Metaphysical Poetry Essay Summary

Published: 2021-07-25 19:55:06
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“Movement across or through space becomes a process of colonization of that space. ” During the period of Milton”s Paradise Lost as well as myriad of poets construction of an epoque submerged in metaphysical literature, a number of significant events both socio-political, entwined with a systematic religious metamorphism of the sixteenth and seventeenth century led to a time of unrest and discovery.
The creators and author”s of work of this periods placed their emphasis not specifically on a level of morality or self understanding but rather a rediscovery of the body and soul, almost a form of existensionalism or physical cosmos with a geography. “All things are subject to the Mind… It measures in one thought the whole circumference of heaven and by the same line it takes the geography of the earth. The seas, the air, the fire all things of either, are within the comprehension of the mind. It has an influence on them all, whence it lakes all that may be useful, all that may be helpful in government.
No limitation is prescribed to it, no restriction is upon it, but in a free scope it has a liberty upon all. And in this liberty is the excellence of the mind; in this power and composition of the mind is perfection of a man… Man is an absolute master of himself; his own safety, and tranquillity by God… are made dependent on himself. “1 In this short example of Puritanism text as it stands, alone contains a number of various references to the process of colonization, of expanding, perceiving all geographically and manipulating, making man or perhaps more specifically the colonisers omniscient and God-like.
The crusader self-reliant and independent with the knowledge that God is his guardian of safety and tranquillity. In this particular the growing number of Puritans played a significant role both in the cultivation and transformation of the Christian religion and foreign territories. The Puritans themselves comprised of those in the Church of England unhappy with limitations of the Elizabethan Settlement; some were Presbyterians, and all were to some extent or other Calvinists though not all Calvinists were Puritans. They were a people of scrupulous moral rigour and favoured plain styles of dress, detesting any form of luxury or decadence.
The name Puritan later became a catch-all label for the disparate groups who led much of the New World colonization and won the English Civil Wars. New World colonization began as early as 1480 by English seamen performing spectacular feats of exploration under Elizabeth I. These seamen made various claims of territorial annexation in America in an effort to outflank their Spanish rivals however, all foundations of permanent colonies proved abortive until the early 17th century. Thereafter, there was steady progress in acquiring territories in the Caribbean and mainland North America.
Much settlement in the latter had a religious motive, with colonists seeking to escape the constraints of the English Established Church. As a result, there was an uneasy relationship between many colonial administrations and the royal government at home. Further to these tensions the “colonies were split in their allegiances during the civil wars in Britain, but Charles I derived little useful help from those who supported his cause. The collapse of James II regime 1688-9 proved a blow to the efforts of Westminster to encroach on ! self-rule in North America.
The relationship between the centre and the colonies remained problematic right until the War of American Independence. “2 The metaphysical tradition established during the seventeenth century can find its foundations in the colonization explorations and the domestic unrest caused by the civil wars. The combination of the two contextually, both in spirituality, imagery and definitions of time and space; have the unique effect of creating a devout religious protagonist”s perceptions of his environment and its history, encompassed in as often was the case one work of art, as a testimony to the period and the Church of England.
Frequently such works could be found in the form of poetry, commonly regarded as the most eloquent and essential part of the English language as a means of communications, via its plurality, richness of language and syntax. Poets of the era harnessed the tools of poetry to the spiritual essence of their communication create an impact of divine, gospel-like proportions, which were received and regarded as perhaps the most innovative and highly appreciated works of poetry! to have arisen. One such poet was John Milton whose epic work Paradise Lost written in 1667 was ultimately the last and great Adamite3 work.
John Milton 1608-74, was an English poet, the son of a composer of some distinction. The preparation for his life”s work included attendance at St. Paul”s School, Christ”s College and Cambridge for several years. His reputation as a poet preceded him as addressed to the conscience of Europe. As fame through his work augmented so with it did his political career. “The theme of Paradise Lost completed 1665, published 1667 had been in Milton”s mind since 1641. It was to be a sacred drama then; but when in 1658 his official duties were lightened so as to allow him to write, he chose the epic form.
The first three books reflect the triumph of the godly–so soon to be reversed; the last books, written in 1663, are tinged with despair. God”s kingdom is not of this world. Man”s intractable nature frustrates the planning of the wise. The hetero! dox theology of the poem which is made clear in his late De Doctrina Christiana did not trouble Protestant readers till modern critics examined it with hostile intent. “4 Part of the poem”s greatness, apart from its length, is a function of the visual immediacy with which Milton realizes the imagined scenes.
