On A Virtuous Young Gentlewoman That Died Suddenly

William Cartwright (1651) William Cartwright gained fame for his panegyrics and elegies, although critics and readers in later centuries found them florid and overblown. Judged of poor quality mainly as a result of changing tastes, the poems still represent excellent examples of the type. "On a Virtuous Young Gentlewoman That Died Suddenly" contains many traditional elements of the elegy, a prescriptive form that allowed poets who did not even know the deceased to praise that person.

Cartwright begins with a classical comparison of the dead woman to the sun, "the old flaming Prophet," crossing the sky, and then seemingly vanishing. While the sun would return, "He made more preface to a death than this; / So far from sick, she did not breathe amiss." In other words the sun's exit from the sky calls much attention to itself with the sunset. The young woman apparently gave no sign of her impending death, suffering from no illness. Cartwright next praises her virtue with a skillful double use of the idea of Heaven, writing, "She, who to Heaven more heaven doth annex," stating that she will actually make heaven a better place for her presence, bearing her own heaven with her. He continues noting that her "lowest thought" was higher than that of any man and again mentions that she "died as free from sickness as she liv'd."

In an attempt to make her death seem better by comparison to others, he reminds readers that "others are dragg'd away, or must be driven," while "she only saw her time and stepp'd to heaven." He comforts the family with thoughts of how easy her passing had been, with no suffering by her or her loved ones for her sake. He assures that angels, the "Sera-phims," will view her glories as if she had returned to heaven, having left it only for a brief time, a Platonic idea. As he begins to close his 18 lines of rhyming couplets, he notes

Her body seem'd rather assum'd than born:

So rarefied, advanc'd, so pure and whole,

That body might have been another's soul.

This great praise of her earthly form also comforts her family, suggesting that she had always seemed but a spirit, a being of greater purity than other mere humans. He concludes by declaring her life an equal miracle to her sudden passing, writing, "And equally a miracle it were, / That she could die, or that she could live here."

"ON GILES AND JOAN" Ben Jonson (1616)

Ben Jonson has fun with his ditty "On Giles and Joan," offering a study in contrasts. Although the married Giles and Joan agree on everything, suggesting they live in harmony, nothing could be further from the truth. Jonson demonstrates the power of rhetoric as he describes two people who eschew one another's company yet remain perfectly matched.

The 18-line poem of rhyming couplets opens with a question, "Who says that Giles and Joan at discord be?"


The speaker then gives examples that prove the couple in complete accord, although simultaneously at odds:

Indeed, poor Giles repents he married ever, But that his Joan doth too. And Giles would never

By his free will be in Joan's company; No more would Joan he should.

Next the reader learns that Giles proves an early riser, and that pleases Joan, who wants him out of the house as soon as possible. Giles feels sad to have to return home at day's end, and Joan is sad to have him return. In addition,

Harsh sights at home, Giles wisheth he were blind;

All this doth Joan.

Jonson sets a pattern, first stating a truism regarding Giles, then demonstrating Joan's agreement with that truism. However, the ultimate truth is that both could easily do without the another. He employs a metaphor in describing Giles's wish that his "long-yearned life / Were quite outspun," with the yearned referring as a pun to long skeins of yarn, generally both wound up and unwound again by housewives, such as Joan. The term outspun serves as figurative language for death, suggesting that Joan has control over his life. Naturally Joan shares his wish that Giles's life be outspun sooner, rather than later. In addition as Giles swears the children whom he must support do not belong to him, "so swears his Joan." And, finally,

In all affections she concurreth still.

If now, with man and wife, to will and nill

The self-same things a note of concord be, I know no couple better can agree.

Jonson concludes with a tongue-in-cheek pronouncement. Both witty and satirical, "Giles and Joan" allows readers to enjoy Jonson's skill as well as his sometimes unnoted marginalized sense of humor.

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