by Thomas Carew (1640)
Now that the winter’s gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes; and now no more the frost
Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
Upon the silver lake or crystal stream:
But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,
And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth
To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree
The drowsy cuckoo and the humble-bee.
Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring,
In triumph to the world, the youthful spring:
The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array
Welcome the coming of the long’d-for May.
Now all things smile: only my love doth lower,
Nor hath the scalding noon-day sun the power
To melt that marble ice, which still doth hold
Her heart congeal’d, and makes her pity cold.
The ox, which lately did for shelter fly
Into the stall, doth now securely lie
In open fields; and love no more is made
By the fire-side, but in the cooler shade
Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep
Under a sycamore, and all things keep
Time with the season: only she doth carry
June in her eyes, in her heart January.
Thomas Carew (pronounced Carey) was born, possibly at West Wickham, Kent, in either 1594 or 1595. His father, lawyer Matthew Carew, moved the family to London about 1598. Nothing is known of Carew’s education before he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford, in 1608. Graduating B. A. in 1610/11, he was incorporated B. A. of Cambridge in 1612, after which he was admitted to the Middle Temple. From 1613 to 1616 Carew served as secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton on embassies to Italy and the Netherlands. After being fired for making insulting remarks about Carleton and his wife, Carew returned to England for a futile search for employment. In 1619, his father having died the previous year, Carew joined an embassy to Paris headed by Sir Edward Herbert (later Lord Herbert of Chirbury). Possibly, he met there the Italian poet Giambattista Marino.
In 1622, Carew’s first poem was published: verses prefixed to Thomas May’s comedy The Heir. In the early 1620s Carew associated with Ben Jonson and his circle, and also frequented the court. In 1630 Carew was made a gentleman of Charles I’s Privy Chamber Extraordinary. He was named Sewer in Ordinary to the King (that is, an official in charge of the royal dining arrangements). It is said he was “high in favour with that king, who had a high opinion of his wit and abilities.”1
Carew had a reputation for mischief that stayed with him all of his adult life. This reputation did nothing to damage his career as a poet, soldier, and courtier. His society verses, such as “A Divine Mistress” and “Disdain Returned,” were prized for their wit. In truth, he was a conscientious poetic craftsman. Though he did not produce a large body of work, he took extraordinary care in shaping each piece. Carew’s masque Coelum Britannicum, performed before the king in 1634, though full of jokes and allusions, draws upon an important work by the sixteenth century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno.2
Much of Carew’s poetry was sexually explicit far beyond the norms of his age, and he was a reputed libertine. Yet he translated nine of the Psalms and wrote one of the finest elegies of the period: “An Elegy on the Death of the Dean of St. Paul’s Dr. John Donne.” It is a solemn tribute to Donne’s contribution to English poetry and the English Language. Perhaps the most interesting of Carew’s achievements is his verse criticism of his contemporaries. Formal criticism was in its infancy during the early seventeenth century. Carew’s commendatory, complimentary, and elegiac poems provide some of the best evidence concerning the literary values of the age.2
“At the end of his life, Carew attempted to make amends to the Church, summoning a prominent vicar to his deathbed. Owing to his profligate life, however, he was repulsed.”3 Carew died on March 23, 1640 and was buried in Saint Dunstan’s-in-the-West, Westminster. His Poems were published the same year, to be followed by the second edition “revised and enlarged” in 1642.
- The Dictionary of National Biography.
London: Oxford University Press, 1917 ff. Volume III. 972.
- The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th Ed. Vol. 1.
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993. 1696.
- Crofts, Thomas, ed. The Cavalier Poets: An Anthology.
New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995. 32.
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