Printer Friendly

"Musick's Duell": the poem and the tradition.

All Translation I suppose may be reduced to these three heads:

First, that of Metaphrase, or turning an Authour word by word, and Line by Line, from Language into another.... The second way is that of Paraphrase, or Translation with Latitude, where the Authour is kept in view by the Translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly follow'd as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplyfied, but not alter'd.... The Third way is that of Imitation, where the Translator (if now he has not lost that Name) assumes the liberty not only to vary from the words and sence, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the Original, to run division on the ground-work, as he pleases ...

Imitation and verbal Version are ... the two Extreams, which ought to be avoided.

(John Dryden, "Preface" to the translation of Ovid's Epistles [1680]: 114-15, 118)

RICHARD CRASHAW'S "MUSICKS DUELL" has received much attention and frequent, though often very narrow, praise from critics. His free translation of Famianus Strada's neo-Latin version of a musical contest between a nightingale and a lute player evoked from William Hazlitt the observation that the poem is the "best specimen" of Crashaw's powers (53), though he also observes, less generously, that as a "hectic enthusiast" in both religion and poetry, Crashaw is "erroneous in both" (311). Austin Warren echoes both the praise and the emphasis on qualities peculiar to Crashaw when he identifies "Musicks Duell" as the "secular triumph of the Crashavian style" (110). H. W. Garrod, taking as his province the appearances of the nightingale in English poetry, comments on the "ingenious elaboration" and the "full sensuosity" of the poem, concluding that "in the kind to which it belongs it deserves a high place" (155). Repeating the frequent association between Crashaw and the Baroque, T. O. Beechcroft identifies "Musicks Duell" as the "height of the baroque style in English poetry" (415), and Northrop Frye, associating it with a "typically baroque form" ("the aria with instrumental accompaniment"), describes its accomplishment as an "unrivalled feat" (175).

In fact, this distinctive poem is, as has been pointed out but not elaborated on, one in a line of poems imitative of or influenced by Strada, or drawing from a common tradition. A number of examples can be found in English, as well as in Italian, French, Spanish, and Dutch. (1) Most of these other versions have received only passing attention, and none, so far as I have been able to discover, has been discussed with any care. I do not suggest that most merit detailed analysis, but some are more interesting and worthy than their almost total neglect would imply. In this essay I remain, nonetheless, primarily interested in Crashaw's poem, and it is my contention that we can better understand both the quality and the originality of his achievement if we see how other writers responded to the same source. My principal aim in this regard is to provide a fuller perspective on the poems written in English, though because of his important connection to Crashaw, I will also comment on the Italian translation of Giambattista Marino.

Strada's poem was published in his Prolusiones Academicae in 1617. Among the translations and renderings written in the seventeenth century and later are those by Marino in his L'Adone (1623); John Ford in The Lover's Melancholy (1629); Crashaw in The Delights of the Muses (1646); Rob. Vilvain in Enchiridium Epigrammatum (1654); William Strode in The Academy of Pleasure (1656); an anonymous writer in a work published by William Gilbert (1671); "Mr. Wilson" in Poems by Several Hands (collected by N. Tate) (1685); Ambrose Philips in Tonsons Miscellany (1709); and "J.M." in The Gentlemens Magazine (1791). Of the English versions other than Crashaw's, only Ford's has received more than passing mention or praise. This is particularly noteworthy since Ford's rendition is tucked into the beginning of his play The Lover's Melancholy. William Hazlitt, whose qualified praise of "Musicks Duell" we saw above, finds Crashaw's "elaborate and spirited" poem "not equal to Ford's version" (318). Charles Lamb includes Ford's account of the musical contest among his "specimens of dramatic poets"; noting the versions of Crashaw, Philips and others, he says that none of them can "compare for harmony and grace with this blank verse of Ford's: it is as fine as anything in Beaumont and Fletcher; and almost equals the strife which it celebrates." (2)

One further version reminds us that the tradition that Strada's poem propels also precedes his poem, for the contest between a nightingale and a musician has much earlier origins. Before Strada published his influential poem, William Browne had drawn from this common tradition. In his Britannia's Pastorals (1613-1616), Browne writes of Pan and his Nymph, and of the Nymph's eventual pursuit and destruction by a "Rauenous Wolfe" (97). Before that end, Browne describes in over eighteen lines the Nymph in a playful musical contest with "harmonious Birds," especially a nightingale. As was her "vsuall sport" (97), the Nymph imitated the warblings of birds with a quill half filled with water and fashioned by Pan. The nightingale is moved to "chant her vtmost Lay, nay to inuent / New notes to passe the others instrument" (97). But the nightingale, unable to equal the music of the Nymph, dies, choosing that end rather than to "liue and be o're come" (97). Although no direct connection can be traced to Strada, Browne's poem shares with it several similar themes, including the musical contest, the valiant effort of the nightingale, and the death of the bird, who expires with the recognition of defeat.

The poems that will occupy us here do most assuredly derive from Strada. I have given as a headnote to this essay Dryden's remarks about translation because they aptly describe the varied approaches evident in the poems as a group. There are examples of whole poems that are essentially what Dryden calls "Metaphrase," the most literal and limiting form of translation. Other poems move more freely, either retaining the sense, with amplification, of Strada (Drydens "Translation with Latitude") or, at times, very nearly abandoning Strada altogether (Dryden's "Imitation").

