The "Metaphysicals": English Baroque Literature in Context
In the still predominantly British study of English literature, the term "Baroque" is hardly ever used to describe the era between the Renaissance and the age of Neoclassicism, and it seems that only scholars of comparative literature who have dared look across the Channel, such as René Wellek, as well as cultural scholars use it in their approach.1 In British studies of English literature, the term "Metaphysical" is still given preference. Originally, "Metaphysical" was used as a derogatory term by the Neoclassicists in order to differentiate their aesthetics, which was based on reason and clearly defined rules, from the Baroque aesthetics of the "last age". From their point of view the Baroque poets had offended against the eternally valid norms of reason and nature and so, in this diphemistic sense, "Metaphysical" was meant to describe something "unnatural" or "adverse to nature" rather than the "supernatural". After John Dryden's and Samuel Johnson's derogatory use of the term "Metaphysical", it became a neutral technical term -- a frequent semantic change when the immediate historical context sinks into oblivion. In his influential Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693) Dryden described how, during his aberration from reason as a youth, he was dazzled by Abraham Cowley's "points of wit, and quirks of epigram" and other "puerilities", and looked upon him as a pupil of the Baroque poet John Donne:
He [Donne] affects the metaphysics, where nature only should reign. [...] In this Mr Cowley has copied him to a fault.2
In 1779, Samuel Johnson wrote a short biography of Abraham Cowley. This was the first of a series of biographical and critical prefaces to his anthology of Works of the English Poets (1779-1781), a book firmly based on Neoclassical principles. His judgement and terminology followed Dryden's:
About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the Metaphysical poets [...].3
In a rather haphazard enumeration Samuel Johnson accused these 'unnatural' poets of a great many offences against reason and nature: exhibiting artificiality instead of concealing art, the desire for originality at the expense of the mimesis of nature, unpolished stylistic carelessness, abstruse conceits arbitrarily yoked together in a kind of discordia concors, enormous hyperboles, gross absurdities, and horrible obscenities often conveyed in puns and quibbles.4 The Rationalistic and Neoclassical purification of the language, as propagated by the Académie Française after 1634 and by the Royal Society after 1668, tolerated no multiple meanings of words that would confuse the understanding, and thus radically inverted the dynamic expansion of the Renaissance and (even more so) of the Baroque vocabulary prominent in Rabelais, Shakespeare, and Donne. Shakespearean and Metaphysical puns and quibbles offended against the most basic Neoclassical rules of reason, the rule of clarity and the rule of decorum.
Apart from being distorted by Neoclassical prejudices, Samuel Johnson's catalogue of the characteristics of English Baroque literature is also rather incomplete. Ever since Grierson's edition (1912) and Eliot's essay (1921), research into Baroque poetry has not only led to a revision of Neoclassical prejudices but has also looked at the Baroque period unhampered by the distortions of a different aesthetic approach.5 It has, moreover, led to a substantial expansion and modification of Johnson's catalogue. On the basis of recent research studies, the characteristics of English Baroque literature can be summarized in nine points:
CONCEIT AND EMBLEM. In the literary comparison or image the distance between vehicle and tenor was widened in an artificial and affected way to such an extreme or even contrariness that any logical or natural relationship between the two was no longer immediately recognizable.6 Comparing the body, in which the soul lives confined until its liberation by death, to a prison or to a coffin had been a natural conventional illustration of Plato's soma-sema-doctrine; but comparing the body to a rusty gun barrel which the bullet of the soul breaks in order to fly upward to heaven, as John Donne did in his Second Anniversary (1612), was an instance of Baroque wit, originality, and eccentricity:
But thinke that Death hath now enfranchis'd thee,
Thinke that a rusty Peece, discharg'd, is flowne
In peeces, and the bullet is his owne,
And freely flies: This to thy Soule allow,
Thinke thy shell broke [...]7
The 'eccentric' world picture spreading through Europe after Nicolaus Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543) produced equally 'eccentric' art forms, which were later labelled with epoch-terms denoting just this eccentricity: 'baroque', 'il seicento eccentrico'. A remarkable manifestation of this loss of the centre or Verlust der Mitte8 can be seen in Baroque church architecture. Here, the circle as the typical feature of Renaissance groundplan design was replaced by the Baroque oval. Thus the church-goer's traditional experience of the centre below the cupola was clearly distorted. Typical examples are Bernini's Jesuit Sant' Andrea al Quirinale in Rome or the Jesuit Loreto Church near the Hradčany (Castle) in Prague.9 In Baroque rhetoric, the conceit replaced the Renaissance image just as the oval replaced the Renaissance circle in Baroque architecture, giving the reader an equal sense of distortion. A typical example is the famous divine poem on the repentant sinner Mary Magdalene, 'The Weeper', and its strong-line coda, 'The Tear' (MSS ca 1640), by the Roman Catholic and Counter-Reformatory poet Richard Crashaw. The poem disrupts the well-proportioned and by now time-worn Petrarchan comparison of eyes with fountains or orbs and tears with springs or stars10 in the most extravagant and illogically mixed ways. In rapid and broken succession, the eyes are no longer fountains but become extended to "portable and compendious oceans" faithfully and paradoxically following their beloved Christ, and the tears are drops weeping for their own loss, or, more paradoxically, moist sparks, watery diamonds, maiden gems worn by a wanton woman blushing at Christ, her very masculine and beautiful lover, pearls of dew carried on pillows stuffed with the down of angels from the sinner's lowly dust to heaven, to be metamorphosed into stars and singers in the heavenly choir of angels.11 Besides concrete physical objects such as eyes and tears, abstracts such as moderation, repentance, grace, wisdom, and love could also be illustrated by such far-fetched and original vehicles. Thus, the obvious and harmonious comparison of love with fire in Petrarch was replaced by the artificial and eccentric comparison of love with a flea in Donne.12 This concettismo was closely related to the originally anti-Calvinist and Counter-Reformatory mixed genre of the emblem. Complementing a Baroque history painting, the emblem was chiefly meant to convey abstract doctrines of faith and philosophy to the human senses, in a tripartite combination of word and picture. This task would almost necessarily put a strain on the emblem writer's inventiveness in finding eccentric vehicles and tertia comparationis, as when he illustrated the universal indispensability of divine and human love by depicting the world as a cask and Amor-Christ as a cooper binding together that cask's loose planks.13 It is typical of this Baroque ut pictura poesis that, for instance, the conceptistic comparison of divine grace with a magnet, which alone can draw the iron human heart up to God, was used both in a holy sonnet of John Donne's14 and in an emblem in Georgette de Montenay's Monumenta Emblematorum Christianorum (1540).15
THEATRICALITY. Much has been written about the theatricality and dramatic quality of Metaphysical poetry, especially in its earlier phase. In their radical opposition to Calvinistic theology, Metaphysical poems are intensely picturesque, displaying all the pictorial splendour usually associated with the flashy illusory stage-designs of the Stuart court-masque. Calvin's rabbinistic, anti-Catholic, (and allegedly early Christian) interpretation of the first commandment of the decalogue (Exodus 20. 4), forbidding not only idols but all pictures, had entailed his ban on plays and playhouses in general. No theatres were allowed in Calvin's Genevan theocracy, and the early English Calvinists' ("Puritans'") antagonism to the theatre and its consequences has been well investigated. Small wonder that the Counter-Reformation reacted by stressing both the practice of the theatre (Jesuitendrama) and the literary and artistic commonplaces of the theatre. "Totus mundus agit histrionen", "el gran theatro del mundo", "das große Welttheater", became a favourite theme and motif of Baroque literature.16 Moreover, against the background of the sister arts ut pictura poesis, attention should be paid to the theatricality both of Baroque church architecture and of Baroque painting. Baroque churches were splendidly designed as theatrum sacrum, and theatrical illusion (as in trompe l'oeil ceilings) was consciously made use of in order to involve the senses ad majorem Dei gloriam. The heavens opening and revealing God surrounded by his hierarchies of angels in all their glory was portrayed as a theatrical pageant comparable to (and exceeding) that of the most splendid court-masques, giving observers a sensual foretaste of the delights to come in the world beyond. Baroque paintings, too, are full of theatre motifs and heavy drapery, with curtains allowing glimpses of what seemingly was not meant to be seen. This, of course, had the contrary effect: disclosing rather than concealing, arousing curiosity and guiding the eye directly to what was only half-heartedly hidden. Christ in the manger or Christ on the cross no longer carries a napkin or loincloth hiding his shame, but rather a theatre curtain revealing it and conveying Christ's erotic potency and soteriological fertility to the astounded spectator.
