Elegy Upon The Death Of The Dean Of Pauls Dr John Donne

AN" Thomas Carew (1640) Thomas Carew was obviously influenced by the poet John Donne, but he remained incapable of achieving Donne's metaphysical resonance and elegance. Most critics agree his lighter lyric touch and gentler tone did not permit the serious approach of Donne. However, in Carew's "An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of Paul's, Dr. John Donne," he demonstrates the benefit he reaped from familiarity with Donne's work. Rhodes Dunlap includes in his discussion of Carew's achievements a comparison and contrast between poems by both poets that adopt the same conceit. Donne wrote in his poem "The Dampe,"

When I am dead, and Doctors know not why, And my friends curiositie Will have me cut up to survey each part, When they shall finde your Picture in my heart."

The speaker of the Donne poem seriously challenges his mistress with a cynical tone that adds strength supporting his accusation against her as the cause of his death. In Carew's later "Secresie Protested," he imitates Donne's theme but adopts a contrasting stylistic approach, more in keeping with the frivolity often present in Cavalier poetry:

If when I dye, Physicians doubt What caus'd my death, and there to view of all their judgements which was true, Rip up my heart, oh then I feare The world will see thy picture there.

The stirring emotion that informs each line for Donne makes a quick appearance only in Carew's final couplet. He avoids the stronger metaphysical approach that caused many to label Donne eccentric but then can never achieve the older poet's strength of purpose. As a member of the Caroline school, Carew depended more on light wit than innovation, gaining him the ire of later critics, who deemed his type of ingenious figurative language the result of a corrupt and immoral society. Nevertheless, in Carew's tribute to Donne, he turns his inability to equal the master to his advantage.

Carew begins his elegy with a CoNCEIT, "widowed poetry," recognizing poetry as Donne's spouse. He also addresses the dead poet, asking four questions in his first 10 lines that create a tone of wonder and subservience, as a servant might question a dead master. The speaker wonders whether the living have "nor tune, nor voice" left to speak in honor of Donne, who may have used "all our language" to "dispense . . . both words and sense." He then skillfully slides into the tribute, for which he has just questioned whether he had the skill, adopting Donne's approach to do so, mimicking the student imitating the master. He uses the metaphysical approach to contraries, writing, "of thy brave soul, that shot such heat and light / As burnt our earth and made our darkness bright." Carew continues by adopting Donne's famous, and to many distasteful, conceit of ravishment from his "Batter My Heart," adding that Donne "Committed holy rapes upon our will," and

Did through the eye the melting heart distil,

And the deep knowledge of dark truths so teach

As sense might judge what fancy could not reach.

He informs readers that without Donne, a man of God whose sermons reached many, but whose poems may have reached more, they will all be left with a desire that can never be satisfied.

Carew includes various classical references, such as to Prometheus, suggesting that Donne's verse proved as vital to human life as the fire Prometheus presented to man. He references the Muses' garden, from which Donne removed all weeds, representing the more traditional approach to poetry. Because of Donne, "the lazy seeds / of servile imitation [were] thrown away, / And fresh invention planted," as Donne paid "The debts of our penurious bankrupt age," more than meeting the cost of classical poetic devices incurred by present poets. Carew spends many lines criticizing those writers who do little more than imitate others, suggesting that some prefer Pindar's passion to their own. He makes clear the disagreeable approach of

The subtle cheat of sly exchanges, and the juggling feat of two-edg'd words, or whatsoever wrong, By ours was done the Greek or Latin tongue.

Donne redeemed all of those wrongs by drawing "a line / of masculine expression." Carew also proves adept at the rules by breaking them when he purposely disrupts rhythm to prove a point. After writing of Donne that to "thy imperious wit / our troublesome language bends, made only fit," he demonstrates by disrupting the smooth iambic pentameter of previous lines: "With her tough thick-ribb'd hoops, to gird about." The thing the language had to gird was "Thy giant fancy, which had prov'd too stout / For their soft melting phrases." Carew thus reflects on the contrast between his own approach, that of the "soft melting phrases," and Donne's far more fantastical. He concludes his 96-line poem by offering a four-line elegy, calling on others to express in a more complete way their grief for Donne, while he "on thy grave this epitaph incise":

Here lies a king, that rul'd as he thought fit, The universal monarchy of wit; Here lie two flamens, and both those the best, Apollo's first, at last the true God's priest.

Carew's epitaph does not skirt the issue that later fascinated literary critics, the curious mix in Donne's poetry of the religious and the profane.

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Responses

  • semhar petros
    Who wrote here lies a king as he thought fit/the universal monarch of wit?
    3 years ago

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