Milton has been criticized for glossing over certain contemporary developments in scientific and intellectual thought the astronomical ambiguities in book VII, for example, eg “…. What if the sun Be centre to the world , and other stars By his attractive virtue and their own Incited, dance about him various rounds? 5 Their wander course now high, now low, then still Progressive, retrograde, or standing still, In sixth thou seest, and what if seventh to these The planet earth, so steadfast though she seem, Insensibly three different motions move? Which else to several spheres thou must ascribe,7 The poem”s realism is that of a myth, and its credibility dependent on the outlines of Christian belief, rather than specific historical details. The entire concern or major theme of Paradise Lost is to confute predestination and demonstrate the freedom of will. However Satan is portrayed as an almost romantic, recognizable character with whom we share every twist and turn his thinking takes throughout his physical and mental journey.
Satan can easily be perceived as the bold intrepid colonist, not lacking the courage of his convictions, be it at the expense of being exiled from the vaults of heaven. With the strength of classical precedents, Milton”s cosmology refracts a seemingly incomprehensible geography of fantastic proportions, utilising allusive language to describe the indescribable. Nevertheless this did not deter some illustrators attempting to recapture the imagery of Militon”s Cosmos.
Satan”s fall from grace to a desolate place of fathomless voids, yet unpopulated, turns Satan”s disgrace into a voyage before a quest with a mission, not unlike that of the colonisers. In Book I the voyage of these unchartered and as yet inanimate destinations began when Satan and his host are: Hurl”d headlong flaming from th” Ethereal sky With hideous ruin and combustion down To bottomless perdition, there to dwell In Admantine chains and penal Fire. For nine days they fall through Chaos till: Hell at last Yawning receiv”d them whole, and on them clos”d, Hell their fit habitation fraught with fire Unquenchable, the house of woe and pain.
They splash down into a burning lake, and, looking around, discover themselves much changed from their original angelic form, similarly their surroundings are: A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round As one great Furnace flam”d, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Serv”d only to discover sights of woe, Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell, where hope never comes That comes to all; but torture without end>From which they make their way to land: … on dreary Plain, forlorn and wild, The seat of desolation, void of light, Save what the glimmering of these livid flames Casts pale and dreadful. Nonetheless, like a colonizer in a one of the worst far flung corners of the globe, claiming whatever he passes as his own, Satan makes the best of his circumstances: Farewell happy Fields Where Joy for ever dwells; Hail horrors, hail Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell receive thy new Possessor Meanwhile the demons begin work creating a splendiforous palace, Pandemonium, perhaps the most palatial structure in Hell”s history to match that of heaven.
Satan”s acceptanceof his situation, is analogous to a determined settler determined to cultivate his surroundings as his own before expanding further afield. Later the demons swarm to the council to decide on an acceptable plan of action. Amidst the demons and second in rank is Envy; he tells of “another World, the happy seat / Of some new Race cal”d Man,” and suggests that they subvert it “and drive as we were drive,/ The puny habitants; or, if not drive/ Seduce them to our Party. This is perhaps the most substantive and overbearing allusion to colonisation of the New World, meant literally in this context. The eager demons might well be a metaphorical representation of the religious convoys who were frequently sent ahead with the intent of settling and were hell bent on converting the original inhabitants of the land into their own kind, to adopt them into their religion, their community, so that by manipulating and corrupting them they could seize advantage of their innocence by blatantly encroaching on their land and property, with minimal opposition.
Another part adventure to discover wide That dismal World, if any Clime perhaps Might yield them easier habitation Satan”s heroic-like journey continues through treacherous conditions, having to pass inhospitable terrain and fauna, before reaching “thrice threefold” gates of Hell, three of brass, three of iron, and three of adamantine rock, guarded by Sin and Death.
On managing to escape Milton”s world of Hell he eventually reaches earth where subtly tempts Eve with the forbidden fruit of knowledge until Eve concedes and eats leading to their loss of paradise. An analogy could be drawn here between Satan and the colonisers of the period enduring a tiresome journey and then tempting the inhabitants Adam and Eve with the prospect of wealth through trade; and on acceptance, thus marking their own loss and transgression into a state of perpetual inferiority thereafter in respect of the colonisers.
