We’ll Build in Sonnets Pretty Rooms: Revisiting Seventeenth-Century English Poetry

Juan de Dios Torralbo Caballero

Abstract


The interdependence between society and literature is an obvious phenomenon, noticeably confirmed in Seventeenth-Century English poetry. This paper highlights the interrelationship between literary art and political factors, beginning with the Petrarchan tradition that fosters the justly famed sonnets and sonnet sequences of the Elizabethan era and after that moving on to the Metaphysical school of John Donne and the Cavalier poets under the aegis of Jonson. Our study then scrutinizes a few samples of religious (Herbert’s), Puritan (Milton’s) or libertine (Rochester’s) poetry as produced by some of its key figures, without leaving aside the valuable verse written by women (Behn, Cavendish) or by those poets noteworthy for blending the landscape with praise for powerful figures and patrons of art (responsible for the well-known country-house poems). Making a start with the metaphysical statement “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms”, by John Donne, this paper aims to present a thorough, albeit condensed, overview of 17th-Century English Poetry, specifying the different approaches and dictions applied by each of the respective schools or groupings. The rise and development of the sonnet is hereby analyzed in the works of Wyatt, Howard, Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert and Milton. In a similar vein, the new universe opened up by the metaphysical idiom allows us to single out the most salient rhetorical features characterizing these poems, such as the conceit, the shocking fusion of the “new science” and philosophy, as well as the overall complexity of style that emanates from these outstanding compositions. The next constellation to be dealt with encompasses those Cavalier poets that wrote brief and “neat” poems that deliberately eschew intellectualism or semantic obscurity. This will lead to an indispensable consideration of religious poetry, a variety that also merits close reading, as there is a significant array of writers who devoted their efforts to devotional introspection, sincere confessionalism and the dissemination of the Christian faith. For the sake of the contrast, we also examine libertine poetry, well surpassing the Cavalier “carpe diem” theme in order to embrace an often cruder morality. Finally, we intend to illustrate the achievement and social triumph, of a sort, of several women writers, to the effect of ending our tour with the poetry that more effectively blends landscape with politics and society (“country-house poems”).

Keywords


Metaphysical Poetry; Court Poets; Devotional Poets; Female Wits; Country-House Poems

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13165/SMS-13-5-4-06

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236