From The Short Oxford History of English Literature, by Andrew Sanders:
The picturesque emotionalism of continental baroque art was a central feature of the Counter-Reformation crusade to win back the hearts and souls of those lost to the Roman Church by the fissures of the Reformation. Protestant England remained largely untouched by the more heady pictorial and architectural styles sponsored by the Pope's main agents in the campaign, the Jesuits, but, despite gestures of resistance and disapproval, a degree of Jesuit spirituality left its mark on English literature. The martyred missionary priest, Robert Southwell (?1561-95, canonized in 1970), managed to work secretly for nine perilous years in England before his execution; his books circulated far less secretly. The prose meditation, Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares, which was published in 1591, ran through some seven further editions by 1636, and the two collections of verse, Saint Peters complaynt, with other Poems and Moeoniae: or, Certaine excellent Poems and Spiritual Hymnes, both of which contain poems written during his three-year imprisonment, were printed in London in the year of his death. Southwell's poems were respected both by Roman Catholics and byAnglicans, the extraordinarily contrived Christmas meditation, 'The Burning Babe', being particularly admired by Ben Jonson. Donne, the author of the scurrilous anti-Jesuit tract Ignatius His Conclave of 1611 and who eight years later feared for his safety at the hands of 'such adversaries, as I cannot blame for hating me' when he travelled across Germany, was none the less influenced by the kind of meditative religious exercises recommended to the faithful by the founder of the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises had been approved by the Pope in 1648 as a manual of systematic devotion which employed sense impressions, the imagination, and the understanding as a means of prompting the spirit to consider the lapsed human and the glorious divine condition. The Ignatian method was not unique (it drew on late medieval precedents and it was developed by later Spanish and French churchmen) but its currency was assured by the missionary and educational work undertaken by the Jesuits. The fact that such regulated guides to meditation could be used privately meant that they appealed, with varying degrees of excision, to secluded Recusants, devout Anglicans, and soul-searching Puritans alike.
A similar spiritual cross-fertilization is evident in the popularity of emblem books in seventeenth-century England. The emblem consisted of three interrelated parts—a motto, a symbolic picture, and an exposition—each of which suggested a different means of considering and apprehending a moral or religious idea. The form had had a certain currency as a learned, and generally secular, educational device in the sixteenth century, but its renewed applivation to private relisious study and its intermixture of Latin motto, biblical quotation, engraved and ostensibly enigmatic picture, and English poem made for a widespread influence which readily cut across confessional barriers. Francis Quarles's Emblemes, Divine and Morall (1635) proved to be the most popular book of verse of its age. Quarles (1592-1644) and his engraver took and, where Protestant occassion demanded, adapted plates from Jesuit emblem books; only the disappointingly pedestrian accompanying poems were original. Emblemes and its successor Hieroglyphicks of the Life of Man (1638) demand that the reader interpret and gradually unwind an idea which is expressed epigrammatically, visually, and poetically. 'The embleme is but a silent parable', Quarles insisted in his address to the user of his books, and he goes on to suggest the importance of the linkage of word and picture: 'Before the knowledge of letters, God was knowne by Hieroglyphicks; And indeed, what are the Heavens, the Earth, nay every Creature, but Hieroglyphicks and Emblemes of his Glory?' The moral message is, however, predominantly one which stresses a conventionally Christian contempt for the world ('O what a crocodilian world is this / Compos'd of treach'ries, and insnaring wiles', 'O whither will this mad-brain world at last / Be driven? Where will her restless wheels arrive?'), and the pictures variously show children confusing a wasps' nest for a beehive in a globe, fools sucking at a huge earth-shaped breast, and a figure of vanity smoking a pipe while perched perilously on a tilting orb.
