March 17: Donne, Herbert, Wroth, and Phillips

Each of the poets has a different voice and style; how are these different from one another? How are they similar? What are some differences between these 16th and 17th century poems and poetry from previous times; what innovations have been made? How have these poets and their poetry influenced each other’s work, as well as the poetry of today?

10 thoughts on “March 17: Donne, Herbert, Wroth, and Phillips

  1. One difference that I noticed immediately between the work of Herbert and that of older poets was that Herbert was more experimental with the physical form of some of his poems. His poem “The Altar” strategically alters its line breaks and spacing in order to have the shape of an altar. In the same vein, his poem “Easter Wings” takes the form of wings. This form of concrete poetry is different than anything that we have seen from earlier periods.

    • I also noticed Hebert’s distinctive use of form in his poetry, and in particular his use of form in conjunction with content to add an additional dimension to the meaning. For example, In “Easter Wings” Hebert parallels the resurrection and uses the symmetry of the butterfly shape to illustrate, both visually and textually, the cycles of despair and renewed hope. The concept of concrete poetry wasn’t completely revolutionary, though; shaped poems can be found dating back to the Greeks in the second century BCE. However, Hebert did help to pioneer this distinct style in the religious poetry genre.

    • I also found Herbert’s use of a concrete form to be pretty striking in comparison to those that preceded him. In terms of voice however, I feel that Donne takes on the most muscular tone of any poet we have read so far. His straying from the very ornate and flowery style of writing that defined previous poets makes him appear almost as a bit of a proto-Hemingway. There are times where he even seems to slip into a bit of literary arrogance, such as his assertion that he could “eclipse and cloud [the beams of the sun] with a wink” (line 13, The Sun Rising).

  2. The differences in the tone of the poetry struck me as being most significant. The courtly love poems of the 16th century while possessing a certain amount of ambivalence concerning the nature of love, overall had a generally lighthearted tone. Then comes John Donne with “Twicknam Garden” writing “Blasted with sighs and surrounded with tears”. Donne and many of the other poets write poetry ridden with anguish and true sorrow, quite unlike the surface level pain of the courtly love poets. Herbert contributes to this darkening of the tone in his poem “Affliction” when he writes “Sorrow was all my soul”. These poets are no longer writing about a flippant courtly love heartbreak; no they are writing about real anguish and true pain.

  3. Even though many of the poems we’ve read so far have concerned sensual love, I found John Donne’s poetry to be especially erotic, especially Elegy 19 “To His Mistress Going to Bed,” which our book tells us censoring authorities originally refused to publish. Though we have read many poems that describe in detail the beauty of a woman, this poem goes a step further by literally describing the emotions the narrator feels as a woman undresses slowly before him before revealing “full nakedness” (33). Also a key difference is the female perspective that Wroth and Philips bring to the poetic table–a good example is Philips’ “On the Death of My First and Dearest Child, Hector Philips.” Here we have an honest and visceral poem that describes a mother’s agony of losing a child from Philips’ own point of view. This type of female point of view in poetry was a new and rare concept. I found it interesting that our book also highlights T.S. Eliot’s praise of both Donne and Hebert–the high levels of intellect infused in their poetry was obviously very influential in more modern poetry.

  4. There was a definite difference between the male and female perspectives in these poems. Wroth especially brought a fresh perspective to love poems, inserting herself into the poem and addressing Fate and Love as opposed to her beloved. The 17th century poems definitely shifted tone from the more love-centric older poems. The tone was darker, and some of the poems themselves formed shapes. Concrete poetry was not widespread at this time, so it was definitely innovative.

  5. As mentioned previously in the comments above and as emphasized in his introduction, John Donne broke the existing literary paradigm when in poetic form he shattered any traditional meter and instead chose to innovate his style as he saw fit for the message he wished the reader to receive. In the poem “Go and Catch a Falling Star” he follows two unorthodox triplets with a classical bob and wheel. For the literary minds of the time this must have both perplexed and infuriated them as whether our of respect for tradition or jealousy, it was clear that John Donne was in a league of his own. Compare this to the later work of Katherine Phillips who in her time was recognized as the first female poet. In her works while her verse is complex in line structure the meter often follows the traditional pentameter style of her predecessors. I pass this off as quite all right seeing as she was the first woman to be publishing poetry in her time, to attempt to reject popular form would be to condemn her to death. Her most stylistically artistically fresh poem in my opinion is”On the Death of First and Dearest Child, Hector Phillips. In it she tells of longing to be with her son and her promise to see her soon. She separates 5 quatrains for a total of twenty lines and while she sticks to abab in all five I find her ability to pack such power into what are really short stories do we truly understand the genius of her work. It is clear as the lietrary society of renaissance england developed, so too did the styles and dynamics of the work published during this period.

  6. Donne’s prose are very “lilting”, using his poetry to talk to someone either as a fictitious narrator or himself. He is often speaking as though he’s trying to woo someone else as well, like in “Woman’s Constancy”, “Go, and catch a falling star”, and “The Good Morrow”. Also, he uses metaphors and allusions to enhance his poem. For example, in “Go, and catch a falling star”, he tells the reader to “Ride ten thousand days and nights,/ Till age snow white hairs on thee” (line 12-13). I doubt he’s actually telling the woman to do such a thing, but it alludes to the fact that he wants you to travel a far distance and take a long time to find a woman who lives “true, and fair” (line 18).

    In the same vein of using metaphors to enhance the poem’s message, Lady Wroth follows this pattern as well. In her poems “22.”, “13.”, and “6.”, she uses many similes and allusions to show what she’s trying to say instead of plainly telling it. For example, in “22.”, she starts the poem with “Like to the Indian” (line 1), setting up a simile and an image for us to run with as the reader. She goes on to use the sun’s heat and brightness as a metaphor for her love for the person she writes about. Unlike Donne, she writes from her own perspective speaking out to the audience. She asks herself several questions about her own situations in poem “14.”, which Donne did not do at all. He was waxing poetry about someone or something, while Wroth is almost directly talking to the audience, painting a picture of her love and her fears and her ideas. She does the same in “22.” speaking about her burning love for another and “6.”, speaking about her pain for being in love.

  7. The voice and style of Donne and Herbet’s poems are very different in terms of content focus. As the introductory text tells us, Herbet was a friend and poetic disciple of John Donne, but his poetry deviates from Donne’s secular focuses. (867) Herbet’s poetry is very devotional and meditative, relaying struggles from his spiritual journey. Herbet does mimic Donne’s style of writing in plain diction, with the rhythms of colloquial speech.

  8. What struck me as particularly interesting about today’s group of poems is the inclusion of female poets and their relative popularity during their lives. Both Katherine Philips and Mary Wroth broke into spheres previously occupied by men alone. Philips wrote about intense female friendships, which had been thought of as an ideal only men could attain, while Wroth wrote Urania, an episodic pastoral narrative, which was also considered a “men’s genre.” While building on previous poets’ work, Philips and Wroth broke ground with the way that they brought female perspectives to a very male-dominated field. For example, Philips’ first poem in our book, “A Married State,” advises young women not to marry because it is a burden that can be avoided. With the ending line “There’s no such thing as leading apes in hell,” Philips flouts convention and decisively delivers her message to the presumed audience of young women (line 24).

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