Strada's neo-Latin poem contains 58 lines marked by a direct and unelaborate style; the whole may be summarized as follows:
   lines 1-5: the time is evening and a care-stricken lutenist is
   playing under an oak; lines 6-10: a nightingale, hidden by foliage,
   attempts her first cautious imitations; lines 11-17: the lutenist
   becomes aware of the nightingale's echoes: he responds, she
   answers; lines 18-29: the lutenist again plays, this time more
   vigorously, then remains silent; the nightingale once more replies,
   also with greater involvement and intricacy; lines 30-40: the
   lutenist marvels, determines to play even more skillfully, hits
   treble and bass, emitting harsh sounds as of war; the nightingale
   also moves from high to low, long to short, as if sounding a
   trumpet of war; lines 41-54: the lutenist, embarrassed at not
   besting his rival, speaks angrily and delivers an ultimate
   challenge; his play stresses harmonies, variations, and
   repetitions. He waits as the nightingale, with a harsh throat,
   vainly tries to match his multiplicity of sounds with her simple
   voice; lines 55-58: unable to match the lutenist, the bird dies
   trying, giving her life by falling on the lute, a fitting grave.
   Thus, says Strada, is emulation for delicate souls.

Of the versions mentioned above, four--those by Strode Vilvain, Wilson, and "J. M."--merit no more than brief mention, for they are, as Dryden would have it, "metaphrases," literal, unimaginative renditions of the Latin original. Vilvain and "J. M.," both writing poems of 58 lines, offer the most exact versions. What Vilvain modestly says about his own--that it is "rudely rendered in equal numbers of measures vers for vers, and very neer the letter"--could equally apply to both. Vilvain has greater praise for Strode's poem (which, though published later, he obviously knows), calling it "elegantly translated into 80 English metres, being at mo then the Latin" (178). Strode's poem contains, in fact, 72 lines, and thus is "mo then the Latin," but it is otherwise undistinguished. It, like Wilson's 70-line version, follows the Strada original, exercising only slight latitude in expansion, particularly at the duelling phases.

Of the four versions remaining (in addition to Crashaw's) from those previously identified, two (Marino's and Ford's) were before Crashaw's, two (the anonymous writer's of 1671 and Philips's) after. Although there is little evidence of any direct connection to Crashaw, it is possible that Ford's and Marino's poems influenced Crashaw's effort in some way. Certainly, both writers were known to Crashaw. It is even more certain that Crashaw influenced the writer of 1671, who both acknowledges the earlier version and appears to have followed Crashaw's emphasis at several key points. Philips's version is more obviously Spenserian than Crashavian and appears to be largely independent of any of the other versions discussed here.

Marinos version of the contest between the lute player and the nightingale is found in his L'Adone, first published in 1623. Canto VII contains descriptions of the various birds that inhabit the Garden of Pleasure, a section (sts. 26-31) that leads into a detailed examination of the extraordinary talents of the nightingale. The nightingale, here a male, is a "melodious prodigy" ("musico mostro") (st. 33) and a "wanton bard" ("lascivetto cantor") (st. 34), remarkable for the variety and energy of his sound.
   Par ch'abbia entro le fauci e in ogni fibra
   rapida rota o turbine veloce.
   Sembra la lingua, che si volge e vibra,
   spada di schermidor destro e feroce.

   Se piega e 'ncrespa, o se sospende e libra
   in riposati numeri la voce,
   spirto il dirai del ciel, che 'n tanti modi
   figurato e trapunto il canto snodi. (st. 36)

   (His throat and every fiber seem to have
   a kind of rapid wheel, a turbine swift.
   His little tongue, which vibrates, twists, and turns,
   is like a fencer's blade, dextrous and fierce.
   Whether the voice in bursts or ripples springs,
   or if in tranquil measures is released,
   'tis sure a heavenly sprite that weaves the song
   so figured and embroiled in all its modes.) (3)

Observing Adonis's attentiveness to the sound of the bird, Mercury tells him that in this small creature, Nature surpasses "all her other miracles" ("altro suo miracolo") (st. 39).

This detailed attention to the nightingale's powerful voice anticipates Mercury's following description of the contest itself (sts. 40-56). While consistently expanding and embellishing Strada's thinner version, Marino shows less substantive expansion or elaboration than one might expect. Marino's account covers 136 lines in L'Adone, and we see throughout that Marino is faithful to his original, while enhancing the emotional richness of the poem. For example, in Strada's version the lutenist's initial emotional state is little more than hinted at:
   Jam Sol a medio pronus deflexerat orbe
   Mitius e radiis vibrans crinalibus ignem
   Cum Fidicen propter Tiberina fluenta, sonanti
   Lenibat plectro curas, aestumque levabat
   Ilice defensus nigra scenaque virenri.

   (Now the sun was declining from the meridian of its
   round, shaking the fire more gently from its hair-like rays,
   when close by Tiber's flood a lutenist was beguiling his
   cares with his sounding lute and, sheltered by a dark oak
   and the verdant setting, eased the heat of the day.) (4)

In Marino, that opening section is charged with emotional strength, as a "solitary lover" is in the woods, giving "vent unto his grief with strings" that yield "piteous sounds" ("Sfogava con le corde in suon pietoso / un solitario amante il suo cordoglio"). Converting "love's bitter poison" ("d'amor l'amaro tosco") into sweet sounds, this "sad, enamored" youth (Tinnamorato giovane") approaches a thicket where he has heard the rustling of a bird. "Fascinated" and "charmed," the lutenist "moans" and "murmur[s]" as the oral exchange between the two begins ("e gemendo accostarsi ed invaghito / mormorar tra se stesso il suono udito").

