THE POET-SAINT AND THE BAROQUE
RICHARD CRASHAW diffidently subtitled the two collections of his secular poems "Other Poems", and by that deliberate otherness set them apart from his principal work, subtitled "Sacred Poems". The best that could be said of the secular Delights of the Muses was that they were "as sweet as they [were] innocent." The sacred poems on the other hand were the Steps to the Temple by which and through which the reader was "to climbe heaven"; they were the Carmen Deo Nostro which aimed "to burne the hart with heauenly fire." Thus the dulce of the secular poems was as clearly marked as was the utile of the sacred poems; where the secular poems pleased merely, the sacred poems purposed no less than "to measure the soule into that better world."1 In terms of high purpose, sacred poetry was the chief of the delights of the muse of Richard Crashaw.
The earliest poems of this "Poet and Saint" were translations of the Psalms; the earliest published poem was introductory to a volume of sermons. Crashaw first printed book was his Epigrammatum sacrorum liber, published in Cambridge in 1634, a collection of his sacred epigrams in Latin; a second edition, enlarged, appeared in 1670. Other Latin religious epigrams, preserved in manuscripts, were published posthumously.2 Most of his maturer religious poems, composed in English (some of them were translations of the epigrams), Crashaw published in two editions of his Steps to the Temple ( London, 1646 and 1648), the second edition repeating the contents of the first and adding paraphrases of several medieval hymns. Many of the longer poems in the editions of 1646 and 1648, extensively revised before Crashaw's death in 1649, were posthumously published with the hymns as Carmen Deo Nostro ( Paris, 1652) under the editorship of Thomas Car, Crashaw's friend. The volume included a poem to the Countess of Denbigh, a longer and much altered version of which was printed separately as A Letter to the Countess of Denbigh ( 1653?). These manuscripts and printed books constitute the corpus of Crashaw's sacred poetry.____________________