VII) John Milton (1632) John Milton suppos edly wrote his Sonnet VII, "How Soon Hath Time," after receiving a letter from a friend who took him to task for continuing his education instead of becoming a productive member of society. Milton was not the first poet to be accused of excessive affection for learning. As scholars note, Edmund Spenser served as a model, as did Sir Philip Sidney, both of whom had to defend themselves, as Milton did, against the charge. His sonnet reflects the Elizabethan form.
Milton opens using figurative language (figure of speech) to refer to Time as "the subtle thief of my youth." The second line notes Milton's age, as he continues his accusation, writing of Time, "Stol'n on his wing my three and twentieth year!" It extends the metaphor of time as a thief, with the reference to the wing suggesting Time's rapid flight. He continues his allusion into the third line, writing, "My hasting days fly on with full career," a sly nod to the fact that he has no career, other than watching his days pass. Suggesting his "spring" is simply a late one, he admits that it shows "no bud or blossom." After introducing the situation of his dwindling youth, the speaker ponders on his "semblance," which "might deceive the truth," which is that he nears maturity and "manhood." He also wonders whether he might possess an "inward ripeness" less visible to the exterior gaze, resembling that of "some more timely-happy spirits," the spirit allusion one that critics believe to be to Edmund Spenser. However, whether "less or more, or soon or slow," his future must be measured against his fate, "toward which Time leads me." He closes with the serious hope that that fate be "the will of Heav'n," and that he will possess the "grace to use it" as it should be, "As ever in my great task-Master's eye." A highly religious man, Milton uses a light tone that does not diminish his serious musing about his purpose on earth and his desire to serve God.
HUDIBRAS Samuel Butler (1662, 1663, 1678) Indisputably the most important work by Samuel Butler, the mock-epic satire Hudibras appeared in three parts. An attack against Puritans, especially Butler's former employer and a colonel in the Puritan War, Sir Samuel Luke, it nevertheless focused on the masses as rabble, and any leader as vain and equally ignorant to the common man. He did, however, charge the dissent movement on six counts according to the scholar Edward Ames Richards: "hypocrisy, greed, lust, intellectual narrowness, low social status, and foolish mysticism." Richards is quick to explain that Butler did not write as "a bigoted Anglican or a blind royalist," as his "intellectual designs" proved much broader than those of the mere pamphleteer. "Isolated in his own cold and scornful mind," Butler lacked the capacity for identity with "current concerns," a fact Richards associates with his "remote tempers." Believing in neither spirituality nor science/logic as a source of truth, Butler did believe that truth existed and that it could be discovered through an application of human intelligence and a close observation of nature. The work proved so successful that the first part merited nine editions in the year it appeared, at least two of those pirated.
Later scholars described the poem as too lengthy, discursive to an extreme, and challenging to readers of later generations. While 21st-century aficionados and students generally experience Hudibras in excerpts, some critics adamantly declare it can be understood only when read in its entirety. Butler probably gathered much material during his employment with Sir Luke, who became the model for the character Hudibras. Influences may have included the Satire Menip-pee, an anonymous French pamphlet that first circulated in Paris in the 1590s. A cunning political satire, it attacked leaders of the Catholic League at the 1593 States General and supposedly helped gain public support for Henry IV. Butler also looked to works featuring companions such as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Miguel Cervantes's 1605 satire Don Quixote in fashioning his Hudibras and Ralpho. Capturing perfectly the tone of malice suitable to such a satire, Butler spent little effort in developing any high drama in the dialogue/diatribes of his subjects. He understood the importance of avoiding humanization of his characters, who remained monstrous in their perfidy and arrogance, never achieving any three-dimensional development, both man and master too vile to imagine within a real world. Its wit has supported its continued reading in a century that rates much of Butler's style tedious and even trivial. Its vocabulary and self-aware use of rhythm continue to recommend the poem, as do
Butler's skillful incorporation of colloquialisms, philosophies, and detailed sense of place.
Butler alerts readers from part I, Canto I that his targets include easily swayed public opinion, as he suggests people will take up a cause without realizing its import or even its origin. The speaker hearkens back to the time when civil arguments began, emphasizing that men often "fell out they knew not why; / When hard words, jealousies and fears / Set folks together by the ears," explaining they fought as if "mad or drunk, / For dame religion, as for punk." Into the middle of such chaos, based on religious disagreement sounded from the pulpit and by "drum ecclesiastic," a leader appeared: "Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling, / And out he rode a-colonelling," with Butler creating a verb from the noun colonel to indicate how seriously Sir Knight took his rank. The ensuing description does not prove complimentary, as readers learn that authors remain divided over "Whether he were more wise or stout," making clear that "The diff'rence was so small, his brain / Outweigh'd his rage but half a grain." This unfortunate circumstance "made some take him for a tool / That knaves do work with, call'd a fool." The Knight's attempts to speak Greek resembled "pigs squeak," his Latin the noise made by blackbirds. He was so skilled in analysis that "He could distinguish, and divide / A hair 'twixt south and south-west side," emphasizing the trivialities some confuse for wisdom. In hundreds of lines, Butler adds descriptions of the Knight's talents including that
For he a rope of sand could twist As tough as learned Sorbonist; And weave fine cobwebs, fit for skull That's empty when the moon is full.
He operates in the group that
Call fire and sword and desolation A godly, thorough Reformation, Which always must be going on, And still be doing, never done.
The irony in that last line consists partly in its implication that the church never achieves reform, because of the pleasure men take in dramatic gestures that result in little change. The members of this group
Compound for sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to. . . All piety consists therein In them, in other men all sin.
Butler concocts skillful rhyme to label the pro-Cromwell force hypocritical.
In part II Butler demonstrates admirable style by adopting a lively paradox in his description titled "Night," when he first compares the sun's setting to the lowering of a lady's eyes, then references the moon, a traditional symbol of woman, writing,
The moon pulled off her veil of light That hides her face by day from sight (Mysterious veil, of brightness made That's both her luster and her shade!).
By referencing the duplicity of woman in proposing the veil as something that both reveals and hides, Butler emphasizes dishonesty as a theme. He continues to prove his satiric prowess with topics other than the Knight and his ilk in a parody of the classics. As many ancient writers had, the speaker greets the dawn, saying, "The sun had long since in the lap / Of Thetis taken out his nap," alluding to the goddess who gave birth, with a human, to the great Greek warrior Achilles. However, Butler immediately undercuts any signs of serious design when he uses figurative language in a decidedly undesirable metaphor, writing, "And, like a lobster boiled, the morn / From black to red began to turn." He inverts the normal symbolism of morning as new life by alluding to death, both in the boiling alive of the lobster and the use of red, a traditional symbol for blood. In addition, the night is described as black, a traditional symbol of death. In part III Butler reveals an unflattering view of wedlock in "Marriage," describing the "matrimonial tie"
That binds the female and the male, Where the one is but the other's bail. Like Roman jailers, when they slept Chained to the prisoners they kept.
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