Cavalier Poet's : of 17th Century || Secular Lyric Poetry

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       The poets of the middle of the seventeenth century are divided into two principal groups - the religious poets subdivided into Anglicans and Puritans; and the secular poets. The metaphysical poets like Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, Andrew Marvell were religious poets and followes of John Donne who wrote religious poems apart from some secular love lyrics. Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw were priests - either Anglican or Catholic, but Cowley and Andrew Marvell were not gloomy puritans. Marvell was a humanist.


The Cavalier poets wrote lyrics and short poems and they had no liking for sonnet tradition. They had lost the fine, careless rapture of Elizabethan songs and sonnets, but they gave more polish and elegance to their poems and often achieved the calm perfection of Horace and Catullus as in Herrick's lyric To Sappho
Cavalier Poetry


      The secular poets are known as Cavaliers - they were royalists. Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and Richard Lovelace belong to this group with the notable exception of Robert Herrick, a clergyman in South Devon, the other poets of this group lived at the Court of Charles I. The Cavalier lyricists came under the influence of Ben Jonson they felt proud of calling themselves 'Sons of Ben'. They derived from Ben Jonson the clarity and lucidity of expression, control of emotion, felicity of phrase and sophistication of tone. However, John Donne also influenced them in their colloquial tone, metaphysical conceits and tendency of introspective self-analysis.

      The Cavalier poets wrote lyrics and short poems and they had no liking for sonnet tradition. They had lost the fine, careless rapture of Elizabethan songs and sonnets, but they gave more polish and elegance to their poems and often achieved the calm perfection of Horace and Catullus as in Herrick's lyric To Sappho :

"Let us now take time and play

Love, and live here while we may."

The Cavalier poets revealed lyrical power of a high order: fresh, passionate and felicitiously exact, but at the same time meditative and observant.

      Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was one of the greatest of the Cavalier poets. His two volumes of poems are Noble Numbers and Hesperides. Both are collections of short poems the first being a collection of sacred subjects and the latter of secular subject matter. Among his best known shorter pieces are To Anthea, To Julia, Cherry Ripe. His religious poem, Re Litany is a masterpiece of religious poetry breathing religious terror. His remarkable poems are Corinna's Going a Maying, The Night-piece of Julia etc. As a lyricist, his position is supreme.

      Thomas Carew (1598-1639) was known as a courtly and polished love poet. He writes persuasions to love, madrigals, complaints, reproaches addressed to a mistress known as Celia. He is frankly sensuous in his masterpiece The Raptive in which he invites Celia to flout the Giant Honour and enjoy forbidden pleasures without scruples. The Paradise he paints to her is one of the licentious even of those inspired by the Italian Renascence. In his famous song Ask me no more he finds all the beauties of Nature united in his mistress - the Rose of June.

      Ask me no more where Jove bestows ....... Carew's work is slight. Carew's lyrics have not the range of Herricks but in the narrow field of amorous compliment and disdain, he worked for perfection. He lacks the spontaneity and freshness of Herrick, though he is superior to Herrick in craftsmanship.

      Sir Jonh Suckling (1609-1642) typifies the Cavaliers in his frivolity, audacity, easy morals and wit. His lyrics are all of love, and they have in them an irresistible swing. They are all characterised by a light, impertinent tone, particularly in his attack on women. He recalls Donne when he mocks at women in their capriciousness. His ease and flippancy are French rather than English. His two best lyrics are Ballad upon a Wedding and Why so pale and wane, fond lover ?

      Richard Lovelace (1618-1685) was neither as correct as Carew nor as natural as Suckling. The lack of art in his work is as apparent as its mannerisms, and almost all of it has been forgotten - Lovelace is remembered for two poems - To Lucasta, Going to the wars, To Althen, From Prison. Mostly the lyrics of Lovelace are wanting in craftsmanship and are marked with aftected wit and gallantry. Often they become obscure due to extravagant and grotesque conceits.

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