To a Lady that Desired I would Love her

Part Cavalier, part Metaphysical

The analysis of this poem is included to represent scores of love poems that sit somewhere between true Metaphysical poetry and Cavalier poetry. The latter is a straight continuation of Elizabethan courtly love poetry, working with conventional themes, diction, images and structures. It is usually a very smooth, polished verse, but originality, striking phrases and images are not its strong points. Carew's A Song: Ask me no more, is a good example of this. Metaphysical love poetry, as exemplified in the poetry of John Donne, breaks away from the conventional, producing an original voice and structure.

This poem moves along generally in the Cavalier pattern: a negotiation over courtship, done in terms of praise, scorn, acceptance and rejection. However, there are some original moves which could be seen as metaphysical. They are also moves which would interest modern critics, since they have to do with the self-conscious way that writing love poetry is viewed. Post-modernism sees writing as a construct, and the more the writer is aware of this, the better.

She only wants him for the fame

Here the poet is aware that the lady may be giving him permission to begin a courtship because she wants the fame his poetry may bring her ‘To rayse ... Fame to their beauty'. This would make it self-regarding: the more emotional ups-and-downs she can inflict on the poet, the more poetry he will produce (‘puling Poets whine ... from their blubber'd eyn (eyes).') The disparaging language the poet uses of such poets and poetry suggests he doesn't like it. It is using the poet for purposes other than art.

A poetic makeover

The irony, of course, is that even the discourse on the matter is creating a poem which in some way must draw attention to the lady. The poet mentions he has the power to make

Your brow as Crystal smooth, and clear,
And your dishevell'd hayr.

It perhaps suggests the real lady's skin is not too smooth, and her hair somewhat untidy. So she gets noticed for that, and in a sense, famous, through the fame of the poem. The bargain he can hold out is that he could actually write that her hair was indeed smooth, her hair beautifully arranged, and no one would know that he was just making it up: this is poetry as make-believe.

A conundrum

This leads to several layers of irony. The first is that by writing about the actual negotiation, we know the un-made-up lady. Her position is undermined already. The second is that his own negotiations are also undermined. When he says:' ‘Let me love you properly, and you love me properly, so I can do you a favour', how is he to know that she will not just pretend to respond so that he will write about her? He doesn't, of course, though he will have the pleasure of the courtship!

Thus poetry still gets written, one way or the other. The whole question of honesty in poetry becomes subsumed in the question of honesty in the relationship. There is no way out of an endless circle. This conundrum is what makes the poem metaphysical: ultimately it is not about love or the lady at all, but the power of poetry and the honesty of relationship possible to a poet. Another of Carew's poems, Ingratefull Beauty Threatned, is even more explicit on this theme.

Investigating To a Lady
  • Read through Carew's To a Lady that desired
  • Does Carew's attitude to poetry explain why he is only a minor poet?
  • Compare To a Lady that desired with Donne's Aire and Angels for the use of conceits
  • Compare the poem with Cleveland's Upon Phillis Walking
    • To what extent do you think both poems are Metaphysical rather than merely complimentary?

(see Themes and significant ideas > Writing as poet or priest).

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