ANTITHESIS AND PARADOX. Not only in literary comparisons but also in the context of the two conflicting world pictures and two conflicting religions -- even the most remote elements were connected in contentio or composition (now called antithesis) or synoeciosis or opposition (now called paradox).17 We find heaven and hell, life and death, fire and water almost automatically linked, just as Baroque literature reflected the increasing awareness of a world out of joint on all levels. In their massive accumulation and complex clusters, antithesis and paradox became distinctive characteristics of Baroque rhetoric.18 Thus, in his two earliest verse letters referring to his participation in the Islands Expedition (1597),19 John Donne opposed the descriptions of two contrary experiences in extremis, a sea storm and a sea calm. Both not only threatened the sailors' lives, the second even more than the first, but confronted them with two versions of pristine, pre-Creationist, Godless chaos. In the storm
Darkness, lights elder brother, his birth-right
Claims o'er this world, and to heaven hath chas'd light.
All things are one, and that none can be,
Since all formes, uniforme deformity
Doth cover, so that wee, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.20
And in the calm
He that at sea prayes for more winde, as well
Under the poles may begge cold, heat in hell.21
All aim is lost in disorientation, all coherence (of the fleet) is gone. All order, distinctions, and laws of causality are annihilated in a hell of shrieking noises or baking heat. The speaker can no longer distinguish directions and seasons, day and light, sleep and death, health and disease. And every thing and act planned for the sake of survival either fails or turns to its very contrary. The accumulated paradoxes underline the obliteration of all created relationship between cause and effect, as of all rational order. Another of Donne's eschatological poems either composing or opposing extremes is The First Anniversary (1611). Here the old world, shaken by a severe fever with hot and cold flushes, doubts whether the end of this crisis signifies the world's survival or its death, only to learn that its inevitable decay due to sin is the (certainly very Utopian) precondition of its rebirth into a virtuous and prelapsarian state.22 In Cyril Tourneur's play The Revenger's Tragedy (1607), the hero Vindice wavers between extreme love and extreme disgust, libido and contemptus mundi, at the sight of the skull of his murdered mistress, which is wrapped in beautiful clothes.23 Arthur Hübscher talks of "Baroque as a means of forming an antithetical awareness of life".24
Situative as well as rhetorical paradoxes can be found in all epochs of literature, and have been aptly classified in three types: the serious and unresolvable paradox, the comical and satirical paradox, and the playful or semi-jocular paradox.25 The distinctively Baroque paradox belonged to the first type. Like the conventional serious paradox, it opposed extreme opposites in seeming logicality; but it aimed at eccentric surprise. It exceeded the conventionality of Tertullian's maxim of "credo quia absurdum" in its witty originality and offence against conventional decorum. In John Donne's Holy Sonnets, each speaker tries to overcome the broken state of the world and the church in a privatissime illogical communion between two lovers, himself and his desired God. The speaker will never be free unless God chains him, and will never be chaste unless God rapes him. God has to overthrow him in order that he may firmly stand.26 In Richard Crashaw's 'Hymn to Saint Teresa', penetration is the precondition of virginity as well as ignorance the precondition of knowledge, bankruptcy the precondition of trade, weakness the precondition of strength, martyrdom and death the precondition of life, and fall and sin the precondition of resurrection and salvation. In their theological and philosophical unresolvability, such serious paradoxes, homiletically conventional or sensationally shocking, were radically different from the traditional comical and satirical type of paradox on the one hand, and from the traditional playful or semi-jocular type of paradox on the other hand.27 And they also differed from the paradoxy that modern literary theory postulates for all poetry (Cleanth Brooks and the New Criticism) or even prose (Paul de Man and Deconstructivism). The distinctive feature of Baroque paradoxes is their shocking choice of joined opposites as well as the sheer quantity of obsessive paradox cumulation, which sets them apart from the serious paradoxes that survived in the Augustan age, with its self-imposed obligation to a return to harmony and to the restrictive rule of decorum.28 The typically Baroque use of paradoxes must be understood as the literary expression of an age that did not only have to face new contradictory theologies, philosophies, and views of history.29 The age had, above all, been taken by surprise in having to face a totally new, non-geocentric world picture. Where the centre is lost, excess and eccentricity are the new norm itself. Thus, an aesthetics of excess, eccentricity, disproportion, non-balance, monstrosity, and stupendousness became the hallmark of the Baroque: "la estetica di stupare". And so the Baroque sought to bridge by an excessive and eccentric, original and innovative wit and art what faith found increasingly difficult to believe.30 It was here that the replacement of religion by art began, and it is here that we find Matthew Arnold's and Friedrich Nietzsche's predecessors in doubt. Baroque man lived torn between two logically irreconcilable world pictures: on the one hand, the old Ptolemaic, geocentric one which had for centuries given man a sense of order and dignity, which was now increasingly called in doubt; and, on the other hand, the new Copernican, heliocentric one which, though it proved empirically convincing, resulted in a deep sense of physical and moral displacement and ontological disorientation. Tycho Brahe's typically Renaissance attempt at reconciling the two world pictures shows the whole extent of the dilemma.31 From an early seventeenth-century rational and erudite man's point of view, Anthony Munday spoke of "opposed truth"32, and Baltasar Gracián of "monstruos de la verdad".33 This antithetical awareness explains Crashaw's desperate call to return to Saint Teresa's childish, pre-logical, and mystical acceptance of contraries beyond man's rational comprehension. But the lost firmness of faith was irretrievable, and Baroque mysticism differed from medieval mysticism in its strong element of doubt. In this, Baroque love of paradox and Baroque mysticism were closely connected.
