Richard Crashaw 400th Anniversary

2013 is the 400th aniversary of the birth of Richard Crashaw, a much misunderstood, and, frequently ignored in the canon of literature, 17th century English poet.

Crashaw was born the son of a Puritan minister who, whilst exiled in Italy during the English Civil War, converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. An astonishing feat in 17th century spiritual politics! He died, in Italy, in 1649.

His poetry is firmly in the Metaphysical style and he compares very favourably with Herbert, Donne and Marvell whose contemporary he was. His poetry is full of ethereally beautiful images and metaphors as well as some of the most bizarre and over blown language and imagery. Because of the absudity of some of his language he was been ridiculed and ignored for most of the 400 years since his birth. Many critics have felt uncomfortable with his overtly religious verse and have concentrated on the more "English" poetry of his contemporaries. Some of his imagery tends towards the continental Baroque and Mannerist schools of poetry, influenced by his years in Italy, and is unfamillar to English ears. He is England's only true Baroque poet.

Amongst some of his more grotesque images are the famous lines from The Weeper:

Two walking baths, two weeping motions
Portable and compendious oceans.

But then anyone who has flirted with metaphysical poetry knows that these images abound and whilst Crashaw enjoys the overblown image just a bit too much his contemporaries also had their moments. The poetry which is overlooked in the general denigration of Crashaw is his beautiful and moving verse, sacred as well as spiritual. From the Holy Nativity f our Lord God, the shepherds sing:

Winter chided aloud and sent
The angry North to wage his wars
The North forgot his fierce intent
And left perfumes instead of scars
By those sweet eyes' persuasive powers
Where he meant frost, he scattered showers.

These kind of verses make me forget his more bizarre metaphors and images. I discovered Crashaw in my late teens whilst reading Marvell, Donne and Herbert. I immediately fell in love with his poetry. He led me to discover mystical and religious verse I would not otherwise have discovered. I love the sheer sensuality of his poetry and the Baroque flamboyancy he shows. I also love the simplicity of some of his poems. He led me to understand the Counter Reformation in England and the impact religion had on many of our most popular writers. I also read poetry which was influenced by his work - Gerard Manley Hopkins, Coventry Patmore and Francis Thompson. One of my most exciting and significant reading moments happened when enjoying Barbara Pym's novel The Sweet Dove Died many years ago I came across a quote from Crashaw's Hymn To St Theresa, "She's for the Moors and martyrdom!" and recognised a fellow Crashaw fan in one of my favourite novelists!

So Happy Birthday Richard Crashaw and thank you for so many happy moments!