The intellectual demands made on a reader by an emblem book were paralleled by the wit, the imaginative picturing, the compression, the often crytic expression, the play of paradoxes, and the juxtapositions of metaphor in the work of Donne and his immediate followers, the so-called 'metaphysical poets'. The use of the term 'metaphysical' in this context was first given critical currency by Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century and it sprang from an unease, determined by 'classical' canons of taste, with the supposed contortions of the style and imagery of Donne and Cowley. Johnson had a particular distaste for the far-fetched strained 'conceits' (witty and ingenious ideas) in which Donne's poetry abounds. This prejudice against the distinct 'metaphysical' style had earlier been shared by Quarles, who in 1629 complained of 'the tyranny of strong lines, which . . . are the meere itch of wit; under the colour of which many have ventured . . . to write non-sense'. The work of Donne's friend, admirer, and fellow-priest, George Herbert (1593-1633), possesses a restrained and contemplative rapture which is paralleled less by the extravagances of southern European baroque art than by the often enigmatic paintings of his French contemporary, Georges de la Tour. Herbert's own 'itch of wit' can none the less find its expression in playing with the shapes and sounds of words: he puns in his title to 'The Collar' and with the name 'Jesu' in the poem of that name he teases letters in his 'Anagram of the Virgin Marie'; in 'Heaven' he exploits echo-effects as delightedly as did his Venetian musical contemporaries, and he gradually reduces words to form new ones in 'Paradise'. His relationship to the emblem book tradition is evident in his printing of certain of his poems as visual designs (the shapes of 'The Altar' and the sideways printed 'Easter Wings' make patterns which suggest their subjects). If he is a less frenetic and startling poet than Donne, he is a far more searching and inventive one than Quarles. The two poems called 'Jordan' (from the fount of their inspiration) describe the act of writing a sacred poetry which eschews a structural 'winding stair' and the 'curling with metaphors' of a 'plain intention'. As with his most influential models, the parables of Jesus, Herbert's illustrations of the central mysteries of God and his creation take the form of sharply observed but 'plain' stories drawn from, and illuminated by, everyday experience.
The elegance of Herbert's poetry is as much the result of art as it is an expression of a cultivated, but not forced, spiritual humility. He had been born into a distinguished and cultured noble family but his decision to take deacon's orders in 1626, and his ordination to the priesthood and appointment as rector of a country parish in 1630 struck many of his grand contemporaries as a deliberate turning of his back on secular ambition. According to Izaak Walton, Herbert responded to a friend who taxed him with taking 'too mean an employment, and too much below his birth' that 'the Domestick Servants of the King of Heaven, should be of the noblest Families on Earth'. He would, he insisted, make 'Humility lovely in the eyes of all men'. Herbert's work is permeated with reference to service and to Christ as the type of the suffering servant, but his poetry is equally informed by a gentlemanly grasp of the chivalric code of obligation. Society, as we glimpse it in this world and the next, is hierarchical and ordered, and the human response to God's love can be expressed in terms of an almost feudal obligation. In 'The Pearl', for example, the poet insists that he knows 'the wayes of Honour, what maintains / The quick returns of courtesie and wit'. In the first of the poems called 'Affliction' he describes a changing understanding of service to a liege-lord, a service which at first gives rich satisfaction ('Thy glorious household-stuffe did me entwine') and brings rewards ('thou gav'st me milk and sweetness; I had my wish and way'); as a process of disillusion sets in, the poem allows a sense of betrayal to surface, but this in turn is transformed by the final insistence on an obligation shaped not by duty but by the more pressing demands of love ('Ah my deare God! though I am clean forgot, / Let me not love thee, if I love thee not'). 'Redemption' describes a tenant's search for his 'rich Lord' only to find him mortally wounded amid 'a ragged noise and mirth / Of theeves and murderers'; the magnanimity of the Lord is proved in a dying gesture of assent to the tenant's request. In 'The Collar' the remarkable evocation of impatient resistance to service ends as the 'raving' protests subside in response to the steady call of Christ. The call to the 'Child' (perhaps here both the disciple and a youth of gentle birth) evokes the willing reply 'My Lord'.
