THIS STUDY has been chiefly concerned with the meaning of Crashaw's poetry as it can be made out from a study of his context of time and place, associates, instruments of piety and sensibility, and predecessors in kind. The assumption of such study is that the meaning of poetry is primarily the poet's -- his to endow, ours to inherit. But the meaning of artifacts is cumulative. Whenever a really original work of art is really apprehended, the accession alters the status and meaning of the existing "accredited" works. Thus, if Francis Thompson or Gerard Hopkins has excelled Crashaw at what he purposed or effected, we can dispense with Crashaw or lower him to the status of substitute, to be accepted only if the "original" is not on the shelves. His "meaning" to English poetry alters with the addition of cognate successors. 1 But his "meaning" changes also by virtue of subsequent patterns of thought.
To trace a poet's reputation is to trace the imposition upon him of patterns with which he was unfamiliar, meanings to which he would not have subscribed; but a poet's reputation, his record of scars