Edmund Waller’s poetic corpus is singular in its homogeneity. Although his career spanned more than half a century, it is difficult to trace any stylistic development; as Samuel Johnson remarks in his “Life of Waller,” “His versification was, in his first essay, such as it appears in his last performance.” What changes do appear in Waller’s poetry are primarily thematic rather than technical and can be attributed to the demands of genre rather than to any maturation in style. An examination of several poems composed at different periods of Waller’s life and for very different occasions demonstrates this uniformity and, at the same time, demonstrates the innovations that Waller brought to seventeenth century verse.
“Of His Majesty’s Receiving the News of the Duke of Buckingham’s Death”
Waller’s earliest poems are mainly panegyrics composed on Charles I and Henrietta Maria. In “Of His Majesty’s Receiving the News of the Duke of Buckingham’s Death,” one of the best of these pieces, Waller charts the program that English poets would follow for the next century in celebrating the virtues of the Stuart monarchs. The assassination of George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, in 1628 constituted a major blow, both political and emotional, to the young king. According to the earl of Clarendon, Charles publicly received the news with exemplary calm. When a messenger interrupted the monarch at prayers to blurt out the...
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