The five lines in Stradas opening segment become twelve in Marino's, and both the proportional increase in length and the heightened emotion are characteristic of Marino's adaptation of his original. Characteristically more free flowing, especially as the musical contest becomes more intense, Marino nonetheless adds little to the essential scheme developed by Strada. The one originality of this sort comes at the end. Marino's nightingale, having expired in a last futile effort to match the power and variety of the lutenist, is buried ceremoniously "within the bosom of the silent lute" ("nel cavo ventre del sonoro legno") (st. 56). The grief-stricken youth gives further honor by becoming a poet and storyteller, writing of the event by using the feathers of the bird.

In Ford's The Lover's Melancholy, the story of the contest between bird and the young lutenist is told to Amethus by his friend Menaphon, who remarks on the excellent youth he has brought back with him to Cyprus from his travels to Italy and Greece. Menaphon's description of the event is found at 1.1.93-170, with the contest itself occupying lines 106-162. Except for brief leading interjections and questions from Amethus (e.g., "How did the rivals part?" [131]; "Now for the bird" [144]; "Thou hast discoursed / A truth of mirth and pity" [162-63]), the account from line 106 onward is continuous. Ford effectively integrates the original story and his own dramatic aims, an effort enhanced through the brief but important interruptions of Amethus.

As Menaphon tells it, he was walking early one morning and came upon the "sweetest and most ravishing contention / That art or nature ever were at strife in" (108-109). Whereas in Strada, the youth is first unaware that others might be listening, in Menaphon's story the appearance and action of the "fair-faced youth" (115) are equivalent to a challenge to the "clear quiristers of the woods" (118); indeed the contest here is both more immediate and at moments more alluded to than played out fully in the response/counter response mode seen in Strada and several of his imitators. The nightingale ("Nature's best skilled musician" [122]), takes up the challenge and becomes a love rival to the lutenist, both vying for "their mistress, harmony" (132). The lutenist depends on his superior "study" (136), using "curiosity," "cunning" (141) and the variousness of "concord in discord" (142) to create "one full centre of delight" (143). The nightingale's futile response, recorded in only five lines, prompts the lutenist's grief. To "revenge / This cruelty" (156-57), the lutenist determines to smash the lute ("guilty of innocent blood" [158]), and is prevented from doing so only through the intervention of Menaphon. The episode closes with Menaphon's further comments to Amethus on the youth's multiple virtues, qualities that led him to bring the youth back to Cyprus with him.

Ford's account demonstrates the skillful and succinct adaptation of the poem within a dramatic form. By contrast, the 1671 poem is both the longest of the imitations (at 271 lines) and, at times, the one least clearly connected to the original. In introductory notes, the publisher refers to Strada's poem, which is here, he says, "Much Enlarg'd in English" by the addition of "several Traverses between the HARPER and NIGHTINGALE; TOGETHER with A more particular Account of the Issue of the CONTEST." Gilbert, who also notes that Crashaw first "imitated" Strada, acknowledges that in the present version little of Strada remains and that the style is self-consciously "familiar."

In fact, the basic structural outline of Strada's poem does remain, as the following analysis indicates, though it is significantly enlarged and embellished:

lines 1-19: on the instrument (first a "Harp" and later called a "Lyre"), the time, the place, the harpist's cares;

lines 20-37: on the nightingale and the coming "fam'd War";

lines 38-45: first challenge and response ("Warlike");

lines 46-71: second challenge and response, cited briefly and then with elaboration;

lines 72-151: the musical prowess of the youth is more than matched by that of the bird ("Musick's Enthusiast" [131]). Her musical talents especially emphasized;

lines 152-271: his musical talents especially emphasized and associated with the loud and boisterous sounds of men and women. The bird, used to "peaceful Song" (239), cannot match his "Jarring Brawl" (241). She dies, "Embalm'd in ... [her] own Sweetness" (265), falling on the harp.

These sections indicate the obvious liberties Gilbert's author takes with expansion and elaboration, though on many occasions his effort also largely follows Strada's themes and structure. There is, however, one notable and provocative exception. In the final long segment of the poem (152-271), the harpist retreats momentarily in order to regain his strength and determination. When he comes back with his ultimate (and ultimately winning) musical barrage, it is figured as, first, the battle of the sexes (bass clashing with treble); next, briefly, as the sound of "foul-mouth'd" men (the "growling" of basses [182]); then, in considerable detail, as the jarring, discordant, and raucous sounds of scolding, quarreling women ("Treble with Treble wrangle" [179]); and, finally, as the combined noise of this "threefold Scold" blended into "one great Broil" (205). These remarkable lines are unlike any found in other poems of the tradition and merit full quoting:
      These Jarrings he makes fall
   In Tones of right Hermaphroditish Brawl,
   'Twixt Man and Woman. Nor so ends the Brangle;
   But Base with Base, Treble with Treble wrangle.
      Two sullen Bases, 'twixt two Men as surly
   He makes to the Hurly-Burly:
   Thick, growling Tones of foul-mouth'd words a Throng,
   And lusty Thumps the sturdy Blows among.
      Trebles alone then skilfully he moulds
   To the right Accents of mere Women-Scolds:
   Their Tunings, far from Unisons, designs
   For imbred Discords in the Female Minds.
   When touch't, their jarring Accents aptly meant
   The Quarrels of She-Tongues to represent.
   Upon a softer touch submisser Jarrings,
   Before they bark't, the Dogged Womens Snarlings.
   When harder Strokes yet harsher Jars out-hammer;
   This spake the Scolding womens lowder Clamor.
   Many such Strings together when he'd strike;
   Confus'd Brawls of more Scolds at once 'twas like.
   Ill names when try'd, the Strings knowing him mean
   Would say, ye filthy Jade! ye dirty Quean!
   Yea, Pinching of such jarring Strings he'd shew
   Scratchings, as well as Scoldings, of that Crew.
   Streight rudelyer handled put'em to such Squeeks,
   As would exactly render Female Shrieks.
   Some short Pause made, to work agen he'd go:
   Just as some Scolds, when out of breath, will do.
      And then (his Master-piece) this Level-coil
   Of threefold Scold he blends in one great Broil.
   Yet so, as all together heard at once,
   Are heard apart too in their several Tones.
   The Man with Man, the Man with Woman holding
   Their Brawl on foot; Woman with Woman scolding,
   The last the lowd'st. All this of Vocal Strife
   On one poor single Harp done to the Life.
   The Harper's Hands, than the Harp's Strings no less
   Striving, which all this Strife could best express.
   His Thoughts too with his Hands contending; they
   Best to instruct, and these best to obey. (3)

