Metaphysical Poetry Essay Research Paper Discuss the

Metaphysical Poetry Essay, Research Paper Discuss the uses of metaphors of colonization in metaphysical poetry and/or Milton. “Movement across or through space becomes a process

Metaphysical Poetry Essay, Research Paper

Discuss the uses of metaphors of colonization in metaphysical poetry

and/or Milton.

“Movement across or through space becomes a process

of colonization of that space.”

During the period of Milton’s Paradise Lost as well as myriad of poets

construction of an epoque submerged in metaphysical literature, a

number of significant events both socio-political, entwined with a

systematic religious metamorphism of the sixteenth and seventeenth

century led to a time of unrest and discovery. The creators and

author’s of work of this periods placed their emphasis not specifically

on a level of morality or self understanding but rather a rediscovery

of the body and soul, almost a form of existensionalism or physical

cosmos with a geography. ‘All things are subject to the Mind… It

measures in one thought the whole circumference of heaven and by the

same line it takes the geography of the earth. The seas, the air, the

fire all things of either, are within the comprehension of the mind.

It has an influence on them all, whence it lakes all that may be

useful, all that may be helpful in government. No limitation is

prescribed to it, no restriction is upon it, but in a free scope it has

a liberty upon all. And in this liberty is the excellence of the mind;

in this power and composition of the mind is perfection of a man… Man

is an absolute master of himself; his own safety, and tranquillity by

God… are made dependent on himself.’1 In this short example of

Puritanism text as it stands, alone contains a number of various

references to the process of colonization, of expanding, perceiving all

geographically and manipulating, making man or perhaps more

specifically the colonisers omniscient and God-like. The crusader

self-reliant and independent with the knowledge that God is his

guardian of safety and tranquillity. In this particular the growing

number of Puritans played a significant role both in the cultivation

and transformation of the Christian religion and foreign territories.

The Puritans themselves comprised of those in the Church of England

unhappy with limitations of the Elizabethan Settlement; some were

Presbyterians, and all were to some extent or other Calvinists (though

not all Calvinists were Puritans). They were a people of scrupulous

moral rigour and favoured plain styles of dress, detesting any form of

luxury or decadence. The name Puritan later became a catch-all label

for the disparate groups who led much of the New World colonization and

won the English Civil Wars. New World colonization began as early as

1480 by English seamen performing spectacular feats of exploration

under Elizabeth I. These seamen made various claims of territorial

annexation in America in an effort to outflank their Spanish rivals

however, all foundations of permanent colonies proved abortive until

the early 17th century. Thereafter, there was steady progress in

acquiring territories in the Caribbean and mainland North America.

Much settlement in the latter had a religious motive, with colonists

seeking to escape the constraints of the English Established Church.

As a result, there was an uneasy relationship between many colonial

administrations and the royal government at home. Further to these

tensions the ‘colonies were split in their allegiances during the civil

wars in Britain, but Charles I derived little useful help from those

who supported his cause. The collapse of James II regime (1688-9)

proved a blow to the efforts of Westminster to encroach on ! self-rule

in North America. The relationship between the centre and the colonies

remained problematic right until the War of American Independence.’2

The metaphysical tradition established during the seventeenth century

can find its foundations in the colonization explorations and the

domestic unrest caused by the civil wars. The combination of the two

contextually, both in spirituality, imagery and definitions of time and

space; have the unique effect of creating a devout religious

protagonist’s perceptions of his environment and its history,

encompassed in as often was the case one work of art, as a testimony to

the period and the Church of England. Frequently such works could be

found in the form of poetry, commonly regarded as the most eloquent and

essential part of the English language as a means of communications,

via its plurality, richness of language and syntax. Poets of the era

harnessed the tools of poetry to the spiritual essence of their

communication create an impact of divine, gospel-like proportions,

which were received and regarded as perhaps the most innovative and

highly appreciated works of poetry! to have arisen.

