Fine Knacks, Painted Things: John Dowland and Michael Drayton

StingDraytonDowland

The history of poetry is tied up with the history of courtship, and the history of courtship is tied up with the history of courts as a setting for elegant flirtation and elegant language.

Display, in particular male strutting, with verbal wit as the peacock’s tail, is part of that tangle in the first great period of English poetry. From the beginning there seems to be a reaction or counter-tradition, emphasizing plainness and sincerity as superior qualities in a lover — and in love poetry.

Even the stylish, glossy boasting of Michael Drayton, in Sonnet 6 from his sequence Idea embodies that appeal to plain speech and candor: I smile a little, every time at “that now in coaches trouble every street” in his second line. Along with his quick-footed, somewhat foppish capering for the lady, he successfully speaks in the role of a blunt, even rude speaker, not mincing words: “paltry, foolish, painted things.”

The musician John Dowland may have written the words for his own songs. Dowland’s cunning madrigal has its game at least two ways: the poet engages in a more elaborate role-playing than Drayton’s and makes a more extreme, emphatic claim on plainness and sincerity. Presented as the cry of a street-merchant, the poem is an ornate claim to plainness. For instance, the line “Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain,” enforces its boast about concentrated value with a pun on “sheaf,” which can mean a bundle of stalks (as in wheat) or a bundle of papers (as in poetry). The line “It is a precious jewel to be plain” both embodies what it says and represents, in context, footwork so fancy it makes Dowland look straightforward.

In their complicated way, Dowland’s “knacks” (do people still have knick-knack shelves?) make a larger, grander claim than Drayton’s “immortal song.”

The song, with Dowland’s engaging tune, can be heard on YouTube performed by the counter-tenor Alfred Deller and by Sting.

 

HOW MANY PALTRY, FOOLISH, PAINTED THINGS

(Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)

How many paltry foolish painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days,
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.
Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
To have seen thee, their sex’s only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,
Still to survive in my immortal song.

LISTEN TO ROBERT PINSKY READ MICHAEL DRAYTON.

 

FINE KNACKS FOR LADIES

(John Dowland, 1563-1626)

Fine knacks for ladies, cheap, choice, brave and new!
Good pennyworths! but money cannot move.
I keep a fair but for the fair to view.
A beggar may be liberal of love,
Though all my wares be trash, the heart is true.

Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again;
My trifles come as treasures from the mind.
It is a precious jewel to be plain;
Sometimes in shell the Orient’s pearls we find.
Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain.

Within this pack pins points laces and gloves,
And diverse toys fitting a country fair.
But in my heart, where duty serves and loves,
Turtles and twins, court’s brood, a heavenly pair.
Happy the heart that thinks of no removes!

LISTEN TO ROBERT PINSKY READ JOHN DOWLAND.

182 thoughts on “Fine Knacks, Painted Things: John Dowland and Michael Drayton

  1. Lots going on here.

    Let me recommend Harry Thomas’s March 29 response, below, to Harold B’s remark about a kind of undifferentiated or generic quality to the love-object (or love-occasion?) in sonnet sequences like Drayton’s _Idea_.

    • I wrote a composer-songwriter friend, David Larstein, about the rhythmic figuration of Dowland’s setting, especially in the 2nd half of the first verse of the stanza and the 1st half of the last, and he sent me a link to a third performance:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEXw7tk4F28

      I still haven’t figured out if this answers my question but the performance makes me happy (David trashed Sting’s). This displays the lyrics with a musical score for four voices. I notice that at the end of the 2nd, 3rd & 4th verses, the 4th bar of the score shows a quarter-note rest which the quartet does not sing. In the performance, this ‘bar’ counts three, not four. So the score is a modern transcription of Dowland’s score, mis-fitting his Renaissance art to fit modern preconceptions and mis-representing it ‘as a matter of course.’ Fortunately the performers know better. Something similar often happens with translations of non-modern poetry, but there are no performers to come to the rescue.

      While looking for Dowland I was glad to encounter a recording of troubadour songs whose performances speak for themselves. I especially enjoy the Arnaut Daniel Canso do’ill mot son plan e prim. You can hear how Dowland’s music stems from one of the same sources as Arnaut’s — the tradition of islamic-African song and lute music of Moorish Spain.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VaG87Wjr7A

      • This is fascinating, Jim. Wednesday is a travel day for me (Boston – Grand Forks, ND), and it may take a while for me to respond adequately, but many avenues open from this.

      • Thank you for these links, Jim Powell, which return us to the interesting issue of performance. And one last word on philosphical streams: I know I’m being more than a bit overbearing on this point, but (admittedly years and years ago) I did read in some depth Greek and Hellenistic philosophy (original texts) as well as well as the medieval (Greek, Latin, though not original Hispano-Arabic) and Renaissance (Florentine school, with a colleague of Kristeller) versions of Neoplatonism, but I myself still don’t see any of it in these two sets of English poetry.

  2. hoo boy, I’m glad I cut back on coffee.

    Closer to O’Hara than Bishop, I think, RP, and closer to Carew and Rochester than O’Hara.

    I take it Dowland’s last three verses mean ‘in my heart there are only images of fidelity. “Court’s brood” reminds us that these are “treasures” not “trifles.” And “removes” means ‘disaffections,’ ‘infidelities,’ ‘impulses to stray’ or ‘break up.’

    I understand that ‘Neo-Platonism’ was an important element in the intellectual culture of the Renaissance from the mid-1400s in Italy, or earlier, and had an Elizabethan vogue, but I fail to see it evoked in the poems under discussion. Which is why I asked.

    “Neo-Platonism” meant and means many different things to different people. I have the impression — I’m no expert — that it didn’t exercise a major influence on English poets of note — that is, doesn’t figure obviously in their work — before Vaughan. It matters a great deal to Blake and to the tradition he initiates or revives. Kathleen Raine’s Blake And Tradition is a splendid exposition of Blake’s ‘neo-platonism’ — a key text for grasping his work, for me. Robert Duncan’s H.D. Book explores the continuity between Blake, Yeats, the Imagists and one current of the bifurcated ‘Modernist’ tradition of poetry in English.

