he was seventeen Herbert had set down his own understanding of what he was attempting in his poetry: However, I need not[the muses]help, to reprove the vanity of those many Love-poems, that are daily writ and consecrated to Venus; nor to bewail that so few are writ, that look towards Godand Heoven. For my own part, my meaning (dear Mother) is in these Sonnets, to declare my resolution to be, that my poor Abilities in Poetry, shall be all, and ever consecrated to Gods glory. 2 To this understanding, of course, must ultimately be added the further comments on writing in the "Jordan" poems, "The Sonne," and "The Forerunners." Ralph Knevet and Henry Vaughan held similar views about Herbert's intentions in his poetry, and both expressed them in prefaces to their own volumes of devotional verse. In Vaughan's view (the later and better known of the two statements) Herbert was "the first, that with any effectual success attempted a diversion of this foul and overflowing streem. . .whose holy IMi and verse gained many Converte, (of 54 HERBERTAND KNEVET whom I am the least) and gave the first check to a most flourishing and admired »Wf of his time." Herbert's followers, said Vaughan, besides lacking his spirit and qualifications, "had more of fashion, then fore·" because, as he saw it, "they aimed more at verse, then perfection In Vaughan's view, "he that desires to excel in this kinde of Heglography, or holy writing, must strive (byall means) forperfection and truehotynoss, that a doormay bo opened to Mm In heoven . and then he will be able to write. . .A true Hymn" 3 Knevet, championing divine poetry as it had been written by Moses, David, and Solomon, scorned contemporary poets who did not aim their workat the glory of the Almighty, and saw Herbert as the poet "who rightly knew to touch Davids Harpe." He concluded his preface with this thought, that "though Heaven affordes me not so much favour that I maycome neare him in the excellencye of his high Enthusiasmes.yet I am comforted in that I am permitted to follow Him in his Devotions." 4 Such poetry would have been "number'd among lost Antiquityes " had not Herbert "by a religious cultivation, added new life to the wither'd branches, of this celestiali Balme Tree." 5 Unaware of what Herbert had written to his mother when he sent the New Year's sonnets of 1610, his followers might draw their inferences from such poems as the two "Jordan" poems, "The Sonne," and "The Forerunners," which comment on language, rhetoric, and order; or they might try to discern his principles from the examples he offered in his poems. Of the group of poets significantly influenced (though in varying degrees) by Herbert — Christopher Harvey, Henry Coiman, ß Ralph Knevet, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan — not one can be called a mere imitator, although Harvey comes closest to meriting the label. Probably Vaughan came closest to comprehending what it was that Herbert had undertaken; but of course Vaughan remains his own man, even when he borrows directly a line like "How shril are silent tears." For both Knevet and Vaughan, Herbert proved a catalyst rather than a mere model, and enabled these followers to find their own way and their own voice. Both apparently came upon The Temple in times of change both general and personal; and each found in Herbert's ooems, in his own way, the wellspring 55 Amy Charles that led him to turn from his own...


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