Richard Crashaw occupies his niche in literary history as a sort of maverick Metaphysical whose poetry, although displaying many of the techniques and characteristics of John Donne and George Herbert, is unique in its baroque flamboyance and its strong Roman Catholic sensibilities.
A poet of fluctuating popularity, Crashaw has had his work treated as decadent Metaphysical poetry, as an outstanding example of ornate wit, as conventional Catholic devotion, and as intensely personal expression. His poems are longer and more elaborate than those of his model George Herbert, although his themes are narrower in focus. Crashaw is sometimes ranked with Donne and Herbert as a major Metaphysical poet; alternately, he is linked with such significant but minor writers as Abraham Cowley and Henry Vaughan.
In his intense rendering of Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic spirituality, as well as in his use of powerful visual experiences, Crashaw is distinctive. His poetry, widely popular in his own day, continued to attract readers and critical appreciation through the end of the seventeenth century and early in the eighteenth; it waned with the pre-Romantics and their successors and received relatively little notice until early in the twentieth century, when a host of major critics rediscovered religious poetry.
Bertonasco, Marc F. Crashaw and the Baroque. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1971. Traces Crashaw’s key images to seventeenth century emblem books and finds Saint Francis de Sales’s meditative method the major influence on Crashaw’s spiritual development. Provides a detailed analysis of “Sainte Mary Magdalen” that demonstrates these influences. The appendix contains a review of Crashaw’s scholarship, and a bibliography.
Cefalu, Paul. English Renaissance Literature and Contemporary Theory: Sublime Objects of Theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Cefalu uses modern philosophy and cultural theory to analyze the religious poems of Crashaw, John Milton, and John Donne.
Cousins, Anthony D. The Catholic Religious Poets from Southwell to Crashaw: A Critical History. London: Sheed & Ward, 1991. History of the criticism and interpretation of these English poets from a Christian perspective. Bibliographical references, index.
Healy, Thomas F. Richard Crashaw. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986. Explains that Crashaw’s poetry owes much to his Cambridge years at Pembroke and Peterhouse, when the religious, intellectual, and poetic environment shaped his ideas and his work. Includes extended criticism of “Musick’s Duell” and, particularly, “To the Name of Jesus.”...
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