    • I don’t mean, of course, that the HD Book is devoted to exploring this topic. I mean that a telegraphic exposition of this tradition’s poetics in an important thread in the manifold web Duncan weaves.

      • That’s “IS an important thread.” Maybe I do need more coffee.

        I’m wondering if Robert is going to remind me of Sidney’s ‘neoplatonism’.

    • I understand that ‘Neo-Platonism’ was an important element in the intellectual culture of the Renaissance from the mid-1400s in Italy, or earlier, and had an Elizabethan vogue. Elizabethan vogue? Spencer’s Faery Queen, Shakespeare’s “Phoenix and the Turtle” and these poems we’re talking about, and there are countless others–including the Dyer I put up.

      but I fail to see it evoked in the poems under discussion:
      HOW MANY PALTRY, FOOLISH, PAINTED THINGS

      (Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)

      How many paltry foolish painted things,
      That now in coaches trouble every street,
      Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
      Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!

      The first four lines talk about the many: Patry, foolish, engaged in social, debased and sensual pursuits. In Neoplatonism nature is”many”–and finite, and men and women are engaged in sublunary pursuits that end in disappoint and death.

      Where I to thee eternity shall give,
      When nothing else remaineth of these days,
      And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
      Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.

      The creator of the world in Neoplatonic terms is the Demiurgos or “maker” of the world. To the Gnostics the Demiurgos is evil incarnate and the God of the Old Testament, but to Plotinus, Proclus and the others and of course to Plato he or it is a kind of being that is the type of the artist. In Christianized Platonism, the intelligence above the Demirurgos is the Logos–the mind, the word, or the One. Neoplatonism presented the trope of the artist as one who was privy to the eternal, and able to arrest and rescue through their art, the things of the finite and debased world, by placing them within the eternal and the One. This philiosophical drive from the many to the One is the machine that drives this not-so-original poem.

      Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
      Shall be so much delighted with thy story
      That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
      To have seen thee, their sex’s only glory:

      Because the beloved ( and the bit of fallen perfection called love) has been rescued from the sublunary world and placed in the proper, infinite realm, all those trapped in the lower world, forgotten before they’re wound in the winding sheet, must needs look up to this Beloved, recused by the power of art and placed again in Plato’s realms of perfection.

      So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,
      Still to survive in my immortal song.

      FINE KNACKS FOR LADIES

      (John Dowland, 1563-1626)

      Fine knacks for ladies, cheap, choice, brave and new!
      Good pennyworths! but money cannot move.
      I keep a fair but for the fair to view.
      A beggar may be liberal of love,
      Though all my wares be trash, the heart is true.

      This song begins with a common figure from the Elizabethans and before–the traveling salesman. This one’s different though, because notice–among all the suggestive things he carries (and to see an example of this please check out the character in the Winter’s Tale I alluded to earlier who, with the clowns, tells us just what these gifts for ladies are! But in this instance notice that these gifts are beyond price: and once again notice the Neoplatonic push from multiplicity to the One perfection.

      Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again;
      My trifles come as treasures from the mind.
      It is a precious jewel to be plain;
      Sometimes in shell the Orient’s pearls we find.
      Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain.

      This salesman’s gifts are not “guiles” that encourage more “guiles” that pander to vanity, flatter the senses, smack of sensuality, instead this man offers “treasures of the mind”–these treasures are from the Platonic realm of the good and the perfect and the One. He tells the lady that to be plain–to be one–not to be many–to be at rest in the infinite, is a precious jewel–to experience this kind of Platonic love is most precious.

      Within this pack pins points laces and gloves,
      And diverse toys fitting a country fair.

      Once again, the suggestive pins and laxces and gloves (see the Winter’s tale)

      But in my heart, where duty serves and loves,

      Turtles and twins, court’s brood, a heavenly pair.
      These are common figures that refer to infinite virtues–particulary the Twins found beyond the moon and in the infinite. The Neoplatonists made many refs. to the influence of the planets and the fixed stars upon the sublunar world.

      Happy the heart that thinks of no removes!

      Of course it’s more complicated than this, but this is the beginning of a Neoplatonic reading. Surely, Jim, this is an intellectual tradition that is there–we’re not making this up. This tradition, as well as the Hermetic versions of this, was part and parcel of Western culture.

      Which is why I asked. And there’s the beginning of an answer. Neoplatonism is a complex nexus of ideas, but there are many common threads by which you can recognize it.

      “Neo-Platonism” meant and means many different things to different people. The tradition has been interpreted and used in different contexts by writers, poets, and thinkers since Greek and Roman times, but it is not open to the kind of “relativism” that you seem to imply here.

      I have the impression — I’m no expert — that it didn’t exercise a major influence on English poets of note — that is, doesn’t figure obviously in their work — before Vaughan.

      And–I say this in a friendly way– there you’re completely off-base.

      Jess

      • “you’re completely off-base.”

        This is your mother again, Jesse, reminding you that it would have been more polite and politic to say, instead, “I disagree with you.” That way you avoid the messy business of suggesting that You are Right and the other poster is Wrong.

        (especially in this case, when you appear not to distinguish clearly between Platonism and Neo-Platonism.)

        Mom

        • You know, Mary Ann, I wish you better luck as my new Mother than my old Mother has had. She is now in the hospital–a victum of senile dementia. Though she appears to be in a bad way, thank God she doesn’t seem to know it though sometimes she seems lost in a bad dream, or even a nightmare. This was a woman who once had a superior intellect, though as many intelligent women do, she made some unfortunate choices. I think this kind of situation is one of the reasons, as well as sickness, wars, starvation, deaths of children, the tragedy of old age and death, etc., that the clear mind–the rational mind–was seen as a way up and out–a gateway to the infinite, a key to the exit sign in the Inferno. It was simply, like buddhism, –(and Neoplatonism has many connections with buddhism)–a reaction to the world as it was and unfortunately is. Thank you for considering yourself my Mother. I think anyone would be proud of that. Jess

    • Here’s a very good introduction to the ideas one encounters encoded in people like Dowland, Shakespeare, Spencer and Drayton. It’s rather basic, but it’s a good and quick read: Tillyard, E.M.W. The Elisabethan World Picture, from Penguin books. There are tons of books out there on neoplatonism in Drayton and Dowland that will amplify much that I say maybe in ways that you don’t feel the need to consider, but they’re there. These are by real scholars from Cambridge University Press, and other places like that–not fly by nights or “New Agers” or certain people who just see what they want to see, while others don’t. By the way, Jim, what do you think Dowland means in the line about finding pearls within the shell? Or others take a sheaf, but I a grain? Every best wish, Jess

    • “Neo-Platonism” meant and means many different things to different people. I have the impression — I’m no expert — that it didn’t exercise a major influence on English poets of note — that is, doesn’t figure obviously in their work — before Vaughan.

