Can a Cavalier poem be a carpe diem poem as well?I have to give evidence that Robert Herrick's poem "To Daffodils" is a Cavalier poem. From what I know, a Cavalier poem has regular metrical...

Can a Cavalier poem be a carpe diem poem as well?

I have to give evidence that Robert Herrick's poem "To Daffodils" is a Cavalier poem. From what I know, a Cavalier poem has regular metrical patterns, simple, eloquent language, and is commonly about love. Those are the only elements I can think of. This poem seems to be a carpe diem poem. Are they one in the same? I'm just curious and looking for some insight.

Asked on by rosegold

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The enotes Study Guide on Cavalier poetry says the following:

The term “Cavalier” denotes a literary movement that flourished from 1625 to 1649, characterized by its practitioners' use of lighthearted wit, elegant mannerisms, amorous and sometimes erotic themes, and adherence to upper-class values.

The chief Cavalier writers were Thomas Carew (1594-1640), Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), Robert Herrick (1591-1674), and Richard Lovelace (1618-1657). Critic Thomas Clayton notes that Cavalier literature “is preciselythe corpus of poems by these four ‘Cavalier Lyrists,’ and by that measure it is a composite of the qualities abstracted from their collected works.” Characteristically, the Cavaliers were cultured, carefree, behaved as courtly gentlemen, and avoided the overserious. Their works typically celebrate the commonplace and even trivial aspects of daily life.

The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature lists distinguishing characteristics of Cavalier poets as:

...short lines, precise but idiomatic diction, and an urbane and graceful wit.

Idiomatic here means peculiar to a particular group or movement (the Cavaliers, in this case), and urbane means notably polite or finished in manner, or polished. 

First of all, then, Herrick's poem is Cavalier poetry because it was written by Herrick.  Being written by one of the four poets listed above makes a poem Cavalier poetry.  The poets are Cavalier poets, and what they wrote in their poems forms the details of what we think of as Cavalier poetry.

Secondly, many Cavalier poems do contain the carpe diem theme.  But the two are not synonymous.  A carpe diem poem does not have to be Cavalier, and a Cavalier poem does not have to use the carpe diem theme. 

I hope this gives you the insight you need. 

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

From what I've read -- and, I must admit, I know next to nothing about cavalier poetry but know enough about carpe diem poetry -- there is no reason that a poem cannot be both a cavalier poem and a carpe diem poem, but the two do not seem to be one and the same.

The general elements of the cavailier poem that you identify seem to me to be largely elements of style and form. Only the last item that you list -- "commonly about love" -- addresses the poem's content. As I understand the term "carpe diem," poetry in this vein can be identified purely in terms of content. The overall message in a carpe diem poem is, of course, to "seize the day," to make the most of the limited time that we have in our lives.

Wikipedia (a good place to start looking, but not always the best place to end when researching a topic) has the following to say about cavalier poetry:

Cavalier poetry was associated with the royalist cause and therefore reflected royalist values. The cavalier poets were retrospective and nostalgic. The poetry celebrates beauty, love, nature, sensuality, drinking, elegance, and often ironic ease. Once the war was underway this poetry turned to be about explicitly political verse that commented on the conflict at hand. Cavalier Poetry is filled with direct language and clear-cut expressions and images, whereas metaphysical poetry uses complicated metaphors and unfeasible imagery. The strength of Cavalier poetry was in its shortness and directness. It was easy to understand and did not confuse the readers with intricate imagery and deep meaning. Although short and somewhat simple, cavalier poetry was supposed to coincide with their motto “Carpe Diem” translating to “seize the day.”

In this particular characterization, there is a clear overlap between the two categories, but they are not presented as one and the same.

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