Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Sacred Poets > Quarles and emblem poetry
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

II. The Sacred Poets.

§ 16. Quarles and emblem poetry.

Divine Fancies (1632) gave a better taste of his quality, and anticipated, in The World’s a Theater, some of the success which attended Emblemes (1635), the most famous English example of a class of writing which began with the Milanese doctor, Alciati, a century earlier. “Visible poetry … catching the eye and fancy at one draught” had a fascination for most religious writers. When Herbert moralised on the speckled church-floor, he was near falling under this influence. Crashaw designed his own emblems for his last volume; while Silex Scintillans took its name from the frontispiece of a flinty heart struck with a thunderbolt, and began with a poem, Authoris de se Emblema. It is fortunate that these writers, who could do better things, escaped lightly from this misleading fashion. It is as fortunate that Quarles found in it the means of doing his best work. Most of the woodcut illustrations, and much of the moralising, he took straight from the Jesuit Herman Hugo’s Pia Desideria (1624). But Quarles had something better to give than “wit at the second hand.” If his ingenuity and his morality are commonly better than his poetry, at times he rises above his mere task-work to original and forcible writing, as in False World, thou ly’st, or in the picturesque comparison of the weary soul with “the haggard, cloister’d in her mew.” Sometimes, he reveals an unexpectedly musical quality, as in the skilful use which he makes of the refrain, “Sweet Phosphor, bring the day,” and his least attractive pages are brightened by some daring epithet or felicitous turn of expression. His liveliness and good sense, his free use of homely words and notions and his rough humour are enough to account for, and to justify, his popularity.   36
  Of all these writers it may be said that their sacred themes did not lead them to avoid the literary fashions of their day: they and the secular poets trod the same paths. They enjoyed the same delight in ingenuity, the same fearless use of hyperbole, the same passion for finding likenesses and unlikenesses in all manner of unrelated things; and they escaped the commoner faults of religious poetry, its obviousness, its reliance upon stock phrases, its tameness. Nor, with all their artificiality, is their sincerity open to suspicion. They were sacred poets, not from fashion or interest, but from choice and conviction. “The very outgoings of the soule” are to be found alike in Herbert’s searching of heart, in Crashaw’s ecstasy and in Vaughan’s mystical rapture.   37

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