      Jim, here’s yet another point I want to ask you about: Vaughn is a late Metaphysical writer, in fact the last great Metaphysical before the recent discovery of Thomas Traherne’s more complete works. What you say here simply makes no sense in view of chronology. Spencer, Shakespeare, Drayton, Donne, Herbert, Crashaw all come before the late-blooming Vaughn–and they all were heavily influenced by neoplatonism, Jess

    • By 1651, some poets had gotten tired of the tradition as embodied in the lesser Metaphysicals like Cleveland and lampooned the use of the now trite tropes. Here’s william Cartwright using the same sort of symbolism that we find in Drayton and Dowland to lampoon the lesser poets:

      No Platonique Love

      Tell me no more of Minds embracing Minds,
      And hearts exchang’d for hearts;
      That Spirits Spirits meet, as Winds do Winds,
      And mix their subt’lest parts;
      That two unbodi’d Essences may kiss,
      And then like Angels, twist and feel one Bliss.
      I was that silly thing that once was wrought
      To Practise this thin Love;
      I climb’d from Sex to Soul, from Soul to Thought;
      But thinking there to move,
      Headlong I rowl’d from Thought to Soul, and then
      From Soul I lighted at the Sex agen.

      As some strict down-look’d Men pretend to fast,
      Who yet in Closets Eat;
      So Lovers who profess they Spirits taste,
      Feed yet on grosser meat;
      I know they boast they Souls to Souls Convey,
      How e’er they meet, the Body is the Way.

      Come, I will undeceive thee, they that tread
      Those vain Aëriall waies,
      Are like young Heyrs, and Alchymists misled
      To waste their Wealth and Daies,
      For searching thus to be for ever Rich,
      They only find a Med’cine for the Itch.

      • Jesse, the title “No Platonique Love” just reenforces what I had planned to post — that the Elizabethan sonneteers depend heavily on the Platonic ideals of Beauty and Love, as did Dante and Petrarch.

        With this week’s poems, I feel much more comfortable using the Big Guy’s name in “Platonic ideals” rather than in “Neo-Platonism,” a somewhat different creature. In fact, Robert’s intro mentions that Drayton’s poem comes from a volume titled “Ideas,” a reference, I’m sure, to Platonic ideals.

        Your Cartwright poem is a great lampoon on poets’ use of these ideals by Elizabethan, not Metaphysical, poets. Elizabethan poems idealized their women, rather than deal with the reality of them — as seen above in “I climb’d from Sex to Soul, from Soul to Thought,” which could be straight out of a primer on Plato’s concepts.

        I particularly like the last line in each of Cartwright’s poem, which reminds us what romance is REALLY about.

    • Jim, like you I understand “removes” to mean “disaffections” or “impulses to stray,” with “court’s brood” a clear opposite.

      And like you I don’t find any element of “Neo-Platonism” in these poems: not love of the lady as a step up a stairway to purity. On the contrary, right here in the street or the court or the love affair or the poem in its own terms, as far as I can see. I suppose that’s part of what I love about “that now in coaches trouble every street.” My pleasure expressed by the flagrant anachronism of the Frank O’Hara comparison.

      • “not love of the lady as a step up a stairway to purity.”

        Robert, I read Cartwright’s satiric line to mean that Elizabethan poets ignored sex in their sonnets and climbed up (past) it to discuss Soul and Thought, two words that smack of Plato to me. But I can see where my post above may not have expressed that clearly.

        My main point was to distinguish between Platonic ideals and Neo-Platonism.

    • Jim, I thought I had already said this, but will risk repetition: I agree with you that “removes” are pretty clearly disaffections or impulses to stray, with “Court’s brood” the faithful opposite. And like you I don’t find any NeoPlatonism in either poem: far from treating love of the lady or the lady herself as a step up the ladder toward an ideal love, both poems concentrate on what is manifestly _here_: in the street or the court or the courtship or the poem-writing. That presence, things in themselves, may be part of what I love in “that now in coaches trouble every street”– with the flagrant anachronism of comparing it to Franik O”Hara my form of tribute.

      • There’s a distinction to make between general and specific relevance. ‘Neo-platonic’ ideas were part of the general literary culture of this era and Jesse’s comments show how Drayton’s and Dowland’s poems fit into this context in a general way, but neither poem, as far as I can see, specifically cues a reference to specific neo-platonic ideas. (The notion that poets make their subjects ‘immortal’ appears in Homer, Pindar, Sappho and numerous others centuries before Plato and a millennium before Proclus, Porphyry and Plotinus.)

        Donne plays around with neo-platonic ideas specifically — he plays around with ideas generally — but is there a poet of the English Renaissance before Vaughan who actually engages them?

        Robert, naturally I admire O’Hara’s verve. What bugs me about his work is that it is not ‘neo-platonic’ enough: it is an expression of the obsessive values and preoccupations of his specific cultural milieu — Manhattan merchandizing. O’Hara is essentially a shopper. A window shopper. A flaneur. And it’s very nice to inspect all the pretty toys brought in by the smugglers and pirates and, um, businessmen, but this doesn’t impress me as sufficient grounding for a compelling world view.

        • There’s a distinction to make between general and specific relevance. ‘Neo-platonic’ ideas were part of the general literary culture of this era and Jesse’s comments show how Drayton’s and Dowland’s poems fit into this context in a general way, but neither poem, as far as I can see, specifically cues a reference to specific neo-platonic ideas.

          What exactly to you mean by that? “Cues a reference?” Where specifically, Jim, does Vaughn “cue a reference?” Give us an example or two.

