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Poetry > Thomas Carew's "A Rapture"

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message 1: by Bill (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments Thomas Carew


I WILL enjoy thee now, my Celia, come,
And fly with me to Love's Elysium.
The giant, Honour, that keeps cowards out,
Is but a masquer, and the servile rout
Of baser subjects only bend in vain 5
To the vast idol ; whilst the nobler train
Of valiant lovers daily sail between
The huge Colossus' legs, and pass unseen
Unto the blissful shore. Be bold and wise,
And we shall enter : the grim Swiss denies 10
Only to tame fools a passage, that not know
He is but form and only frights in show
The duller eyes that look from far ; draw near
And thou shalt scorn what we were wont to fear.
We shall see how the stalking pageant goes 15
With borrow'd legs, a heavy load to those
That made and bear him ; nor, as we once thought,
The seed of gods, but a weak model wrought
By greedy men, that seek to enclose the common,
And within private arms empale free woman. 20
Come, then, and mounted on the wings of Love
We'll cut the flitting air and soar above
The monster's head, and in the noblest seats
Of those blest shades quench and renew our heats.
There shall the queens of love and innocence, 25
Beauty and Nature, banish all offence
From our close ivy-twines ; there I'll behold
Thy bared snow and thy unbraided gold ;
There my enfranchised hand on every side
Shall o'er thy naked polish'd ivory slide. 30
No curtain there, though of transparent lawn,
Shall be before thy virgin-treasure drawn ;
But the rich mine, to the enquiring eye
Exposed, shall ready still for mintage lie,
And we will coin young Cupids. There a bed 35
Of roses and fresh myrtles shall be spread,
Under the cooler shade of cypress groves ;
Our pillows of the down of Venus' doves,
Whereon our panting limbs we'll gently lay,
In the faint respites of our active play : 40
That so our slumbers may in dreams have leisure
To tell the nimble fancy our past pleasure,
And so our souls, that cannot be embraced,
Shall the embraces of our bodies taste.
Meanwhile the bubbling stream shall court the shore, 45
Th' enamour'd chirping wood-choir shall adore
In varied tunes the deity of love ;
The gentle blasts of western winds shall move
The trembling leaves, and through their close boughs breathe
Still music, whilst we rest ourselves beneath 50
Their dancing shade ; till a soft murmur, sent
From souls entranced in amorous languishment,
Rouse us, and shoot into our veins fresh fire,
Till we in their sweet ecstasy expire.
Then, as the empty bee that lately bore 55
Into the common treasure all her store,
Flies 'bout the painted field with nimble wing,
Deflow'ring the fresh virgins of the spring,
So will I rifle all the sweets that dwell
In my delicious paradise, and swell 60
My bag with honey, drawn forth by the power
Of fervent kisses from each spicy flower.
I'll seize the rose-buds in their perfumed bed,
The violet knots, like curious mazes spread
O'er all the garden, taste the ripen'd cherry, 65
The warm firm apple, tipp'd with coral berry :
Then will I visit with a wand'ring kiss
The vale of lilies and the bower of bliss ;
And where the beauteous region both divide
Into two milky ways, my lips shall slide 70
Down those smooth alleys, wearing as they go
A tract for lovers on the printed snow ;
Thence climbing o'er the swelling Apennine,
Retire into thy grove of eglantine,
Where I will all those ravish'd sweets distil 75
Through Love's alembic, and with chemic skill
From the mix'd mass one sovereign balm derive,
Then bring that great elixir to thy hive.
Now in more subtle wreaths I will entwine
My sinewy thighs, my legs and arms with thine ; 80
Thou like a sea of milk shalt lie display'd,
Whilst I the smooth calm ocean invade
With such a tempest, as when Jove of old
Fell down on Danaë in a storm of gold ;
Yet my tall pine shall in the Cyprian strait 85
Ride safe at anchor and unlade her freight :
My rudder with thy bold hand, like a tried
And skilful pilot, thou shalt steer, and guide
My bark into love's channel, where it shall
Dance, as the bounding waves do rise or fall. 90
Then shall thy circling arms embrace and clip
My willing body, and thy balmy lip
Bathe me in juice of kisses, whose perfume
Like a religious incense shall consume,
And send up holy vapours to those powers 95
That bless our loves and crown our sportful hours,
That with such halcyon calmness fix our souls
In steadfast peace, as no affright controls.
There, no rude sounds shake us with sudden starts ;
No jealous ears, when we unrip our hearts, 100
Suck our discourse in ; no observing spies
This blush, that glance traduce ; no envious eyes
Watch our close meetings ; nor are we betray'd
To rivals by the bribed chambermaid.
No wedlock bonds unwreathe our twisted loves, 105
We seek no midnight arbour, no dark groves
To hide our kisses : there, the hated name
Of husband, wife, lust, modest, chaste or shame,
Are vain and empty words, whose very sound
Was never heard in the Elysian ground. 110
All things are lawful there, that may delight
Nature or unrestrained appetite ;
Like and enjoy, to will and act is one :
We only sin when Love's rites are not done.
The Roman Lucrece there reads the divine 115
Lectures of love's great master, Aretine,
And knows as well as Lais how to move
Her pliant body in the act of love ;
To quench the burning ravisher she hurls
Her limbs into a thousand winding curls, 120
And studies artful postures, such as be
Carved on the bark of every neighbouring tree
By learned hands, that so adorn'd the rind
Of those fair plants, which, as they lay entwined,
Have fann'd their glowing fires. The Grecian dame, 125
That in her endless web toil'd for a name
As fruitless as her work, doth there display
Herself before the youth of Ithaca,
And th' amorous sport of gamesome nights prefer
Before dull dreams of the lost traveller. 130
Daphne hath broke her bark, and that swift foot
Which th' angry gods had fasten'd with a root
To the fix'd earth, doth now unfetter'd run
To meet th' embraces of the youthful Sun.
She hangs upon him like his Delphic lyre ; 135
Her kisses blow the old, and breathe new fire ;
Full of her god, she sings inspired lays,
Sweet odes of love, such as deserve the bays,
Which she herself was. Next her, Laura lies
In Petrarch's learned arms, drying those eyes 140
That did in such sweet smooth-paced numbers flow,
As made the world enamour'd of his woe.
These, and ten thousand beauties more, that died
Slave to the tyrant, now enlarged deride
His cancell'd laws, and for their time mis-spent 145
Pay into Love's exchequer double rent.
Come then, my Celia, we'll no more forbear
To taste our joys, struck with a panic fear,
But will depose from his imperious sway
This proud usurper, and walk as free as they, 150
With necks unyoked ; nor is it just that he
Should fetter your soft sex with chastity,
Whom Nature made unapt for abstinence ;
When yet this false impostor can dispense
With human justice and with sacred right, 155
And, maugre both their laws, command me fight
With rivals or with emulous loves that dare
Equal with thine their mistress' eyes or hair.
If thou complain of wrong, and call my sword
To carve out thy revenge, upon that word 160
He bids me fight and kill ; or else he brands
With marks of infamy my coward hands.
And yet religion bids from blood-shed fly,
And damns me for that act. Then tell me why
This goblin Honour, which the world adores, 165
Should make men atheists, and not women whores?

