Men like Satyrs
'POETRY has always had two hands', Robert Graves reveals to us, 'the left and the right; the left for cursing and the right for blessing, as there is a right-handed and a left-handed worship of the Goddess Khali in India; and as, among the Mohammedans, the left hand undertakes certain tasks from which the right shrinks.' The Elizabethans would have appreciated this metaphor, in terms of their own comparative deities, for along with the cultivation of the Muses went a respect for Momus, that personification of fault-finding and hostile criticism. In short, the commonest activity engaged in by left-handed poetry is satire, from which not only the right hand shrinks but much literary criticism.
These are understandable reactions, but if the right hand need not know what the left is doing, the critic has to develop a balanced sense of ambidexterity. His first difficulty, encountered in any discussion of satirical poetry, is that of distinguishing, as C. S. Lewis reminds us we must do, between satire as a literary kind and the satiric element present in so many literary forms. The great works of modern vernacular achievement usually called 'satires'--among them Animal Farm, Erewhon, Gulliver's Travels, or Hudibras--are properly seen by Lewis as deriving from Rabelais, Cervantes, or Lucian, and not from the Roman satirists, Horace, Juvenal, or Persius, to whom one might add Martial. Lewis regrets their influence upon the Elizabethan satirists, stigmatizes Roman satire as having produced no single great poem, and concludes: 'It was therefore, arguably, in an evil hour that the humanistic passion for reviving all ancient kinds led certain Elizabethans to express their satiric impulse in formal satire.'
I think it is also arguable that this humanistic passion was the product not so much of scholarly fury as poetic sensibility, that the great vogue of the epigram and formal verse satire in the 1590's was not an isolated phenomenon but the culmination of many earlier manifestations of the
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Publication information: Book title: Elizabethan Poetry. Contributors: Not available. Publisher: St. Martin's Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 175.