          (The notion that poets make their subjects ‘immortal’ appears in Homer, Pindar, Sappho and numerous others centuries before Plato and a millennium before Proclus, Porphyry and Plotinus.)

          Logic: This doesn’t negate the Neoplatonic influence in Drayton and and Dowland.

          Donne plays around with neo-platonic ideas specifically — he plays around with ideas generally — but is there a poet of the English Renaissance before Vaughan who actually engages them?

          How do exactly you define “engage”? Donne uses Neoplatonic ideas in his poems. In my book, and according to many writers on this subject that would indeed seem to fit anyone’s definition of engage. If Donne, Spenser, Shakespeare, and lots of others don’t “engage” Neoplatonism, then how exactly does Vauhn fit your definition, Jim?

          How about Spenser? One of many papers listed on-line about Spenser and Ficino’s brand of Neoplatonism.

          (Taken from Spenser on-line):

          Ayesha Ramachandran, Edmund Spenser, Lucretian Neoplatonist: Cosmology in the Fowre Hymnes
          This essay reconsiders the relationship between Spenser’s earthly and divine hymns in terms of the dialogic possibilities of the palinode, suggesting that the apparent “recantation” of the first two hymns is a poetic device used for philosophic effect. I argue that Spenser uses the poetic movement of action and retraction, turn and counterturn, to embody a philosophical oscillation and synthesis between a newly rediscovered Lucretian materialism and the Christian Neoplatonism, traditionally ascribed to the sequence. The stimulus for this seemingly unusual juxtaposition of two fundamentally different philosophies is the subject of the Fowre Hymnes: the poems are not only an expression of personal emotion and faith, but seek to make a significant intervention in the late sixteenth-century revival of cosmology and natural philosophy. Therefore, the essay takes seriously the hymns’ generic claim towards the grand style of philosophic abstraction, showing how Spenser explores the dialectic between matter and form, chaos and creation, mutability and eternity, through his repeated emphasis on the creation. Each hymn contains a distinct creation account; together they contrast a vision of a dynamic, de-centered, material cosmos (identified textually with the cosmos of Lucretius’s De rerum natura) with the formal symmetry and stable order of the Christian-Platonic universe. In this syncretic relationship between Lucretius and Plato, Spenser may have seen a powerful model for harmonizing the traditionally opposed motivations of poetry and philosophy, and for reconciling, albeit very uneasily, a concern with the flux of worldly experience and a desire to comprehend cosmic stability and formal order.

          Here are two bits about Drayton, but introductions to Drayton’s work (a mere trip to the library will take you to the volumes that will surely tell you about Neoplatonism and Drayton,

          Pétrarque, Castiglione et Ideas Mirrour (1594) de Michael Drayton : filiations et désaffiliations entre le sonnet élisabéthain et la culture de cour

          by Rémi Vuillemin

          “This paper seeks to uncover the complex relationship between Michael Drayton’s first sonnet sequence, Ideas Mirrour (1594), and certain sources of Elizabethan courtly culture such as the Petrarchan poetic tradition or Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier.
          It first describes how Drayton resorts to a form of Neoplatonism drawn from Book IV of Castiglione’s work. The topos of the lover’s ascension towards the contemplation of divine essence – or of the Petrarchan lady – is reminiscent of Bembo’s words. But in Ideas Mirrour, ascension results in failure. The centrality of the fire imagery, among other things, prompts one to read the lover’s progress in Neoplatonic and alchemical terms : through repeated rise and fall, he is purged of his passions. However, the end of the sequence shows that this process has failed : the lover remains the victim of his passions and states that he will persist in his initial error.
          In the first sonnets, Petrarchan and Neoplatonic elements are used to construct a rhetoric of praise aimed at deifying the lady. In the course of the sequence, however, this rhetoric is foregrounded and deconstructed for moral reasons. It is criticized in terms that are not merely « literary », but also political. The rhetoric of praise echoes the praise of Elizabeth I and, more generally, the italianism of courtly culture. Ideas Mirrour thereby becomes subversive – at least potentially, as its subversive potential can only be revealed by reading the text in a specific way. Drayton’s first sonnet sequence therefore shows how complex the processes of affiliation and disaffiliation between a Petrarchan poet and courtly culture can be.”

          Publication Name: Cahiers Shakespeare en devenir 6 (2012) Au fil des genres. Nov. 20 2012.

