Re: Gina, Barbour and Vaughan on Time

Robert Owen (
Mon, 06 Dec 1999 00:11:48 -0500

> > I saw Eternity the other night,
> > Like a great ring of pure and endless light
> I always crack up when I see that, because the first line is almost a
> perfect example of the literary crime of bathos. Sorry. `I had a drink with
> Bill the other night.' `Really? I saw Eternity.' `Oh, good. In fine form,
> was it?' `Looked okay to me, Roger. Another pint?' `Ta.'

Your comment, Damien, is neither tasteful, nor literate, nor amusing; I can only regard this as an unfortunate lapse -- it is certainly not worthy of you. There is an enormous difference between criticism and ridicule, and this difference is important when something as intimate and delicate as poetic sensitivity is concerned.

Allow me to tell you something about Henry Vaughan [1622-1695]. He, along with Thomas Carew, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Thomas Traherne are called by those familiar with English literature "The Metaphysical Poets"

Vaughan's work, typical of this genre, is a blend of emotion and intellectual ingenuity, characterized by the sometimes Heraclitean combination of ideas that are not only apprarently disconnected but tend to clash violently. The idea is to startle the reader and force s/he to think through the argument of the poem. Metaphysical poetry is less concerned with expressing feeling than with analyzing it, with the poet introspectively exploring the margins of consciousness

This tradition really began with Dante's "Vita Nuova" and from the beginning was visionary and contemplative. It has exerted enormous influence on subsequent poetry starting with Pope's Rape of the Lock, and Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode", and most recently the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, D.H.Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot.

T.S. Eliot's influential essay "The Metaphysical Poets" (1921) pointed out that the works of these men embody a fusion of thought and feeling that later poets were unable to achieve because of a "dissociation of sensibility," which resulted in works that were either intellectual or emotional but not both at once.

Finally, "bathos" is hardly a "crime"; it is a perfectly legitimate literary device. It originated in Classical Greek Drama as a sudden appearance of the commonplace in an otherwise elevated or refined situation.

To close, let me emphasize that I have the greatest respect for you, Damien, and was simply bewildered by your appearance here as the philistine George Babbitt, a crass and prosaic bourgeois who was guided entirely by materialistic rather than artistic or intellectual values.


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA