On The Death Of Waller Aphra

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Behn (1687) Aphra Behn suitably honored the poet Edmund Waller by imitating his style in a panegyric she wrote to commemorate his death. The label for the type of poem written to praise an individual publicly derived in part from the Greek term panegurikos, meaning a "speech for a public festival." One of the most popular and influential poets of his day, Waller had himself written panegyrics for both oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, symbolizing the reversals of his political loyalties that resulted in his temporary exile from England. Upon his return he staunchly supported the Stuart reign, joining the ranks of Restoration Royalists to which Behn also belonged. His smooth and effective use of the heroic couplet was proclaimed a superior legacy to later poets; John Dryden declared that he and his contemporary poets owed their very existence to Waller, echoing Behn's sentiment. She readily agrees with Dryden's estimation of Waller, as she characterizes him as the force reviving her "languished muse."

The poem contains nothing remarkable, serving as an excellent example of the traditional panegyric form. The first line calls upon the departed, while the second suggests through a question to the deceased that the writer of the poem is unworthy by comparison, a trope often used in praise poetry: "How to thy sacred memory shall I bring, / Worthy thy fame, a grateful offering?" Behn then compares her "toils of sickness" to the illness that overcame Waller, declaring "every soft and every tender strain / Is ruffled and ill-natured grown with pain." As her muse revives at the mention of


Waller's name, "a new spark in the dull ashes strives," and the poet hears Waller's "tuneful verse" and his "song divine," inspiring her. In a two-word line formatted for effect, she cries, "But oh!" following her exclamation with a rhetorical question, with the answer again calling attention to the deceased's importance: "What inspiration, at the second hand, / Can an immortal elegy command? / Unless, like pious offerings, mine should be / made sacred, being consecrate to thee." Behn follows the traditional approach of deeming her own work acceptable only through its association with that of Waller.

Behn continues with the classical allusion to immortality gained by writers through their words, Waller's expressions described as "wit sublime" with "judgment fine and strong." The name Sacharissa in line 20, "Soft as thy notes to Sacharissa sung," refers to Lady Dorothy Sidney, Waller's love in the 1630s and the subject of many of his lyrics. Behn then compares her own writing to decaying flowers, contrasting it with Waller's immortal words. She claims that the world did long "in ignorance stray," its writers producing nothing of worth until Waller arrived to show "the true poetic way," endowing a world that suffered only "dull and obscure" poetry, lacking the power to move readers to passion. She adopts a religious comparison of Waller saving the world of literature to Moses rescuing the Jews from Egyptian oppression and leading them to the Promised Land: "Darkness was o'er the Muses' land, displayed, / And even the chosen tribe unguided strayed, / Till, by thee rescued from the Egyptian night, / They now look up and view the god of light, / That taught them how to love, and how to write." In Behn's opinion Waller remains a deity, without whom poets would never have found a voice. She reemphasizes his immortality by labeling him a god and his importance by again suggesting that he led the world of poetry, and the poets who would inhabit it, from the dark into the light.

Writing in the heroic couplets that Waller so favored, Behn executes a fitting final tribute to a celebrated poet.

"ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEDMONT" John Milton (1655) John Milton wrote the sonnet "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont" in order to protest the brutal treatment of the Waldensian sect on Easter 1655 in the Piedmont. A group founded in the 12th century that practiced poverty and austerity, the Waldensians had been persecuted for centuries all over the Continent, with the Italian Peninsula no exception. Anti-Catholic in belief, a group in the Piedmont had been ordered not to practice their faith and were subsequently brutalized, the survivors left to freeze and starve in the mountains. Milton wrote letters protesting their treatment on behalf of Cromwell and in his sonnet declared the Waldensians the true followers of Christ, making clear his own well-known anti-Catholic sentiment.

The sonnet's opening line calls for revenge by the Lord for "thy slaughter'd Saints," whose bones had been scattered in the cold Alps. The speaker aligns the faithful dead with Christ by labeling the Waldensians in line 3, "them who kept thy truth so pure of old / When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones," making clear the superiority of the ancient group. Adopting what some label an Old Testament voice, Milton continues requesting the Lord not only to remember the martyrs, but to "record their groans." He makes his request on behalf of those "Who were thy Sheep and in their ancient Fold / Slain by the bloody Piemontese." Although Milton includes vivid imagery of death, describing "Mother with Infant" rolled down the mountain, his poem remains spiritual, rather than political. He makes clear that the martyrs' spirits remain in the form of "blood and ashes" sown "o'er all th'Italian fields where still doth sway / The triple Tyrant." The speaker hopes that from that sowing a crop "may grow," resulting in "A hundredfold" of the faithful. Critics compare Milton's allusion to the legend of Cadmus, a warrior who sowed teeth from a killed dragon in the earth, from which sprouted a crop of warriors. Milton's fantasizing that the crop of Walden-sians in the final line will make "fly the Babylonian woe" echoes Petrarch's labeling of the papal court a Babylon and "fountain of woe." Thus Milton hopes Catholics may be chased from the peninsula, replaced by the group he depicts as the Lord's true followers.

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