Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reprobates All! Us Cavaliers Mean What We Say . . .sort of.

Cavalier Poets fought Cromwell's Roundheads Ironsides Army -Guess who won? Answer at the bottom.

I was chatting with a couple of Leo Men about the return to the books. Poetry puts many of the guys off. It will do that.

Poetry is deception. What ain't? The trick is in getting to what matters, but also the consequences of what matters. Poetry is music and as such the words should have a rhyme and a rhythm. Music at one time was part of the mathematics curriculum. Math really got started when guys wanted to build pyramids. Pyramids are tombs for kings.

See? Deceptive.

I told the guys to give the stuff of poetry a chance. By the stuff of poetry, I mean the things you should know. Meter, rhyme, and the rhetoric. It's not brain surgery, nor is it coal mining.

Here's some of the stuff I talked about.

The Author of the poem I mention was Col. Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) an Errol Flynn kind of guy - I had to explain Errol Flynn: think of Han Solo with a better vocabulary.

I keep my Norton Anthology of English Literature near my cluttered desk. It should be the only text book any high school teacher(no pictures and no Teacher cheat sheets) of English uses, but that is me.

The Glossary of Literary terms is superb, as is the historical treatment of each author and age.

First off, Cavalier Poetry is not Rap duets by Antawn Jamison and Tony Parker

The Setting of the poem is a prison cell where Col Lovelace, and other warrior poets who sided with Charles I in his fight with Parliament ( think President Obama against the Congress), found himself awaiting his fate. Lovelace was a well-educated Cavalier (meaning cavalryman - he had a string of horses that he used in battle.) and as such he believed that Charles Stuart as King of England Scotland and Ireland was anointed by God. Follow the King and you follow God. The Cavaliers lost to the Puritans behind Oliver Cromwell and his Round Heads ( they all had short hair).

The Characters are the Speaker, probably Lovelace himself and Althea, a classical name for a hot babe - the Cavaliers used names like Lucasta, Althea, Cinthonia, and such as idealized women. Some historians believe that Althea was a name for Lovelace's girlfriend Lucy Sacheverell.

The Figures of speech in the poem include metaphor ( When Love with unconfine'd wings), anaphora ( bringing back in Greek:

Our careless heads with roses bound
Our hearts with loyal flames
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
When healths and draughts go free—

When I shall voice aloud how good / He is, how great should be

Here, Lovelace presents all of the possibilities that getting free will be.

The whole poem is a paradox the guy in the cell and chains is a free man.

The Theme of poem is a man is free even in prison and the real prison is to found in the love of one woman.

WHEN Love with unconfin'd wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair
And fetter'd to her eye,
The birds that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses crown'd,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
When healths and draughts go free
Fishes that tipple in the deep
Know no such liberty.

When, linnet-like confin'd, I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how great should be,
Enlarg�d winds, that curl the flood,
Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

Like I said it ain't brain surgery, nor heaving coal. It is fun, or it can be.

The fun comes from placing the poem in its proper historical context and that should be the work of the teacher. The Cavaliers were strange dudes* to say the least. Many were serious reprobates and a few were even cowards like Sir John Suckling - they also happen to have goofy names, by and large, that matched their flair for fashion - long perfumed hair, curled and set; lace shirts and long flowing capes and facial hair that seem manicured by lawn specialists.

They were accomplished soldiers and given to drinking their asses off, as well as having their wicked ways with women. They were schooled in poetry and music and dance in order to get noticed by the King and the ladies. They used poetry to advance careers and moves on the women. They had cavalier attitudes - Carpe Diem Seize the Day, Gather Ye Rosebuds & etc. They were more concerned with appearances and the rules that govern appearances in all things.

In the English Civil War, these poets were the King's cavalry. They looked swell and refused to wear armor as it was ungentlemanly. Their tactics were to neatly ride parade in line before the enemy and fire a volley from their pistols.

The Cromwellian Ironsides Army of Roundhead wore breast plated armor and helmets and charged full force into their enemy.

The Cavaliers were slaughtered and Charles I had his head cut off by Cromwell.

The Roundheads won for a short time and there is no Roundhead poetry.

That is a little bit of a reason to consider poetry, when gearing up for Friday Nights under the lights. Go all Cromwell on the football field, but after a good shower and the application of a fine manly scent, read your Althea a poem by John Denham, Robert Herrick, or Col. Lovelace.

Screw Suckling - he hired thugs to do his fighting. True facts.

Here is a great book on Cavalier Poets and this is from a review of that book - Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs
Few stock figures are more easily recognisable than that of the Civil War cavalier. From his broad-brimmed hat with its ostrich-feather plume to the soles of his high-cut leather boots, he presents the image of the silk-suited, dandified man of war: recklessly brave, immorally hedonist and, in his readiness to take up arms for a despotic king, irretrievably – if romantically – “wrong”.

1 comment:

Max Weismann said...

William Wordsworth, in the preface to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, said that “poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility.”