QUIDDITY. As shown above, Baroque literature's characteristic feature of replacing logical lines of argumentation by paradoxes, syllogisms, barocones34 and other kinds of witty and spurious argumentation reflects the feeling of an original community and continuity increasingly torn apart. George Herbert's broken altar (fragmented in violation of biblical law)35 symbolizes the broken church, and is wittily associated with the psalmist's broken heart as well as the speaker's broken poem. The speaker's poetic sacrifice, like all sacrifice, aims at an 'at-one-ment' with God, though (paradoxically) to the exclusion of both the church and the community.36 Donne's First Anniversary, his above-mentioned poetic anatomy of the dead old world, provides another type of such unexpected disruptions of the train of thoughts. It teems with sudden changes of argument and truncated thoughts, marked by aposiopeses or interruptions of the type of "But no!" and underlined by numerous antitheses and unresolvable paradoxes. Another splendid instance is Donne's poem 'A Noctural upon St Lucy's Day', with its wittily paradoxical and surprising treatment of alchemy.37 The speaker, tout seul by the death of his beloved lady and in his isolation from "all others", feels more than ordinarily depressed on St Lucy's day, being the shortest, darkest, and most sapless day of the year. All others stand in expectation of the next spring, which will renew their erotic vitality. The speaker, however, feels his own death multiplied into utter nothingness. Alchemy, the ultimate goal of which was the transformation of lower into higher matter, is replaced by a "new alchemy", transforming nothingness into a higher form of nothingness. Then this utter bodilessness will exalt him far above the mere fleshly and goatlike regeneration of "all others" and effect his regeneration into an infinitely higher love. Thus, nothingness distilled to its "quintessence" and "elixir" becomes a higher life, the nadir turns zenith. A dense erotic imagery (alchemy and alembics, the tropic of capricorn, sap and balm, lust, goat, bed) is inseparably interwoven with an equally dense religious number symbolism (3, 5, 7, 9, 12) and imagery (sun, vigil, eve).38 Such a definitely unprudish sensuality as appears in these paradoxes refers to still another source of the logically broken dispositio of the classical literary rhetorical discourse: the trompe l'oeil argumentation of the Jesuits, i.e. the deliberate satisfaction of the senses, condemned by Calvin, by deceiving the senses (as well as in the above-mentioned trompe l'oeil perspective of Baroque church ceiling paintings) ad majorem Dei gloriam following Ignatius of Loyola and the Council of Trent (1545-63).39
PRIVATE MODE AND LYRIC EGO: AMOR DIVINUS - AMOR EROTICUS. With the growing post-Copernican sense of macrocosmic chaos and the post-Machiavellian (and pre-Hobbesian) threat of political chaos, especially civil war, man tended to withdraw and in some cases even to create his own ordered microcosm:40 alone with his paramour in his love chamber, alone with his God in his prayer-room, or, in the most extreme case, entirely alone (as the speaker of Andrew Marvell's 'The Garden'). This self-imposed separation of microcosmic privacy from macrocosm and state, in the hope of finding a last refuge of cosmic harmony in this privacy, dissolved the time-honoured doctrine of the three integrally corresponding planes of the Creation.41 Calvinistic Protestantism had destroyed the old holistic Roman Catholic ceremony of the Eucharist (and with it the kath'holon unity of sensuality and spirituality, man and God, as well as high and low members of one church community). This had significantly contributed towards an irreversible development still in progress today, the individualization and isolation (Vereinzelung) of man, which modern sociologists have called "the tyranny of privacy".42 Cast back upon himself in his private prayers for forgiveness and peace, the Protestant had begun to leave the traditional communio and to become tout seul.43 Efforts during the Counter-Reformation to re-establish the old kath'holon feeling of a communio ecclesiastica et eucharistica were doomed to fail. In court culture, too, this by now irreversible development became apparent in the increasing isolation of the monarch and nobility. Whereas King Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, had still visited the country and personally responded to entertainments and pageants presented to them by the citizens, the succeeding Stuarts more and more withdrew into the privacy of their courts. King James I (1603-25) ostensibly reduced contact with the people, and King Charles I (1625-40) tried to abolish such public relations altogether, with disastrous political consequences which cost him both his throne (1642) and his life (30 January 1649).44 The cult of the Stuart court-masque may be regarded as another symptom of that isolation, as the royals and their courtiers staged plays in which they themselves were both actors and spectators, to the exclusion of the public.45 The admission of representatives of 'the world' to royal audiences became an intimidating ritual set in equally intimidating surroundings of architectural designs, which almost signalled unwelcome intrusion.
Driven into a similar isolation, quite contrary to his nostalgic Catholicism, the Baroque poet of the early Stuart period (1603-40) shunned the community of a world which he felt to be in the agonies of death and decay--vaguely comparable to the later Romantic poets' cult of loneliness, and then again to the self-withdrawal of the Decadent poets of the Fin de Siècle.46 It has been convincingly shown that the individual speaker and lyric ego of the Baroque period assumed a solipsistic poetic dignity and dramatic complexity which was not regained until the lyrical revival in the Romantic movement of the later eighteenth century.47 The speaker or ego of a Baroque lyric equally scolded the celestial bodies, the king, the nobility, the clergy as well as secular wealth and public morality as intruders, and banished them from the place of his poetic privacy. Thus John Donne about himself and his mistress:
She is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is,48
and about himself and his God:
Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I goe out of sight,49
and the speaker of Andrew Marvell about himself and his garden:
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious Solitude.50
In a study of Baroque religious poetry in France, Helmut Hatzfeld referred to a particular expression of this private mode, which he called the "tout-seul formula".51 In the context of this vehemently defended private mode of the Baroque poets it is noteworthy that amor eroticus and amor divinus, i.e. love-chamber and prayer-room,52 could be freely exchanged in a most sensuous and unprudish manner (just as, in Baroque art, Christ appears as a potent and tender lover with all erotic connotations). Thus, consciously following the Old Testament Song of Solomon and the contemporary emblem books, John Donne could not only be the great solitary lover and the great solitary divine, but was also able to convey divine love to the senses of his readers through erotic images of the private practice of physical love.53 One of his most notorious poems in this respect is his 'Hymn to Christ at the Author's Last Going into Germany' (MS 1619). The speaker addresses Christ as an intimate lover, paradoxically demanding freedom and protection in an unfree and tyrannous relationship dominated by jealousy and zeal, "divorcing" the speaker from all his former friends and desires, and demanding an amorous tryst with Christ in the darkness of a church where they can hide and make love out of sight of the community. With the saving ship or ark of the church "torne" in times of the religious conflicts of the Reformation, the Baroque poet, now tout seul, moves closer to his God to be saved from Noah's flood:
