A man with many masters—Donne, Jonson, Giambattista Marino—Thomas Carew (1595 –1640) was slave to none, although as a Cavalier poet he has been generally regarded as one of Jonson’s followers. Like Jonson, Carew commanded many lyric forms, and his lines of-ten read as beautifully as do those of Jonson. In fact, many of Carew’s verses have been effectively set to music. Proficiency with meter, however, was only part of Carew’s art. He used the conceit effectively, although at times his images strain to such an extent as to warrant Samuel Johnson’s attacks on the Metaphysical poets. Carew more effectively associated himself with the Metaphysical school with his use of paradox and argument, adding an intellectual quality to his poems that he so highly valued in Donne.
Jonson and Donne account for the main influences on Carew. He was equally capable of borrowing from Petrarch, Edmund Spenser, or Marino, however, for both theme and technique. In fact, because most of Carew’s poems deal with the theme of love, the forsaken lover in particular, writers such as Petrarch and Spenser were often models better suited to his purpose.
Upon Some Alterations in My Mistress, After My Departure into France
There has been a fair amount of speculation about whether Carew’s love poems, particularly those addressed to Celia (probably a pseudonym) or to the unidentified mistress, have an autobiographical basis. Such speculation aside, the poems are interesting for both their lyric excellence and their range of themes. The peak of Carew’s lyric accomplishment occurs in “Upon some Alterations in my Mistress, after my Departure into France,” where the central image of the lover lost on the troubled ocean of his lady’s altered affections is enhanced by the equally varying meters, thus well fusing theme and structure. Thematically, one sees in Carew a movement from Petrarchan despair to bitter vindication against his inconstant mistress. The very range of Carew’s work thus demands admiration.
What this brief analysis suggests is that Carew’s work reveals many of the themes and techniques that had dominated Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry and that were equally important to the Caroline poets. Carew also polished his use of the rhyming couplet in anticipation of the Augustan Age. Despite his limitations, Carew paints an accurate picture of poetic achievement and direction in the late Renaissance.
“Upon some Alterations in my Mistress, after my Departure into France” warrants comment, first, because it demonstrates an attitude in love poetry that Carew would reject for the bitter vindictiveness of later poems, such as “Disdaine returned,” and second, because Carew’s technique in the poem, even when not effective, is interesting.The poem is more likely autobiographical than are many of his other love poems. The poem appears to be Carew’s response to his mistress’s change of feeling after he had gone to France with Sir Edward Herbert. Unlike later works showing Carew bitter about his lady’s rejection, this short lyric poem presents the poet as a forlorn Petrarchan lover. Appropriately, its theme is developed in the extended image of a poet lost on the troubled ocean of inconstant love and his lady’s waning affections.
Carew’s use of the extended image is interesting not only because it is so typical of Petrarchan poetry, but also because this technique varies from his general approach, which, like Donne’s, usually fuses diverse elements. In this poem, the first stanza quickly presents the image that will be elaborated:
Oh gentle Love, doe not forsake the guide
Of my fraile Barke, on which the swelling tide
Of ruthless pride
Doth beat, and threaten wrack from every side.
It was a well-worn figure by the time Carew came to employ it, and Carew in no way used it with originality. The varied line lengths and metrical feet, however, suggesting the tempestuous seas, show Carew effectively combining idea and form.
Carew’s reference to the “mystie cloud of anger” in the second stanza identifies the alterations to which the title refers. Still, Carew follows this line by calling his lady his “faire starre,” seeming to say that despite her alterations, she remains for him a guiding passion. The last line of the poem, however—“In the deep flood she drown’d her beamie face”—suggests the more defiant train of thought of his later poems as he turns his back on his lady and tells her that her own treatment of him will be her destruction.
Song, To My Inconstant Mistress
In Carew’s “Song, To my inconstant Mistress,” as in “Disdaine returned,” he pictures himself as the scorned Petrarchan lover, though, rather than suffering in frustration, he methodically points out why his mistress will at some point regret her attitude. This intellectual response to an emotional situation is characteristic of the school of Donne, while the lyric excellence of the poem, in five-line tetrameter stanzas rhyming ababb, follows the influence that governed the Tribe of Ben. Carew thus illustrates his ability to absorb diverse influences.
Underlying the entire thematic structure of “Song, To my inconstant Mistress” is the poet’s paralleling of love and religion. The opening stanza portrays him as a man with a“strong faith,” while his mistress is a “poor excommunicate.” These early parallels suggest a point that the poet will later develop: that true faithfulness in love will, as in religion, be rewarded by salvation. The focus of this poem, however, is on the damning of the unfaithful mistress.
