The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature

By J. Douglas Canfield | Go to book overview

2
Cavendish and Philips:
Metaphysically Meant

THE YEAR 1664 MARKED THE PUBLICATION OF TWO VOLUMES OF poetry by women wits with strong ties to the restored Stuart court: Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle’s Poems, and Fancies,1 and Katherine Philips’s Poems by the incomparable Mrs. K. P.2 These two impressive women are both associated with what Bruce King calls “the new rationalism” of neoclassicism.3 Yet they have a very different wit. Cavendish’s is bizarre, mostly abstract, as she writes of atoms and science and nature; Philips’s is also abstract in the sense that she writes often of friendship, Platonism, Providence. But at their very best, each poet is capable of a poem or two that is more human—and positively stunning. The baroque quality of Cavendish’s “On a Melting Beauty” has no antecedent that I know; that of Philips’s “Friendship’s Mysterys, to my dearest Lucasia” recalls Donne. Both anticipate Emily Dickinson. Both of these poems are from the 1650s, closer to the metaphysical poets, closer to the Golden Age of baroque. But Philips has a poem upon Charles Il’s coronation that dares a shockingly baroque metaphoric allusion. All three poems seem to me metaphysically meant, that is, supercharged with metaphysical conceits that profoundly disrupt them.


METAPHYSICAL TRANSFORMATION IN “ON A MELTING BEAUTY”

As we enter the church at the beginning of Cavendish’s poem, along with the sympathetic speaker, we feel on familiar ground: a rather conventional description of a beautiful woman mourning her lost lover at his tomb. That is, we assume his, but the relationship is actually left genderless. This could even be a female friendship poem like Philips’s.

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The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Foreword 9
  • Acknowledgments 13
  • Introduction 15
  • List of Abbreviations 21
  • 1 - Milton: Mysteriously Meant 25
  • 2 - Cavendish and Philips: Metaphysically Meant 34
  • 3 - Waller and Etherege: Materially Meant 42
  • 4 - Dorset and Sedley: Mischievously Meant 50
  • 5 - Buckingham and Rochester: Reflexively Meant 63
  • 6 - Behn: Paradoxically Meant 77
  • 7 - Dryden: Cryptically Meant 91
  • 8 - Killigrew and Finch: Ventriloquently Meant 107
  • 9 - Rowe and Pope and Tonson/Gildon and Curll: Parasitically Meant 117
  • 10 - Pope: Metaphorically Meant 125
  • 11 - Pope: Mockingly Meant 143
  • 12 - Montagu: Surrogately Meant 154
  • 13 - Swift: Eccentrically Meant 164
  • 14 - Gay and Fielding: Absurdly Meant 174
  • Concluding Meditation 188
  • Appendix Poems Less Readily Available 193
  • Notes 217
  • List of Secondary Works Cited 235
  • Index 243
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