Two qualities in particular are striking about this passage. First, although we are to understand that the harpist is in the process of offering a performance the bird will not be able to match, the description is hardly a flattering one about the music that is produced. Characterized as "Brawls" (170, 177, 195), "Jarrings" (176, 198), "Hurly-Burly" (181), "Clamor" (193), "Squeeks" (200), "Vocal Strife" (210), and "Brawling Din" (217), the sounds seem unworthy of a musical contest. One can find the impetus for an emphasis on variation and multiplicity of sounds in Strada, but the effect is very different:
   Nec plura loquutus

   Non imitabilibus plectrum concentibus urget.
   Namque manu per fila volat, simul hos, simul illos
   Explorat numeros, chordaque laborat in omni,
   Et strepit, et tinnit, crescitque superbius, & se
   Multiplicat relegens, plenoque choreumate plaudit.

   (Saying no more he urges on his lute to inimitable
   harmonies, for indeed he flies through the strings with his
   hand, searches out this and that measure and works at
   every string, hums and tinkles, swells more proudly,
   multiplies by repetition, and strikes in a copious dance of sound.)

Marino seizes on the hints in Strada of both harmonies and warlike sounds and offers an aural portrait of conflicting tones:
   Vola su per le corde or basso or alto
   piu che l'istresso augel la man spedita;
   di su, di giu con repentino salto
   van balenando le leggiere dita.
   D'un fer conflitto e d'un confuso assalto
   inimitabilmente i moti imita,
   ed agguaglia col suon de' dolci carmi
   i bellicosi strepiti de 1'armi.

   Timpani e trombe e tutto cio che, quando
   serra in campo le schiere, osserva Marte
   i suoi turbini spessi accelerando,
   ne la dotta sonata esprime l'arte,
   e tuttavia moltiplica sonando
   le tempeste de' groppi in ogni parte;
   e mentr'ei l'armonia cosi confonde,
   il suo competitor nulla risponde. (sts. 51-52)
   (His hand flies o'er the strings, now low, now high,
   more nimble than the bird itself the hand;
   first up, then down, with unexpected leaps
   the speeding fingers move in lively dance.
   Inimitably he imitates the stress
   of fiery conflict and confused assault,
   and equals with the sound of his sweet songs
   the bellicose uproar and clash of arms.

   Trumpets and kettle drums, such instruments
   as Mars employs when marshalling the troops,
   with whirlwind roar accelerating fierce,
   his art expresses in skilled melody,
   and all the while he plays he multiplies
   the tempest of roulades in every part;
   and while he thus compounds the harmonies,
   his small competitor makes no response.)

The impact of Marino's description is very different from that of the anonymous writer of 1671. From Marino one retains the clear sense of music--music played loudly, variously, and even boisterously--but music nonetheless. Furthermore, in Marino, we note from the beginning of the youth's present effort his "style sublime" (st. 50), enabling the "bellicose uproar and clash of arms" merely to equal "the sound of his sweet songs." There is no such softening quality in the later rendition, and the result is an impression of a thoroughly unpleasant and unmanaged cacophony.

The second striking dimension is the harshly misogynic perspective. Although the clash of sounds in this poem is represented across gender lines, the predominant conflict and the most demeaning descriptions are clearly reserved for "mere Women-Scolds." The antifeminine harangue, deriving from a view of the "imbred Discords in the Female Minds" (187), is long and intrusive. As with this section generally, the sounds being produced are hardly musical, and the emphasis on the stereotypical loud clamor of quarreling women moves us too far from the original contest between bird and youth. Perhaps this is the writers effort to be humorous at the expense of women; perhaps he simply intends it to be part of a long metaphor pointing to vigorously harmonic and anti-harmonic sound. In either case, as he more generally acknowledges, "little of Strada is preservd.

The last of the versions to be discussed before turning to Crashaw's is that of Ambrose Philips. Published first in Tonson's Miscellany (1708), Philips's Fifth Pastoral consists of 98 lines in its earlier form and 112 lines in the slightly expanded version of 1748. There is a hint of the story to come in Philips's First Pastoral, the tale of a "Love-sick Shepherd" (97) who is consoled at the end by the song of the Nightingale, "so sweet a Partner in his Grief" (98). What sets Philips's poem apart from those of other imitators is his adherence to a Spenserian form and manner. The tale of the Fifth Pastoral is told by Cuddy and is told about Colin Clout, a fellow shepherd renowned for musical skill in playing and singing. The pastoral form affects the atmosphere of the poem, but, as we have seen in other versions, the essential structure of Strada's original is retained.

