RICHARD CRASHAW, 1613?-1649
That our sensuality by the vertue of Christ's Passion, be brought up into the substance.
CRESSY, Revelation of Divine Love
IN so far as we read poetry to discover what the poet meant, as much as, or at least as well as, what his poem may mean to us, his biography is a useful crutch. We know little of Crashaw's life beyond the bare outline; but that little helps us to envisage the man who wrote the poems. His mother died when he was a baby, the exact date is unknown, but he had a step-mother by the time he was seven years old, and she died a year later. During that brief space we are told that she showed a 'singular motherly affection for the child of her predecessor'. Other women befriended him when he grew up. He speaks with warm and reverent affection of the Mother of a Community, who was possibly Mary Collet, the niece of Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding; she is described by him, in a letter, as 'the gentlest, kindest, most tender-hearted and liberall handed soul I think this day alive'. The Countess of Denbigh and Queen Henrietta Maria were good to him and recommended him for preferment at Rome; but he was never to find
That not impossible shee
That shall command my heart and mee;1
and the fact that he was appointed to a College Fellowship in 1635 (when he was twenty-two years old), and that he continued to prefer the monastic life, 'a little contentfull kingdom' as he describes it, suggests that he never seriously sought her. For Crashaw, as for Herbert, religion supplied the only outlet for an emotional nature. Yet the____________________