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THE LADY IN A LANDSCAPE AND THE POETICS OF ELIZABETHAN PASTORAL TERRY COMITO Onely the Poet disdeining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect into an other nature: in making things either better then nature bringeth foorth, or quite a new, formes such as never were in nature ... so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely raunging within the Zodiack of his owne wit. Nature never set foorth the earth in so rich Tapistry as diverse Poets have done, neither with so pleasaunt rivers, fruitfull trees, sweete smelling flowers, nor whatsoever els may make the too much loved earth more lovely: her world is brasen, the Poets only deliver a golden.' Sidney expected few of his own contemporaries to understand or to grant his argument, and he hurries on to a 'more ordinary opening' of his subject. By now we should be sufficiently alerted to the audacity of his claim, and to the complexity of the problems it raises.2 From nature's brazen stuff the poet fabricates a golden world, and so proceeds - with the same daring that characterizes Pico's assertion of man's special dignity - to something very like self-deiflcation. In his enthusiasm for Sidney's position, in fact, Puttenham did not scruple to abolish the traditional distinction between making and creating, and to claim that the poet 'contrives out of his owne braine both the verse and matter of his poeme' - ex nihilo, 'as we may say of God." It is difficult, though, to see what this might mean in practice; lmaking new' is precisely what the imagination's enemies were objecting to,' but the wholly new would surely be unintelligible. Sidney sidesteps the issue, yet the whole tenor of his argument makes it clear that the freedom of the poet lies not in dispensing with nature but in engaging it in peculiarly human concerns, pressing it into the service of his own vision; the poet walks hand in hand with nature, and transmutes its base metals into what Diirer called 'the stored-up secret treasure of the heart." But then we must ask if this is not to make the poet less a god than a demiurge , and to subject him to all the notorious intractability of matter.' The question is of the relation of nature and culture, of things and the artist's idea, of what in any case is given and those imaginings by which it is Volume XLI, Number 3, Spring 1972 THE LADY IN A LANDSCAPE 201 transcended; how far, in other words, can Sidney's poet soar on borrowed wings? In what follows, I want to look at two Elizabethan pastorals in such a way as to suggest that the myth animating many such poems (and pastoral prose as well) gives us a parable for understanding the poet's aspirations - and also their necessary limits_ The myth is the story of the lady in the pastoral landscape, a lady who mysteriously both inhabits and transcends the loveliness of pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, and sweet-smelling Bowers.' Such stories seem to draw their energies, and often their vocabulary , from an earlier form of thought. What they do - in the cases with which I shall be concerned - is to secularize the mystic's liber creatorum, in order to set pastoral lovers searching out vestiges of the royal presence that shines through the beauties of their familiar experience. And just such a movement of sensibility Or imagination also defines the poet's search, for, as fully as the lover, he is committed to the attempt to find in the things of the created world, without any sacrifice of their density and immediacy, signs of a reality that transcends them - the theologian's 'res et signa.'- 'The order of God's creatures,' Hoskins says, is 'not only admirable and glOriOUS, but eloquent';9 such at least is the vision by which the poet is animated, the goal at which he must arrive. His golden world is one in which things have become words speaking to man's deepest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 200-218
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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