Thomas Carew Carew, Thomas - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Thomas Carew 1595?-1640

English poet and masque writer.

Carew is closely associated with the Cavalier Poets, an informal group of early seventeenth-century English lyricists. All of these writers—Carew, Robert Herrick, Sir John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace—valued urbane wit and precise diction in their poems, and most—Herrick is the exception—had intimate ties with the court of Charles I. Carew is best known for his courtly masque Coelum Britannicum, love poetry, a small group of songs, several elegies, and erotic verse, most notably “A Rapture.” Overall, Carew is viewed as a significant transitional figure in English lyric poetry whose work epitomizes the light, elegant Cavalier style and features a witty rejuvenation of conventional forms in the period between the English high Renaissance and the subsequent Restoration era.

Biographical Information

Carew was born in 1594 or 1595, probably in West Wickham, Kent. His father, Matthew Carew, was a master in Chancery; his mother, Alice Ingpen Ryvers, was the daughter and granddaughter of lord mayors of London. Nothing is known of Carew's boyhood and early schooling until he entered Merton College, Oxford, in June 1608 at age thirteen. He took his bachelor of arts degree in January 1611. The following year he was admitted to the Middle Temple, presumably to be trained for a legal career. Around this time Carew's father suffered devastating financial reverses, prompting Carew to leave the Middle Temple and enter the service of Sir Dudley Carleton, English ambassador to Venice, in 1613. In Venice, Carew was exposed to Italian literature and began learning European languages. He traveled with Sir Dudley's embassy to The Hague in March 1616 but returned to London several months later, having been relieved of his duties. By late 1616, Carew had begun to make his way at the court of Charles I. In 1619 he traveled with Sir Edward Herbert (later Lord Herbert of Cherbury) to Paris, where he wrote several poems, acquired fashionable manners, and apparently came to know Italian poet Giambattista Marino, whose lyrics Carew may have used as models for some of his own. Around this time Carew likely met “Celia,” the subject and addressee of many of his love poems. By the early 1630s Carew's place at court was firmly fixed. He was named Gentleman of the Privy Chamber Extraordinary and later made Sewer (“Cup-Bearer”) in Ordinary to Charles I. His masque, Coelum Britannicum, was performed at court in 1633. Many anecdotes survive concerning Carew's “life scandalous” as a courtier. He evidently cared little for religion and certainly endured painful bouts of syphilis. Meanwhile, he continued to write poetry, acquiring a reputation as a gifted lyricist. In 1639 Carew accompanied Charles on his expedition against Scotland. He died early in 1640, possibly as a result of hardships he suffered during the northern winter. His only collection of poetry appeared posthumously in the year of his death.

Major Works of Poetry

Poems. By Thomas Carew, Esquire is a collection of lyrics, songs, pastorals, poetic dialogues, elegies, addresses, and occasional poems. Most of the pieces are fairly short—the longest, “A Rapture,” is 166 lines, and well over half are under 50 lines. The subjects are various: a number of poems treat love, lovemaking, and feminine beauty. Several of the poems, including “An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne” are memorial tributes; others, notably “To Saxham,” celebrate country-house life; and a few record such events as the successful production of a play (“To my worthy Friend, M. D’Avenant, upon his Excellent Play, The Iust Italian”) or the marriage of friends (“On the Marriage of T. K. and C. C. the Morning Stormie”). Many of the songs and love poems are addressed to the still-unidentified “Celia,” a woman who was evidently Carew's lover for years. The poems to Celia treat the urgency of courtship, making much of the carpe diem theme. Others commend Celia through simile, conceit, and cliché. The physical pleasures of love are likewise celebrated: “A Rapture” graphically documents a sexual encounter through analogy, euphemism, and paradox, while “Loves Courtship” responds to the early passing of virginity. A number of Carew's poems are concerned with the nature of poetry itself. His elegy on John Donne has been praised as both a masterpiece of criticism and a remarkably perceptive analysis of the metaphysical qualities of Donne's literary work. English poet and playwright Ben Jonson is the subject of another piece of critical verse, “To Ben. Iohnson, Upon Occasion of His Ode of Defiance Annext to His Play of The New Inne.” This poem, like the elegy on Donne, is concerned with both the style and substance of the author's literary works as well as with personal qualities of the author himself. Among Carew's occasional, public verse are his addresses to ladies of fashion, commendations of the nobility, and laments for the passing of friends or public figures, such as Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.

