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Indiana University Press, 1983. Craig, D. H. Ben Jonson, The Critical Heritage: 1599-1798.
New York: Routledge, 1995. Enck, John J. Jonson and the Comic Truth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957. Greene, Thomas M. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982.
Guffey, George Robert. Elizabethan Bibliographies Supplements: Robert Herrick, Ben Jonson, Thomas Randolph. London: Nether Press, 1968. Miles, Rosalind. Ben Jonson: His Life and Work. New York:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. Parfitt, George. Ben Jonson: Public Poet and Private Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
Peterson, Richard S. Imitation and Praise in the Poems of Ben Jonson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981. Riggs, David. Ben Jonson: A Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.
"JORDAN" (1) George Herbert (1633) George Herbert's two "Jordan" poems, published posthumously in the collection The Temple, differ from some of his other work in that they represent responses to members of his literary coterie. His extended family included Sir Philip Sidney and his sister, Mary Sidney Herbert (countess of Pembroke). The countess was a poet herself and also patronized the arts, passing her appreciation of poetry to her son, the third earl, William Herbert. He would also serve as literary patron to Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Samuel Daniel, and William Browne, among others. Her son took over her position as head at Wilton House when George Herbert was 10 years old, and their Protestant coteries would greatly influence Herbert. The coteries offered a manner by which the upper class could make public their creative work, as publication was considered too vulgar an act in which to engage.
Within the coterie, members exchanged verses and honored one another's works through replies, or Repartee, commonly known as "answer poems." The reply answered the first poem through imitating it but also often by challenging its ideas or attempting to best its wit. Herbert's "Jordan" poems offered a reply to Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, as well as to his Apology for Poetry. Sidney designed Astrophil and Stella as a sequence of 108 sonnets with the addition of 11 songs. As the sonnets relate the unsuccessful romance of Astrophil and Stella, they also comment on poetic conventions. For instance, in the 15th sonnet, Astrophil declares himself independent of Petrarchan conventions. It offers an account of 16th-century attitudes toward love poetry and the topic of love. Without some knowledge of Sidney's works and "answer poems," a reader might find Herbert's "Jordan" poems inaccessible. Herbert early declared he would use the sonnet form to celebrate sacred love, rather than erotic love, the traditional topic of most lyric poetry. Sidney had written in his Apology that in addition to romantic love poetry, another type existed, but that of it "almost have
we none." It should be employed, according to him, "in singing the praises of the immortal beauty: the immortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write and wits to conceive." Herbert agreed.
As Cristina Malcomson explains, Herbert selected the title Jordan for the biblical river important to Christian imagery. He found it a logical substitute for the Greek Helicon, fountains of sacred water that provided inspiration to classical poets. Herbert included no references to erotic love in his work, and, because he wished to compliment Sidney's work, which he greatly admired, incorporated wit, rather than argument, into "Jordan." Herbert imitates Sidney's sparse style but incorporates allusions that are anything but simple.
The poem opens with four rhetorical questions, including "Who says that fictions only and false hair / Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?" Herbert questions the idea that only things untrue and fake ("false hair") make strong topics for poetry. He urges his readers to admit that "truth," or what is real, also has beauty. He includes phrases that allow him to parody the excess of figurative language favored by the courtiers, including a "painted chair," a special lash against the Petrarchan aesthetic. He also executes a neat pun, employing the phrase a winding stair, to refer to the structure of the sonnet, writing, "Is all good structure a winding stair?" In the second stanza, Her bert also questions the value of "enchanted groves / And sudden arbours," as well as "purling streams," playing on conventions of pastoral verse. While Sidney also celebrated true emotion over complex verbosity, Herbert departs from his model by noting that pastoral love, a specialty of Sidney's verse, represents the fiction he proposes as undesirable.
Herbert's third stanza drives relentlessly toward his point, noting that the shepherds of pastoral convention "are honest people," who should be allowed to sing. However, he shall "envie no mans nightingale or spring," a direct reference to conventions pastoral and the works of the Cavalier poets; nor will he allow men to "punish me with losse of rime, / Who plainly say, My God, My King." When he concludes with praise of his God, he makes clear the sentiment is poetic enough; it requires no rhyme. Even the final phrase may be interpreted in different ways, as Malcolmson points out. Herbert might mean "my God is my King," but he also could suggest, "My God and King," meaning that he recognizes both his heavenly and his earthly ruler. If the latter interpretation proved the true one, Herbert could diplomatically pay homage to both the Cavalier poet tradition and his own religious belief.
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