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* Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae :
Ne me perdas illa die '-

makes a less appeal; though one can well imagine some well-meaning folk condemning the employment of a term of easy affection, such as 'dear,' on the part of the Caroline singer. It is, they will say, not only unnatural but profoundly disrespectful. To them, perhaps—but to Crashaw ? Each must decide for himself, after due study of the poems, but to the writer, at any rate, the expression seems, on Crashaw's lips, neither unnatural, unseemly nor insincere. And moreover it is the key-word of the whole stanza.

Unlike Robert Southwell, Crashaw was not content with translating hymns only. He made an English version of the Office of the Holy Crosse. But this need not detain us now. Passing over, regretfully, the verse-letter to the Countess of Denbigh-an unusually interesting poem which exists in two versions, one being in a unique quarto at the British Museum–because of the train of questions which it raises and which cannot satisfactorily be answered here, let us glance for a few seconds at a rather long poem of considerable importance, the hymn to the Name above Every Name, the Name of Jesus. Because it occurs immediately after the lines to the Countess of Denbigh in the Paris volume, a volume which although it came out after Crashaw's death the poet may well have had a hand in preparing, Beeching supposed that the poet himself probably regarded this poem as his best work. It may be so; but while it is magnificent in parts, its sweets are lavished with too bewildering abundance. Its faults are the faults partly native to Crashaw and partly learnt from Marino and possibly—Spenser, over-lusciousness and the inability to realize when a topic has been exhausted. When this has been said we may draw attention to the exquisite lines about music, in which the poet, himself a musician (as he was a painter and an engraver), matched the particular sounds of particular classes of instruments in words. Again,

· See Introd. to Muses' Library Crashaw, p. xxxix.


the hymn is packed with fine images. Crashaw thought in images.

'O see, The Weary liddes of wakefull Hope
(Love's Eastern windowes) All wide ope

With Curtains drawn,

To catch The Day-break of Thy Dawn.' Further on we have imagery which recalls that of the Spanish mystics, itself derived from the Song of Songs. The un-Crashavian 'we, low Wormes' (1. 106) carries us in thought to St. Teresa. On the whole the poem deserves more notice than it has usually received, though Coleridge praised it.

It remains to consider, as summarily as possible, the mystical element in Crashaw's verse. Such an element there undoubtedly is, whether or no we think that the Caroline poet-contemplative may rightly be admitted to the pantheon of the mystics. And he has sometimes been regarded as among the greatest of England's mystics.

When we find the very youthful Crashaw, in one of the Herrys elegies, written in October 1631, speaking of eternity, whose

circular joyes Dance in an endlesse round,' we at once begin to suspect that he already had some knowledge of mystical literature. That he had any inner knowledge of the mystical spirit is another matter. This view is confirmed by a study of the Latin epigrams. When he prayed, towards the end of the long verse address to their reader, that he might feel the wounds of love, might have his share in the Cross of Christ, it is not so much that he was insincere as that he did not realize in the least what it was that he asked. Perhaps something of the same spirit is discernible in the following admittedly cleverly contrived English epigram, 'On the still surviving marks of our Saviours wounds':

* What ever storie of their crueltie
Or Naile, or Thorne, or Speare have writ in thee,

Are in another sense

Still legible ;

Sweet is the difference :

Once I did spell
Every red Letter

A wound of thine,
Now (what is better)

Balsome for mine.'

Very far as yet is the Cross from being for him, as for Jacopone da Todi's First Brother, a very furnace that consumes utterly.

