Michael Drayton—a metaphysical poet never included with the Metaphysicals—takes on John Crowe Ransom
The sweet flower that was Romanticism (late 18th cent—early 19th cent, Amer Rev, French Rev, Napolean, Beethoven) has its roots in the Renaissance (and its Ancient Greek re-discovery) and throws its shade on 20th century Modernism, cooling many a tortured, modern brow.
Michael Drayton, a courtly poet and Shakespeare contemporary, who is easily as metaphysical as Donne, drew his love-metaphysics from Dante and Petrarch by way of Plato, and indulged in it so wonderfully, he may have put this type of poetry to rest forever.
We are not sure why Drayton—born 10 years before Donne—never gets included with the so-called “Metaphysical Poets.” We are just stupid not to cast a wider net. T.S. Eliot, with his friend Ezra Pound, in the name of a narrow Modernist agenda, may be to blame. The Modernists were often not so much critics as gerrymanderers.
If you want metaphysical paradox, read Michael Drayton. Then you may talk to us about John Donne.
This is Drayton’s most anthologized poem, and perhaps his least metaphysical one.
THE PARTING—Michael Drayton
SINCE there ‘s no help, come let us kiss and part–
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
–Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might’st him yet recover.
We have always admired this popular poem: the firm, mono-syllabic “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part—Nay, I have done, you get no more of me; and I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,” dissovling, finally in the hopeful, wavering of “yet recover” is wonderful.
Great poems, in how they sound and in how they talk, and in how they simultaneously picture things, are like dreams, and this one resembles a dream.
Its Modernist counter is John Crowe Ransom’s, the poem we think is his best; often anthologized, “The Blue Girls.”
Under the towers of your seminary,
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word.
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
And chattering on the air.
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
It is so frail.
I know a woman with a terrible tongue,
Blear eyes fallen from blue,
All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long
Since she was lovelier than any of you.