Ezell, Margaret J. M., ed. The Poems and Prose of Mary, Lady
Chudleigh. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Ward, Charles E., ed. The Letters of John Dryden. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1942.
"CHURCH MONUMENTS" George Herbert (1633) In "Church Monuments," George Herbert establishes tombs as an extended metaphor to contemplate death and preparation for death. The poem appeared among the collection titled The Temple, and its church reference unites it in theme with others in the collection. Herbert adopts at first a somber tone that makes clear the reverential nature of his consideration. By the second stanza, however, he incorporates irony and suggests humor through self-deprecation as his speaker expresses a desire to acclimate his body to the impending state of death and dissolution.
The speaker begins by describing a quiet moment spent inside a tomb, where his mind and body both "practice" for the coming moment of reckoning: "While that my soul repairs to her devotion, / Here I intomb my flesh." His purpose is to allow his body to "take acquaintance of this heap of dust," as "the blast of
70 "CIRCUIT OF APOLLO, THE"
death's incessant motion, / Fed with the exhalation of our crimes," will deliver all individuals to this state one day. He concludes the first of his four six-line stanzas with "Therefore I gladly trust," using enjambment to carry readers into the first line of the second stanza, "my body to this school." He employs additional metaphor to compare the tomb and the various headstones to a school, a place where he will learn of his own future. His body must "learn / To spell his elements" later to "find his birth / Written in dusty heraldry and lines," a reference to perhaps a carving of his family crest, as well as engraved lines of an epitaph. He concludes that stanza noting that "dissolution" engages in "comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth," finding humor in man's erecting "Jet and Marble" as "signs" to mark their graves.
Herbert again signals readers to move into the next stanza from the concluding word, signs, the first line of the third stanza reading, "to sever the good fellowship of dust." As he does in several other poems, including "Death" and "Time," Herbert demystifies the idea of death and subsequent decomposition by assuring that as each individual dies, he will find much company in those who have gone before. The headstones simply serve to "spoil the meeting" of dust with dust. The speaker gently derides man's tenacity in clinging to his earthly existence, adding,
. . . What shall point out them, When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
To kiss those heaps, which now they have in trust? (13-15)
He addresses his own flesh, instructing it to "learn here thy stem / And true descent," both of which are dust. Herbert repeats his previous approach of ending the final line of stanza 3 with a comma, causing the reader to continue without break into the final stanza:
. . . that when thou shalt grow fat, And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know, That flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust That measures all our time. (18-21)
Herbert's format of continual movement through enjambment and uncompleted lines and thoughts mimics his subject matter, that of the continual and unstoppable movement from before birth, when all are dust, to after death, when all again become dust. He concludes with a soothing thought:
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall. (22-24)
In other words, people may prepare themselves for the transformation forced by death by observing the quiet unresisting nature of what is left of those who have preceded us in death. They have been liberated from desires of the flesh and remain resigned to their destiny.
"CIRCUIT OF APOLLO, THE" Anne Finch, countess of Winchilsea (1702) Anne Finch, countess OF Winchilsea, cleverly asserts in her "The Circuit of Apollo" that no male would dare anger three out of four women by selecting only one to receive the traditional laurel wreath placed upon the head of the winner of a competition. When Apollo assumes the task of choosing the finest female poet in Kent, he notes not many poets exist there, and most who do are women. He establishes the competition in order to encourage their work. Finch takes the opportunity to praise two poets, Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips, crucial early female writers in establishing a benchmark for the women who would follow.
The poem falls into three sections, indicated by the insertion of white space at the end of the first two. The speaker explains Apollo's task in the first section. Finch also famously writes of Behn, England's first professional female poet and known for her erotic themes, that no superior to her existed "in fancy, in language, or wit," but Apollo "owned that a little too loosely she writ." Finch adds, "Since the art of the muse is to stir up soft thoughts, / Yet to make all hearts beat without blushes or faults." She uses alliteration in establishing the purpose of inspiration, which is not to inflame readers or to call attention to the poet herself, but rather to delight the audience gently. With that general comment she concludes the first section.
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