A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview
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Chapter Thirteen

IN the latter half of the period 1625-1660 the voice of poetry was almost drowned in the clash of arms, though it was during these years that many plays and poems which had circulated in manuscript found their way into print. But before the storm broke the Royalist poets went on singing of or to their real or fancied mistresses, while Milton let grow his wings at Horton peaceably enough, with but one ominous note in Lycidas. Otherwise the poets were as unaware of the storm which was brewing as the Georgian and later poets of our own day were of the approaching war:

What though the German drum
Bellow for freedom and revenge, the noise
Concerns not us, nor should divert our joys;
Nor ought the thunder of their carabines
Drown the sweet air of our tuned violins.
Believe me, friend, if their prevailing powers
Gain them a calm security like ours,
They'll hang their arms upon the olive bough,
And dance and revel then, as we do now:

so Carew sang in 1632-1633. Except Milton the age produced no great poet, and its most ambitions attempts-- Chamberlayne Pharonnida ( 1659), Davenant Gondibert ( 1651), and Cowley Davideis ( 1656)--were still-born. On the other hand no generation, till perhaps our own, produced more good poets of all but the first rank or more short poems and songs of high excellence. Spenser was forgotten, except by Milton and by Cowley in his youth. In lyrical and love poetry the master influences were Jonson and Donne, the classical and the metaphysical. It was Jonson who gave to the lyric the carefully builded form which superseded the "woodnotes wild," the folk-song note which is still that of the songs scattered through the plays of Shakespeare, Fletcher, and others.

Jonson's chief disciple and the best of the Royalist poets was


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A Critical History of English Poetry
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