Richard Crashaw: A Study in Style and Poetic Development

By Ruth C. Wallerstein | Go to book overview
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Poet and Saint! to thee alone are given
The two most sacred names of earth and heaven;

In no poet are the art and the inner development more deeply bound up in each other than in Richard Crashaw. He passed through a series of poetic influences each of which shaped almost violently his thought and his artistic expression. As a school-boy he was trained in the conventional, formal themes and in the highly artificial rhetoric of the neo-Latin and neo-Greek epigram; and in this form he produced a considerable amount of work remarkable among the large body of such epigrams for its skill and even at times for its power in its own kind, and no less signal in that he alone of the numerous English poets who must have been similarly drilled created anything of importance in the mode, or felt it as an abiding influence. Marino was the next influence and a powerful one. And then he made an intensive study of the craft of emblem and impresa. In none of these studies, however, violently as they wrenched his style, was Crashaw concerned merely or primarily with style. In his study of rhetoric, emblem, impresa, a dual process of mind was going on. The study was for Crashaw, as we shall see, a kind of intellectual discipline akin, in the artistic realm, to the discipline, in the intellectual realm, of mastering the technique of meditation. And yet in the early stages his style remains fantastic and artificial. It is only as his inner life lays hold upon us that we can understand how the ingenious, theatrical, often trivial and barbarous elements of that style became at last fused and transmuted into poetic utterance. And, on the other hand, so alien from the main stream of our poetic style, so special, so esoteric in his expression is Crashaw in all but his supreme passages, that only after we have come through intensive study to understand his mode of expression will he yield in full his poetic vision. And yet, though his man


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