The story proper begins at line 19, with the introduction of Colin Clout, and follows the divisions seen in Strada's poem through line 130. But there are several differences, associated primarily with the pastoral medium in Philips's poem. In Philips, the nightingale is more clearly superior in the early stages, such that Colin "half despis'd / His pipe and skill, around the country priz'd" (47-48). Another difference is in the instrument Colin plays, as he relies first on a fife, only later turning to a harp, "old, but newly strung" (79). It is, ironically, especially with his shepherd's fife ("around the country priz'd") that Colin feels inferior. After the initial success of the bird, Colin acknowledges the "rudeness of my rural fife" (32), and when he plays ever more vigorously, the nightingale responds with apparent ease of emulation, adding "in sweetness what she wants in strength" (72). When he turns to the "Harp," Colin's fortunes change, and the bird is then perplexed and "imperfect" (104). Upon her defeat, Colin breaks his strings, makes atonement by building a tomb, and like Marino's lutenist, adds a verse of commemoration to it.

The versions I have discussed thus far contribute in varying ways to what we might term the tradition of Strada imitators. Clearly the poem captured the imagination of many readers and writers, and the evidence provided by versions covering most of two centuries testifies to its continuing attraction. Ranging from straightforward imitation to quite individualistic adaptation, the poems are notable for their diversity in spite of their common roots as "translations." In some translations, Strada is almost wholly present, transmuted only into another language, and there is little evidence of the translator/author; in others, Strada is present only in outline, and the author/translator is in the foreground.

By general, though not unanimous, consent, the best of the poems derived from Strada is Crashaw's "Musicks Duell." A longer and elaborate version (though not as long as that of 1671), Crashaw's poem reveals what the other versions lack or exemplify less impressively: a qualitative reworking and reconceiving of Strada's sparse original. The result is a poem still recognizable as part of the tradition here discussed yet one that has Crashaw's own distinctive poetic mark.

As with the other poems mentioned, one can see in Crashaw's effort the structural outlines of Strada's original, marked by line divisions as follows:




There is some explanation and elaboration in the first four sections, but little compared to the extensive reworking of Strada that is evident in the final two sections. Section five elaborates especially on the nightingale (56-104), while section Six is particularly expansive on the lutenist (111-54), a refocussing that appears to have influenced the 1671 poem, whose parallel sections, as we have seen, reveal a similar emphasis.

It is not mere elaboration or expansion that marks Crashaw's poem, however, but rather a remarkable and fundamental recasting of the nature of the musical contest. My view of "Musicks Duell" is thus different in its concerns from most of the commentary to date, which has typically focused on the poem's Baroque style, the musical qualities of the poem (it is, after all, a musical duel), or on its supposed allegorical or analogical meaning. (6) "Musicks Duell" is an example--and there are several examples in Crashaw's canon--of the poet's interest in the relationship of male and female, in the potential conflict between passion and reason, and in the possibilities and consequences of an experience given over wholly to a denial of thought and the fulfillment of emotion. The poem is, furthermore, both about the presence of eros and an emulation of an erotic experience veiled skillfully and tactfully by the predominant concern with a contest of musicians. (7) "Musicks Duell" is a particularly interesting and revealing example of these concerns precisely because it is more obviously about other things and because what we learn from this reading challenges what some of his other and better known poems have led us to believe about Crashaw's commitment to emotional exuberance as a way to truth. (8) These dimensions, it is important to note, are either lacking or only hinted at in any of the versions previously discussed.

Crashaw's attention to the language of love as a vehicle by which he can reveal the nature of the contest experienced by this male and female is evident almost from the beginning of the poem, and through it he reveals both the achievement and the limitations of the ecstatic, erotic experience. When we first encounter the lutenist, he is playing under the shade of an oak, finding release from the "Dayes heat, and his owne hot cares" (6). If the lutenist escapes to the woods to avoid the heat of a conflicted or frustrated love, he finds himself engaged nonetheless in a battle of a different yet related sort, a contest of male and female (a "harmless Syren' [10]) where order and control challenge passion in the exhibition of musical, not to say erotic, prowess. The man, we are told (in language befitting a lover's duel),
   perceiv'd his Rivall, and her Art,
   Dispos'd to give the light'foot Lady sport
   Awakes his Lute, and 'gainst the fight to come
   Informes it. (15-18)

Multiple senses are aroused, as the male "lightly skirmishes on every string / Charg'd with a flying touch" (20-21), while the female uses her "dainty voyce" (22) and lets him know "By that shrill taste, shee could doe something too" (26; all emphases mine).

The lively description of the contest between the two enthusiastic combatants is, as many have pointed out, aptly and accurately focused on an impressive array of musical terms and technicalities. (9) Only slightly less obvious is the appropriateness of the actions, reactions, and sounds--especially the sounds--to a lovers' quarrel or, perhaps, lovemaking. On his side, he aggressively "throwes his Arme," "tripps / From this to that," "skipps," "snatches," and "pauses" (30-33). She, in turn, meets him, measure for measure, art for art, exhibiting the surprising power of "the sleeke passage of her open throat," a small "channel" that amazes and challenges him to greater conquest (38, 44). From him--of course, more literally, his instrument--come the sounds of a "grumbling Base," "surly groanes," "high-perch't treble," all mixed into a "sweet quarrell" until his touch arouses all, "Hoarce, shrill, at once" (49-54).