          12

          shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr

          In his article “Double Ecstasy in Drayton’s Endimion
          and Phoebe,” Vincent Petronella focuses on an aspect of
          Renaissance Neoplatonism that intrigued many poets of the late
          sixteenth century. Sears Jayne explains this trend:
          About 1570 a new Plato burst upon the English scene-
          not Plato the cosmologist or Plato the politician,
          but the Plato of the Symposium, Plato the apostle
          of love and beauty, of refinement and gentility, of
          art and poetry, of everything to which the
          “barbarous” English aspired in their scramble to
          catch up with the civilized continent (Jayne 225).
          The popularity of this “new continental doctrine” of love and
          beauty is usually attributed to the writings of Marsilio
          Ficino, though his influence was not always direct. Indeed,
          it is Ficino who coined the term “Platonic love,” by which he
          meant to describe love as Plato depicted it (Kristeller 47).
          Although the phrase has become trivialized and diluted, Ficino
          meant it in its purest sense; this concept provided the bottom
          rung of “the Neoplatonic ladder from man to God” (Jayne 227).
          In his Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, Ficino
          emphasizes that love is the highest human experience available
          in this life, for the love of a human being acts as a
          preparation for the love of God. Moreover, Ficino believed
          that even physical love is a good thing because “it is
          physiologically natural” (Ficino 16). The progress of the
          13
          human soul to the heavenly realm is ultimately brought about
          by love.
          Vincent Petronella explains that the poetic ascent of
          Endimion’s soul to the heavens is only made possible by
          Drayton’s use of “three inteirconnected Neoplatonic themes: the
          four ‘frenzies’; the triad of emanatio-ratio-remeatio; and
          mystical ecstasy” (Petronella 87). This complicated process
          brings Endimion’ s soul from a state of “multiplicity to unity”
          (Petronella 88), for according to Ficino, the soul cannot
          enter the upper world of the “One” until it is rid of its
          earthly dividedness. Yet this is impossible without divine
          assistance. Petronella reminds us that Phoebe first slides
          down from her sphere “for her sweet Endimions sake” (line 82).
          He will not learn the heavens’ truths without her: “The divine
          or supernatural world enters that of the mortal (emanatio);
          the mortal becomes enraptured (raptio) and anticipates the
          refreshing newness of a return (remeatio) to the divine level”
          (Petronella 89)~ Phoebe then provides energy for Endimion’s
          spiritual ascent by the four frenzies: “(1) poetry or music,
          (2) rites or divine mysteries, (3) prophesy, and (4) love”
          (Petronella 88). Of course we might guess which is “the
          greatest of these.” It is ultimately Phoebe’s active love for
          Endimion that leads us to 1~he poem’s first spiritual climax.
          Petronella considers this E~oment to be the poem’s most vital
          Neoplatonic passage:
          14
          And now to shew her powerfull deitie,
          Her sweet Endimion more to beautifie,
          Into his soule the Goddesse doth infuse
          The fiery nature of a heavenly Muse,
          Which in the spyrit labouring by the mind
          Partaketh of celestiall things by kind:
          For why the soule being divine alone,
          Exempt from vile and grosse corruption,
          Of heavenly secrets comprehensible,
          Of which the dull flesh is not sensible;
          And by one onely powerfull faculty,
          Yet governeth a multiplicity,
          Being essentiall~ uniforme in all;
          Not to be sever’d not dividuall.
          (lines 505-518)
          Endimion glimpses a world higher than his own only because the
          divine Phoebe chooses to infuse him with “The fiery nature of
          a heavenly Muse.” Critics have been so captivated by
          Endimion’s experience that they have inflated its significance
          in the poem. When Barbara Ewell observes that “Hallet Smith
          has indicated the Platonic bias of Drayton’s choice of
          subject,” she adds in parenthesis: “(Endimion is the symbol
          of high contemplation)” (Ewell 15). Here she assumes, of
          course, that Endimion is necessarily Drayton’s subject. But
          when we examine the poem, we find that he is really a rather
          passive participant in this scene of divine intervention.
          Drayton instead emphasizes the ardent goddess. In an echo of
          the writings of Ficino, we learn that only by the conditioning
          of his soul is Endimion allowed to temporarily transcend the
          “dull” world of the senses. Phoebe is the necessary
          “conditioner”: she is Drayton’s true subject

          There’s lots more out there that specifically–in as much detail as you or anyone might want, that Neoplatonism is specifically present in the work of major Western poets, and British poets, before Vaughn, Jim.

          • Relativism is the first resort for people who wish to talk about hard things in an easy way. Well, that’s your opinion, and here’s mine and it’s equally valid. That could be true in areas of value–whether this line seems like such and such, and this line is great because. Neoplatonism is a complete and rather complicated system of knowledge: it has its own math, its variations, its simplicities and its complexities. When we say we “know” Neoplatonism we can know it in various levels and degrees. We can “know” about electricity, but that doesn’t mean we know much more than the word or a dictionary definition, or perhaps we’re electricians, or physicists and we can have the tools and learning to know electricity in a profound way. Knowing about and using Electricity constitutes a body of knowledge. We can say that electricity is good or bad, but we know it’s a physical force and we can learn to know and recognize how it works by educating our selves about it. Catholicism is not only a belief, but it is also a body of knowledge. We give our opinions about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is there–an intellectual, emotional, and for some a spiritual force. The existence of Neoplatonic thought, and its specific tropes, in Drayton, Dowland, and many others has been amply documented and discussed by scholars who have written and published books on this subject for years. In addition, like any system of thought, the study of this system of thought continues to open up and yield more information and applications under the continuing investigations of scholars. If you can’t “see it” then it’s up to you to do something hard, and that is educate yourself so that you can understand whatever the “it” is. Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to do. It’s much easier to talk opinions than knowledge because when you do you stand the chance of being proven right or wrong. Sometimes that’s not fun, but that’s the nature of knowledge. In a system of knowledge if you’re not satisfied with one exposition of it, and require further detail, then the means exists to uncover that information. Usually a trip to the library and a reading list will do it. I want to add here to my reads this aside: please don’t go just by my cursory exposition of Neoplatonic symbols and forms in Drayton and Dowland given earlier, and use that as Jim seems to, to try to minimize Neoplatonism. A trip to your University library will give you as much or more detail about how this intellectual force is present in these poems. Relativism is fun for workshops, but it simply doesn’t apply here. I question Jim’s statements about this topic and I think any reader, and future readers, should:

            Jim says:

            There’s a distinction to make between general and specific relevance. ‘Neo-platonic’ ideas were part of the general literary culture of this era and Jesse’s comments show how Drayton’s and Dowland’s poems fit into this context in a general way, but neither poem, as far as I can see, specifically cues a reference to specific neo-platonic ideas.

            I’m going to call this statement B for future ref.

            My question to Jim is this:

            What exactly to you mean, Jim, by “Cues a reference” Could you please clarify what this entails?

            You said (or maybe Mr. Pinsky):

            (The notion that poets make their subjects ‘immortal’ appears in Homer, Pindar, Sappho and numerous others centuries before Plato and a millennium before Proclus, Porphyry and Plotinus.)

            My response is:

            Logic: The fact that the theme appears in other forms in earlier cultures doesn’t negate the Neoplatonic influence in Drayton and Dowland. If I recall correctly, there’s even an Aztec poem that uses a variation of this trope.

            Jim says:

            Donne plays around with neo-platonic ideas specifically — he plays around with ideas generally — but is there a poet of the English Renaissance before Vaughan who actually engages them?

            I’m going to call this statement A

            My response and questions are:

            We have “Cues a reference” (B) and now your use of the word “engage”. How exactly do you define “engage” in this context? Donne uses Neoplatonic ideas in his poems–that’s abundantly documented by scholars. To my lights, and according to many writers on this subject, that usage, would seem to fit a reasonable definition of the word “engage”. If Donne, Spenser, Shakespeare, and lots of other poets of the time both major and minor that scholars in this field have long documented as showing Neoplatonic themes and who use Neoplatonic tropes in their work–don’t “engage” Neoplatonism, then I ask you how exactly does Vaughn “engage it” Jim? And how about “Cues a reference”? I take it then that Vaughn “cues a reference” while Spenser in the Faery Queen and the other major writers don’t. How exactly does this “Cues a reference” work?