One such poet was John Milton whose epic work Paradise Lost (written in

1667) was ultimately the last and great Adamite3 work. John Milton

(1608-74), was an English poet, the son of a composer of some

distinction. The preparation for his life’s work included attendance

at St. Paul’s School, Christ’s College and Cambridge for several

years. His reputation as a poet preceded him as addressed to the

conscience of Europe. As fame through his work augmented so with it

did his political career. ‘The theme of Paradise Lost (completed 1665,

published 1667) had been in Milton’s mind since 1641. It was to be a

sacred drama then; but when in 1658 his official duties were lightened

so as to allow him to write, he chose the epic form. The first three

books reflect the triumph of the godly–so soon to be reversed; the

last books, written in 1663, are tinged with despair. God’s kingdom is

not of this world. Man’s intractable nature frustrates the planning of

the wise. The hetero! dox theology of the poem which is made clear in

his late De Doctrina Christiana did not trouble Protestant readers till

modern critics examined it with hostile intent.’4 Part of the poem’s

greatness, apart from its length, is a function of the visual immediacy

with which Milton realizes the imagined scenes. Milton has been

criticized for glossing over certain contemporary developments in

scientific and intellectual thought (the astronomical ambiguities in

book VII, for example), eg

‘…. What if the sun

Be centre to the world , and other stars

By his attractive virtue and their own

Incited, dance about him various rounds?5

Their wander course now high, now low, then still

Progressive, retrograde, or standing still,

In sixth thou seest, and what if seventh to these

The planet earth, so steadfast though she seem,

Insensibly three different motions move?6

Which else to several spheres thou must ascribe,7

The poem’s realism is that of a myth, and its credibility dependent on

the outlines of Christian belief, rather than specific historical

details. The entire concern or major theme of Paradise Lost is to

confute predestination and demonstrate the freedom of will. However

Satan is portrayed as an almost romantic, recognizable character with

whom we share every twist and turn his thinking takes throughout his

physical and mental journey. Satan can easily be perceived as the bold

intrepid colonist, not lacking the courage of his convictions, be it at

the expense of being exiled from the vaults of heaven. With the

strength of classical precedents, Milton’s cosmology refracts a

seemingly incomprehensible geography of fantastic proportions,

utilising allusive language to describe the indescribable.

Nevertheless this did not deter some illustrators attempting to

recapture the imagery of Militon’s Cosmos.

Satan’s fall from grace to a desolate place of fathomless voids, yet

unpopulated, turns Satan’s disgrace into a voyage before a quest with a

mission, not unlike that of the colonisers. In Book I the voyage of

these unchartered and as yet inanimate destinations began when Satan

and his host are:

Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In Admantine chains and penal Fire.

For nine days they fall through Chaos till:

Hell at last

Yawning receiv’d them whole, and on them clos’d,

Hell their fit habitation fraught with fire

Unquenchable, the house of woe and pain.

They splash down into a burning lake, and, looking around, discover

themselves much changed from their original angelic form, similarly

their surroundings are:

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, where hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end

>From which they make their way to land:

… yon dreary Plain, forlorn and wild,

The seat of desolation, void of light,

Save what the glimmering of these livid flames

Casts pale and dreadful.

Nonetheless, like a colonizer in a one of the worst far flung corners

of the globe, claiming whatever he passes as his own, Satan makes the

best of his circumstances:

Farewell happy Fields

Where Joy for ever dwells; Hail horrors, hail

Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell

receive thy new Possessor

Meanwhile the demons begin work creating a splendiforous palace,

Pandemonium, perhaps the most palatial structure in Hell’s history to

match that of heaven. Satan’s acceptance of his situation, is

analogous to a determined settler determined to cultivate his

surroundings as his own before expanding further afield.

Later the demons swarm to the council to decide on an acceptable plan

of action. Amidst the demons and second in rank is Envy; he tells of

“another World, the happy seat / Of some new Race cal’d Man,” and

suggests that they subvert it “and drive as we were drive,/ The puny

habitants; or, if not drive/ Seduce them to our Party.” This is

perhaps the most substantive and overbearing allusion to colonisation

of the New World, meant literally in this context. The eager demons

might well be a metaphorical representation of the religious convoys

who were frequently sent ahead with the intent of settling and were

hell bent on converting the original inhabitants of the land into

their own kind, to adopt them into their religion, their community, so

that by manipulating and corrupting them they could seize advantage of

their innocence by blatantly encroaching on their land and property,

with minimal opposition.

Another part adventure to discover wide

That dismal World, if any Clime perhaps

Might yield them easier habitation

Satan’s heroic-like journey continues through treacherous conditions,

having to pass inhospitable terrain and fauna, before reaching “thrice

threefold” gates of Hell, three of brass, three of iron, and three of

adamantine rock, guarded by Sin and Death. On managing to escape

Milton’s world of Hell he eventually reaches earth where subtly tempts

Eve with the forbidden fruit of knowledge until Eve concedes and eats

leading to their loss of paradise. An analogy could be drawn here

between Satan and the colonisers of the period enduring a tiresome

journey and then tempting the inhabitants (Adam and Eve) with the

prospect of wealth through trade; and on acceptance, thus marking their

own loss and transgression into a state of perpetual inferiority

thereafter in respect of the colonisers. Adam and Eve the original

settlers are beguiled by Satan’s corruptness through their own innocent

naivity. In respect of Paradise Lost and the theme of colonisation we

can the course marked by Satan via his journey (see diagram) is

regarded as his geography, despite having finally accomplished his

course of action.

Further on in books V-VII we have elaborate description of the

landscape of Paradise, which is used the manifesto of colonialism

through religious dynamics and instability. The schematics of

geography and the final mappings that became increasingly important, in

so far as territories, progression of colonization and like, even God

himself charters the stars in a calculated Genesis

He took the golden compasses, prepared

In God’s eternal store, to circumscibe

This universe, an all created things:

One foot he centred, and the other turned

Round through the vast profundity obscure,

And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds

This by thy just circumference8

Milton himself somewhat of a nationalist puritan poet in response to

the issue of reformation, firm in the belief that the English were

God’s chosen people addressed parliament asking:

Why else was this Nation chos’n before any other, that out of her as

out of Sion should be proclam’d and sounded forth the first tidings and

trumpet of Reformation of all Europ. And had it not bin the obstinat

perversnes of our Prelats against the divine and admirable spirit of

the Wicklef, to suppresse him as a scismatic an innovator… the glory

of reforming all our neighbours had bin compleatly ours.9

Similarly if not more so the concepts of colonialism, the systematic

functions of identifying, locating and securing are no better

displayed, conveyed or apparent than in writings of the metaphysical

poets.

Man is all symmetrie,

Full of proportions, one limbe to another,

And all to all the world besides:

Each part may call the furthest, brother:

For head with for hath private amitie,

And bothe with moons and tides.10

In this brief extract taken from George Herberts poem Man we can see

the extent to which this evangelical poem – using maps and geometry to

define the protestant server and his maker. A new method of language

and metaphors had become available and poets did not hasten to

incorporate as many different styles as possible to create an identity,

using the terminology associated to science, in order to define. A

place for everything and everything in its place, reaching the

conclusion that God is omnipresent, after having used language to

process His location. Likewise John Donne an acclaimed poet of his

period, and as Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral was a seemingly

inexhaustible source of spirituality with which to ordain his poems.

Licence my roving hands, and let them go

Behind, before, above, between, below

Oh my America, my new found lande,

My kingdome, safeliest when with on man man’d

My myne precious stones my Empiree

How blest I am this discovering thee11

In this his poem named, Elegie: To His Mistress Going to Bed the

allusions to colonialism are by no means marginalised. Donne paints a

scene of a woman undressing, in which his description has the duality

of de-sexualising, whilst sexualising. The emphasis and attention paid

on material objects such as the garments are for all intents and

purposes dehumanising. The description of clothes are paralleled to

the colonial, metaphysical conceits discovery and of ownership, whilst

mapping. Ostensibly what Donne endeavours to do is colonise the body

of the woman. Although considerable language and detail is spent in

describing the layers of clothing the purpose of which to emphasise the

letting go of material objects. The infinite quest of the spiritualist

could be that longing for the return to innocence, of spirituality and

spiritual embodiment can only be achieved when irrelevant and

extravagant thoughts of materialism and clothes are disregarded. Once

the woman is void of! all external graces and is the way nature

intended, only then does the journey of exploration commence, to

discover the essence of human nature, the spiritual manifestation of

passion merely acting as a catalyst in the celebration of sexuality.

The theme of a quest, searching, mapping territory or bodies, geography

of mind, body and soul, unrest and all that is external is apparent in

a large proportion of what was written in the seventeen century,

religious unsettlement serving only to fuel, scepticism or convictions

further. The majority of metaphysical poems have similar themes and

imagery, often set in room, study or office, any private enclosure

reminiscent of a confession booth. Writing poetry in the form of a

confessional is used as a moment of introspection. The new awareness

of questions rising with new religious identities of new churches

necessitated these occasions of profound reverence and occasional

enlightenment, in a journey through their own spirituality. Poetry

was writing for private readership, a confessional in the form of a

diary, debating with themselves and God. The status of body, that of

men and women, the relationship between themselves with one another,

and God were all predominati! ng factors in their writing. Poetry was

written private realms for a private readership with no public address.