Crashaw interrupts the description with a simile, fitting as a reminder of the warlike engagement of lutenist and bird but fitting as well as a suggestion of the contest of love. The rousing action of the man's fingers is "as when the Trumpets call / Hot Mars to th' Harvest of Deaths field, and woo / Mens hearts into their hands" (54-56). We are immediately told that "this lesson too / Shee gives him backe" (56-57), and thus the simile points both backward and forward, to the aggressive action of the young man and to the passionate response she offers.

This section of the poem (57-104) develops from a sketchy ten lines in Strada's account, and hence the development and imagery are distinctly Crashaw's. From the nightingale's "supple Brest" come "Sharpe Aires," a "dallying sweetnesse," a "trembling," "plyant," and "slippery song" (57-61). The grumbles, groans, and high-pitched exclamations of the lute are now matched by the "short thicke sobs," the "thundring volleyes" that come from that channel, "her lubricke throat" (63-64). There follow two images suggestive of fruitfulness and love, both of them pointing to the musical power of the singer while reinforcing her role as lover and wooer. The source of her sweet sounds is the "sugred Nest / Of her delicious soule," where, as "Musicks best seed-plot," a "Golden-headed Harvest fairely reares / His Honey- dropping tops, plow'd by her breath / Which reciprocally laboureth / In that sweet soyle" (66-73; all emphases mine). The second image carries us beyond this world, as the song of the nightingale is as a "holy quire" (73) that, reminiscent of the awakening sounds of morning in "Corinna's Going A-Maying," would offer "soft Anthems to the Eares of men, / To woo them from their Beds" (78-79; emphasis mine). The image of the "holy quire" prepares us for the climax of her engagement in this musical and erotic battle. Exhibiting what we soon understand to be the most passionate response of which she is capable, she "Heaves her soft Bosome, wanders round about, / And makes a pretty Earthquake in her Breast" (88-89). The fledgling notes whose origin is that "sugred Nest" wing ecstatically outward, beyond "wanton shoales" and into the open air. The passionate display peaks orgasmically, with a "Tide / Of streaming sweetnesse," a "swelling straine, / Rising and falling in a pompous traine" (93-96). The "shrill peale" she "discharges" is tempered only by her equal capacity in lower ranges, and "Thus high, thus low" she moves, her soul ultimately "ravisht: and so pour'd / Into loose extasies" (97-104). She is a saint in ecstasy, "Above her selfe, Musicks Enthusiast" (104).

The ecstatic climax reached by his female opponent evokes shame and anger, a "double staine," in the male lutenist (105). In words appropriate for a threatened lover, who senses his ability and control being challenged, even mocked, he vows to attain superiority or "die" trying. (10) "[Yet] once againe/ (Mistresse) I come," he exclaims passionately, and proceeds to give reign to "his hands sprightly as fire" (106-111). As before, Crashaw evokes the language of love to reveal the intention and intensity of the threatened male. Beginning with a "quavering coynesse," the skillful hands produce increasingly vigorous and varied sounds. The trembling strings are described musically and erotically in terms of Apollo, the god of music, whose "golden haires / Are fan'd and frizled, in the wanton ayres / Of his owne breath" (115-17). The musicians intensity continues: "hee sinkes into / A Sea of Helicon-, his hand does goe / Those parts of sweetnesse which with Nectar drop, / Softer then that which pants in Hebe's cup" (124-26).

The response is marked, as before, by expressive sounds--grutching, murmuring, gingling (128-29)--but throughout the passage one notices the presence of rational control in the midst of the rhapsody, a quality not exhibited by the lutenist's female counterpart. There is "fury" in the action, but a "fury so harmonious" (134). The "surges of swolne Rapsodyes" (136), the "trembling murmurs" (141), the "wild aires" (141) are balanced with the "soft touch of a tender tone" (140). We recall a similar attempt at variety in the song of the bird, the high and low movement from the "shrill peale" to the "graver Noat," but there it leads to an ultimate ravishment and ecstasy, a placing of the singer beyond reason and control, emotionally "Above her selfe." Here, such variation confirms the greater control the human figure offers. The "tender tone" suggests his capacity to temper the ecstasy of the occasion by exercising his will over it. The "precious mysteryes that dwell, / In musick's ravisht soule," we are told, this participant "dare not tell / But whisper to the world" (143-45). The equation between the bird's experience and her musical and erotic displacement from the world (her soul is "ravisht"; she is "Musicks Enthusiast") is, for the lutenist, given greater distance. The enthusiastic variation produced by the nimble hands is not identified with but only related to an ecstatic experience: "as if they meant to carry / Their Masters blest soule (snatcht out at his Eares / By a strong Extasy) through all the sphaeares / Of Musicks heaven; and seat it there on high / In th' Empyraeum of pure Harmony" (146-50; first emphasis mine).

The "full-mouth'd Diapason (156) ultimately offered by the young man leads not to ecstasy but to an immediate recognition and confirmation of the rational framework for this quarrel: he has finished, it is her turn ("This done, hee lists what shee would say to this" [157]). This is in marked contrast to the manner in which she, consumed by passion, yielded earlier. Given at the end a final opportunity to summon "all her sweet powers for a Noate," she tries but fails, and "failing grieves, and grieving dyes" (160-65). "Shee dyes," the poet repeats, "and leaves her life the Victors prise." The death here, resulting from failure and grief, points back to that earlier ecstatic death--a "death more mysticall and high," as Crashaw calls it in his Hymn to St. Teresa (76)--which the bird experiences. Given the presence of erotic language throughout the poem, it surely also calls to mind the linguistic pun on "die" as sexual ecstasy, reminding us that the female participant is, in her own distinctive way, "love's victirne" (Hymn to St. Teresa 75).