That Crashaw was in the habit of spending much time in prayer and meditation both at Gidding and in Little St. Mary's, does not necessarily imply that he had progressed far along the Mystic Way. Perhaps indeed the contrary, if we believe, with St. John of the Cross, that the love which declares itself in passing long hours and nights in prayer is one of the gifts which the Father in His wisdom bestows upon His children when they are just beginning to toddle. This is the impression which one gets from reading a poem like the ode, Lo here a little volume,' which Crashaw addressed to a young gentlewoman, in whom some have seen one member or another of the Ferrar family. The language of the ode is mystical par excellence. The poet speaks of

* Amorous languishments ; luminous trances;
Sights which are not seen with eyes ;
Spirituall and soul-piercing glances
Whose pure & subtil lightning flyes
Home to the heart, & setts the house on fire
And melts it down in sweet desire :

Yet does not stay
To ask the windows leave to passe that way.
Delicious Deaths; soft exalations
Of soul; dear & divine annihilations ;

A thousand unknown rites
Of joyes & rarefy'd delights;
A hundred thousand goods, glories, & graces,

And many a mystick thing

Which the divine embraces
Of the deare spouse of spirits with them will bring ;

For while it is no shame
That dull mortality must not know a name.'


This does not suggest actual mystical experience of a high order. What it does suggest is that the poet was acquainted with a particular type of mystical writing and tried to make its language his own. Not that he had had no experience of any sort. What is probably the truth is that he was deceiving himself into thinking that what was with him then primarily a sensory experience was a deeply spiritual one.

The paramount mystical influence at this point was clearly that of the great Spanish mystics. On the whole probably their influence was for good. But it had some effects which were not altogether salutary. For instance, it would do little to check that almost morbid over-consciousness of sex which, as the compiler of a recent anthology has (I think rightly) pointed out, is one of Crashaw's chief faults. Notwithstanding, if it was instrumental in curbing any tendency in Crashaw to a more metaphysical, neo-Platonic type of mystical expression, it did a good service. To appreciate what Crashaw was capable of in that direction, let the reader turn to the Epiphany hymn.

Webster's White Devil is not a source to which one would normally turn for guidance in the spiritual life; but it has a phrase in it which sticks in the memory as putting a truism almost :

'Affliction Expresseth virtue fully, whether true Or else adulterate.' 2

The last years of Crashaw's residence at Cambridge must have been for him a time of affliction. Certainly, if we are to believe à Wood, he knew affliction in his Paris days. It was not without effect upon him. It proved that his metal was true. The Crashaw who was the subject of Car's Anagramme and who translated the Latin hymns was not the same Crashaw who had written the lines to the young gentlewoman or even had composed the hymn

· H. J. Massingham, A Treasury of Seventeenth Century English Verse (London, 1919), p. 331 (notes).

: Act I, sc. i.

to St. Teresa. Listen to these words, taken from what the poet called ' A Patheticall descant upon the devout Plainsong of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa':

'In shade of death's sad Tree

Stood Dolefull Shee.
Ah She! now by none other
Name to be known, alas, but Sorrow's Mother.

Before her eyes
Her's, & the whole world's joyes,
Hanging all torn she sees; and in his woes
And Paines, her Pangs & throes :
Each wound of His, from every Part,
All, more at home in her one heart.

O teach those wounds to bleed
In me; me, so to read

This book of Loves, thus writ
In lines of death, my life may coppy it

With loyall cares,

O let me, here, claim shares;
Yeild something in thy sad praerogative

(Great Queen of greifes) & give
Me too my teares; who, though all stone,
Think much that thou shouldst mourne alone.'

Not all the old “hysterical' language has passed from these so-called translations; but it would seem to be impossible to read them without realizing that their writer knew from experience what he was talking about. He had learnt something of the sorrows of the way.

But this is a long way from saying that he was a mystic. Nowhere in his writings is there any indication that Crashaw ever passed beyond what has sometimes been termed the first mystic life, which, as Miss Evelyn Underhill remarks, 'entails a vision of the Absolute: a sense of the Divine Presence; but not true union with it.'i But at this no lover of Crashaw need repine. For although, if we may apply the words of Francis Thompson's memorable appraisement of Crashaw in a sense which they did not originally

· Mysticism, p. 206.

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