Critical Reception

Carew has long been recognized as a notable figure in English literary history. His earliest critics—chiefly other poets—evidently knew his work from the many manuscripts that circulated. Among many others, two of the most celebrated writers of the age, Sir John Suckling and William Davenant, paid tribute to Carew, playfully admiring his poetic craftsmanship. Carew's reputation, however, experienced a slow but steady decline during the second half of the seventeenth century. Despite some interest in Carew in subsequent years, not until the twentieth century did critics offer a reexamination of Carew's place in English literary history. F. R. Leavis wrote in 1936: “Carew, it seems to me, has claims to more distinction than he is commonly accorded; more than he is accorded by the bracket that, in common acceptance, links him with Lovelace and Suckling.” More recently, Carew's place among the Cavalier Poets has been examined, as have his poetic affinities with Ben Jonson and John Donne; “A Rapture” has been scrutinized as both biography and fantasy; the funerary poetry has been studied as a subgenre; evidence of Carew's views concerning political hierarchy has been found in his occasional verse; and love and courtship have been probed as themes in the “Celia” poems. By the end of the twentieth century, Carew has been recognized as an important poet representative of his time and a master lyricist. According to Edmund Gosse, “Carew's poems, at their best, are brilliant lyrics of the purely sensuous order. They open to us, in his own phrase, ‘a mine of rich and pregnant fancy.’”

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)

“To my Honoured friend, Master Thomas May” 1622

“To my worthy Friend, M. D’Avenant” 1630

“In Celias face a question did a rise” 1632

“An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne” 1633

“To the Reader of Master Davenant's Play” 1636

“To my worthy friend Master Geo. Sands” 1637

“To my honoured friend, Henry Lord Cary of Lepington, upon his translation of Malvezzi” 1638

“To Will. Davenant my Friend” 1638

“Song. Conquest by Flight” 1639

Poems. By Thomas Carew, Esquire (poetry and masque) 1640

The Poems of Thomas Carew with His Masque Coelum Britannicum (poetry and masque) 1949

Coelum Britannicum: A Masque at Whitehall in the Banqueting-House, on Shrove-Tuesday-Night, the 18. of February, 1633 (masque) 1634

Bruce King (essay date 1964)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Strategy of Carew's Wit,” in A Review of English Literature, Vol. 5, No. 3, July, 1964, pp. 42-51.

[In the following essay, King probes Carew's use of “conventional poetic rhetoric for unconventional purposes” and explores “Carew's attempt to impose a civilized order upon the desperate chaos of man's inner realities” through his poetry.]

Thomas Carew is often praised for his sophisticated gallantry, his urbane assurance, and for the way in which he seems to express the best values of a rich civilization.1 However, if we try to put our finger on what is mature, firm, or civilized in Carew's poetry we find ourselves circling around his...

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G. A. E. Parfitt (essay date 1968)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Poetry of Thomas Carew,” in Renaissance and Modern Studies, Vol. XII, 1968, pp. 56-67.

[In the following essay, Parfitt contends that Carew should not simply be categorized as a Cavalier poet and instead emphasizes Carew's association with Jonson and Donne and his revitalization of poetic conventions.]


No-one seems really sure what to do with Carew, partly perhaps because no fully adequate account of English poetry in the first half of the seventeenth century has been written. In Revaluation, Dr. Leavis suggested an approach which makes Carew an important link between Johson and Marvell, thus giving his work a greater...

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Louis L. Martz (essay date 1969)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Thomas Carew: The Cavalier World,” in The Wit of Love, University of Notre Dame Press, 1969, pp. 60-110.

[In the following essay, Martz surveys Carew's poetry, noting its “Cavalier elegance, its Mannerist styling.” Martz continues by observing Carew's wit, influences, critical capacity, and relationship to his age.]

In the cold spring of 1639, Thomas Carew, the favorite poet of the Court of Charles I, joined his King's army in an ill-conceived and ill-prepared expedition against the Scots. It was the same expedition for which Carew's friend and fellow poet, Sir John Suckling, had beggared himself in order to provide a beautifully clothed and plumed...

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D. F. Rauber (essay date 1971)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Carew Redivivus,” in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Spring, 1971, pp. 17-28.

[In the following essay, Rauber examines the qualities that distinguish Carew from the other Cavalier poets, calling him “the most purely intellectual poet of the early seventeenth century.”]

Among the small mysteries of seventeenth-century poetry is the curiously checkered reputation of Thomas Carew. While modern critics have frequently separated him from Pope's “mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease,” he has never secured a proper niche of his own. After a brief flurry of attention, he falls back into the mob again. It is possible, of course,...

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Paula Johnson (essay date 1976)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Carew's ‘A Rapture’: The Dynamics of Fantasy,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. XVI, No. 1, Winter, 1976, pp. 145-55.

[In the following essay, Johnson analyzes Carew's erotic poem “A Rapture.”]

“A Rapture” was in its day a very shocking poem. Not only did it provoke rebuttals from poets as small as Habington and as great as Marvell, but it even drew upon Carew a reproof in Parliament.1 Its reputation has persisted to our own times: until recently it has been regularly omitted from anthologies of seventeenth-century verse, and as regularly included in collections of erotica.2 Carew's editors have been...

(The entire section is 5012 words.)

Ada Long and Hugh MacLean (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Deare Ben,’ ‘Great DONNE,’ and ‘my Celia,’: The Wit of Carew's Poetry,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 75-94.

[In the following essay, Long and MacLean summarize Carew's verse in order to evaluate his wit and poetic talent.]