            [The other snippets of scholarly papers in the previous posting I’ll leave there.]

            I think Jim Powell should explain what his special use of these terms in A and B above mean, and show us how Vaughn satisfies these terms, while Spenser and other major writers who are documented as using Neoplatonism and language and situations applying to Neoplatonism in their work by scholars in this field, and who wrote well before Vaugh, don’t.

            Then perhaps we can begin to see the sense in a rather breezy question that makes absolutely no sense at all as it now stands,
            Here is A again :

            Donne plays around with neo-platonic ideas specifically — he plays around with ideas generally — but is there a poet of the English Renaissance before Vaughan who actually engages them?

            My verdict is that this question has been answered over and over in the abundance of scholarship available to anyone who reads it, and it’s yes, but Jim seems to hesitate. I find that hesitation telling.

            This is a note in a bottle. I hope it washes up on the beach of some present or future reader who will understand. We hope that Jim Powell enlightens us, but if he doesn’t–my advice is to go to any good local, or University library and enlighten your self. Jess.

        • Yet another great souce is Spiritual and Daemonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella by D. P. Walker. This traces the influence of Ficino’s brand of Neoplatonism’s influence on Western Thought.

        • I know this discussion isn’t about O’Hara, but I must say I find Jim Powell’s response incredibly refreshing (even while I hardly agree!). But thinking about the Dowland poem once again, to me there’s something very down-to-earth (and quite distant from Proclus or even Pico della Mirandola!) about his trope of “value,” truth of feeling being the ultimate currency. And this quality of commerce-contexted sincerity, conveniently, would be the basis for my defense of O’Hara. I myself would never have thought of the Dowland as having anything in common with him, but now I do agree with Professor Pinsky. Over the last day or so I’m been trying to think of a way to describe the exact sense of “charm” I find in the Dowland — and yes, it’s something analogous to O’Hara’s real feelings reflected in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman (those filled with Manhattan “knacks for ladies”).

          • Sorry, “I’m been trying” wasn’t some idiosyncratic regionalism on my part — just one of my many typos, changing thoughts in mid-stream. Please read instead: “I’ve been trying..”

            • Mary, Mr. Pinsky, Jim, my new Mother and everyone!–Just wanted to mention the beautiful cherry blossoms that have just opened here in Chiba! This is the time of “hanami” where folks go outside and sit beneath the trees just to glory in the beauty of these blossoms. They only last a little while but that’s part of the beauty. I hope you all have some of these wonderful trees near you in a park or in your front yard. These fragile blossoms are poems in themselves! Jess P.S. The Frank O’Hara works for me too. P.P.S. Am finishing H.D.’s Trilogy for the umpteenth time, and I would say that she and Duncan (and, in a certain sense, Helen Adam) embody the same sort of perrenial wisdom literature that many scholars say we find in Drayton and Dowland, Spenser, Shakespeare, and others stretching all the way back….

      • Robert and Jim and my new Mother, now the burden of proof falls on you to show us exactly why these poems don’t exhibit Neoplatonic themes and symbols in their lines. Tell us specifically how neither does. To assert is not to prove as my new Mother memorably tells us. (Mother also misunderstands the Neoplatonism of the Anti-Platonic poem, btw.) Jump through that hoop and let me have a small rejoinder and I’ll let this subject go with a hand shake and give you over to the legion of literary scholars and historians of Western thought who say otherwise than you assert. Jess

  3. What I find very curious about the Drayton sonnet is that he praises purely by stating that he is praising. The addressee of this poem is not described in any specificity but merely through her superiority to contemporaries. Was Drayton a clever serial seducer ;)?

    • No Elizabethan named the woman he loved in poetry. The note on Drayton in John Williams’ anthology, English Renaissance Poetry, begins, “The son of a tanner, D. was brought up as a page in the household of Sir Henry Goodere in Warwickshire, to whose daughter, Anne, later Lady Rainsford, D. remained devoted all of his bachelor life.” Two special reasons appear here that explain why D. wouldn’t name the woman, first that she was the daughter of his benefactor, second that she married a lord.
      In one of his posts Robert said that Drayton was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Both were from Warwickshire,
      which may in part explain two stories about them, both from John Berryman, a very learned scholar. Berryman says somewhere–I don’t remember where–that when Shakespeare’s grave was excavated (this story must be a fantasy, perhaps Berryman’s)–the excavators when they reached the coffin saw a plaque on it that read, Michael Drayton, and hurriedly filled in the grave. The second story is one that Berryman repeats (an earlier scholar, E. K. Chambers, found the document on which it is based), that “A Stratford vicar [John Ward] fifty years later [later than 1616, when Shakespeare had a will drafted] tell us he [Shakespeare] had a merry meeting with Jonson and Drayton “and itt seems drank too hard, for Shakespear died of a feavor there contracted.” So Drayton either was Shakespeare or caused his death by getting him very drunk.

    • Harold, this general, undifferentiated praise is characteristic of sonnet sequences– part of the convention. We see it in the handful of sequences that are still read and (I have heard) in the hundreds only scholars know– part of the fad. I think I’ve read that Drayton’s “Idea” (the lady of his sequence) changes eye color in the course of the sequence. Shakespeare seems to address at least two different people, for example. The second person singular, in this convention, seems to be a way of speaking, not necessarily indicating an intimate, or even specific, relation. The whole generic pursuit, in a way, was maybe to be (or seem?) a “clever serial seducer”?

  4. I meant to say too something of Dowland’s “removes.” That’s one of the Elizabethan poets few rhyme words for love, as in Shakespeare’s “Love is not love That…bends with the remover to remove” and Jonson’s “Let it not your wonder move…that I love.” Dowland makes it a noun, which looks down the centuries to our removal, as in Douglas Dunn’s wonderful poem in Terry Street, “A Removal,”
    The great rhyme for love is still Auden’s Diaghilev.