Herbert's vocation as a priest of the Church of England, and his loyalty to its rituals, calendar, and discipline is central both to his prose study of the ideal country parson, A Priest to the Temple (published in The Remaines of that Sweet Singer of the Temple George Herbert in 1652), and to his Latin sequence Musae Responsariae (1633) (poems which assert the propriety of Anglican ceremonial and orders in the face of Puritan criticism). It is however, in The Temple, the influential collection of his English poems published posthumously in 1633, that Herbert most fully expresses his aspirations, failures, and triumphs as a priest and as a believer. Sections of The Temple are shaped according to the spiritual rhythms and the ups and downs of religious experience. More significantly, the volume as a whole possesses both an architectonic and a ritual patterning which derives from the shape of an English parish church and from the festivals and feasts celebrated within its walls. The whole work is prefaced by a gnomic poetic expression of conventional moral advice to a young man. The title of this preliminary poem, 'The Church-Porch', serves as a reminder not only of a preparatory exercise before worship but also of the physical importance of the porch itself (once the setting of important sections of certain church services). The titles of poems in the body of the volume ('The Church') imply both a movement through the building noting its features ('The Altar', 'Chruch Monuments', 'Church-lock and key', 'The Church-floore', 'The Windows') and the significance of its liturgical commemorations ('Good Friday', 'Easter', 'H. Baptisme', 'The H. Communion', 'Whitsunday', 'Sunday', 'Christma'). Interspersed are meditations on Christian belief and the varied experience of the Christian life. The 'sacramental' poems have a particular importance. By means of repeated words and phrases 'Aaron' establishes a balanced contrast between the ceremonially vested Jewish priest and his spiritually defective modern Christian counterpart. The poem's debate is determined by an exploration of the import of the words 'Holiness to the Lord' engraved on Aaron's ceremonial mitre. It is only when Christ himself is recognized as the true sanctifier of the parish priest that all unworthiness falls away and the vested minister can properly present himself to his congregation, ready to celebrate the Holy Communion: 'Come people; Aaron's drest'. The theology and typology of eucharistic celebration are also explored in 'The Agonie' and the concluding poem of the volume, 'Love III'. 'The Agonie' takes as its central issue the human study of Sin and Love. The effect of Sin is revealed in an agonized Christ 'so wrung with pains, that all his hair, / His skinne, his garments bloudie be'. The very hyperbole here allows for the conceit on which the poem turns; Sin is a wine-press painfully proving the worth of Love and when in the concluding stanza the crucified Christ's blood flows from his side it is mystically perceived as sacramental wine: 'Love is that liquour sweet and most divine, / Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine'. Bitterness is transubstantiated into sweetness. 'Love' takes the form of a colloquy in which the Lord, personified as Love, welcomes the sinner to his feast, insistently answering each protest of unworthiness with a gentle assertion of his grace:
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit downe, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit downe, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
The uneasy guest and the would-be servant are entertained as equals.
Throughout The Temple the quakings of fear, the doubts, and the attempts at rebellion are subsumed in a quiet loyalty inspired by the love of a generous God. Restlessness, as seen in the deftly argued parrable of free will, 'The Pulley', prompts the soul to seek heavenly comfort. In 'Affliction III' the very utterance of the heaved sigh 'O God!' is interpreted as a barely recognized sign of redemption and as an admission of shared sorrow ('Thy life on earth was grief, and thou art still / Constant unto it'). Even the figure of Death, in the poem of that name, loses its skeletal terrors by being transformed by the sacrifice of Christ into something 'fair and full of grace, / much in request, much sought for as a good'. Herbert's 'Prayer before Sermon', appended to A Priest to the Temple, addresses a God who embodies 'patience, and pity, and sweetness, and love', one who has exalted his mercy above all things and who has made salvation, not punishment, his glory.
According to Izaac Walton's account, the dying Herbert entrusted the manuscript of his poems to his pious friend Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637) who in 1625 had retired to his estate at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire to establish a 'Little Colledge', or religious community of men and women, dedicated to the 'constant and methodical service of God'. Ferrar was instructed that he would find in The Temple 'a picture of the many Conflicts that have past betwixt God and my Soul' and he was allowed to choose whether to publish or burn the manuscript. As his short preface of 1633 indicates, he clearly recognized both the quality of the poems and their significance to the increasingly beleaguered discipline of the Church of England. Although his community impressed Charles I, it steadily provoked the hostility of those Puritans who criticized it as an 'Arminian Nunnery' and who in 1646 finally succeeded in breaking it up.
Richard Crashaw (1613-49) was, through his friendship with Ferrar, a regular visitor and keeper of vigils at Little Gidding. He was the son of a particularly zealous Puritan 'Preacher of Gods worde' who had made himself conspicuous as an anti-Papist. Crashaw's own religious pilgrimage was to take him in an opposite direction to his father. As a student of Cambridge and later as a fellow of Peterhouse he closely associated himself with the extreme Laudian party in the University. Deprived of his fellowship after the college chapel, to which he had contributed fittings, was desecrated by Parliamentary Commissionners in 1643 he travelled abroad, eked out a precarious existence on the fringes of Queen Henrietta Maria's court in exile, and ended his short life as the holder of a small benefice at the Holy House at Loreto in Italy. His English poetry—collected as Steps to the Temple: Sacred Poems, with other Delights of the Muses (1646, considerably expanded 1648) and later as Carmen Deo Nostro (published in Paris in 1652)—clearly shows the nature of his religious inclinations, both Anglican and Roman. The Preface to his earlier volumes proclaims his allegiance to the English Church through reference to Lancelot Andrewes and through the claim that the poems were written as 'Stepps for happy soules to climbe heaven by' under a 'roofe of Angels' at Little St Mary's Church in Cambridge; the 1652 volume more assiduously advertises the Catholic piety which had been only implicit before, and offers an apology, probably not Crashaw's own, for the 'Hymn to Saint Teresa' as 'having been writ when the author was yet among the protestants'. The frontispice to the 1648 volume showed the faithful mounting steps to a chastely decorous English church; the 1652 edition is decorated throughout with lushly Catholic devotional images.
