Rudrum, Alan. Henry Vaughan. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1981.
"COTSWOLD ECLOGUE" Thomas Randolph (?) The "Cotswold Eclogue" by Thomas Randolph appears in excerpts in many anthologies as a beautiful example of the pastoral. Randolph's early death prevented his having much of an impact on British poetry, but many critics believe that had he lived, his influence would have been great. Contrary to his odes, such as "Ode to Master Anthony Stafford," which seemed more exercises in the classical approach, his eclogue is deemed creative and written with seeming ease.
The eclogue format is traditional, with Colin, a common name for a shepherd, in dialogue with others, including Thenot. In one section, the two discuss the high price to pay should the typical celebratory atmosphere of the shepherds' domain shift to that of melancholy. Colin describes the May celebration of times past as "the jolly rout," with young men literally jumping through the air. As one was "coursing" from a beech to a mulberry tree, "A second leap'd his supple nerves to try; / A third was practicing his melody," the latter a reference to the pipe playing often celebrated in the pastoral. Young women crown the winners of the celebration that culminates in a winning of a bell to honor "the nut-brown lady of the May." The crowns consist of flower garlands "With daisies, pinks and many a violet, / Cowslip, and gillyflower."
The joyful ceremony to welcome spring is in no manner a debauched celebration. Colin makes this clear when he notes the rewards of the sporting games are small, but they "Encourage virtue." Then he cautions lest virtue "languisheth and die" if continued support for sport is withdrawn. The "dull and general lethargy" practiced by those of more melancholy nature endangers the virtue for which the country folk remain well known. Thenot's reply is to the point: "I'll thrive the lout that did their mirth gainsay! / Wolves haunt his flocks that took those sports away!" The threat against the flock remains important in the context of the pastoral.
Colin continues his support of the celebration, characterizing the "phlegm and sanguine" of those discouraging celebration as personality aspects that should "no religions be." The naysayers equate dancing to the work of "Jezebel," a reference to the biblical woman of the world who was fated to be torn apart in the streets by dogs, while the songs and dances are "profane relics." This misplaced "zeal" that the shepherds intend to counter Colin blames on the influence of the city,
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where "sport" is considered "a dish proper to th' Court." Randolph employs a favored description of city and court life as "foppery," closing that section by noting that courtiers should avoid mirth, while the swains, or shepherds, were born to the life of sport:
Mirth not becomes 'em; let the saucy swain
Eat beef and bacon, and go sweat again.
Besides, what sport can in the pastimes be,
When all is but ridiculous foppery?
COWLEY, ABRAHAM (1618-1667) Abraham Cowley was born in London after the death of his father, who had been a successful stationer. At 10 years of age he published the romantic epic Pyramus and Thisbe and before age 15 published a collection of poems titled Poetical Blossoms, which gained considerable notice. By age 20 Cowley had also written a Latin comedy titled Love's Riddle (1638). He attended Westminster School and Trinity College in Cambridge, his precocious reputation having preceded him; completed his bachelor's degree in 1639; became a fellow in 1640; and completed his master's degree in 1643, the same year he published his satire The Puritan and the Papist. He joined other writers, including the devotional poets Richard Crashaw and John Cleveland, in the loss of his status as a fellow when anti-Royalist forces took over Parliament. By the time of the Civil War, Cowley had left Cambridge of his own volition, supported the king at oxford, and eventually joined Queen Henrietta Maria in exile in 1644 in France, where he served as her secretary. According to Thomas Humphry Ward, he became "so famous at thirty that pirates and forgers made free with his name on their title-pages." While living in France with the court, he may have met Margaret Lucas, later Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, who served as the queen's lady in waiting in 1643-45. Upon her return to England she would gain fame as one of the first women poets to publish voluminously.
Cowley published a collection of approximately 100 lyrics in 1647 titled The Mistress: or Several copies of Love Verses. It would be included in a larger 1656 collection, containing additional poetry titled Miscellanies, Pindaric Odes, as well as four books based on Old Tes tament writings about King David titled Davideis. That first folio of his Works would go through eight editions, indicating his popularity.
When Cowley returned to England in 1654, he was imprisoned for a time until he apparently agreed to comply with the Cromwellians, although historians believe he may have served as a Royalist spy. He used the opportunity to earn an additional degree in medicine, graduating from Oxford in 1657. After the Restoration, the queen made a land grant to Cowley and he regained his Cambridge fellowship. In 1660 he published "Ode upon the Blessed Restoration" and a year later, A Discourse By Way of Vision Concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell. Later in 1661, he published Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, having moved to Chertsey to study botany and write essays. one year after his death a folio edition of his works appeared, Several Discourses by way of Essays, in Verse and Prose, on which his reputation was later based.
Although the popularity evidenced by Cowley's grand burial in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer and Edmund Spenser did not last, he greatly influenced later writers, including Alexander Pope. Charles Dryden noted about Cowley in 1700, "Though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed a good writer." Ironically some critics feel it was Dryden's adaptation and advancement of Cowley's methods that reduced the highly intellectual poet's popularity; as Humphry notes, "Dryden absorbed all that was best in Cowley, and superseded him for the readers of the 18th century, and the nineteenth century, which reads Dryden little, naturally reads Cowley less." Nevertheless, Cowley became the first entry in Samuel Johnson's The Lives of the Poets (1779).
Modern sentiment would concur with Dryden's opinion. Today's readers, for example, would not find much to admire in Cowley's love lyric "Written in Juice of Lemon." The title in itself introduces unintentional humor through the jarring juxtaposition of a sour liquid with the emotion of love. Cowley's conceit of written poetry that will be made visible only through contact with his love's body heat proves clumsy at best. His awkward vision of a paper on which,
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A new-born wood of various lines there grows;
Here buds an A, and there a B,
Here sprouts a V, and there a T,
And all the flourishing letters stand in rows, offers little for an ear tuned to graceful expression. Rather than softened and sweet, the poet's love appears angular and rough, his tone not at all sensitive or receptive. A more widely anthologized example of a tepid lyric is "The Spring," discussed in this volume for the sake of illustration.
However, Cowley did produce poetry that pleases the more sophisticated reader of later ages. He proved at his best in the verses that conclude his essay on solitude, titled simply "On Solitude"; in his odes, such as "Ode to the Royal Society"; and in "Hymn to Light." All in all, the 21st century finds Cowley of interest mainly as a historic figure, and his art of note for its wide variety and strong voice. But as a poet prefiguring a century that would, for a time, embrace rationality to a fault, Cowley in his habit of calm, unemotional reflection and sound judgment proved empowering to his own new scientific era, that of the Restoration.
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