  5. I like seeing these poems here, Robert, and though I am late getting to the occasion and haven’t read all the comments I’ve learned a lot from those I have read. Thanks for all this. There are wonderful things in Drayton’s sonnet. The third line’s conventional, but the rest of the opening quatrain is eerily aggressive–imagining the aristocratic or just foppish “things” in the passing coaches “well wrapped” in their shrouds. Lines 7-8 are wonderfully surprising, especially 8, where “superfluous” must have its archaic sense to us of a saint’s supererogation. But whether that’s so or not the line really rises up on the page.
    Dowland’s song is hard to beat. Did Winters single it out in talking about sprung rhythm? You hear the running of the syllables in lines 1 and 11 even more beautifully in the Elizabethan lack of punctuation (this is in the Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, ed. H. R. Woudhuysen):

    Fine knacks for ladies, cheape choise brave and new

    Within this packe pinnes points laces and gloves

    “laces” is excellent and unusual in that place in the line, don’t you think?
    Far more excellent, I think, is the whole second stanza, how its very neat, even alliterative one-sentence lines move with imagistic strangeness. There’s the link of gifts-treasures-jewel–pearl for sure, but there’s still surprise, especially the last line, which brings the stanza to a personal, modest, and brilliantly unexpected close.
    Both poems have memorable words–paltry and superfluous in Drayton’s, and in Dowland’s “brave” (I never see this word in a poem without thinking of Kunitz’s “The Portrait,” in which he remembers finding in the attic the portrait of his father, who died before he was born, with its “brave mustache,” where the adjective means on one side what it means in Downland) and “points,” which evidently refers to strings and laces with tagged or beaded ends, like shoelaces. I can’t offhand think of another use of this word in this sense. Can you? Finally. the line about “court’s brood” seems more compressed than the rest, and allusive. I read a note years ago that the “heavenly pair” are Castor and Pollux. Does that work in the line, the poem? Especially with “court’s” being a cutting of courtship? I’m puzzled by that.

    • I’ve been thinking that the nature of this forum is not unlke the two social contexts of the poems under discussion: There’s the rough-and-tumble “fair” (something like the music hall, where the audience was encouraged to interact, even heckle, the performers), and then there’s the “court,” with its fixed modes of “polite” behavior. As participants, as well as poets, one wants both modes. I love how much American poetry/prosody is the product of both impulses, mixing the freewheeling with the “conventional,” very much as the Drayton uses a courtly sonnet to undermine elements of courtly tradition… And like Harry Thomas, I’m a bit puzzled by the closing lines. I wouldn’t mind hearing some interpretations…

      • But in my heart, where duty serves and loves,
        Turtles and twins, court’s brood, a heavenly pair.
        Happy the heart that thinks of no removes!

        If “Turtles” refers to turtledoves, then a brood might refer to the birds.

        Somewhere online, someone suggested that one interpretation of “removes” might be the removal of clothes — i.e. this peddler might be happier if he weren’t always thinking of sex. Or perhaps, the last line is ironic — professing virtue while really being lecherous. (See my comments on the preceding page.)

        • Yes Mary Ann, I think “turtles” does refer to the monogamous turtle-dove. As Harry Thomas says above, “removes” is a variation on one of the few English rhymes for “love.” (Harry also cites a kind of zing or a rhyme from W.H. Auden.)

    • Harry, I have looked up “point” and as I seem to remember being taught it means various kinds of lace (point d’Espagne, point de Venise, etc.) — a French word for a stitch it says here. Suitable for a Royal court? As might be a couple of well-kept doves in a cage? So I have imagined.

      A moment I love in Drayton is the social comedy, street-wise “that now in coaches trouble every street.Sort of as close to Frank O’Hara taxicabs or Elizabeth Bishop doilies as I can imagine getting in a 16th-century sonnet.

      • Thank you, Robert. I think, though, that points must mean something distinctly different from “laces.”

        I’m reading Georges Lefebvre’s history of the French Revolution, and I’ve just gotten to the king and queen’s
        flight from Paris in 1791 in “a massive, sumptuously furnished berlin coach,” which got them only as far as Varenne
        because they couldn’t get fresh horses. No Filling Station–so.

        I agree that it is social comedy, until Drayton imagines them all wrapped in shrouds.

  6. Mary Maxwell raises an interesting question, germane to “Fine Knacks for Ladies”: “about the experience of performing poetry to music, something that is of such importance to English (esp. Elizabethan) verse… I confess I can’t read the Dowland now without “hearing” it as a performed song, even with the sense that the poem sort of “performs itself” on the page.”

    Many readers will recognize Mary’s experience, I would guess. I do– to an extent: eventually, I think, a poem as excellent as this one, set to such an excellent tune, makes itself heard in both ways. That is what John Dowland (assuming he wrote the words as well as the music), set out to do, it seems clear. And I think he succeeds. For myself, when I hear it sung, part of my mind roves over the lines as verse; when I read it or say it as verse, part of my mind recalls the melody with its cadences, emphases, repetitions,

    As a beginner I was startled by the process in reverse: I knew the 19th melody that had set the words, but I didn’t realize that the words were from the late 16th century (sung in a play): Ben Jonson’s “Drink to me only with thine eyes.”

    (Another sense of the process in reverse: the song lyrics that are wonderful in performance with music, but wilt in print, without the music.)

  7. These two poems, as I try to say in my introduction, represent expert, excellent variations on the conventional love poetry of a time when intense, widespread attention concentrated on such things. These are two brilliant survivors of many, many participants in certain trends, fashions, experiments.

    It’s fascinating to see how,in a period of less than seventy-two hours, a range of interesting responses has accumulated here. Maybe my attaching the audio files of singing, as well as speaking, has increased the range.

    I like following the activity that doesn’t necessarily need my voice. But . . . Now, what next? For instance: Jesse Glass, please let me suggest, in a welcoming and courteous way, that you pause to inhale– and let’s see what other possible responses may emerge. To those who, like me, have been reading but not writing, I re-invite you.