Adam and Eve the original settlers are beguiled by Satan”s corruptness through their own innocent naivity. In respect of Paradise Lost and the theme of colonisation we can the course marked by Satan via his journey see diagram is regarded as his geography, despite having finally accomplished his course of action. Further on in books V-VII we have elaborate description of the landscape of Paradise, which is used the manifesto of colonialism through religious dynamics and instability.
The schematics of geography and the final mappings that became increasingly important, in so far as territories, progression of colonization and like, even God himself charters the stars in a calculated Genesis He took the golden compasses, prepared In God”s eternal store, to circumscibe This universe, an all created things: One foot he centred, and the other turned Round through the vast profundity obscure, And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds This by thy just circumference8 Milton himself somewhat of a nationalist puritan poet in response to the issue of reformation, firm in the belief that the English were God”s chosen people addressed parliament asking:
Why else was this Nation chos”n before any other, that out of her as out of Sion should be proclam”d and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of Reformation of all Europ. And had it not bin the obstinat perversnes of our Prelats against the divine and admirable spirit of the Wicklef, to suppresse him as a scismatic an innovator… the glory of reforming all our neighbours had bin compleatly ours. 9 Similarly if not more so the concepts of colonialism, the systematic functions of identifying, locating and securing are no better displayed, conveyed or apparent than in writings of the metaphysical poets.
Man is all symmetrie, Full of proportions, one limbe to another, And all to all the world besides: Each part may call the furthest, brother: For head with for hath private amitie, And bothe with moons and tides. 10 In this brief extract taken from George Herberts poem Man we can see the extent to which this evangelical poem – using maps and geometry to define the protestant server and his maker. A new method of language and metaphors had become available and poets did not hasten to incorporate as many different styles as possible to create an identity, using the terminology associated to science, in order to define. A place for everything and everything in its place, reaching the conclusion that God is omnipresent, after having used language to process His location.
Likewise John Donne an acclaimed poet of his period, and as Dean of Saint Paul”s Cathedral was a seemingly inexhaustible source of spirituality with which to ordain his poems. Licence my roving hands, and let them go Behind, before, above, between, below Oh my America, my new found lande, My kingdome, safeliest when with on man man”d My myne precious stones my Empiree How blest I am this discovering thee11 In this his poem named, Elegie: To His Mistress Going to Bed the allusions to colonialism are by no means marginalised. Donne paints a scene of a woman undressing, in which his description has the duality of de-sexualising, whilst sexualising.
The emphasis and attention paid on material objects such as the garments are for all intents and purposes dehumanising. The description of clothes are paralleled to the colonial, metaphysical conceits discovery and of ownership, whilst mapping. Ostensibly what Donne endeavours to do is colonise the body of the woman. Although considerable language and detail is spent in describing the layers of clothing the purpose of which to emphasise the letting go of material objects. The infinite quest of the spiritualist could be that longing for the return to innocence, of spirituality and spiritual embodiment can only be achieved when irrelevant and extravagant thoughts of materialism and clothes are disregarded. Once the woman is void of! ll external graces and is the way nature intended, only then does the journey of exploration commence, to discover the essence of human nature, the spiritual manifestation of passion merely acting as a catalyst in the celebration of sexuality.
The theme of a quest, searching, mapping territory or bodies, geography of mind, body and soul, unrest and all that is external is apparent in a large proportion of what was written in the seventeen century, religious unsettlement serving only to fuel, scepticism or convictions further. The majority of metaphysical poems have similar themes and imagery, often set in room, study or office, any private enclosure reminiscent of a confession booth. Writing poetry in the form of a confessional is used as a moment of introspection.
The new awareness of questions rising with new religious identities of new churches necessitated these occasions of profound reverence and occasional enlightenment, in a journey through their own spirituality. Poetry was writing for private readership, a confessional in the form of a diary, debating with themselves and God. The status of body, that of men and women, the relationship between themselves with one another, and God were all predominati! ng factors in their writing. Poetry was written private realms for a private readership with no public address. A parody may even be draw between Milton circumstances and his vision of Satan, during on of his profound moments of reflection: Me miserable! which was shall I fly Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;12 I may be useful to think of Satan in the light of “likening spiritual to corporal forms”, partly as representative of the public world of politics and rebellion, and his presentation as an exploration of the ambitions and failures, the egotism and despair, that public life offers. In this his role is therefore complemented in the poem by the private, domestic world of Adam and Eve, in whose interpersonal relations are enacted the possibilities and problems of freedom and self-restraint. In metaphysical poetry the body was seen as a secular vessel, embodied with a spiritual love of the world, attached to a humanist concept that pre mined to embody God within the body of man.
