A man with many masters—Donne, Jonson, Giambattista Marino—Thomas Carew was slave to none, although as a Cavalier poet he has been generally regarded as one of Jonson’s followers. Like Jonson, Carew commanded many lyric forms, and his lines often read as beautifully as do those of Jonson. In fact, many of Carew’s verses have been effectively set to music. Proficiency with meter, however, was only part of Carew’s art. He used the conceit effectively, although at times his images strain to such an extent as to warrant Samuel Johnson’s attacks on the Metaphysical poets. Carew more effectively associated himself with the Metaphysical school with his use of paradox and argument, adding an intellectual quality to his poems that he so highly valued in Donne.
Jonson and Donne account for the main influences on Carew. He was equally capable of borrowing from Petrarch, Edmund Spenser, or Marino, however, for both theme and technique. In fact, because most of Carew’s poems deal with the theme of love, the forsaken lover in particular, writers such as Petrarch and Spenser were often models better suited to his purpose.
“Upon some Alterations in my Mistress, after my Departure into France”
There has been a fair amount of speculation about whether Carew’s love poems, particularly those addressed to Celia (probably a pseudonym) or to the unidentified mistress, have an autobiographical basis. Such speculation aside, the poems are interesting for both their lyric excellence and their range of themes. The peak of Carew’s lyric accomplishment occurs in “Upon some Alterations in my Mistress, after my Departure into France,” where the central image of the lover lost on the troubled ocean of his lady’s altered affections is enhanced by the equally varying meters, thus well fusing theme and structure. Thematically, one sees in Carew a movement from Petrarchan despair to bitter vindication against his inconstant mistress. The very range of Carew’s work thus demands admiration.
What this brief analysis suggests is that Carew’s work reveals many of the themes and techniques that had dominated Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry and that were equally important to the Caroline poets. Carew also polished his use of the rhyming couplet in anticipation of the Augustan Age. Despite his limitations, Carew paints an accurate picture of poetic achievement and direction in the late Renaissance.
“Upon some Alterations in my Mistress, after my Departure into France” warrants comment, first, because it demonstrates an attitude in love poetry that Carew would reject for the bitter vindictiveness of later poems, such as “Disdaine returned,” and second, because Carew’s technique in the poem, even when not effective, is interesting. The poem is more likely autobiographical than are many of his other love poems. The poem appears to be Carew’s response to his mistress’s change of feeling after he had gone to France with Sir Edward Herbert. Unlike later works showing Carew bitter about his lady’s rejection, this short lyric poem presents the poet as a forlorn Petrarchan lover. Appropriately, its theme is developed in the extended image of a poet lost on the troubled ocean of inconstant love and his lady’s waning affections.
Carew’s use of the extended image is interesting not only because it is so typical of Petrarchan poetry, but also because this technique varies from his general approach, which, like Donne’s, usually fuses diverse elements. In this poem, the first stanza quickly presents the image that will be elaborated:
Oh gentle Love, doe not forsake the guideOf my fraile Barke, on which the swelling tideOf ruthless prideDoth beat, and threaten wrack from every side.
It was a well-worn figure by the time Carew came to employ it, and Carew in no way used it with originality. The varied line lengths and metrical feet, however, suggesting the tempestuous seas, show Carew effectively combining idea and form.
Carew’s reference to the “mystie cloud of anger” in the second stanza identifies the alterations to which the title refers. Still, Carew follows this line by calling his lady his “faire starre,” seeming to say that despite her alterations, she remains for him a guiding passion. The last line of the...
(The entire section is 1828 words.)