English Lyric Poetry: The Early Seventeenth Century

By Jonathan F. S. Post | Go to book overview

6

THE ONCE AND FUTURE POET

Milton in the 1645 Poems

Anno Domini 1619 he was ten years old, as by his picture, and was then a poet.

John Aubrey, “Brief Lives”: Chiefly of his Contemporaries

Milton never learned the art of doing little things with grace.

Samuel Johnson, “The Life of Milton”

The road from The Temple led in many directions: to Devonshire, to Wales, to New England, eventually even to Rome itself in the person of Richard Crashaw. But Herbert seems to have made little or no impression on the London-born poet who, in 1645, published his first collection of verse and, though his main energies were then going into writing prose, laid claim to being England’s greatest living poet. “As true a Birth, as the Muses have brought forth since our famous Spencer wrote” is how the bookseller Humphrey Moseley advertised John Milton’s emergence as a poet. By 1645, the thirty-six year old Milton could hardly be trumpeted as a discovery, which the enterprising Moseley no doubt knew. Milton had recently attracted attention (mostly negative) for his radical defense of divorce on grounds other than adultery in four learned and passionately argued pamphlets known collectively as “The Divorce Tracts,” and these were published during an eighteen-month spree from August 1643 to March 1645 that also included the appearance of the now more famous Areopagitica in November 1644. And before that, Milton had written a number of pamphlets denouncing the tyrannical yoke of prelacy and urging England to bring to fruition many of the purifying ideals of the early Reformation. The decision to publish his verse with the innocuous, though distinctly genteel, title of Poems was, in Thomas Corns’s words, in part a bid for respectability amid the heated controversies. 1

But it was more than that, too. In a peculiar but startling way, history had caught up with some of the poems: their vatic energies now sometimes assume a strange prophetic connection to contemporary events in a manner that the sagacious Wither might have admired. Milton had only to add to the headnote to “Lycidas” the phrase, “and by occasion foretells the ruin of our Corrupted

-156-

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English Lyric Poetry: The Early Seventeenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • A Note on Sources and Spelling xvii
  • 1 - Irremediably Donne 1
  • 2 - Ben Jonson and the Art of Inclusion 23
  • 3 - Patriotic and Popular Poets 54
  • 4 - Caroline Amusements 91
  • 5 - Substance and Style in George Herbert’s the Temple 135
  • 6 - The Once and Future Poet 156
  • 7 - Arenas of Retreat 190
  • 8 - From Wroth to Philips 210
  • 9 - Andrew Marvell 253
  • Notes 287
  • Index 310
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