Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections

By Neil Fraistat | Go to book overview
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Annabel Patterson


Jonson, Marvell, and Miscellaneity?

'Tis not, what once it was, the World,
But a rude heap together hurl'd;
. . . . . . .
Your lesser World contains the same.
But in more decent Order tame;

There are two questions to be asked of any collection of poems by a single author: is the arrangement authoritative? And what, if anything, does it signify? In the seventeenth century these questions are both difficult to answer with certainty and peculiarly demanding of inquiry. Several of the volumes we most value--the poems of Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Jonson Under-wood, were all published posthumously. Yet there is as much evidence of ordering in these volumes as in those of their contemporaries who saw to the publication of their own work, like Robert Herrick or Milton; and from all indications, the concept of significant order was culturally available, something that writers could count on intelligent readers to look for.

It has not, however, been equally recognized by modern editors and critics. The original order of Herbert The Temple, as published in 1633, was replaced in 1905 by the hypothetical chronology of George Herbert Palmer's English Works of George Herbert. Since being restored in the definitive Oxford edition by F. E. Hutchinson, 1 the apparent blend of architectural, liturgical, and autobiographical structures has provoked several decades of lively controversy. 2 By contrast, it was not until the mid-1960s that the original order of the 1645 Poems of Mr. John Milton received critical attention. Since the chronology of Milton's work can be much more reliably reconstructed, often with the help of his own dating, than is the case with Herbert, modern editors have usually adopted that principle; but, as Louis Martz has shown, the order of the 1645 text, actually a pair of volumes, implies a more subtle narrative. Not only did Milton choose not to include all of his early work, but a roughly chronological (historicist) principle of arrangement is counterpointed by a formal principle of sorting by kinds: Latin poems are separated from English ones, devotional poems from secu

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