British Renaissance Poets (Critical Survey of Poetry) by Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman

By Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman

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Obviously the range of childhood poems in the seventeenth century is very narrow, even if Traherne’s mystical poems “Shadows in the Water,” “Innocence,” and others are included. Even so, that children figure in poetry at all is an indication that Jonson’s disciples do not consider commonplace subjects beneath their notice. As might be expected of admirers of Horace and Martial, Jonsonians favored short lines and short stanzas, though without the intricacy and irregularity often seen in Metaphysical lyrics.

Compared with the first sixty years of the century, the Restoration seems a prosaic age. A considerable number of its most accomplished writers—John Bunyan, the diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Sir William Temple, John Locke—wrote no poetry worth preserving, and Dryden himself wrote a large proportion of prose. Does the preponderance of prose and satire confirm Eliot’s early charge that a “dissociation of sensibility” had set in by the time of the Restoration? Is it true that writers no longer could fuse thought and feeling, with the consequence that prose was used for conveying truth and poetry for the setting forth of delightful lies?

When satire began to invade prose, as it increasingly did in the eighteenth century, its narrative possibilities increased, but it lost subtle effects of rhythm, timing, and rhyme. Compared with the first sixty years of the century, the Restoration seems a prosaic age. A considerable number of its most accomplished writers—John Bunyan, the diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Sir William Temple, John Locke—wrote no poetry worth preserving, and Dryden himself wrote a large proportion of prose.

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