A parody may even be draw between Milton circumstances and his vision

of Satan, during on of his profound moments of reflection:

Me miserable! which was shall I fly

Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;12

I may be useful to think of Satan in the light of ‘likening spiritual

to corporal forms’, partly as representative of the public world of

politics and rebellion, and his presentation as an exploration of the

ambitions and failures, the egotism and despair, that public life

offers. In this his role is therefore complemented in the poem by the

private, domestic world of Adam and Eve, in whose interpersonal

relations are enacted the possibilities and problems of freedom and

self-restraint. In metaphysical poetry the body was seen as a secular

vessel, embodied with a spiritual love of the world, attached to a

humanist concept that pre mined to embody God within the

body of man. Colonialism expanse across the America’s induced imagery

through language; exploring, discovery, conquering, divine protection,

geometry, geography, astronomy, navigation and science were the

foundations on which metaphysical poetry evidently propelled itself to

growing popularity at a time of general social, political and religious

unrest. The Sunne Rising also created by Donne was slightly more

satirical, yet maintaining that man was ultimately the ruler of his own

world, and God being embodied in wherever he be therein. The sun is

employed as a metaphysical conceit, with man being able to block it

and the other element with a single wink.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong

Why shouldst thou think?

I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,13

With reference of imperial history he no longer needs to explore to

India, for it is already traced and recorded on a map before him. His

self-elevation and lack of humanity are comparable to that of Milton’s

Satan. Around the same period other works of post-colonial art were be

developed, no doubt heavily influenced by contemporary issues. One

such example is Shakespeare’s final work and tragi-comedy The Tempest

(1611), interposed and concerned with the theme of the elevation of one

myth above another, recurrent impact of colonialism, morality and the

loss of innocence. Shakespeare’s unique style of writing is as a

direct result of a plethora of influences, one of which was

‘Montaigne’s essay Of Cannibals which discussed the value and the way

of life of societies which had not been affected by civilisation of a

European type. In addition to this essay a pamphlet circulate called

The Discovery of the Bermudas , otherwise called the Isle of Divels,

may have played a crucial role. This pamphlet described the bold

adventures of a religious group of colonist travelling in a convoy of

ships from London to Virginia. However during the voyage, the flagship

was separated from the remainder! of the convoy in a storm. The

maverick ship inadvertently blew towards Bermuda before being tossed

onto some rocks. The colonists lived on the islands until they had

built boats in which to continue their voyage. The story of their

almost miraculous survival aroused considerable interest in England and

echoes of their adventure can be found in The Tempest. With little

regard of the more elaborate themes images the tale is one of a landing

on a island, a veritable paradise, already inhabited by Caliban (often

spelt ‘canibal’ by Elizabethans by transposing the letters ‘n’ and ‘l’)

a wild, deformed uncivilised beast (representative of native settlers),

who is quickly manipulated, overthrown and enslaved by Prospero (King

of Milan). Caliban and his environment are parallelled to those of the

Garden of Eden and Caliban himself is elemental. As the story

progresses and the tyrannical relationship between the two continually

increasing, Caliban’s intellect is worthy of argument against Prospero

for having denied him his birthright. Prospero’s aim of teaching

Caliban was to increase his indisputable control over him, by

subverting him into an incomplete and image of his master, defective of

all other attributes ie of magic. Caliban, similar to every colonised

people before him adapted his adopted culture and power of speech

inflic! ted upon him as a weapon to communicate his own indignation

and animosity towards his oppressor. And despite being frequently

referred to as a crude savage, disfigured, and evil Caliban exemplifies

a better set of values than most of the ‘civilised’ characters in the

play. This image derives from speculation regarding the popular

English belief that uncivilised pagans were below their civilised

counterparts in the hierarchy which had God at its apex and inanimate

nature at it base. However a few individuals were beginning to

question this assumption and ‘there is evidence in the play that

Shakespeare believed that the corruption in a civilised man was more

abhorrent than any natural albeit uncivilised behaviour.’14 At a time

when many books and sermons, effected a characteristic Renaissance

union between moral and political implications, and concerned

themselves with the task of persuading the public that exploration was

an honourable and indeed a sanctified activity and Drake was compared

to Moses, combining voyaging and mystagogy a practical justification

of “the lawfulnesse of Discovering”. It was a somewhat sophistical

argument by Purchas, in favour of the propriety of usurping the

rights of native populations, and an insistence, half-mystagogic,

half-propagandist, on the temperate, fruitful nature of the New World,

and the unspoilt purity of its inhabitants. ‘The True Declaration

defends colonizing, on the ground that it diffuses the true religion

and has authority from Solomon’s trade to Ophir (whether it lay in the

East or, as Columbus thought15 in the West Indies). There is room for

all; and in any case the natives cannot be regarded as civilized

people.’16 The revelations of The Tempest of watching Caliban suffer at

the hands of Prospero affords interesting material for examination.

Caliban endures his abuse and insistent that he has deprived him of

what is rightfully his, and this perhaps may have been Shakespeare’s

way of confronting his contemporary pro-colonising audience with the

problems of ownership of newly discovered lands.

32c