Explaining why Donne and his associates seem ill at ease with pastoral poetry, the Shakespearean scholar Sir Edmund Kerchever Chambers (1866-1954) developed a distinction, touched on by Edward Dowden and by Gosse, between the manner of Spenser and the manner of Donne, which became the orthodox view thereafter (English Pastorals, 1895, pp. xvii-xix).
Rightly to judge of the pastoral impulse in English verse we must look not to the eighteenth century, and not to the nineteenth, but strictly to the period between the coming of Elizabeth and that inauspicious moment, nearly a hundred years later, when Puritanism for a while snuffed out literature. Outside the drama, with only the fringes of which we are concerned, the poetry, and in a measure the prose, of that hundred years, is the outcome of two distinct and partly-opposed waves of tendency. One does not like the expression, 'a school of poetry'; but it is difficult to dissociate the tendencies or tempers in question from the influence of two representative and dominant personalities, those of Spenser the musical, and of Donne the imaginative. On the one hand there is a body of poetry, transparent, sensuous, melodious, dealing with all the fresh and simple elements of life, fond of the picture and the story, rejoicing in love and youth, in the morning and the spring; on the other, a more complex note, a deeper thrill of passion, an affection for the sombre, the obscure, the intricate, alike in rhythm and in thought, a verse frequent with reflections on birth and death, and their philosophies, a humour often cynical or pessimistic, always making its appeal rather to the intellect than to the senses. The manner of Spenser and the manner of Donne, the Elizabethan style and the Jacobean, if you will; the two have to be carefully distinguished in any adequate treatment of the age. Yet either nomenclature is misleading; we have not to deal with two rival masters and two coteries of imitators, nor with two styles, whereof one at some moment of crisis or upheaval succeeded and replaced the other, as, for instance, the literature of the romantic
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Publication information: Book title: John Donne: The Critical Heritage. Volume: 2. Contributors: A. J. Smith - Editor, Catherine Phillips - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 70.
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