Behn: Paradoxically Meant
IF APHRA BEHN HAS NOW ENTERED THE CANON AS DRAMATIST AND novelist, her reputation as a poet remains undervalued. Particularly in her pindarics and pastorals and even her political odes, she deserves more attention as a peer of Rochester and Dryden. In the midst of these most neoclassical of forms Behn often includes baroque twists—bizarre paradoxes that don’t seem to fit. I should like to examine two examples: The Golden Age and A Congratulatory Poem to Her Sacred Majesty Queen Mary.1
FORGOTTEN WORDS AND BONDS
In her headnote to The Golden Age: A Paraphrase on a Translation out of French, Janet Todd opines that Behn’s subtitle may well indicate that the additions to Torquato Tasso’s famous chorus at the end the first act of his Aminta (1573) are hers as paraphraser and not those of her unknown French translator. If Warren Chernaik is correct in his speculation that the French L’Aminte du Tasse is Behn’s French source, since it is, as Chernaik notes, “a close translation of the Italian original,” we can on firmer ground than Germaine Greer supposes2 assume that Behn is responsible for the embellishments of Tasso’s pastoral scene painting and especially of his hints of the world of trade that brings war in its wake and of the world of the city and the court that features ambition and business. Best of all, we can now assume that it was Behn who was inspired to expand Tasso’s concluding carpe diem twist (itself borrowed from Catullus):
Amian, che ’l Sol si muore e poi rinasce:
a noi sua breve luce
s’asconde, e ’l sonno eterna notte adduce. (721–23)3
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Publication information: Book title: The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature. Contributors: J. Douglas Canfield - Author. Publisher: University of Delaware Press. Place of publication: Newark, DE. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 77.
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