Colonialism expanse across the America”s induced imagery through language; exploring, discovery, conquering, divine protection, geometry, geography, astronomy, navigation and science were the foundations on which metaphysical poetry evidently propelled itself to growing popularity at a time of general social, political and religious unrest. The Sunne Rising also created by Donne was slightly more satirical, yet maintaining that man was ultimately the ruler of his own world, and God being embodied in wherever he be therein. The sun is employed as a metaphysical conceit, with man being able to block it and the other element with a single wink. Thy beams, so reverend and strong Why shouldst thou think? I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,13 With reference of imperial history he no longer needs to explore to India, for it is already traced and recorded on a map before him.
His self-elevation and lack of humanity are comparable to that of Milton”s Satan. Around the same period other works of post-colonial art were be developed, no doubt heavily influenced by contemporary issues. One such example is Shakespeare”s final work and tragi-comedy The Tempest 1611, interposed and concerned with the theme of the elevation of one myth above another, recurrent impact of colonialism, morality and the loss of innocence. Shakespeare”s unique style of writing is as a direct result of a plethora of influences, one of which was “Montaigne”s essay Of Cannibals which discussed the value and the way of life of societies which had not been affected by civilisation of a European type.
In addition to this essay a pamphlet circulate called The Discovery of the Bermudas , otherwise called the Isle of Divels, may have played a crucial role. This pamphlet described the bold adventures of a religious group of colonist travelling in a convoy of ships from London to Virginia. However during the voyage, the flagship was separated from the remainder! of the convoy in a storm. The maverick ship inadvertently blew towards Bermuda before being tossed onto some rocks. The colonists lived on the islands until they had built boats in which to continue their voyage. The story of their almost miraculous survival aroused considerable interest in England and echoes of their adventure can be found in The Tempest.
With little regard of the more elaborate themes images the tale is one of a landing on a island, a veritable paradise, already inhabited by Caliban often spelt “canibal” by Elizabethans by transposing the letters “n” and “l” a wild, deformed uncivilised beast representative of native settlers, who is quickly manipulated, overthrown and enslaved by Prospero King of Milan. Caliban and his environment are parallelled to those of the Garden of Eden and Caliban himself is elemental. As the story progresses and the tyrannical relationship between the two continually increasing, Caliban”s intellect is worthy of argument against Prospero for having denied him his birthright. Prospero”s aim of teaching Caliban was to increase his indisputable control over him, by subverting him into an incomplete and image of his master, defective of all other attributes ie of magic.
Caliban, similar to every colonised people before him adapted his adopted culture and power of speech inflic! ed upon him as a weapon to communicate his own indignation and animosity towards his oppressor. And despite being frequently referred to as a crude savage, disfigured, and evil Caliban exemplifies a better set of values than most of the “civilised” characters in the play. This image derives from speculation regarding the popular English belief that uncivilised pagans were below their civilised counterparts in the hierarchy which had God at its apex and inanimate nature at it base.
However a few individuals were beginning to question this assumption and “there is evidence in the play that Shakespeare believed that the corruption in a civilised man was more abhorrent than any natural albeit uncivilised behaviour. 14 At a time when many books and sermons, effected a characteristic Renaissance union between moral and political implications, and concerned themselves with the task of persuading the public that exploration was an honourable and indeed a sanctified activity and Drake was compared to Moses, combining voyaging and mystagogy a practical justification of “the lawfulnesse of Discovering”. It was a somewhat sophistical argument by Purchas, in favour of the propriety of usurping the rights of native populations, and an insistence, half-mystagogic, half-propagandist, on the temperate, fruitful nature of the New World, and the unspoilt purity of its inhabitants.
The True Declaration defends colonizing, on the ground that it diffuses the true religion and has authority from Solomon”s trade to Ophir whether it lay in the East or, as Columbus thought15 in the West Indies. There is room for all; and in any case the natives cannot be regarded as civilized people. “16 The revelations of The Tempest of watching Caliban suffer at the hands of Prospero affords interesting material for examination. Caliban endures his abuse and insistent that he has deprived him of what is rightfully his, and this perhaps may have been Shakespeare”s way of confronting his contemporary pro-colonising audience with the problems of ownership of newly discovered lands.

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