Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
To the Countesse of Denbigh
The full title of the poem is To the Noblest and Best of Ladyes, the Countesse of Denbigh, Persuading her to Resolution in Religion. Crashaw met the Countess in Paris while both of them were in exile during the Civil War. Unlike Crashaw, however, the Countess had not fully committed herself to Roman Catholicism. Crashaw's poem is trying to finally persuade her to take the final step.
We might think that Crashaw would use theological arguments to persuade her finally, but not so. The poem is a series of persuasive images, none of which has any theological content at all. The poem might be given to anyone who has a tough decision to make about almost anything, including accepting a marriage proposal. It is basically about irresolution in general. It doesn't refer to the Catholic church once, and only to God indirectly as ‘Allmighty Love'.
At the gate of bliss
The opening (ll.1-6) uses the image of a door needing to be opened. The Countess needs to enter the ‘gate of blisse', being presumably the Catholic Church.
Do not delay
The first main section (ll.6-28) consists of three linked images or conceits. The first is birth and delivery. She is in labour ‘of your selfe', in the sense that only her will can deliver her soul. This leads to the image of consent, as in a marriage proposal. Sometimes a delay can be just too long. The habit of delay can become ‘fatall bands', causing paralysis of the will.
A number of paradoxes
Crashaw plays throughout with a number of paradoxes, many quite conventional in religious language. The idea of keeping one's heart ‘free' (i.e. free to choose) actually binds it, is one such paradox. He talks of ‘these strange warres' – not the Civil War in this case, though that is the context, but psychological and spiritual battles. People are not always aware of the forces that cause them us to delay, thinking themselves still free to choose. The third image of the section is that of ice binding the free waters ‘In a sad self-captivity', which is one of a number of brilliant little lines in the poem.
The second section is an appeal to ‘Allmighty Love' to end ‘this long warr'. Various warfare terms are used: ‘dart', ‘Trophee of thy powre', ‘conquering', ‘rebell'. But this is woven into other images: ‘And of a meteor make a star' – another brilliant little line – and keys to cabinets. ‘The self-shutt cabinet of an unsearcht soul' takes a good deal of unpacking.
The third and final section returns to the Countess, addressed as ‘fair flower'. The paradoxes of Cupid-like love are used, with the dart and arrow being seen as causing healing wounds. Other warfare language abounds: ‘armes', ‘love's seege', ‘cowardise' -with the paradox of courage being needed to submit. The final enemy is death: the final appeal is to decide soon, before he comes.
- Read through Crashaw's To the Countess of Denbigh
- Pick out the paradoxes in the final section
- Can you work them out?
- How does Crashaw mix up his imagery?
- Does the mixture work?
- Can you unpack ‘The self-shutt cabinet of an unsearcht soul'?
- Pick out the paradoxes in the final section
- Does Crashaw's avoidance of specifically Catholic themes help us appreciate the poem more?
- Or does its vagueness prove a weakness?
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