message 2: by Bill (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments I'm interested to see what you make of this, particularly you Candy, since you are so good at sensing the ambiguity of images. Right now I'll just remark that the more I read it, the more subversive it seems!

message 3: by Candy (new)

Candy | 338 comments Bill what a treat to see you have posted a poem here...I've been reading it only since yesterday but I am writing notes...I'll be back!

Soon I promise!,,

message 4: by Candy (new)

Candy | 338 comments I've been through the poem a fair bits with a highlighter pen and all that jazz. Still forming impressions and ideas.

The woman in the poem is Celia... Which means heaven. So as usual I am finding the poem a good metaphor for celestial things.

The idea of honor being an entity is interesting... And called out as a player/actor/device/masquer....

I believe these sorts of concepts like honor are useful tools within cultures... And the poem has such Man anthropological approach to go our as I do. I believe honor regarding sexuality is a form of birth control and by extension an economic tool for budget-making..

So I'm looking at this for the struggle between taboos... Who benefits from taboos especially sexual rules...

The section (not) the seed of gods but a weak model wrought by greedy men that seek to enclose the common (and within the private arms of free women). Who benefits from practicing honor in careers society?

Then I am wondering... Who is the grim Swoss? Is it some sort of jab about Christian reformation? Is Carew a liberal Christian? Is he catholic? Perhaps modern and tolerant ala 17th century?

Is Celia also to be considered a poem to heaven... About spiritual rapture hidden in lustful poetry? Is the real transgression of the poem the true structure of the universe, the sun and planets? Is the joking about rules really about the planets moving but not touching?

message 5: by Martin (last edited Sep 24, 2013 08:30AM) (new)

Martin | 121 comments Sorry, Bill and Candy, to have been absent for so long, but many life issues intervened.

I'm not sure this quite a metaphysical poem, but anyway ...

