The phoenix prefers to die in her fragrant bosom and by a complicated math, rise from its (own) ashes

“A song” by Thomas Carew

Ask me no more where Jove bestows,
When June is past, the fading rose;
For in your beauty’s orient deep
These flowers, as in their causes, sleep.

Ask me no more whither doth stray
The golden atoms of the day;
For in pure love heaven did prepare
Those powders to enrich your hair.

Ask me no more whither doth haste
The nightingale, when May is past;
For in your sweet, dividing throat
She winters, and keeps warm her note.

Ask me no more where those stars light,
That downwards fall in dead of night;
For in your eyes they sit, and there
Fixed become, as in their sphere.

Ask me no more if east or west
The phoenix builds her spicy nest;
For unto you at last she flies,
And in your fragrant bosom dies.

Thomas Carew of the Elizabethan times had little better to do than indulging in fantastic hyperbole for his favorite mistress because that was how it was then and that was what one was expected to do in those times.None of the complexity of a post-modern poet indulging in difficult imagery .It is with this frame of mind I approached the poetry of Carew but once in a while you do find some interesting uses of imagery.

For instance I find this interesting image of the golden atoms of the day,which were powder prepared to enrich her hair. The visual beauty of the image comes home if you imagine the beloved sitting with her tresses against the setting sun,a gentle breeze lifting her hair against a soft sunlight. Powder is a nice image drawn from alchemy ,so popular in those times , the science for transmuting baser metals into gold. No doubt Carew indulges in hyperbole but there is a method in all this.

The other “science” image that has captured my fancy is the falling stars. The stars are falling at the dead of the night because they are out of their sphere.But now that they have fallen they are rehabilitated in her eyes and become as fixed there as they have been in the stellar world.

The phoenix ,the legendary bird ,has to rise from its ashes and what better place to die for this than her bosom! A common image of those times but with an interesting twist, a sensual one at that ! Her bosom is so warm that the bird can easily die by its fire only to rise from its ashes again! Complicated math indeed!

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“A valediction forbidding mourning” by John Donne

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Truly metaphysical is this poem of Donne where he proposes complete abolition of the physical. So let us melt and make no noise.,he says, The melting goes on in the subsequent stanza where their souls expand together like gold “to airy thinness beat” .When virtuous souls pass mildly away ,they merely whisper to their souls to go away.No noise please. No tear-floods nor sigh-tempests.Remember the metaphysical souls are not leaving the bodies for good. Nobody is dying. It is just a separation of their bodies by physical distance.

Metaphysical poems have their images drawn from sciences. An earthquake is fearsome but the parting of their selves is like the music of the spheres which is ever so gentle and makes absolutely no noise..But hold.We are not going to tell you the laity of our love. Suffice it to say that our souls are one.But if they are two they are like the feet of a compass.She is the fixed foot who remains at the center but leans towards which ever point he the second foot traces on the circle..Another scientific image.

Doesn’t it strike one that the old man Donne is actually pulling our legs? A quiet debunking of the love poetry genre of the day seems to be going on all the time.When he uses hyperbole, I see a glint in his eyes as he adjusts his eye-glasses and pulls the folds of his heavy clerical cloak ! We are the laity and who are we to share his confidences about his love life?

“Batter my heart “By John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The poet is asking the Holy Trinity to save him from the clutches of Satan. The evil influence of Satan is so much that violence has to be exercised by God to get his heart out of it. Hence the use of the harsh words like “batter”, “knock”,“overthrow”, ”bend your force” ,”break” ,”burn”, ”imprison” ,”ravish” etc.

The image I like is the poet’s comparing himself to a “usurped town” and while reason, God’s vice- roy should defend him it is unable to do so because it is captived.

The poet goes on to another image, this time he calls himself wrongfully bethrothed to Satan, God’s enemy and it is for God to forcefully extricate him by “imprisoning” him, ravishing him and making him “chaste”. It is God’s ravishing that makes him chaste and God’s imprisoning that makes him free.