Although the title Steps to the Temple nods back to Herbert, and though the volume contains a particularly fulsome tribute to 'the Temple of Sacred Poems, sent to a Gentlewoman', Crashaw's stylistic and structural debt to his model is limited. Crashaw is the most decoratively baroque of the English seventeenth-century poets, both in the extravagance of his subject-matter and in his choice of metaphor. Where Donne is ingenious and paradoxical, or Herbert delicately and aptly novel, Crashaw propels traditional Christian images until they soar and explode like sky-rockets or inflates them until they burst like plump confections. His verse exhibits a fixation with the human body and with bodily fluids: tears gush from eyes, milk from breasts, blood from wounds, and at times the emissions become intermixed expressions of passionate emotion. The series of 'Divine Epigrams' suggests a particular fondness for miraculous or alchemical changes of substance: not only does water become wine, or wine blood, but tears are pearls and drops of blood rubies; the water of Christ's baptism 'is washt it selfe, in washing him'; the water with which Pilate washes his hands is 'Nothing but Teares; Each drop's a teare that weeps for her own wast'; the naked Lord on the cross is clothed by 'opening the purple wardrobe of thy side'; and the blood of the Holy Innocents is both blended with milk and translated heavenwards. A similar, surreal vision informs the triumphantly hyperbolic meditation on the Magdalen, 'The Weeper'. The tears of the penitent flow unceasingly; transformed into stars they form not simply a Milky Way in the heavens but a stream of cream from which 'a briske Cherub something sips / Whose soft influence / Adds sweetnesse to his sweetest lips'.
Crashaw's attraction to the history and the writings of the great Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, who was canonized in 1622, is a further reflection of his interest in highly charged religious emotion. In her spiritual autobiography Teresa had described the climax of her most celebrated vision of union with God in which she had become aware of the presence of an angel bearing a great golden spear tipped with fire; this he plunged several times into her hart. Teresa's amorous language in expressing her awareness of a 'gentle . . . wooing which takes place between God and the soul' clearly had its effect on Crashaw's luxuriant meditation first entitled 'In Memory of the Vertuous and Learned Lady Madre de Teresa that sought an early Martyrdome' and now generally known as 'A Hymn to Saint Teresa' from the abbreviation of its more explicitly Catholic title of 1652. The poem returns repeatedly to the idea of divine love as the wooer and arouser of the faithful soul; the 6-year-old seeking martyrdom is glimpsed as 'her weake breast heaves with strong desire', while the adult nun willingly opens herself as 'Loves victim' pierced not simply by a single seraphic dart, but exposed to a whole troop of armed Angels, 'Loves souldiers' who 'exercise their Archerie'. Teresa's vision of the spear reappears in a new guise in Crashaw's address to the Countess of Denbigh 'perswading her to Resolution in Religion' (in fact a plea to resolve herself into the Roman communion). The Countess is instructed to unfold herself like a flower in order to receive 'love's shower' which will fall like 'the wholesomes dart', a 'healing shaft which heavn till now / Hath in love's quiver hid for you'. The most florid expression of Crashaw's earlier Laudian ideal of worshipping the Lord in the beauty and dignity of holiness is the 'Hymn to the Name of Jesus'. This ceremonious paean to the 'Fair KING OF NAMES' draws its impulses from a long tradition of devotion to the incarnate Word, both biblical and mystical. The poem insists on the daily renewal of worship through the reawakening of the mind and the senses, and it particularly stresses the importance of music, the 'household stuffe of Heavn on earth', as an accompaniment to praise. Crashaw's sensitivity to music, also evident in his richly adjectival representation of instrumental sound and bird-song in 'Musicks Duell' (an elaboration of a Latin poem by the Jesuit, Strada), is here expressed in his deliberate echoes of musical phrasing. The 'Hymn to the Name of Jesus' recognizes an interrelationship between natural and musical harmony in which the vocal human heart plays its part in an 'unbounded All-imbracing SONG', but it also requires the heart to open itself, even in agony, to the promptings of divine love. The martyr's love-death no longer requires a seraphic dart, for the 'Rackes & Torments' of the earthly persecutors of true religion force open the human breast and cleave the heart ready for the reception of Heavenly fire. Pleasure and pain, orgasm and martyrdom, rape and resolution are yoked together by a lexical violence which seeks to express ultimate spiritual fulfilment.