Of all of the poems owing a debt to Strada's Latin original, "Musicks Duell" is the most richly evocative, informed by musical language and movement and providing a Baroque splendor of sensation and sound. In these respects, the poem may well be, as Austin Warren observed, the "secular triumph of the Crashavian style" (110). If so, however, the poem is also testimony to the fact that the Crashavian style is more diverse than we have sometimes admitted. Here, the increasing musical intensity is mirrored in the sensuous and erotic elements, rising and falling in starts and bursts, in groans, grumbles, and ecstatic peaks. In addition, the musical, emotional, and erotic ecstasy is acknowledged to have fatal limits. If elsewhere Crashaw endorses the value of an emotional exuberance that empties one of oneself in a divine ecstasy (e.g., "The Flaming Heart" 106), he here reveals the superior quality of passion that remains under the control of reason and will. "Musicks Duell" is an erotic and sexually charged poem that controls eras through the lutenist's, and the poet's, firm hand on his musical and poetic instrument.


Anonymous. STRADA'S Musical Duel; IN LATINE, Much Enlarg'd in English: By the Addition of several Traverses between the HARPER and NIGHTINGALE; TOGETHER WITH A more particular Account of the Issue of the CONTEST. London: Printed by F. W. For William Gilbert, 1671.

Augustine, Saint. The City of God. Trans. Marcus Dods. New York; Random House, 1950.

Beechcroft, T. O. "Crashaw and the Baroque Style." Criterion 13 (1934): 412-27.

Browne, William. Britannia's Pastorals. A Scolar Press Facsimilie. London: The Scolar Press, 1969.

Crashaw, Richard. The Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw. Ed. George Walton Williams. 1970. New York: Norton, 1974.

Dryden, William. "Preface" to the translation of Ovid's Epistles (1680). The Works of John Dryden. Poems 1649-1680. Ed. Edward Niles Hooker and H. T. Swedenberg, Jr. Vol 1. Berkeley: U of California P, 1956.

Ford, John. The Lover's Melancholy. Ed. R. F. Hill. The Revels Plays. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1985.

Frye, Northrop. "Music in Poetry." UTQ 11.2 (1942): 167-79.

Garrod, H. W. The Profession of Poetry and Other Lectures. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1929.

Harrison, Robert. "Erotic Imagery in Crashaws 'Musicks Duell.'" SCIV13 (1967): 47-49.

Hazlitt William. The Complete Works of William Hazlitt. Ed. P. P. Howe. After the Edition of A. R. Waller and Arnold Glover. Vol. 6. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1931.

Hollander, John. The Untuning of the Sky. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1961.


Jacobus, Lee A. "The Musical Duel in 'Musicks Duell.'" Essays on Richard Crashaw. Ed. Robert M. Cooper. Salzburg: Universitat Salzburg, 1979. 205-23.

Lamb, Charles. Specimens of English Dramatic Poets. In The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. Ed. E. V. Lucas. Vol. 4. 1904. St. Clair Shores, Michigan: Scholarly Press, 1971.

Madsen, William. "A Reading of'Musicks Duell.'" Studies in Honor of John Wilcox. Ed. A. Dayle Wallace and Woodburn O. Ross. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1958. 39--50.

Marino, Giambattista. L'Adone. Ed. Giuseppe Guido Ferrero. Torino: G. Einaudi, 1976.

Philips, Ambrose. The Poems of Ambrose Philips. Ed. M. G. Segar. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1937.

Pope, Alexander. The Correspondence of Alexander Pope. Ed. George Sherburn. Vol. 1, 1704-1718. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1956.

Praz, Mario. The Flaming Heart: Essays on Crashaw, Machiavelli, and Other Studies in the Relations between Italian and English Literature from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot. 1958. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1966.

Priest, Harold Martin, trans. Adonis: Selections from L'Adone of Giambattista Marino. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1967.

Randall, Robert. "Crashaws MUSICKS DUELL." The Explicator 40.4 (1982): 18-19.

Strada, Famianus. In The Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw. Ed. George Walton Williams. 1970. NY: Norton, 1974.

Strode, William. The Academy of Pleasure. London: Printed for John Stafford at Fleetbridge, 1656. 123-26.

Vilvain, R. Enchiridium Epigrammatus. Latino Anglicum. An Epitome of Essais, Englished out of Latin: without elucidat Explications. London: Printed by R. Hodgkinsonn, 1654.

Warren, Austin. Richard Crashaw: A Study in Baroque Sensibility. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1934.

"Wilson, Mr." In Poems by Several Hands, and on Several Occasions. Collected by N. Tate. London: Printed for J. Hindmarsh, 1685.


(1) See, for example, Mario Praz's discussion in I he Flaming Heart: Essays on Crashaw, Machiavelli, and Other Studies in the Relations between Italian and English Literature from Chaucer to TS. Eliot, pp. 245-46.

(2) Alexander Pope comments briefly on Ambrose Philips's pastoral version of Strada in a letter written to Henry Cromwell on November 11, 1710. He notes that Philips's poem is taken from Strada, "only the Tomb he erects at the end, is added from Virgits conclusion of the Culex." Pope quotes some lines from Strada and then cites lines 119-22 from"Musicks Duell" as "very remarkable" (103).

