English 6236: Restoration Literature
Assignment: Rochester in Hammond (250-260)
Mistress: A Song,” “Against Constancy,” “Upon his Leaving his Mistress,” “Song:
Absent from Thee,” “Love and Life: A Song,” “A Song of a Young Lady to her
Ancient Lover,” “Song: Love a Woman! You’re an Ass,” “The Fall: A Song,” “The
Imperfect Enjoyment,” “Song: Fair Cloris,” “To A Lady in a Letter,”
Behn: “Love Armed” (Todd 329), “The Disappointment” (Todd 331), “Song” (Todd 342), “To the Fair Clarinda” (Todd 343), “On Desire” (Todd 344)
Other selections in Hammond 233-247: K. Phillips’ “On Rosania’s Apostasy and Lucasia’s Friendship,” “Lucasia, Rosania, and Orinda parting at a Fountain,” “Orinda to Lucasia,” and Dryden’s excerpt from Virgil’s Aeneid, The Death of Nisus and Euraylus.
Annotation on Oroonoko: Chelle Larson
Scholarship Summary: Donna French...Hammond, Paul. "Censorship in the Manuscript Transmission of Restoration Poetry." Essays and Studies 46 (1993): 39-62
Because of the nature of the genre, evolving a focus for discussion within a large group of lyric poems can be difficult. I prefer that the particular interests of the class dictate our choice of what to discuss. Especially in the context of an assignment like this one, where exhaustive coverage of all the individual works is even more impossible than usual, I hope that you will direct the class discussion in terms of your own literary concerns.
John Dennis writes in Grounds of Criticism (1704): "1. The greater poetry is an art by which a poet justly and reasonably excites great passion that he might please and instruct, and comprehends epic, tragic, and the greater lyric poetry. 2. The less poetry is an art by which a poet excites less passion for the forementioned ends, and includes in it comedy and satire, and the little ode, and elegiac and pastoral poems" (105).
Knowing that seventeenth and eighteenth-century writers and readers of poetry were highly conscious of genre and status, how does the status of the genre affect our reading of the literature? To what extent are the aims and ends of the poetry informed by the critical hierarchy of genres? Compare these lyrics with the excerpt from Dryden’s translation for an illustration (the Aeneid being, of course, an epic).
What are the dominant characteristics of the Restoration lyric? How do these poems compare with the political poetry of the first part of the semester?
Drawing on earlier conversations this semester, what similarities or differences exist between the approaches and techniques of satire and panegyric and lyric during the Restoration?
It has become a commonplace to talk about the gradual shift during the Restoration from the rich, ambiguous, essentially connotative language of Shakespeare and Donne to a kind of Royal Society plain style in which words and images limit themselves to precise and denotative meanings. At first sight, Rochester may appear to belong to the new school in most of his poems. Yet behind the deceptively limpid surface lies a complexity of attitude, an air of strain and doubt that links him with the metaphysicals. (Righter 17)
Of "Love Arm'd" by Behn, Judith Kegan Gardiner writes: "the poem succeeds by the standards of cavalier poetry, expressing turbulent erotic passions in elegantly concise and self-contained tetrameter quatrains" (274-5).
What comparisons are you able to draw between Restoration lyric poetry and the lyrics of other periods? Are there significant similarities or differences?
Anne Righter in her essay "John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester" contends "at the time Rochester was writing, English verse was facing a double crisis of language and of subject matter. The problem is most acute in what had been the glory of the preceding age: the poetry of love" (16).
What evidence do you find for this crisis in the love lyrics of Rochester and Behn? Phillips or Dryden?
II. Obscenity and language
Righter argues that "[t]he blatant obscenity of much Restoration love poetry can also be explained, in part if not entirely, as a response to this situation" (i.e. a sense of novelty).
How justified is Righter's explanation for the obscenity in these poems?
Behn's lyrics have been called "soft-porn" by at least one recent critic: are the erotics of Behn's lyrics pornographic? If so, how much more so are Rochester's? What differences do you find between them?
Are you willing to defend the obscenity in some of these poems on any aesthetic grounds? Does poetic skill in service of bawdiness have less worth than craftsmanship in the name of philosophy?
Judith Kegan Gardiner explains that in her time Aphra Behn "was praised primarily as a poet, and she hoped that posterity would place her with "Sappho and Orinda" in a female lineage of poetry and in the ageless pantheon of fame . . . . Her later reputation is almost entirely as a playwright and pioneer novelist, however . . . . Today's feminists prefer her vigorous polemics in behalf of herself and other women to her lyrics on more traditional subjects" (273).
How might we explain the process through which the poet became celebrated for things other than her poetry? Is there merit in studying her poems?
Based on your readings of Philips’ (Orinda’s) poetry, what claim does Behn have as her heir?
Kegan Gardiner identifies the pastoral as a primary setting for Behn's love poetry. What advantages does such a device have for Behn? What setbacks? How does she adapt/undermine or modify the conventions of the pastoral genres?
Barbara Everett identifies irony as an essential aspect of Rochester love lyrics:
To describe his verse as a construct from a world of surfaces implies that it is always close to irony; but the concept of irony can only be used cautiously of Rochester. For since its Socratic origins true irony has always served some polemical purpose -- its 'lies' have always functioned to make clearer some truth. Rochester's poems often have a highly ironic sound, but something like a total lack of any provable intention (or even tone), except possibly the intention of hollowing out the surface they so finely construct. 13
What surfaces do Rochester's poems construct? To what extent does he undermine those surfaces and using what methods? Is there a core of truth these poems reveal?
V. Differences between Men and Women
Susan Staves (A Literary History of Women’s Writing) writes that “Like many male Restoration and early eighteenth-century poets, Behn found imitation of classical poetry a good way to get out from under the problem of Christianity. Pagan Greek and Roman culture had high prestige and could allow a writer at least temporarily to pretend that Christianity and Christian sexual morality had not been invented. Behn’s Disappointment… is ultimately a version of Ovid’s Amores 3:7…. Behn plays with the question of whether phallic power is as real as it usually seems to be or whether culture has invented it” (69).
Evaluate Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" and Behn's "The Disappointment": how do these authors construct the "impotence poem" (a genre of its own in the Restoration)? What similarities and differences are there between them? Are these poems about something other than sex? How do these representations compare with the sex-comedies on stage?
Judith Kegan Gardiner argues that there are fundamental differences in the love lyrics by women and men, and that women like Behn did not have access to the privileged social positions that men like Rochester assumed in his poetry:
Such women did not probe the paradoxes of embodiment in literature because they were always already assumed to be identical with their bodies; they therefore needed instead to explore the overcoming of embodiment. . . . This disparity in the perspectives of male and female writers in the seventeenth century perhaps accounts in the past for male critics' judgment that women's poetry of the period is shallow. Such critics may take the social order for granted and hence underestimate its restrictive powers on women, especially for women who do not respond to these restrictions by seeking social revolution. (286-7)
To what extent is this assessment accurate? Is there evidence in Behn's poetry that the poet seeks to overcome embodiment? Would you agree or disagree with the notion that Rochester's poetry is less shallow? Do the poems by these two writers tell us more about the Restoration poetic conventions or about the differences between male and female views? How might the selections from Philips and Dryden compound or confute those claims?