Thomas Carew's literary reputation has undergone some reassessment in recent years. For a long time Clarendon's estimate provided the pattern for critical opinions of the man and his work: Carew “was a Person of a pleasant and facetious Wit, and made many Poems (especially in the amorous Way) which for the Sharpness of the Fancy, and the Elegancy of the Language,...

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Michael P. Parker (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘To my friend G. N. from Wrest’: Carew's Secular Masque,” in Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982, pp. 171-91.

[In the following essay, Parker analyzes Carew's “To my friend G. N. from Wrest,” maintaining that the poem “represents the crucial middle term between Jonson's initial essays in the English country-house poem and Marvell's transformation of the genre in the 1640s and 1650s.”]

Despite the upsurge of interest in the English country-house poem during the past twenty-five years, critics have largely ignored Thomas Carew's two contributions to the genre, “To Saxham” and “To...

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Raymond A. Anselment (essay date 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Thomas Carew and the ‘Harmelesse Pastimes’ of Caroline Peace,” in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 2, Spring, 1983, pp. 201-19.

[In the following essay, Anselment interprets Carew's qualified and at times ironic praise of Gustavus Adolphus in his poem “In answer of an Elegiacall Letter upon the death of the King of Sweden.”]

Thomas Carew's occasional poem “In answer of an Elegiacall Letter upon the death of the King of Sweden from Aurelian Townsend, inviting me to write on that subject” has not received the critical attention it deserves. Although his response to the death of Gustavus Adolphus has been characterized “a...

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James Fitzmaurice (essay date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Carew's Funerary Poetry and the Paradox of Sincerity,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 127-44.

[In the following essay, Fitzmaurice studies Carew's poetic thoughts on death and the artificiality of language.]

Sincerity, inasmuch as it is allied with or derived from intention, is likely to occupy a controversial position in current critical discussion. For what might be called the traditionalists in the evaluation of literature, it is at the root of all creative activity and is especially a criterion in funerary verse. Allowances may be made for poetry which appears mortuary but is not so in the strictest...

(The entire section is 7292 words.)

Renée Hannaford (essay date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Self-Presentation in Carew's ‘To A. L. Perswasions to Love’,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 26, No. 1, Winter, 1986, pp. 97-106.

[In the following essay, Hannaford discusses the complex dramatic pose of the speaker in Carew's “To A. L. Perswasions to Love.”]

A concern for fashioning the self as a dramatic character or performer may be found in many seventeenth-century poets, and is insistently displayed in the poetry of Thomas Carew. The modes of personation characteristic of Carew's dramatic love lyrics create an assemblage of poetic activity recording the complexities of courtship rites and ceremonious social form in an...

(The entire section is 3810 words.)

Reid Barbour (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Wee, of th’adult’rate mixture not complaine’: Thomas Carew and Poetic Hybridity,” in John Donne Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1988, pp. 91-113.

[In the following essay, Barbour assesses Carew's relationship to the poetic values of the Caroline era.]

This essay explores three related constituents of Thomas Carew's poetry. The first is the poet's uncertainty about the value of what he proclaimed his favorite poetic activity—lyric love poetry. Carew's pronounced ambivalence about this vein emerged from general Renaissance debates about the place of lyric in the literary hierarchy, but it has also influenced the conflicting assessments of his career. He...

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Diana Benet (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Carew's Monarchy of Wit,” in “The Muses Common-Weale”: Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, University of Missouri Press, 1988, pp. 80-91.

[In the following essay, Benet contends that Carew appropriated the absolutist rhetoric of Kings Charles and James in envisioning himself as sole arbiter of aesthetic judgment.]

Nothing seems further from reality than poetic compliments whose extravagance time has exposed as pure friendship. Beyond the poet's affability, however, some of Thomas Carew's poems to or about fellow authors disclose important aspects of his cultural perspective. Reading these...

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Renée Hannaford (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘My Unwashed Muse’: Sexual Play and Sociability in Carew's ‘A Rapture’,” in English Language Notes, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, September, 1989, pp. 32-39.

[In the following essay, Hannaford describes “A Rapture” as “a kind of miniaturized masque” that “reveals tensions in [the] aesthetic, social, and cultural values” of Carew's day.]

For Kings and Lovers are alike in this
That their chief art in reign dissembling is.

—Sir John Suckling

The relationship between art and social life in the earlier seventeenth century is particularly fascinating to a study of Carew's poetry, which has so often been cursorily cited...

(The entire section is 2660 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Holliday, Carl. “Thomas Carew (1598-1639).” In The Cavalier Poets: Their Lives, Their Day, and Their Poetry, pp. 79-88. Plainview, N. Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1911. Reprint 1974.

Describes Carew's life as a gallant, calling him “one of the most successful court poets of his day.”


Altieri, Joanne. “Responses to a Waning Mythology in Carew's Political Poetry.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 26, No. 1 (Winter 1986): 107-24.

Maintains that Carew exploited cultural myths in his poetry in an effort to play down political events considered unfavorable...

(The entire section is 706 words.)