I think the reference to Pietro Aretino is central. Why was he always called "Aretine" at that time? So in The Alchemist,

I will have all my beds blown up, not stuft;
Down is too hard: and then, mine oval room
Fill’d with such pictures as Tiberius took
From Elephantis, and dull Aretine
But coldly imitated. Then, my glasses
Cut in more subtle angles, to disperse
And multiply the figures, as I walk
Naked between my succubae ...

In Carew's poem, Lucrece, model of Roman honour, is seduced into sexual excess simply by reading "love's great master, Aretine". But of course Carew's own poem might be trying to achieve the same effect. It is the promise of pornography, that women get turned on by reading about women getting turned on. More exactly here, women may get turned on by reading about women who get turned on by reading the stories you find in Aretino.

Aretino, as I understand it, was seen as not just an improper writer, but as a subversive one. There's quite a lot of subversion in Carew's poem it seems to me. As Candy notes, honour may be a taboo that is useful to the property owning classes (woman as property).

The poem gives us two types of honour. Honour for the woman is avoiding seduction. Honour for the man is avenging the seduction of a woman who is in his possession, by fighting a duel, or worse. The accusation of cowardice in not taking revenge is loss of honour. Now the idea that this is un-Christian is very interesting. The woman should put her trust in the impulses of Nature, man should avoid bloodshed. As it is, men become atheists, since they reject th Christian message, women fail to become whores, as their Nature prompts (hence the last line of the poem.)

Now there is some slight evidence that in the early church there was a lot of "free love" going on. Christians were regularly accused of immoral practices, and 1 Corinthians 5 gives an example of it happening. In Luke 7:47 Jesus says of the prostitute, "her sins are forgiven ... for she hath loved much." This is startlingly different from the way prostitution is seen today. We see promiscuity as hazardous, since it leads to disease and unwanted pregnancy, but there were no sexually transmitted diseases in the ancient world, and pregnancy would clearly seem less important when it was thought that Christ would, some time soon, return and create a kingdom of heaven.


The grim Swiss: could that mean the Pope's Swiss guard? Fearsome in appearance but actually merely ceremonial?

message 6: by Martin (new)

Martin | 121 comments The famous image of Pietro Aretino holding the skin of Michaelangelo (a recognisable self-portrait despite the lack of body), from his Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel:

message 7: by Bill (last edited Sep 24, 2013 09:43AM) (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments I think Martin is right about the Swiss Guard. The French King had his own troop of Swiss Guards about this time too, and this may have influenced Carew.

I'd argue Carew is a metaphysical. His subject, like the other Cavalier poets, is often physical love and seduction, but his elaborate paradoxes and metaphors (just look at that extended metaphor of the lover as bee in lines 55 to 78!) is far beyond the elegant, simple diction of Herrick, Suckling and Lovelace.

I'd argue, too, he has a more serious philosophic purpose--even though the poem is of course clearly a poem of seduction, as Martin says. Carew is saying that the lovers who disdain honor in both its forms, pay no mind to marriage, and reject such polarizing categories as "lust" and "chastity" as worthless social constructs can, through the physical expression of their sexuality, live in an ideal world, an Elysian field where even Lucrece can read Aretine with pleasure, and willingly and artfully gives herself to her rapist (presumably having learned a few new sexual postures from Aretino), Penelope joyfully couples with her suitors during her husband's absence, Daphne gives herself freely to Apollo, and Laura to Petrarch.

Now THAT'S a subversive vision of sexuality, as extreme as Wilhelm Reich or any of the "free love" communes of the late '60's!

One little thing I really liked: Carew says that Daphne by willingly accepting the love of Apollo, deserved to be honored as a poet herself by receiving a wreath of the tree that she was transformed into:

"Full of her god, she sings inspired lays,
Sweet odes of love, such as deserve the bays,
Which she herself was."

No tell me ... is that metaphysical, or what?

(Oh, if anybody can explain to me what is happening with all the twisted up trees in the Lucrece passage, let me know. I sort of got twisted up in the forest, losing myself--and meaning and syntax as well.)

message 8: by Martin (new)

Martin | 121 comments Okay, I'll buy into this being a genuine meta-poem.

I took the tree bark carvings to be another reversal of the normal. Traditionally, pastoral lovers write poems or carve initials into the bark of trees, usually to remember a rejected love. Here, erotic images are carved, which excite the lovers. "as they lay entwined" would then refer to Lucrece and her "burning ravisher", not to the trees themselves. But could you cut an effective image into tree bark?

message 9: by Bill (last edited Sep 25, 2013 05:46AM) (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments Thanks, Martin. It was the "entwined" that confused me. At first I thought it referred to trees, not lovers.

