Thomas Stanley, classical scholar, philosopher, translator, seems to me one of the happiest of recent recoveries, elegant, graceful, felicitous, and if at times a little flat and colourless, not always flat like the Catholic puritan William Habington.
Catholic poets, on the other hand, like Robert Southwell, learned from the Italians to write on religious themes in the antithetic, 'conceited', 'passionating' style of the love poets of the day. Donne plays with rhythmical effects as with conceits and words and often in much the same way.
Read and enjoy as many as you have time for. And the divine poets express with the same blend of argument and imagination the deep and complex currents of religious feeling which were flowing in England throughout the century, institutional, theological, mystical, while in the metaphysical subtleties of conceit they found something that is more than conceit, symbols in which to express or adumbrate their apprehensions of the infinite.
Modern love poetry has too often sacrificed both to sentiment. For Donne's technique—his phrasing and conceits, the metaphysics of mediaeval Christianity, his packed verse with its bold, irregular fingering and echoing vowel sounds—remains what it had been from the outset.
The 'metaphysicals' of the seventeenth century combined two things, both soon to pass away, the fantastic dialectics of mediaeval love poetry and the 'simple, sensuous' strain which they caught from the classics—soul and body lightly yoked and glad to run and soar together in the winged chariot of Pegasus.
Poetry is always a balance, sometimes a compromise, between what has to be said and the prescribed pattern to which the saying of it is adjusted.
Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. There was also a celebration of the monarchy of Charles I among the cavalier poets.
The echoing sounds in lines such as these cannot be quite casual: O might those sighs and tears return again Into my breast and eyes, which I have spent, That I might in this holy discontent Mourn with some fruit, as I have mourned in vain; In mine Idolat'ry what showers of rain Mine eyes did waste?
What subjects did they avoid? Set a poem by George Herbert beside Gray at his best, e. He destroyed his secular verse Done did not.