Where Crashaw yearns to represent an interior mystical passion through sensual metaphors drawn from the exterior human world, Henry Vaughan (1621-95) returns to the chaster and more private world of George Herbert as a means of articulating an inner sense of wonder. The subtitle of Vaughan's Silex Scintillans (1650, enlarged 1655), 'Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations', is an exact echo of that of The Temple, and the Preface, dated 1654, refers to 'the blessed man, Mr George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts' (amongst whom Vaughan counted himself). Above all, one of the most Herbertian poems in the collection, 'The Match', represents a personal submission, artistically to a model poet and spiritually to that poet's God:
Dear friend! whose holy, ever-living lines,
Have done much good
To many, and have checkt my blood,
My fierce, wild blood that still heaves, and inclines,
But still is tam'd
By those bright fires which thee inflam'd;
Here I joyn hands, and thrust my stubborn heart
Into thy deed.
Vaughan most differs from Herbert, however, in his consistent rather than incidental use of natural imagery and in his steady exploration of the revelation of God in his creation. As a loyal royalist and Anglican writing at the time of the triumph of republican arms and the imposition of an alien church order, he retired to rural seclusion in Wales. That this retirement was sympathetic to him is suggested by his translations from the Latin of the stoic meditations on the flux of worldly affairs of Boethius and the Polish Jesuit, Casimir Sarbiewski (published in Olor Iscanus, 'the Swan of Usk', in 1651). Vaughan's finest devotional poetry, contained in the two volumes of Silex Scintillans, does, however, suggest a quite individual vision of a pastoral paradise which had been glimpsed in childhood, but which once lost to the adult could be regained only thorugh contemplation and revelation.
Despite its dominant mood of serenity, Silex Scintillans is periodically charged with a subversive energy directed against the new political and religious status quo imposed by Parliament. The poem 'Abel's Blood' ostensibly protests at the blood shed by the first murderer and, by implication, at the crucifixion of Christ, but the complaint 'What thunders shall those men arraign / Who cannot count those they have slain, / Who bathe not in a shallow flood, / But in a deep, wide sea of blood' seems also likely to be a barbed reference to a parliamentary army who had not only waged a civil war but then proceeded to execute the King, the earthly governor of the Church. In 'The World' the 'darksome States-man' who feeds on churches and altars may equally be a reference to Cromwell, and in 'The British Church' the soldiers who 'here / Cast in their lots again' seem to be rending the seamless robe that once was the Church. The references in the titles o poems to the major feast-days of the Prayer Book Calendar ('Christ's Nativity', 'Easter-day', 'Ascension-day', 'White Sunday', 'Trinity Sunday') are also an Anglican assertion of the propriety of marking particular festivals in opposition to an official ban. The uncertainties, insecurities, and redefinitions of the political world would seem to have driven Vaughan in on himself and to an expression of an alternative spirituality. He looks less to a temple built with human hands than to open-air sanctuaries such as the tabernacles of the patriarchs of Israel. God is evident in numinous landscapes where angels discourse with men in sacred groves (in the poem 'Religion' the 'leaves thy spirit doth fan' are also the pages of the Bible). The true worship of God is expressed in a sense of harmony with observed Nature, the 'great Chime / And Symphony of nature' of 'The Morning-watch'. When in 'The Search' Christ is sought for at the sites associated with his earthly life, the pilgrim is bidden to look beyond the 'old elements or dust' and to find him in 'another world'. Vaughan seems to have responded particularly to the story of the patriarch Jacob, who had dreamed of an angelic ladder while resting on a stone pillow at Bethel, who had wrestled with an angel at Peniel, and at whose well at Sychar Jesus had spoken to the Samaritan woman of the water of life. Jacob's attributes—wells, fountains, stones, and angel-haunted groves—figure throughout his religious verse, notably in the extraordinary poem 'Regeneration', which Vaughan placed early in the first part of Silex. The poem traces and interrelationship of natural, biblical, and intenral landscapes, the exploration of one leading inexorably to another as the spiritual pilgrim probes the mysterious workings of grace. The divine breath called for in the poem's last lines takes up yet another biblical reference, one that is explained by the quotation from the Song of Solomon appended to it: 'Arise O north, and come thou south-wind, and blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.' The secluded garden of the soul is stirred and quickened by the spirit of life itself.