IN what torne ship soever I embarke,
That ship shall be my embleme of thy Arke;
What sea soever swallow mee, that flood
Shall be to mee an embleme of thy blood;
Though thou with clouds of anger do disguise
Thy face; yet through that maske I know those eyes,
Which, though they turne away sometimes,
They never will despise.54
The reader of the Baroque poet's lyrics, like the hearer of the Baroque divine's sermons, is almost excluded, progressively so from Donne via Herbert and Crashaw to Vaughan and Traherne. In Donne's 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning', the lovers' bodies have become so thin (like precious beaten gold) and so translucent and transcendent as almost to leave the material world behind (as in death) and to be sacred in their remoteness:
T'were prophanation of our joyes
To tell the layetie our love.55
Individual love, be it amor divinus or amor eroticus, is indispensable for salvation where the community is breaking up, the ring or circle of perfection only being attainable by the refined lovers' "stiffe twin compasses".56 In Donne's 'The Ecstasy', the reader is assigned the role of a hypothetical third person, selected on strictest conditions and only temporarily admitted to observe the alchemically refined lovers (and the primacy of their newly mixed mind directing the new union of their bodies) from a "convenient distance":
If any, so by love refin'd,
That he soules language understood,
And by good love were growen all minde,
Within convenient distance stood,
And if some lover, such as wee,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
RELIGIOUS MEDITATION. The justification of and appeal to the senses ad majorem Dei gloriam, in conscious opposition to Calvin's reductionist spiritual theology, led the Baroque poets to adopt the Aristotelian enargeia or evidentia -- the ideal of "ante oculos ponere" as it is used in Ignatius of Loyola's Exercitia Spiritualia.58 Calvin's destruction of the Eucharist had bedevilled the sensuous enjoyment of God, and Protestantism's recourse to the printed text had interrupted the lively and sensuous exchange between the speaker and hearer, the face-to-face interaction as between the giver and taker in the Eucharist.59 The Counter-Reformation sought to re-establish that old sensuous interchange, and the need to bridge extreme poles which were drifting more and more apart accounts for the strained artificiality of the Baroque artist's creative effort. The truth conveyed by a work of art was not only to be understood, but to be received with ecstatic sensuality. It was meant to be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, smelt with the nose, tasted with the tongue and felt by the sense of touch. This led to the tripartite structure of the Ignatian meditation as a weapon of the Counter-Reformation. In the first but indispensable step of meditation, compositio loci, the meditant had to conceive a vivid image of a particular scene of salvation, Christ's Crucifixion or Heaven or even Hell, if necessary with the aid of a Baroque painting. He had to feel Christ's pains, to see his blood flow, hear his words on the cross, taste and smell the sweetness of heaven and the sulphurous stench of hell,60 before he was allowed to proceed to a theological comprehension in the second step of meditation. In the third stage he had to transfer his feelings and understanding into affective involvement and practical action. In 1954 Louis Martz, and in 1955 Arno Esch, showed this tripartite structure to be characteristic of a great part of English Baroque poetry.61 In the title of his work Louis Martz even suggested calling all English Baroque poetry "The Poetry of Meditation".62
STRONG LINES. In his Ars Poetica, Horace had recommended the golden mean between elliptical brevity and long-winded detail; and the early Neoclassicists of the School of Ben Jonson followed this conventional rule of "Breve esse laboro Obscurus fio". The Baroque poets of the School of Donne, however, revolted by making the very contrary, "masculine" elliptical brevity for the purpose of stylistic obscurity, their poetic ideal. In classical literary rhetorical discourse, obscurity had ever been a stylistic device of the ornatus. Thus, even in its own time, the term "strong lines" was used for English Baroque poetry, vehemently opposed by the early Neoclassical School of Ben Jonson.63 In the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque age models changed: they shifted from Demosthenes' dense precision of thought to Isocrates' dazzling external form, from Cicero's balanced stylistic clarity to the epigrammatic and elliptical taciturnity of Tacitus and Seneca.64 This also explains the popularity that Tacitus's contemporary Martial and his Epigrammata enjoyed with the Metaphysicals, who delighted in writing terse epigrams both in English and Latin: Donne's Epigrams, Herbert's Passio Discerpta, Crashaw's Epigrammata Sacra, Marvell's Inscribenda. Thus, the stylistic ideal of the Golden Latinity of Horace and Cicero was replaced by the later stylistic ideal of the Silver Latinity of Tacitus and Martial. Art historians, and, in their wake, literary historians consequently attempted to explain the Baroque as a returning phenomenon of decadence following classical peaks.65 This was done, for example, by the art historian Jacob Burckhardt in 1855 and in 1860, until in Renaissance und Barock (1880) his pupil Heinrich Wölfflin suggested accepting Baroque decadence as an art form of its own. Decades later, this was still the case with Ernst Robert Curtius: in Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (1948) he opposed classicism and mannerism as virtus and vitium.
PLAIN STYLE. The plain, partly colloquial, and often consciously deformed poetic style is a particularly striking feature of the English Protestant Baroque. John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Thomas Traherne demonstratively rejected the poetic diction and high stylization of Renaissance poetry from Petrarch to Shakespeare, as well as the ornatus malus of stylistic Mannerism (Euphuism, Gongorism, Marinism).66 Thus, the plain style of English Baroque poems stood in antithetical tension to their highly complicated and conceptistic intellectual content. George Herbert expressed this most controversially - and even paradoxically - in his two 'Jordan' poems, with an artificial pun on the 'plains of Jordan':
Who sayes that fictions onely and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beautie?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
I envie no mans nightingale or spring
Nor let them punish me with losse of rime,
Who plainly say, My God, My King.67
It should, however, be noted that Herbert's 'Jordan' poems are self-deconstructive in their apparent contradiction between their argument in favour of pristine, original, 'natural' plainness (analogous to the Protestant recourse to 'primitive' Christianity) on the one hand, and their 'artificial' though non-mannerist rhetoric on the other hand (analogous to the Roman Catholic insistence on post-primitive tradition and ornament). This expresses the Anglican Church's and the Metaphysical poet's tension between their Protestant and their Roman Catholic heritages, also reflected in the palace architecture of the period, where plain Neoclassical faades concealed ornate Baroque interiors, - the more private the rooms the more ornate their decorations. Typical examples were Inigo Jones's Banqueting House in his unexecuted designs for a new Whitehall Palace, his Wilton House, and the Caroline Aston Hall near Birmingham.68 This contrast between interior and exterior ornamentation can also be traced in the development of the Church of England. Though Protestant in its public self-presentation, the Church of England was secretly re-Catholicizing itself from within, most notably in the religion and politics of King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud.
In Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth Century Lyric, a study based on rich source material, Barbara Kiefer Lewalski69 shows how the plain style of the Bible, so dear to Protestants, influenced English Baroque poetry no less strongly than did Ignatian meditation. It is a well known fact that European Protestantism could only encounter the, in a literal sense, 'sensational' flood of anti-Calvinist, Counter-Reformatory pictorial and emblematic art by its increasing acceptance or 'containment' of the picture itself and simply by using its contents for Protestant purposes. The by now plain churches, robbed of their ornamentation by iconoclasm, were filled again; what was originally a Counter-Reformatory emblem was now dedicated to the Protestant cause,70 and the tripartite structure of the Ignatian meditation was adopted for numerous Protestant Baroque poems. English Protestant Baroque, however, differed considerably from Continental Jesuit Baroque in its frequent use of the biblical plain style as an important means of Protestant appropriation.
ARS EST PRAESENTARE ARTEM. The classical maxim "ars est celare artem", often wrongly attributed to Horace, was the rhetorical poetic ideal in the Renaissance as well as in the later age of Neoclassicism. The Neoclassical critic Joseph Addison, for example, found fault with the Baroque poet's 'false wit', as apparent in "Anagrams, Chronograms, Lipograms, and Acrosticks" as well as "Poems cast into the Figures of Eggs, Axes, or Altars".71 And the Neoclassical critic Samuel Johnson later generally pointed out that the Baroque poet perverted the doctrine of 'ars est celare artem' into its very opposite:
The Metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour.72
In his Neoclassical saeva indignatio, and due to his lack of distance to the Baroque period, Samuel Johnson was unable to understand that the art and learning displayed in the Baroque work of art (poem or sermon alike) were indispensable. They were meant to surprise the readers, hearers, and spectators and thus helped to convey the impression of total novelty and originality, which mirrored a totally new world picture. So, "new" was a favourite adjective in the titles of Robert Southwell's poems. Moreover, they kept the reader or audience in admiration and at a distance, thus guaranteeing the artist's private mode. Both reader and audience were meant to enjoy the absolute originality and scarcely comprehensible complexity of his brilliant wit from a distance, just as they would admire a firework display.73 The Italian Baroque poet Giambattista Marino, well known among English Baroque poets, expressed this principle in a memorable couplet:
E del poeta il fin la meraviglia [...]
Chi non sa far stupar, vada alla striglia!74
Moreover, the "dissociation of sensibility", first identified and denominated by T. S. Eliot in 1921, had not yet taken place in the Baroque age. The learning of the Baroque poet expressed in verse and prose was not only intellectual but also emotional. According to Eliot the Baroque poets were "men who incorporated their erudition into their sensibility" and felt their thoughts "as immediately as the odour of a rose".75 Eliot criticized Neoclassicism for having dissociated the original integral unity of life and art, for splitting it into emotion and reflection, decorum and indecorum, as well as into "true wit" and "false wit".76
The enumeration and contextual description of these nine characteristic features of English Baroque literature in verse and prose indicates a complex variety of seemingly heterogeneous causes. But their overall coherence and interaction, the nature of and reason for their historical development, as well as their connections with the other Baroque arts both in England and on the Continent demand an even more extensive and differentiated contextual documentation. These characteristic features were often attributed to a returning esprit de révolution against the compulsion by rules and norms77 characteristic of the Baroque, Romanticism, and then again the Neoromantic Fin de Siècle. Sigmund Freud showed that in human life superego-oriented, Apollonian phases controlled by rules and norms are always followed by id-oriented, revolutionary and Dionysiac phases despising rules and norms. Literary historians such as F. L. Lucas have applied this observation to literary history, as, for example, in their explanation of Romanticism as a revolution against rule- and norm-oriented Neoclassicism.78 The same is true, at the turn of the 17th century, for the increasing rebellion against the fixed Petrarchan conventions which had dominated Renaissance poetry.79 Under this aspect, Baroque Metaphysical and Neoclassical Cavalier poetry may be regarded as two very different, even contrary reactions to the same outworn Renaissance tradition. The Metaphysicals reacted by extension and excess according to the principle of originality. They tried to exceed Renaissance art by even more various forms and expressions; they sought its wit and splendour amongst other things by a superabundance of even bolder paradoxy; they extended traditional images to the most tortuous, unexpected, surprising, and original conceits by way of an excess of discordia concors and an innovative urge towards forward orientation, Entgrenzung. The Cavaliers, on the contrary, reacted by restriction according to the principle of imitation. They aimed at less variety, less wit and flashiness, preferring clarity and purification of the language, modification of extremes, reduction of images to natural associations, imitative backward orientation to the model of the Age of Emperor Augustus (1st century BC), obedience to the rules laid down by reason and Horace, Begrenzung and Überschaubarkeit. The fundamental difference appears from an invective that a Cavalier poet, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, wrote against the "male" and "strong line" Metaphysicals:
The reason why men run into such obscure conceits, is because they think their wit will be esteemed, and seem more when it lies in an odde and unusual way, which makes their verse not like a smooth running stream; but as if they were shelves of sand, or rocks in the way, and though the water in those places goeth with more force, and makes a greater sound: yet it goeth hard and uneasy. As if to expresse a thing hard, were to make it better.80
John Donne, the figure-head of the Metaphysical school, and Ben Jonson, the head of the Cavalier school ("the tribe of Ben"), were irreconcilable enemies. The Baroque reaction, however, became the dominant tradition and very much the fashion of the day. Its roughness, novelty, and juxtaposition of extremes mirrored the disorientation of the age much better than the countercurrent Neoclassical reaction with its smoothness, elegance, naturalness, and backward orientation. This also explains the fact that more Cavalier poets occasionally wrote Metaphysical poems than vice versa. Yet in the course of time, Cavalier Neoclassicism was destined to prevail and supersede the Metaphysical Baroque everywhere in Europe: first in France (with Malherbe), then in England (with Dryden), and last but not least in Germany (with Gottsched).
The distinctive Metaphysical originality can be well demonstrated from the Metaphysicals' radical break with the traditional Renaissance sonnet. There was the compulsory form of 14 lines, with its high stylization of nature and the cosmos and the beloved donna angelicata as well as a fixed characterization of the beloved lady and an equally fixed allocation of roles with stereotyped comparisons. And there was the tragic "star-crossed lover", who could not reach his heavenly and pure beloved lady in this life, and from whom she withdrew even further in death. There were his sweet sighs and his eyes, from which the tears shed as from a fountain at the sight of his unattainable donna angelicata, with her sun-like eyes, her lips as red as corals, her snow-white skin, her breath sweet as the smell of roses, her golden hair and her walk angelic and light under the fateful power of the stars and among the sweet songs of murmuring meadow flowers. After two hundred years such a litany of Petrarchan conventions would necessarily have to lead to a revolution81 which took place first in the form, later in the content (inventio) and finally, in the Baroque period, even in the diction (elocutio) of Baroque poetry.
