Ode Upon a Question Moved Whether Love Should Continue Forever" by Edward Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, reflects the style of metaphysical poets and poetry. In ode form its 15 four-line stanzas are divided into two sections, with the meter of iambic tetrameter and the rhyme scheme abba. The first section proposes a question with both a philosophical and religious basis: What happens to an enduring love when the people who share it die?
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Herbert begins with an account of a couple, Melander and Celinda, after setting the scene with abundant imagery of spring. It is a time of "Infant-birth" for the ground that "late did mourn," as "well-accorded birds" sing "hymns" to the time. Evidence of Herbert's strong belief in deism may be observed in his use of the religious reference to songs of praise, "hymns," and his emphasis on the springing to life of all the parts of nature. The wind emits "soft whistles," while "warbling murmurs" may be heard from a brook, and leaves shake in the breeze. Herbert concludes his third stanza with the line "An harmony of parts did bind." That sentiment echoes his strong belief that in order for man to live correctly, the human mind must experience harmony with nature. He made famous his theories in his philosophical treatise De Veritate (1625).
The reader next meets "That mutually happy pair, / Melander and Celinda fair," who enjoy "a love none can express." Their love remained so great and pure that "No glass but it could represent"; even a mirror could not properly reflect it. The first section of six stanzas concludes with Celinda's musing,
O that our love might take no end, of never had beginning took."
She expresses the thought that if their love had to end, perhaps it would have been better for them never to have shared it.
The poem's second portion reflects Melander's reply, and it is lengthy and thorough. He notes his belief that their "virtuous habits" are "with the soul entire" and, therefore, "Must with it evermore endure." If it were not so, he continues, that would make vain "Heaven's laws," which would "to an everlasting cause / . . . give a perishing effect." God will not exclude Love, and, he adds, "These eyes again thine eyes shall see, / These hands again thine hand enfold." Melander's argument depends upon one's faith in God, as he explains,
For if no use of sense remain
When bodies once this life forsake, or they could no delight partake, Why should they ever rise again?
Herbert imbues Meander's voice with such a sincere tone that the reader must admire his beliefs, even if that reader does not share them. He then reflects his later categorization as a metaphysical poet when Meander states confidently,
And if every imperfect mind
Make love the end of knowledge here, How perfect will our love be where
All imperfection is refin'd.
The argument reads like a riddle, where the answer might be that heaven will preserve the superior emotions.
Meander adopts a tender approach in the penultimate stanza, assuring Celinda that no doubt should "touch, / Much less your fairest mind invade," because "Were not our souls immortal made, / our equal loves can make them such." The religious purist might raise an objection to Meander's last statement, as Herbert suggests that man can make his own soul immortal through sharing an equal and pure love. However, the sharing of the idealistic love that Herbert celebrates would represent a state of grace on earth, causing those sharing it to feel they had already achieved a heavenly state. He concludes with a roundly metaphysical sentiment, as Meander declares,
"So when from hence we shall be gone, And be no more, nor you, not I: As one another's mystery
Each shall be both, yet both but one."
His final line contains as skillfully developed a paradox as any from the metaphysical master who slightly predated Herbert, John Donne.
OLDHAM, JOHN (1653-1683) John Oldham was born in Gloucestershire, the son of a Nonconformist minister. After graduating from oxford, he began his career as a teacher, an Usher at Archbishop Whitgift's Free School, and a satirist. His few works, received well, included A Satire upon a Woman, Who by Her Falsehood and Scorn Was the Death of My Friend (1678), A Satire against Virtue (1679), plus Satires upon
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the Jesuits (1681). The latter composed of four poems, was inspired by Titus Oates's "Popish Plot," a concoction of a Catholic plot to murder the king. He later also wrote an ode, "Upon the Works of Ben Jonson"; Hora-tian satires; and translations from Juvenal. Although today's critics do not particularly value oldham's work, his early death of smallpox caused his contemporaries, including John Dryden, to mourn the abrupt end to what seemed a career of great promise. Dryden expressed his thoughts in "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham," perhaps empathizing with oldham as a fellow satirist and adopter of political and religious themes. oldham's poems remained popular through the 18th century.
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