Crashaw's "Epiphany Hymn":
The Dawn of Christian Time
Posterity has not been as kind to Richard Crashaw, the poet, as it has been to Richard Crashaw, the man. Literary history, which is quite willing to regard Crashaw's disrupted life and enforced wanderings with sympathy, would seem to deny him a place among the elect poets, and perhaps this is just. Few could argue convincingly that he belongs on Parnassus.Yet, in our judgment of his religious poetry, we seem to have applied unfair or alien standards and found his wanting. Our condemnation of his "excesses" stems from a religious tradition ironically more common to us than to him, a tradition which he was not really trying to emulate and which he would not have found exclusive. Anglo-Saxon countries are heir to an essentially Puritan attitude toward religious devotion (even when the belief in such devotion itself is on the wane) which holds that when God speaks to man, He speaks in a plain style; any heightening of that style is more suspect as it becomes more elaborate. As a result, we celebrate Herbert and Vaughan, and even Donne (whose virtues need no defense) at the expense of Crashaw's "baroque sensibility."
But Crashaw's best religious poetry belies that usually pejorative and frequently vague description, and a careful reading of this poetry shows that it contains a richness of detail and evocation, a pattern of careful, orderly development that is not only especially significant, but also perfectly welded to the form and temper of its expression. It is not the true manner of the "Donne tradition," and perhaps it is time to lay that ghost to rest when____________________