A similar development had already taken place in the history of painting. Since about 1520, the pre-Baroque Mannerists had begun to break the canonical forms of Renaissance painting (Raphael, Leonardo) by defocussation, decentralization, and winding lines (serpentinata) anticipating Bernini. Then, immediately in their wake, the high Baroque painters broke the content of Renaissance painting by sensualizing, eroticizing, and aggrandizing biblical history, as well as by dismissing the Renaissance ideals of proportion and beauty. Eccentricity, even deformity, became a hallmark of Baroque art, as in many of the court portraits of the Spanish painter Velazquez.
The history of music sticks out insofar as this stylistic modification of the principle of harmony by distortion, dissonance, eccentricity, and enormity occurred somewhat later, around 1600,82 with the breaking up of traditional polyphonic composition, and lasted somewhat longer, until around 1750. Pure polyphony began to be hybridized by monophony, further enriched with an increasing wealth of extremes and dissonances. The early period of Baroque music has been aptly characterized as aiming at typically Baroque originality, exploring "new resources such as chromaticism, dissonance, tonality, monody, recitative, and new vocal and instrumental combinations."83 The introduction of the thoroughbase or basso continuo initiated a stile moderno (as distinct from the traditional polyphonic stile antico) which remained the fashion until the middle of the eighteenth century: the epoch of Baroque music.84 This chiaroscuro-like thorough bass was often performed by ever new gigantic bass instruments which produced ever lower and darker sounds, throwing into relief tortuous lines of chromatically arranged tones high above: the contrabassoon, the great bass recorder, the bass flute, the bass dulcian, and the large bass viol.85 By contrast, and analogous to the literary conceit, the instruments playing the upper lines grew more and more elevated in pitch: the Baroque flute or recorder, the (valveless) Baroque trumpet, the favourite oboe or hautboy expressing love (oboe d'amore), the frequently introduced "sharp violins" expressing "jealous pangs and desperation, fury, frantic indignation, depths of pains and heights of passion".86 Thus, compositional artificiality (including quaintly handled counterpoints and compositiones figuratae such as notes arranged to form a cross or other subject of the piece)87 coexisted with intense passions as analysed and described in philosophical, literary and musical Affektenlehren.88 The widening of extremes was reflected in the concerto grosso as a favourite genre of Baroque music, with a small concertino (mostly of violins) playing against an overwhelming orchestral grosso. And it also manifested itself in the popularity of the castrato with his artificial voice ("falsetto"), whose growth-hampered larynx and unbroken voice produced a vocal range that no natural voice was capable of (up to three and a half octaves). His artificial voice, again, was matched by the castrato's monstrous size and androgynic appearance, which later exposed him to the ridicule of the 'nature'-oriented Neoclassical critics. Moreover, artificiality was the hallmark of many musical genres of the Baroque, such as the opera and the fugue, which later incurred similar satirical blame, as in Alexander Pope's second Dunciad (1742). There, the Harlot Opera with her false tinsel thus addresses the Empress Dulness "in quaint Recitativo":
"O Cara! Cara! silence all that train:
Joy to great Chaos! let Division reign:
Chromatic tortures soon shall drive them hence,
Break all their nerves, and fritter all their sense:
One Trill shall harmonize joy, grief, and rage,
Wake the dull Church, and lull the ranting Stage;
In the history of poetry, however, these compository eruptions are to be observed as early as in the history of painting. In 1530, Sir Thomas Wyatt still imitated Petrarchan sonnets rather closely in his English adaptations. His successor, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was already varying the Petrarchan rhyme patterns by choosing alternating rhymes and a final couplet, a form which was later even adopted by Shakespeare. And in 1582, Thomas Watson published Hecathompathia, a fairly conventional cycle of one hundred sonnets, though revolutionary in its 18-line form. About this time, however, in Astrophil and Stella, Sir Philip Sidney was already beginning to play with the conventional inventio of Petrarchism. He did so by making the failure to imitate Petrarch and Ronsard the precondition of a slowly developing and very erotic passion.
Ten years later his successor Edmund Spenser broke the conventional inventio in his Amoretti, allowing the courtship to be crowned by success and marriage. Finally, in the 1590s, Shakespeare left all conventions behind, replacing the beautiful donna angelicata by a promiscuous bisexual youth and an ugly dark prostitute and complicating this confusion of emotions by introducing a fourth character, the Mannerist Rival Poet, who alternately sleeps with both the youth and the Dark Lady. But Shakespeare -- as well as Surrey and Watson and Sidney and Spenser -- largely remained loyal to the Renaissance conventions of poetic diction, even if he criticized empty elocutionary pathos in his Rival Poet.
It was left to the revolutionary and Baroque poet John Donne and his School to completely break apart the monolithic Petrarchan canon of form, content, and diction.90 Donne's originally invented conceits, which may be explained as modelled on the tortuous pictorial illustrations of the contemporary emblem books, exploded traditional Petrarchan diction as effectively as his well-nigh ugly plain style and his originally invented metrical forms, which he freely chose to underline his very un-Petrarchan contents. Thus, the close relationship between the emblem and the conceit needs some further investigation in order to understand the Metaphysical revolt against Renaissance Petrarchism's ideals of proportion and beauty.91
As a contemporary of Shakespeare, Donne also wrote his Songs and Sonnets for circulation in manuscript. Donne, born and brought up a Catholic, converted to Protestantism about 1596 and became an Anglican High Church divine. He was well acquainted with the Baroque conceits of the Jesuits modelled on Ignatian examples, as they were used in the underground activities of the Counter-Reformation in England in the 1590s, which took place despite the threat of most severe punishments. The prose meditations and poems of the English Jesuit and early Baroque author Robert Southwell circulated in manuscript and will probably have been known to John Donne, as was Southwell's spectacular and most cruel fate: Southwell was executed in London in 1595, after three years of imprisonment and torture in the Tower.92 In any case, John Donne was familiar with the "emblems" or "hieroglyphics" of the Alciati tradition, which had its roots in a misunderstanding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs as pictorial moral ideograms. It was a fertile misunderstanding in the history of art, which explains the synonymity of "emblem" and "hieroglyph" in the Baroque period93, and which is still apparent in the original misnomer 'hieroglyph'. The Tridentine justification of the theological usefulness and acceptability of the 'sensational' picture, in contrast to Calvin's view, eventually led to the emblem gaining a similar Counter-Reformatory significance. The emblem acted as a mediator between the abstract contents of faith and the human senses, just as the Baroque painting or sculpture did for the concrete contents of faith. Modelled on the Exercitia of Ignatius, it was made to stimulate all the senses. Even the conscious deception of the senses, for example in the Baroque illusionist paintings on walls and ceilings ad majorem Dei gloriam, was accepted in line with the Jesuit principle of 'dulce et utile'.