    • Mr. Pinsky, I thank you for the invitation to inhale. I’m sorry, if I misunderstood the nature of this forum. I had no idea that it was necessary to go one at a time to express one’s ideas. I thought in fact that this forum allowed many to share ideas at the same time–as in a conversation in a room among several groups rather than a stage with a spotlight on the discussing person in question. (Shades of Ted Mack!) I’d seen that happen earlier here–the discussions going at the same time, that is,–and so I proceeded. But what I have to say is that I’m more interested in ideas than I am in resumes. The neoplatonic reading of these poems is a correct one and it absolutely fits, whether you know it or not or whether anyone likes it or not or cares or not (but I think if they care about the work in question, they should.) It fits your theme, and in fact explains and enhances (intellectually at least) much of it–the idea of the poet as small Maker or a kind of Demiurgos, granting the beloved the eternity of Art–of the MIND, of the unity of the Logos. That theme is in the Dowland as well via Ficino among others. If someone asks me about Neoplatonism and it appears that their question is a sincere one, I’m happy to oblige and if the person seems not to know, then I’ll give them the keys so that they can learn for themselves. I have no idea who most of these people are, but from what I’ve seen since the beginning more seem interested in learning rather than preening although perhaps the preeners are now having their say. I thank you for your permission to continue on, too, but please let me know when I should take a break, or inhale, or when I should stifle myself in the presence of my betters, or trip me up by reminding me of a date that I’m already quite aware of, or slap a sign on my back with idiot written on it, or kick me in the pants (that’ll make everyone laugh) because I do get carried away about ideas and the poetry that I love and I’m very much isolated here in Japan with no one to really discuss them. In fact I was just going through the Hymns of Proclus to find a good example of a neoplatonic love poem to illustrate the tradition and my point. Feeling welcomed, and courteous in return, Laughing, Jess But I’m serious, Mr. Pinsky and everybody else–please do tell me as in TED MACK–when I should lay off for a time and please let me know (a signal will do it) if and when I can possibly say something. Sorry for the bother.

      • If someone asks me about Neoplatonism and it appears that their question is a sincere one, I’m happy to oblige and if the person seems not to know, then I’ll give them the keys so that they can learn for themselves.

        Jesse, Jim Powell and I asked you where you saw Neo-platonism in these lyrics. We were asking you to back up your claim with specifics from the poem. We were not asking you to explain Neo-platonism to us. I don’t think we can have a good discussion if folks don’t bother to justify their generalizations. Nor does a good discussion result when one party assumes the role of Teacher

        I have no idea who most of these people are, but from what I’ve seen since the beginning more seem interested in learning rather than preening although perhaps the preeners are now having their say.

        Alas, Jess, I haven’t seen too many examples of your being interested in learning. What I have seen is you explaining to several people why their ideas are wrong and your ideas are right. Dare I use the word “preen”? (And several of these people are published poets and/ or college professors. Hey, one is even a MacArthur Fellow.) Perhaps a better way to foster true discussion is to explain your ideas w/o dismissing someone else’s. (And back up your ideas with references to the featured poems rather than introducing yet another poem.) That way people will feel comfortable posting here. Politeness and humility are always important, but even more so on a discussion board.

        Mary Ann
        Parkville, Maryland

        • The first and third paragraphs above are excerpts from Jesse’s posts that I was commenting on in the second and fourh paragraphs. I tried to indicate that, but the markings did not apper on the screen. Any suggestions, Robert, on how to do that?

          • Hmmmm . . . . I too find these formatting matters difficult, and frustrating. Even hand-made indenting might go wrong. Best I could do quoting Mary Maxwell above was quotation marks. If bold or italic is possible, I haven’t found the way.

        • Jesse, Jim Powell and I asked you where you saw Neo-platonism in these lyrics. We were asking you to back up your claim with specifics from the poem. We were not asking you to explain Neo-platonism to us. I don’t think we can have a good discussion if folks don’t bother to justify their generalizations. Nor does a good discussion result when one party assumes the role of Teacher

          There’s the beginning of your misunderstanding, Mary Ann. I’m not interested in teaching anyone, I’m hoping to learn–that’s why I’m here. If you take a look at the genial response I offered you and Jim–why are you speaking for him, btw?–, you can see that I’m being specific. Please take a look, too, at the videos–simple as they are–and you’ll begin to get my drift if you haven’t already. No one dismissed you or Jim either or your ideas. I did dismiss his quotation marks, for a pretty good reason. I was just being honest about those other sources on the net–including–if you look–neoplatonic readings of the poems in this forum.

          Alas, Jess, I haven’t seen too many examples of your being interested in learning. What I have seen is you explaining to several people why their ideas are wrong and your ideas are right.

          And they’re certainly welcome to respond–that’s, I believe–what’s called a discussion.

          (And several of these people are published poets and/ or college professors. Hey, one is even a MacArthur Fellow.)

          All of those geniuses and the world is still going to hell, Mary Ann. What are we gonna do?

          Perhaps a better way to foster true discussion is to explain your ideas w/o dismissing someone else’s. (And back up your ideas with references to the featured poems rather than introducing yet another poem.) No is dismissing anyone else’s ideas. In fact, personally, I’d welcome more ideas and a closer encounter with these minds you speak of.

          That way people will feel comfortable posting here.

          Comfort is important, Mary Ann–always be comfortable when you think! I think comfort first is a distinctly American idea in education. Damn anything that pushes one from one’s comfort zone. Socrates used to stand in the snow when he thought, btw.

          Politeness and humility are always important, but even more so on a discussion board.

          Well, I’m a pretty humble guy, but as I said before, I like to discuss and think about language and write. As far as politeness, I’m with you all the way, Mary Ann. Call me Jess. I see you’re a Marylander…me too, though from a far woolier part: Carroll County, a wonderful place to escape from, believe me.

          Laughing, Jess

          P.S.–And inhaling too, Mr. Pinsky!

    • I understand that this is forum for voices other than yours, Robert, but I would love to hear some of your thoughts (as well as others, of course) about the experience of performing poetry to music, something that is of such importance to English (esp. Elizabethan) verse… I confess I can’t read the Dowland now without “hearing” it as a performed song, even with the sense that the poem sort of “performs itself” on the page.

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