The second stanza develops one of Carew’s typical themes, that love demands an equal commitment by both parties. The poet says that his inconstant mistress will be re-placed by a “faire hand” and that this new love and the poet will be “both with equall glory crown’d.” At this point, Lynn Sadler suggests, the tone of the poet has something of the “swagger of bravado.” The point is well taken; moreover, the swagger is to be-come more bitter in the final stanza.
In the third stanza, the implications of the first are at last fulfilled. The poet has already established the bliss he will enjoy because of his constancy to the ideal of love. His main point, however, is to show the despair that awaits the one who has violated the spirit of love. Her reward, moreover, will be equal to her sin, for she will suffer to the de-gree that she caused suffering. Finally, again in religious terms, she will be “Damn’d for(her) false Apostasie.”
“Song, To my inconstant Mistress” is one of Carew’s best lyric love poems. His fusion of religious and erotic imagery enhances the latter without mocking or trivializing the former, an achievement that distinguishes the poem from the common run of Cava-lier lyrics.
One of Carew’s best-known poems, “Disdaine returned,” demonstrates two significant aspects of his art: the lyric beauty that he inherited from Jonson and his smooth integration of several typical Elizabethan and Jacobean themes. The basic structure of the poem is simple. It has three six-line stanzas in tetrameter, rhyming ababcc. In the last stanza, however, the closing couplet varies slightly in its meter and thus draws the poem to a decisive close, suggesting that the poet has cured himself of his lovesickness. Unlike many of the other Celia poems in which Carew expounds the poet’s frustrations in love with a typical Petrarchan lament, “Disdaine returned” shows the spirit and style that were characteristic of Donne in such poems as “The Broken Heart.” The poem opens with a carpe diem statement, “As old Time makes these decay/ So his flames must waste away.” Rather than using these lines to make the basic live-for-the-moment argument, however, Carew suggests a feeling of depressed reconciliation; his lady has lost the opportunity for a genuine love that would not fade with the passing of time or the loss of beauty. The second stanza justifies the claim as Carew defines in basically Platonic terms his ideas about love that his mistress has not been able to accept: “Hearts with equal love combined kindle never-dying fires.”
In the third stanza, the frustrated poet, whose love is genuine, is forced to return his lady’s rejection. As the second stanza suggests, there must be equal commitment for the relationship to prosper. The poet says, however, that he has not found his love returned: “I have searched thy soul within/ And find naught but pride and scorn.” He decides to re-turn these feelings of disdain, ending his pointless suffering.
An Elegie upon the Death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne
Generally accepted as Carew’s best poem, “An Elegie upon the Death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne” is one of the few poems by Carew to be published during his own lifetime. It was published in 1633, although it was probably written much nearer the time of Donne’s death in 1631.
The poem opens with an indictment of an age that finds only “unkneaded dowebak’t prose” to praise the loss of its greatest poet. Carew’s frustration with this situation is intensified throughout the poem as he reviews the many changes in the use of language that Donne had wrought. He freed the poet from “senile imitation” of the ancient sand then “fresh invention planted.” Carew devotes a large part of the poem, in fact, to making this point, using a concept that Donne would have appreciated: Donne paid the “debts of our penurious bankrupt age,” which had so long struggled in borrowed images and forms. So great was Donne’s power, Carew says, that “our stubborne language bends, made only fit/ With her tough-thick-rib’d hoopes to gird about/ Thy Giant phansie.”
Because Donne is gone, Carew declares, the advances that he initiated are vanishing as well, since they are “Too hard for Libertines in Poetrie.” To further build on this theme, the poet uses the image of the wheel that will cease to turn after losing its “moving head.” Still, Carew’s final image is that of the phoenix, a popular image in Donne’s poetry, to suggest that perhaps from the ashes the spirit of Donne will rise in another era.
Finally, Carew apologizes for his poor effort by saying that Donne is “Theme enough to tyre all Art.” He then presents the closing epitaph:
Here lies a King, that rul’d as hee thought fit
The universall Monarchy of wit;
Here lie two Flamens, and both those, the best,
Apollo’s first, at last, the true God’s Priest.
This best of Carew’s poems is a rather accurate projection of what would be the course of poetic achievement after the death of Donne. Not until Alexander Pope, about one hundred years later (excluding John Milton), did England see a genius to compare with Donne, yet between these two giants, such poems as this one by Carew kept alive the spirit of poetic achievement that distinguished the Renaissance.
Play: Coelum Britannicum, pr. 1634 (masque).
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