Thus the 'sensational' visual art of the Baroque did not refrain from presenting abstract items of faith, such as divine grace, divine love and forgiveness, theological and secular sins and virtues through bold pictorial analogues, even if vehicle and tenor lay very far apart without any natural connection, thus acting against all laws of philosophical logic. As obvious clichés were only rarely available, the most important characteristic of an emblem book author in the Alciati tradition was the Baroque sense of 'wit', i.e. the capacity to produce original, artificial and remote pictorial analogies making use of the proverbial Jesuit sophistry and inventiveness. In the eikon of the emblem, he visualized divine grace via the image of a magnet for an iron heart or via the image of a besieger in front of a besieged fortress shaped like a heart. And in the poema of the emblem, he elaborated his lemma to explain the illustrations, thus creating literary conceits.
Baroque poems can often be read as the poemata of emblem books, as for example, John Donne's Holy Sonnet 'Thou hast made me':
Thy Grace may wing me to prevent his art,
And thou like Adamant draw mine iron heart.94
Thus, the emblem art of the Counter-Reformation turned out to be a highly appropriate instrument to break up clichés by means of witty conceits, including the clichés of a declining literary Petrarchism. The Council of Trent legitimized the practice used in Baroque poetry which, following the biblical Song of Solomon, presented divine love through physical erotic love, and thus made it the object of desire. Presented thus in numberless emblem books dedicated to amor, it easily allowed the rendering of spiritual into secular rhetoric. Instead of applying the stereotyped, obvious and logical comparison of love with fire, John Donne used the tortuously conceited, original, witty, artificial and by no means logical comparison of love with a flea, which is far from obvious and stands in need of a 'Jesuitical' explicatio rabulata.
The emblem book as a source of English Baroque rhetoric was to be found all over the British Isles and was generally accessible.95 It is true that emblem books were originally meant as a weapon of the Counter-Reformation and that the art of printing in England was notoriously backward, so that until the Restoration a relatively small number of English emblem books (compared with the immense flood of Continental emblem books) had been printed.96 But, firstly, the pressure exerted by the Counter-Reformatory 'sensational' paintings and sculpture was so great that the Protestants had to move away from stern Calvinistic doctrine and avail themselves of the fine arts by adjusting them to their Protestant cause: their churches grew more and more ornamented, they filled their emblem books with pointedly Protestant contents. Secondly, Catholic as well as Protestant emblem books from the Continent circulated freely in England, and English emblem book authors often received their printing plates directly from the Catholic capital of printing, Antwerp, or the Protestant capital of printing, Leyden, and then supplied them with new English lemmata and poemata. English Protestantism even assimilated the Ignatian meditation, also filling it with Protestant contents. The poems of the Protestant Nonconformist or 'Puritan' Metaphysicals, Andrew Marvell and the early John Milton of the hymn 'On the Morning of Christ's Nativity' (MS 1629), convey the Calvinist view of nature's corruption with all the pictorial splendour of Baroque emblem books and Baroque paintings. The first step of meditation, the visual imagination of the details of salvation and faith, remained invariably the same: compositio loci, composición del lugar, seeing the spot. This explains the preference for the tripartite structure of meditation also present in Protestant English Baroque poetry.
The emblem-generated conceit with its distinctively 'sensational' quality contributed to the distortion of elegant, well-proportioned, though time-worn Renaissance comparisons. It is frequently linked to the closely related paradox, as both rhetorical figures reflect the time's need to live with two logically opposed and irreconcilable world pictures. John Donne called that church the most faithful bride which opened her lap to everyone;97 and Richard Crashaw identified that woman as the most celestial whose sins and repentance had bowed her down to earth most lowly.98 Crashaw's 'Saint Mary Magdalene, or, The Weeper' shows how Petrarchan clichés were cited in order to immediately and extensively disrupt them with adynata, antitheses, paradoxes, and to endow them with a sensational and tangible eroticism which replaced the barrenness of the frustrated Petrarchan lover's vain complaints. The sexuality of Christ is marked as clearly as in Baroque emblems, where Christ is often syncretistically presented as a naked Amor-Christ, the son of Venus-Maria, or in Baroque paintings, where Christ is often shown as an ecstatic lover (even on the cross).99 Streams of bloody sweat pour from the ecstatic face, and streams of blood pour from the vaginal wounds, and believers or saints approach these wounds to suck in the blood or probe them with their fingers.100 Crashaw's poem, as stated above, starts on the conventional comparison of the repentant sinner's eyes with fountains or orbs and tears with springs or stars, only to eroticize them and to vary them into ever-changing and ever contradictory new images. These are accumulated with an enormously dynamic vitality, creating ever new sensations of surprise. The reader of the poem feels his thoughts whirled around, much as the spectator of the wall paintings of a Baroque church cupola feels his eyes restlessly wandering into heaped-up vistas of splendid and erotic images. The poem's sensational and theatrical composición del lugar quality in its insistence on balmy sweetness and rich perfumes is obvious. Mary Magdalene's tears are no longer mere symptoms of self-humiliation or complaint for the loss of virginity. Paradoxically, they combine virginity and procreation, repentance and enjoyment, lowliness and richness, self-humiliation and self-exaltation, in a markedly erotic diction combined with alchemistic vocabulary suggesting ever new potencies.
Such heaped combinations of antitheses (contentiones) and paradoxes (synoecioses), as defined above, dominate even the shortest Metaphysical poems, everywhere shoring up a neo-mystical and holistic creed against threatening ruin and doubt, shouting "credo quia absurdum" so much the louder in their attempt at bridging the enormity of the gap. This neo-mysticism explains the frequency with which smallness and infinity as well as time and eternity are either juxtaposed or paradoxically joined under one aspect, cutting across the neat Thomistic categories of tempus, aevum, aeternitas.101The first stanza of the final chorus of Crashaw's Nativity Hymn, a typically Baroque poem written in the theatrical style of a Caroline court-masque, may serve to illustrate this:
Wellcome, all WONDERS in one sight!
Aeternity shutt in a span.
Sommer in Winter. Day in Night.
Heauen in earth, & GOD in MAN.
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heauen, stoopes heau'n to earth.102
The disproportion and enormity of such cumulated antitheses and paradoxes, disrupting all Renaissance ideals of beauty, not only mirror the tension of men confronted with irreconcilable world pictures, theologies, philosophies, and historiographies. They also attest to a sense of living in a world totally out of joint and fragmented, descended into chaos103, standing in need of salvation and in need of a re-orientation on all three corresponding levels of the once ordered cosmos: macrocosm, microcosm, state, as described above. On the state level, especially at court, men observed an increase in political Machiavellianism. In England, Machiavellianism was (mis)understood as a disruptive ethical philosophy, disconnecting ethics from fixed natural norms and linking it to political utility, thus providing a justification for intrigue and murder. The Machiavellian stage-villain, multiplied in Jacobean and Caroline drama, was a reckless devil incarnate and solipsistic individualist divorced from all religious and social ties, "Ego mihimet sum semper proximus".104
The most famous literary manifestation of this widespread feeling that political, social, and moral coherence was crumbling together with the chaos in macrocosm and microcosm is John Donne's First Anniversary (1611) - a very theatrical poem full of conceits and breaches of logic, using as its central conceit the anatomy of the corpse of the old world after its slow and weary decease:
And new Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no mans wit
Can well direct him where to looke for it.