(3) I am citing the English translation of Harold Martin Priest in Adonis-. Selections from L'Adone of Giambattista Marino.

(4) I am quoting from the English translation of R. E Hill, in R. F. Hill, ed. The Lover's Melancholy, this translation also informs the summary on page 4.

(5) The original printing of this poem includes a complex and intriguing variety of fonts and type sizes. I have not attempted to emulate that complexity here.

(6) See, for example, Austin Warren, who calls "Musicks Duell" the "secular triumph of the Crashavian style" (110); T. O. Beechcroft, who views it as the "height of the baroque style in English poetry" (415); John Hollander, Robert Randall, and Lee A. Jacobus, each of whom focuses on the musical qualities; and William Madsen, who offers a theological interpretation grounded on the anagogical association of the nightingale with nature, the lutenist with grace.

(7) Robert Harrison has previously commented on the erotic element, identifying and briefly interpreting the sensual images in order to challenge the view that, as Warren expressed it, Crashaw "never sang the sexual passions" (47). My aim here is related to Harrison's, and I wish, as well, to suggest a stronger sense of coherence and development among the erotic references.

(8) An instructive context for some of the discussion that follows, specifically that concerned with the interrelationship between eros, the will, and reason, is Augustine's The City of God. In Book XIV Augustine considers, ad seriatim, several questions pertaining to the action of Adam and Eve before the Fall. These questions are framed so as to lead to an ultimate question: was there sexual intercourse in the garden before the Fall, and, if so, how was it accomplished so that attendant sinful and lustful responses were absent?

Augustine's answers proceed from his consideration of the nature of emotion and its expression among the citizens of the city of God and among the citizens of that lesser city of humanity. For Augustine, the crucial distinction lies not in whether or not the emotions are experienced but rather in two qualities: the will by which emotions are guided and the object toward which they are directed. "Good and bad men alike," he says, "desire, fear, rejoice, but the former in a good, the latter in a bad fashion, according as the will is right or wrong" (451). Furthermore, he denies the Stoics' attempt to set up mutually exclusive passions or perturbations, some of which the wise experience, others of which fools experience. Augustine acknowledges that in the life after this one, there will be no need for or display of what might be called the negative emotions, such as fear and grief, but he insists that those too may properly be experienced by the good on earth so long as they are rightly directed and guided by reason.

Augustine's crucial insistence on the necessary supremacy of reason and will is evident again when he considers the particular situation faced by Adam and Eve. It is a "fair question," he admits, "whether our ... first parents ... before they sinned, experienced in their animal body such emotions as we shall not experience in the spiritual body when sin has been purged and finally abolished" (456). Augustine argues that they did not, that, indeed, until the evil will of Adam and Eve preceded their sinful act, they were "agitated by no mental perturbations, and annoyed by no bodily discomforts" (457). With the first evil act, prompted by evil will, which was in turn a result of pride, the condition of Adam and Eve and all of humanity changed.

Augustine's portrayal of human activity in Paradise grounded on reason seems difficult to sustain when he treats the question of sex and lust in the garden, since the sexual act is, as Augustine's own description appears to confirm, inherently associated with emotion, desire, and lust. Augustine acknowledges that the "lustful excitement of the organs of generation"
   not only takes possession of the whole body and outward members,
   but also makes itself felt within, and moves the whole man with a
   passion in which mental emotion is mingled with bodily appetite, so
   that the pleasure which results is the greatest of all bodily
   pleasures. So possessing indeed is pleasure,
   that at the moment of time in which it is consummated, all mental
   activity is suspended. (464)

The problem, the embarrassment, the shame of postlapsarian sexuality is seen precisely in the absence of the confident and authoritative exercise of will and reason. The issue is not, in other words, the presence of sexuality in the garden but rather in the manner of its execution. For Augustine, there is no doubt about the implications of God's command to Adam and Eve to "increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth," a command that follows hard upon the creation of the first male and female (Gen. 1: 27-28). He rejects a spiritual or allegorical interpretation of the words and insists that Adam and Eve were expected, indeed commanded, to populate the earth with sinless creatures like themselves, to engage in sexual intercourse to produce more people who would praise and honor the Creator. In that act, however, desire, lust, and sin were absent, for reason and will were asserted. "The man," Augustine testifies,
   would have sown the seed, and the woman received it, as need
   required, the generative organs being moved by the will, not
   excited by lust.... And therefore man himself also might very well
   have enjoyed absolute power over his members had he not forfeited
   it by his disobedience; for it was not difficult for God to form
   him so that what is now moved in his body only by lust should have
   been moved only at will. (472)

Augustine concludes his discussion with a portrait of Paradise where human reason and will are in perfect harmony with God's wishes, where all emotions are held in check and the negative ones are simply absent, where the will, not lust or desire, controlled human sexuality.

(9) See, for example, Hollander, Randall, and Jacobus, as cited in note 5 above.

(10) The ubiquitous seventeenth-century pun on "die" as both death and sexual fulfillment is not linguistically present in the poem at this point, but it appears twice at 11.165-66. Here, the young lutenist promises to bury his lute if he is defeated.
COPYRIGHT 2014 South Central Renaissance Conference
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Parrish, Paul A.
Publication:Explorations in Renaissance Culture
Date:Jun 22, 2014
Previous Article:English religious poetry, from renaissance to baroque.
Next Article:Giorgio Vasari's Sala dei Cento Giorni: a farnese celebration.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |