Gondibert Excerpt William Davenant

(1651) William Davenant remains most important for his involvement in restoring drama to the stage after the long Cromwellian moratorium on public performance. However, he was also a poet, who wrote the incomplete romantic epic poem Gondibert while imprisoned as a Royalist by Cromwell's forces. Set in Lom-bardy, Gondibert followed the adventures of feudal knights. Davenant based the poem's quatrain form on Sir John Davies's Nosce Teipsum, or, Know Thyself (1599), a poem of natural philosophy that considered the relationship of the soul to the human body and senses, as well as the soul's immortality. In turn, Gondib-

ert later served as a model for John Dryden's Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 1666. While Davenant's poetic capabilities were limited, he exhibited occasional flashes that were, if not brilliant, commendable.

In the sixth canto of Book 1, Davenant uses the quatrain form for multiple verses, of which 12 will be considered here. He applies an abab, cdcd, efef, and so on, rhyme scheme and adopts iambic pentameter as rhythm. The action frames a chivalric journey through a beautiful land. Davenant includes certain classical approaches, such as adopting the figurative language (figure of speech) of personification for nature and including references to ancient figures. His heroes, who include a duke, reach the palace of Astragon,

Which had its beauty hid by envious night,

Whose cypress curtain, drawn before the sun,

Seemed to perform the obsequies of light.

The use of repetition, as with the s sound, and emphasis on light and dark imagery result in a dreamy effect. In addition, Davenant employs the term obsequies, a word derived from Middle English meaning "funeral rites." It might seem clumsy on its own and suggest a negative connotation, but in this stanza it fits smoothly into the rhythm, supports the sound repetition, and reflects the medieval setting. The next stanza also employs repetition to its benefit, as the speaker describes "a passage through a gate" that the travelers spot, "Whose height and space showed ancient ornament, / And ancients there in careful office sate." The idea of age and wisdom is strongly suggested, although the final word, chosen to rhyme with gate, does not prove graceful. It does lead directly into the next stanza, which describes exactly what those offices were. The learneds used "weights and measures" to record "Such numerous burdens as were thither brought / From distant regions, to their learned lord, / on which his chy-mics and distillers wrought." That description allows contrast in the next stanza, which begins by informing readers that the travelers "refrain" from the "common business" just described, having observed "bloody marks" showing the distress of the house within.

A character named Ulfin arrives, familiar to the travelers, and he provides torches to light the travelers'

way to Astragon. Ulfin greets them cheerfully, then discovers several wounded among their group. He leads the duke to his own apartment and sees that the wounded are settled in. One stanza features the hospitality medieval castles were expected to provide to travelers, but because of the physical ailments of the guests, it is subdued:

Then thin digestive food he did provide,

More to enable fleeting strength to stay,

To wounds well-searched he cleansing wines applied,

And so prepared his ripening balsam's way.

The next stanza represents Davenant's tendencies to become pedantic as he praises the

Balm of the warrior! Herb Hypernicon!

To warriors, as in use, in form decreed,

For, through the leaves, transparent wounds are shown,

And rudely touched, the golden flower doth bleed.

The hyperbole causes a semihysterical tone that does not benefit his description. He extends his discussion of the effective application of the yellow flower into his next verse but fortunately mutes the rhetoric.

In the penultimate stanza to be considered here, Davenant provides a glimpse of the redeeming qualities noted by later critics. He returns to his former dreamy tone and in describing sleep achieves the effect through elevated and skillful word choice that he previously sought to force on readers by rhetorically yelling at them. He begins, "And now the weary world's great medicine, Sleep, / This learned host dispensed to every guest," perpetuating the wistful tone through the phrase weary world, employing alliteration to advantage. The next two lines extend the effect as Davenant adds, "Which shuts those wounds where injured lovers weep, / And flies oppressors to relieve the opprest." As critics point out, Shakespeare's influence is strong throughout the stanza, but especially in these two lines with the use of alliteration and emphasis on mostly single-syllable simple words until the final phrase, which resembles an epigram. A familiar example may be drawn from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 116," "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," in which the third and fourth lines read, "Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove."

As quickly as Davenant achieves poetic grace, he loses it in the final stanza, incorporating in the first two lines a heavy use of alliteration that calls attention to sense, rather than sensibility: "It loves the cottage and from court abstains, / It stills the seaman though the storm be high." He continues plodding forward through a group of c and s sounds that bog down the reader, "Frees the grieved captive in his closest chains," finally increasing the oppression of the s sound and forcing a three-syllable word in a line ruled by single-syllable terms: "Stops Want's loud mouth, and blinds the treacherous spy." The concluding metaphor of the mouth remains as unpleasant in its suggestion as in its sound and precedes a clumsy phrase forcing readers to stagger to the stanza's end.

"GOOD FRIDAY, 1613. RIDING WESTWARD" John Donne (1633) One of John Donne's most often anthologized pieces, "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward" represents occasional verse. In this case that occasion was the Friday before Easter Sunday, the day traditionally honored by Christians as the time of Christ's crucifixion; it fell on April 2 in 1613. Donne captures his thoughts regarding Christ's death and his own sinful nature from which Christ's sacrifice rescued him.

Donne opens his 42-line poem with a meter of mostly iambic pentameter, by adopting the figurative language of extended metaphor. This comparison may be classified as characteristic of the style of metaphysical poets and poetry in that Donne wants to examine man's soul by comparing it to the cosmos:

Let man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this, The intelligence that moves, devotion is. And as the other spheres, by being grown Subject to foreign motions, lose their own, And being by others hurried every day, Scarce in a year their natural form obey;

While the poem for the most part adheres to iambic pentameter, its first five words all receive the same emphasis. The format of words in single syllables for effect proved a common approach for Donne. His punctuation also serves a specific purpose; for example, the period that concludes the second line with a pronounced end-stopped effect. Donne signals readers that they should pause for a moment to consider those first two lines carefully as a complete thought. However, he begins the third line with the conjunction And, which allows readers to connect the following thought with the first.

Helen Gardner relates "Let man's soul be a sphere" to the Ptolemaic theory of the universe, one referenced often by Donne. In his poem, the soul is the moving force or principle, the form, in Platonic terms. The Angel who causes a sphere to move is its "natural form," while devotion serves as the soul's intelligence or "form."

As he continues, Donne completes the thought regarding men's not obeying their "natural form" to explain that their souls instead adopt "Pleasure or business," which they substitute "For their first mover, and are whirled by it." The image of planets whirling outside their orbits proves a strong comparison for man's misguided actions. The speaker next notes that while his "soul's form bends toward the East," he is "carried towards the West." As Gardner explains, while the natural motion of spheres was west to east, the force of the primum mobile could move them instead from east to west. The spheres also suffered other forces that served to deflect them from their proper motions. Donne had used this CONCEIT, as Gardner notes, in a letter to a friend in which he contrasted true friendship with false, writing, "which is not moved primarily by the proper intelligence, discretion, and about the naturall center, virtue . . . returns to the true first station and place of friendship planetarily, which is uncertainly and sel-dome." The letters were collected into Letters to Severall Persons of Honour, published in 1651.

The speaker admits, "I should see a Sun by rising, set, / And by that setting endless day beget." Donne engages dual wordplay, using the traditional reference to "Sun" as a pun on the "Son" of God, who is Christ, and invoking Paradox in his description of an "endless day." As the speaker considers "But that Christ on this cross did rise and fall, / Sin had eternally benighted all," additional wordplay occurs. First, in the allusion to the natural course of the sun in the phrase "rise and fall," Donne describes Christ's life, as God's son, and death. In addition, his emphasis on night in "eternally benighted" strengthens the former reference to an "endless day." In other words, without Christ's sacrifice, humans would have remained eternally in the night of sin. He notes he would "almost be glad I do not see / That spectacle, of too much weight for me." He calls on the biblical references to death for one "Who sees God's face," a fact emphasized in the biblical book of Exodus, chapter 3, when Moses went to the mountain top to receive the command to lead the Hebrews from Egypt and had to speak with a burning bush, rather than be face to face with the Lord. However, the speaker adds, if seeing God is such a terror, "What a death were it then to see God die?"

The next lines continue to focus on Christ's crucifixion, during which supposedly an earthquake and an eclipse simultaneously occurred. The speaker alludes to those events that happened while God's "own lieutenant, Nature" shrunk: "It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink." Donne returns to his sphere metaphor as the speaker wonders, "Could I behold those hands which span the poles / And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?" The holes refer to those made by the spikes hammered through Christ's hands to hold him on the cross. Some discussion exists regarding the term tune, which appears in line 22; some versions read instead turn, a product of the ongoing problems that occur in Donne scholarship. H. J. C. Grierson adopted the word turn in his edition of Donne's poetry, explaining that Donne described Christ as "first mover," adding that tune could also refer to turn, as the rate of turning produces music. In line 26, Donne refers to "The Seat of all our Souls," echoing, according to Gardner, a reference in LXXX Sermons (1640) to blood as "the seat and residence of the soule," and to Christ's blood as "the seat of his [Donne's] soule." He wonders whether he could look on the height that Christ represents "Or that blood which is / The seat of all our souls, if not of his."

Donne continues for several lines questioning how he could in his sin face his God. Although the speaker cannot literally see the events of Christ's death, he forms a mental image that causes his memory to look "towards them; and thou look'st towards me." The speaker explains that he must "turn my back to thee but to receive / Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave." In an approach Donne also famously employed in "Batter My Heart," he asks his Lord to punish him physically: "O think me worth thine anger, punish me: / Burn off my rusts and my deformity." Only such treatment will "Restore thine image so much, by thy grace, / that thou may'st know me, and I'll turn my face." The poem concludes with the speaker's acknowledging he may turn his face toward God only when God's image is clearly restored in him, alluding to the biblical explanation found in the creation story in the book of Genesis that man was made in God's image.

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