And freely men confesse that this world's spent,
When in the Planets, and the Firmament
They seeke so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out againe to his Atomies.
'Tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone;
All just supply, and all Relation:
Prince, Subject, Father, Sonne, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinkes he hath got
To be a Phoenix, and that then can bee
None of that kinde, of which he is, but hee.105
Ten years earlier, Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1601-2) had shown the exemplum horrendum of a culture in decline, its ruin caused by the relativization of "degree, priority, and place" as well as "moral philosophy" and the "law of nature".106 Shakespeare had his Ulysses deliver his famous "degree speech" drawing a similarly dark portrait of the horrible and universal chaos caused by the loss of the old geocentric order:
O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows!107
The ominous signs of a world descending into chaos are depicted in many contemporary sources describing similar details. With its enumeration of the symptoms of decadence, John Donne's swan song anticipated the apocalyptic mood of the Fin de Siècle poets, who, in their turn, rediscovered English Baroque poetry as congenial: the assumption of eccentric as well as centric spheres (already made by the Ptolemaic astronomers), of man growing smaller and smaller as well as more prone to disaster, of seasons increasingly out of tune while at the same time losing all attributes of beauty, proportion and colour, of new epidemics (such as syphilis and influenza), of masses of vermin, of numerous fateful meteors, of the loss of the noble art of divination due to the broken "correspondence" between heaven and earth:
For heaven gives little, and the earth takes lesse,
And man least knowes their trade and purposes.108
Between those two corresponding levels - macrocosm and microcosm - there existed a third level of correspondence: the state as 'bodie politick'. But even the state, where order manifested itself in peace within and without, seemed, at that time, to be falling prey to the chaos of war. In England no end to the wars with Spain and France was in sight, and the ever increasing religious and political polarization clearly pointed to the inevitability of the imminent Civil War; on the Continent the Thirty Years' War broke out and devastated Germany with the same vehemence as the Civil War did in England.
Thus, the individual Baroque artist felt increasingly disconnected from all three (formerly corresponding) levels which had once been believed to be firmly connected and based on a divinely pre-established world order. This sense of disconnectedness produced various reactions, attempts at bridging the gap on the one hand, and resignation on the other hand. On the one hand, as shown above, devices of contrariety joined in art what could no longer be joined in theology: the poet's conceit and paradox as well as the painter's chiaroscuro and the musical composer's counterpoint. In this context we should understand the idea of the work of art as an atoning sacrifice to reconcile estranged mankind to God, - an idea later revived in Romantic poetology (and another respect in which Baroque poetry anticipated Romantic poetry). The idea is most prominently expressed in George Herbert's The Temple, even in the collection's introductory poem,
A verse may finde him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.109
and then, memorably in his pattern poem 'The Altar', where the "broken ALTAR" of the poet's heart and pen is offered as a sacrificial act of at-one-ment and soteriological reintegration:
O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctifie this ALTAR to be thine.110
The self-confessing speaker's private mode shows how, on the other hand, the Baroque artist resignedly withdrew into his own privacy: together with his mistress into the intimacy of his love chamber, with his God into the isolation of his praying-room, with his own thoughts into the isolation of a garden or a library. So, in the one extreme, Baroque horticulture brought forth secluded retiros. In their high-walled and small enclosures man found a visual (and psychological) safeguard against the immensity and the chaos without, a centre regained111. In the opposite extreme, the overwhelming and centralized palace gardens of the Baroque princes mirrored the 'new theology', which implicitly taught that immensity, immeasurability, unrepresentability, and apparent chaos were the image of the immensity of God, who had created that seemingly disorderly universe. In this theology, loss of measure became the new measure itself. This provocative creed is also contained in Crashaw's 'The Weeper'. Mary Magdalene, the "pretious Prodigall" ever sweating balmy tears at the approach of Christ her bridegroom whom she ever follows, is exuberant, excessive, luxuriant, and wanton in her overproductive physical secretion112, just as the poet is excessive in his cumulation of shockingly sensational images. Excess implicitly appears no longer to be an ingredient of sin, but of the virtue of imitatio Dei. The Baroque princes' excessive gardens as well as excessive erotic lives must be seen in this context of the history of ideas, the more so as love and the garden (as love's classic location) had been closely associated from both classical antiquity and the Old Testament Song of Solomon to the Baroque emblem books.113
Baroque poetry was characterized by an attitude of a totally unascetic, un-Pauline, Epicurean contemptus mundi, which called into question both the traditional concept of the world and of man as well as the traditional ethical and artistic restrictions of the Renaissance. This was especially true in the context of Ficino's neo-Platonic love ethic. John Donne, the love poet, drove the world and its social norms out of his love chamber by using coarse, unpoetic, and sneering language, thus breaking all ethical and stylistic decorum. In 'The Canonization' he went so far as to paradoxically praise himself and his mistress as saints, not because of any kind of chaste subordination of their bodies to a sovereign mind, but because of the consuming quality of their unrestrained and erotically potent sensuality. The second stanza of the poem is particularly revealing as to the connection between revolutionary and anti-Petrarchan love and rhetoric on the one hand, and the Baroque contemptus mundi on the other:
Alas, alas, who's injur'd by my love?
What merchants ships have my sighs drown'd?
Who saies my teares have overflow'd his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veines fill
Adde one more to the plagui Bill?
Soldiers finde warres, and Lawyers finde out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.114
The Petrarchan clichés (such as sighs like sea storms, tears like spring-tides, spells of cold like winter storms in spring, spells of heat like epidemics) are not only chosen to mock traditions no longer held to be acceptable. They also depict a chaotic world, war and destruction of countless people, to which the witty Baroque poet contrasted the better alternative of voluntary self-consummation in excessive love. Thus, the poet, freed from traditional social and ethical restrictions, simultaneously demonstrated his release from traditional restrictions of style.
The same is true for John Donne's religious poetry. In the III. Satire, for example, he broke all conventions of the Anglican Church, dispensed man from both the teachings of the great churchmen and the orders of his King, binding him solely to his own conscience as moulded by the Law of God alone. Wherever Donne emphasized that secular laws and teachings could only be of limited validity, he emphasized the breach of tradition by an extensive use of paradoxes:
That thou mayest rightly obey power, her bounds know;
Those past, her nature, and name is chang'd; to be
Then humble to her is idolatrie.115
Just as the Baroque poet called on the king, the nobility, the clergy and the traditional guardians of morality not to interfere by scolding breaches of decorum, he also kept his readers, audience and critics at respectful distance. He displayed all his learning in esoteric thought and language, refusing any direct understanding of his poetry.116 The most extreme example of this is, no doubt, Baroque pulpit oratory with its extensive and complex trains of thought; additionally laden with patristic and rabbinic knowledge, and often also with quotations in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian and Arabic.117 Baroque poetry, too, shows such strategies of distance and isolation in its private mode: among these were the strong lines with their obscurity as well as their overriding principle