Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw

By George Walton Williams | Go to book overview

V.
LIQUIDITY

THE TENDENCY of Crashaw's poetry to use images of fluids involves both symbolism and technique. Perhaps there is a relationship: the fluid matter of the images assists the fluid manner of the versification. "All things flow," Mr. Warren succinctly remarks; "Crashaw's imagery runs in streams; the streams run together; image turns into image. His metaphors are sometimes so rapidly juxtaposed as to mix. . . . The effect is often that of phantasmagoria."1Crashaw's emphasis on liquids -- the Christian religion is well-supplied with them -- imposes a fluidity on the technique. The symbolic liquids themselves reflect two other symbolic concepts in the poetry. They are susceptible to quantity and to color. The liquids have meaning in tiny drops and in great quantities: in springs, fountains, rills, rivers, torrents, floods, seas, oceans; in dew, rain, showers, deluge.2 All of these quantitative nouns describe the abundance of the love and power of God. The poem which most clearly displays the climactic quality of Crashavian abundance is the "Song Upon the Bleeding Crucifix," a poem using liquids as a basic conceit (Chapter II, Section 1). The liquids have colors also, and the colors are generally white and red. So water, tears, dew, and rain are white;3 blood and wine are red. The white liquids exhibit the qualities of purity and innocence observed in Chapter III; the red liquids, like other red things, glow with the love of God. Red liquids, however, do not by their nature represent the carnality of man's sins.4 For convenience liquidity will be examined on the basis of this color contrast.

The basic white liquid is water. St. Teresa describes in the Way of Perfection three properties of symbolic water; all are represented in Crashaw.5 The first property is that water satisfies thirst, a function stressed by the topographical background of the Scriptures. Christ is

____________________
1
Warren, Richard Crashaw, p. 192.
2
These terms are generally merely intensifiers; they have little specific meaning beyond "great, greater, greatest quantity." "Flood" conveniently rhymes with "blood."
3
For special effects water can be black; it is so in a storm ( Martin, p. 88, IV) and in Hell (p. 120, xliv). Curiously, Crashaw does not treat sweat as a symbolic liquid. "Sweat" refers to drops from heat, overwork, exuding liquids, and to moisture generally.
4
With one exception that I think of. When wine as strong drink produces "the Teares of wrath and strife," it may be said to be red because of man's sins (ibid., p. 91, III).
5
St. Teresa, Way of Perfection, XIX [ Peers, II, 78-82].

-84-

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