--. "Row Well, Ye Mariners." The Review of English
Studies 51 (February 2000): 80-161. Smith, Nigel, ed. The Poems of Andrew Marvell. New York:
Pearson/Longman, 2003. Yoshinaka, Takashi. "Religio-political Associations of 'The Orange' in Marvell's 'Bermuda.'" Notes and Queries 48, no. 4 (December 2001): 394-395.
"BETTER ANSWER, A" Matthew Prior (1718) "A Better Answer" provides an excellent example of the simple, yet artful, lyric, which gained a reputation for Matthew Prior. The speaker attempts to convince his love, Cloe, identified in the subtitle, "To Cloe Jealous," that she need not suspect his dedication to her. The speaker begins by referencing his lover's distressed state, visible in her physical features: her "pretty face" is "blubbered," her "cheek all on fire," and her "hair all uncurled!" Because the tone remains humorous and light, the reader suspects that the speaker enjoys Cloe's show of passion, despite his supposed concern. He requests that Cloe "quit this caprice," offering a reference to Falstaff's comment in Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV 5.3.101-102: "Let us e'en talk a little like folks of this world." In other words, Cloe needs to calm down so she may communicate with the speaker. Interesting to feminist critics would be the fact that Cloe is never allowed a voice; the reader hears only the speaker throughout Prior's seven stanzas of 28 lines, with every other line rhyming.
The speaker teases Cloe in the second stanza, as he tries to make her feel guilty for the destruction caused by her tears "The Beauties which venus but lent to thy keeping." He makes clear that Cloe was "designed to inspire love and joy," whereas weeping should be confined to more "ord'nary eyes." Alexander Pope would probably call this approach "damning with faint praise," as the speaker simultaneously accuses and cajoles Cloe, in essence projecting guilt onto the victim. He concedes in the third stanza that Cloe might find "a trifle or two that I writ" vexing, noting she would wrong both his judgment and passion if she did so. He again blames Cloe for taking too seriously a witty verse, asking "must one swear to the truth of a song?" What he writes, he makes clear in the next stanza, demonstrates the difference between "nature and art," as Prior alludes to a long-standing argument about whether the poet bore a duty to express truth in writing.
The speaker attempts to convince Cloe that others have his "whimsies, but thou hast my heart." The sixth stanza refers to Apollo as "The god of us verse-men," reminding her that after Apollo's journey across the sky—for he also served as the sun god—he rests at night, his head on Thetis's breast. This allusion allows the speaker to continue into the next stanza by comparing himself to Apollo. When he is "wearied with wandering all day," he tells Cloe, "To thee, my delight, in the evening I come." Regardless of the world's temptations he experiences during the day, his evenings belong to her, for such attractions "were but my visits, but thou art my home." The speaker succeeds in convincing Cloe of her place in the domestic sphere and persuades her that he will always return to share that space with her.
The speaker never specifically denies whatever caused Cloe's jealousy but rather lulls her with flattery and a seemingly rational argument. He closes his argument by referencing her anger at him as a "pastoral war," offering Prior the opportunity to introduce a classical allusion to Horace and Lydia, a story recorded in Horace's Odes 3:9. Prior has some fun with that reference, as Lydia castigated Horace for a dalliance with a woman named Cloe, whereas in Prior's case, Cloe is the one to be jealous. The stanza concludes with the ultimate statement of faux self-deprecation, as Prior's poet-speaker in reference to Lydia and Horace adds, "For thou are a girl as much brighter than her, / As he was a poet sublimer than me."
Prior executes his piece with what Samuel Johnson termed "sprightliness" in reference to his lighter works. He noted that Prior wrote with respect for laws of writing that aided his avoidance of "ridiculous or absurd" poetry. However, Prior paid a price for such judiciousness, as "the operations of intellect can hinder faults, but not produce excellence." In Johnson's judgment, Prior was "never low, nor very often sublime." In that, Johnson agrees with Prior's own final pronouncement in this poem.
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