Writing as poet or priest

George Herbert:

Thomas Carew:

Abraham Cowley:

Andrew Marvell:

The poems chosen to illustrate this theme can be divided into two. There are those which are literary critical, and those that have to do with motivation. In the first group we have Carew's two poems and Cowley's. An Elegie and Ode: Of Wit are both attempts to define what metaphysical poetry is. Most ages and schools of poetry attempt this sort of self-definition, which gives us good insights as to how they thought about themselves. In hindsight, we could say Carew's worst fears were not realised: English poetry in general, and Metaphysical poetry in particular, did survive Donne's death. Perhaps his elegy helped in that. Cowley's attempt to define wit has been largely bypassed by much modern criticism. It was not a very successful attempt, anyway.

Carew's To a Lady may have been a joke but it does form a neat introduction both to the nature of literature, and to motivation. To Herbert and Marvell, motivation was rather more serious, since both saw their poems as offerings to God. Inevitably, they come to see their motivation as being far more mixed than they had at first realised. This becomes problematic: how can they make sure God gets all the glory? The answer is a slightly uneasy compromise: though the poet is bound to get some glory, at least some will also go to God. That is the best the poets can hope for: that at least God will be drawn to the attention of their readers.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.