Silex Scintillans ('the sparkling flint') bears on its title-page an emblem of a flashing flint struck by a thunderbolt from the hand of God; the flint is shaped like a weeping or a bleeding heart and it flames as the ligtning falls. Vaughan's emblem is variously explained: a Latin poem which prefaces the volume draws out Ezekiel's prophecy that God will 'take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh', but the personal application of the idea to the poet is twofold. His own comment that 'Certaine Divine Raies breake out of the Soul in adversity, like sparks of fire out of the afflicted flint' illuminates the dominant idea, but the actual choice of a flint was determined by a Latin pun on 'silex' and on the name of the ancient British tribe from which Vaughan claimed descent, the Silures. 'The Silurist', as the poet habitually styled himself, sees himself as made vocal by adversity. His Church and his political cause are devastated, and, as the nine untitled poems interspersed in his two volumes suggest, the death of friends has disturbed his peace of mind. These elegiac verses often suggest the dragging movement of time and the painful counting of its passage ('Each day is grown a dozen year, / and each houre, one'; 'Silence, and stealth of dayes! 'tis now / Since thou art gone, / Twelve hundred houres') but their mourning mood is variously checked; internal qualifications bring consolation and individual poems relate not only to each other but to the titled poems which surround them. The 'pearl' discovered in 'Silence and stealth of dayes' is Christ's 'pearl of great price' which outwights all other value; the roots that sleep in the wintry soil of 'I walkt the other day' are to bring forth new life in an eternal spring; the sense of lonely exile in 'They are all gone into the world of light!' is transformed by the investigation of a series of conceits (death as a jewel shining in the night, an empty bird's nest, a dream of angels, a star confined in a tomb) which serve to 'disperse these mists, which blot and fill / My perspective'. The dispersal of gloom is elswwhere taken as a central metaphor for revelation. 'The Morning-watch' welcomes the floods of light as a foretaste of heaven; 'The Dawning' recognizes that dawn is 'the only time / That with thy glory doth best chime' and therefore the fittest time to mediatate on the Second Coming; Eternity ostensibly glimpsed with such wonderful casualness in 'The World' is like 'a great Ring of pure and endless light' in which 'the world / and all her train were hurl'd'. Where in 'The Night' Vaughan describes the nocturnal visit of Nicodemus to Jesus, he plays with a series of contrasts between light and darkness, waking and sleeping, education and oblivion. The poem centres on a pun and a paradox: at midnight Nicodemus seees both the Son and the Sun and his enlightenment consists of an insight into the mystery of God's 'deep, but dazling darkness'. It is a night into which Vaughan's poetry consistently peers.
Henry King's meditations on mortality and eternity lack the often electrifying originality of Vaughan's. As Dean of Rochester Cathedral in 1642, King (1592-1669) had his library destroyed and his church pillaged by a rampaging gang of Puritan iconoclasts; in the same year he was appointed Bishop of Chichester only to be ejected from his see in 1643 (he was restored to in in 1660). As his somewhat florid 'Elegy upon the most Incomparable King Charles the First' of 1649 demonstrates, the nature of his political and religious loyalties was never in doubt. The 'Elegy' unequivovally sees Charles as a martyr enthroned in heaven while below him his former subjects are sundered from each other by 'that Bloody Cloud, / whose purple Mists Thy Murther'd Body Shroud'. Vengeance, King solemnly reminds his readers, is a prime prerogative of God, a factor which 'bids us our Sorrow by our Hope confine,/ And reconcile our Reason to our Faith'. Much of King's verse is, however, secular in subject and unspecifically Christian in its imagery, though even his amorous poetry is haunted by a vague melancholy and an awareness of transience. Both the 'Midnight Meditation' and the much imitated stanza 'Sic Vita' (generally ascribed to him) stress the frailty of human life and human aspiration. Amongst his many elegies the tribute to his dead wife, 'The Exequy. To his Matchlesse never to be forgotten Freind', quite transcends the rest of his poetry in quality and poignancy. Although the poem scarcely sets out to forbid mourning, its interplay of images of books and libraries, of suns, stars, and seasons, and finally of battle ('My pulse like a soft Drum / Beats my approach, tells Thee I come') suggests something of King's debt to the 'valedictions' of John Donne.