Re-reading the Daphne passage, I realize it was even better than I thought at first. In Carew's erotic Elysium, Daphne breaks through the laurel bark where her chastity has confined her, runs swiftly with unrooted foot to the amorous embrace of her God, which in turn inspires a song from her that merits a wreath from the very tree into which she she was once was transformed. Cool! Ovid would have liked that!

message 10: by Martin (new)

Martin | 121 comments Yes, I've often thought that the Apollo/Daphne myth has an interpretation which is about poetry writing: Apollo pursues Daphne, but loses her; Daphne changes into the tree whose leaves are used to crown poets. In other words a poet loses the thing he loves, but the experience can be used to create poetry. It is especially appropriate for Carew to extend the myth in this way.

The four women, Lucrece, Penelope, Laura and Daphne come from every age and type of source and make a striking mixture, but I suppose they can be seen as standing for Shakespeare, Homer, Petrarch and Ovid, and so for the poetry of English, Greek, Italian and Latin -- the essential languages of the cultured English of the 17th century.

The richness and variety of imagery in the long "love making" section, lines 21 to 98, is wonderfully done in that it does not seem overdone, despite the piling up of cherries, corals, eglantine, seas of milk, ivory, elixirs and bags of honey!

message 11: by Candy (last edited Sep 27, 2013 06:50PM) (new)

Candy | 338 comments Ah the trees... I think the trees,use be the kind that the bark is so thick and deep it appears figurative I will try to find an image....white pine, red maple and cedar have bark that is ridged and could supply an active imagination to see figures in the bark....

message 12: by Martin (new)

Martin | 121 comments Sidenote: according to wikipedia "Carew" is/was pronounced "Carey", but the beginning of all wisdom, I believe, is to distrust wikipedia. The surname Carew is clearly pronounced as spelt here,

Who struts the Randall of the walk?
Who models tiny heads in chalk?
Who scoops the light canoe?
What early genius buds apace?
Where's Poynter? Harris? Bowers? Chase?
Hal Baylis? blithe Carew?

(Thomas Hood)

message 13: by Candy (new)

Candy | 338 comments I was taught that the depicted Michelangelo "skin" -was a priest type...probably a cardinal or pope...who was "waring and tripping up the chapel ceiling process {?}...!


message 14: by Martin (new)

Martin | 121 comments But in wikipedia it says ....

Just kidding there!

I've got this book, Ludwig Goldscheider, "Michelangelo, Paintings, Sculptures, Architecture", Phaidon, 1953, which labels it "Saint Bartholomew (Pietro Aretino holding the skin of Michelangelo)". I don't know the history of the identifications. It's certainly Aretino, if you compare the face with Titian's portrait.

message 15: by Martin (last edited Oct 08, 2013 11:39AM) (new)

Martin | 121 comments Reading it though again, I begin to see what a very fine poem this is. The shift at the beginning of honour from a disguise at a masquerade, to the colossus of Rhodes, to a "grim swiss", to someone parading on stilts, to a man-made idol -- a very fluid effect.

" . . .see how the stalking pageant goes
With borrow'd legs . . ."

It seems to me "stalking" is used in the sense of "hunting after prey", honour hunting those who dishonour, and then the second sense of "stalk" is picked up, to suggest walking on stilts, and you get the idea of a figure at a circus or the mardi gras. But then this switches again, and we supply the borrowed legs as it rides us and and weighs us down, "a heavy load to those / That made and bear him".


"seek to enclose the common,
And within private arms empale free woman"

If one can trust the spelling here, this is most clever. The reference of course is to the long history of common land enclosures in England. But "empale" means to make someone pale, the consequence of locking a woman up, while "impale" carries the enclosure act idea ("pale" as "enclosed area"), and gets a secondary, sexual sense, with the idea of a stake thrust into the body.

message 16: by Bill (last edited Oct 08, 2013 02:04PM) (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments Excellent analysis, Martin. Thanks for pointing out the sexual reference, which didn't occur to me.

Land enclosure and marriage! What an excellent example of a surprising metaphysical image! And yet not really far-fetched at all, given the libertine philosophy expressed.

message 17: by Martin (last edited Oct 08, 2013 02:15PM) (new)

Martin | 121 comments Bill, do you give this poem to your students?

message 18: by Bill (new)

Bill Kerwin | 34 comments I'm neither brave nor foolish enough to try. If I had a particularly mature group of seniors I might try attempt it, but I think I'll stick with Andrew Marvell.

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