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Music's Duel

Richard Crashaw 1612 (London) – 1649 (Loreto, Marche)



Now westward Sol had spent the richest beams
Of noon's high glory, when, hard by the streams
Of Tiber, on the scene of a green plat,
Under protection of an oak, there sat
A sweet lute's master : in whose gentle airs
He lost the day's heat, and his own hot cares.
Close in the covert of the leaves there stood
A nightingale, come from the neighbouring wood :—
The sweet inhabitant of each glad tree,
Their muse, their Syren, harmless Syren she,—
There stood she list'ning, and did entertain
The music's soft report, and mould the same
In her own murmurs, that what ever mood
His curious fingers lent, her voice made good.
The man preceived his rival, and her art ;
Disposed to give the light-foot lady sport,
Awakes his lute, and 'gainst the fight to come
Informs it, in a sweet
præludium

Of closer strains ; and ere the war begin
He slightly skirmishes on every string,
Charged with a flying touch ; and staightway she
Carves out her dainty voice as readily
Into a thousand sweet distinguish'd tones :
And reckons up in soft divisions
Quick volumes of wild notes, to let him know
By that shrill taste she could do something too.
His nimble hand's instinct then taught each string
A cap'ring cheerfulness ; and made them sing
To their own dance ; now negligently rash
He throws his arm, and with a long-drawn dash
Blends all together, then distinctly trips
From this to that, then, quick returning, skips
And snatches this again, and pauses there.
She measures every measure, everywhere
Meets art with art ; sometimes, as if in doubt—
Not perfect yet, and fearing to be out—
Trails her plain ditty in one long-spun note
Through the sleek passage of her open throat :
A clear unwrinkled song ; then doth she point it
With tender accents, and severely joint it
By short diminutives, that, being rear'd
In controverting warbles evenly shared,
With her sweet self she wrangles ; he, amazed
That from so small a channel should be raised
The torrent of a voice, whose melody
Could melt into such sweet variety,
Strains higher yet, that tickled with rare art
The tattling strings—each breathing in his part—
Most kindly do fall out ; the grumbling base
In surly groans disdains the treble's grace ;
The high-perch'd treble chirps at this, and chides
Until his finger—moderator—hides
And closes the sweet quarrel, rousing all,
Hoarse, shrill, at once : as when the trumpets call
Hot Mars to th' harvest of death's field, and woo
Men's hearts into their hands ; this lesson, too,
She gives him back, her supple breast thrills out
Sharp airs, and staggers in a warbling doubt
Of dallying sweetness, hovers o'er her skill,
And folds in waved notes, with a trembling bill,
The pliant series of her slippery song ;
Then starts she suddenly into a throng
Of short thick sobs, whose thundring volleys float
And roll themselves over her lubric throat
In panting murmurs, 'still'd out of her breast,
That ever-bubbling spring, the sugar'd nest
Of her delicious soul, that there does lie
Bathing in streams of liquid melody,—
Music's best seed-plot ; when in ripen'd airs
A golden-headed harvest fairly rears
His honey-dropping tops, plough'd by her breath,
Which there reciprocally laboureth.
In that sweet soil it seems a holy quire
Founded to th' name of great Apollo's lyre ;
Whose silver roof rings with the sprightly notes
Of sweet-lipp'd angel-imps, that swill their throats
In cream of morning Helicon ; and then
Prefer soft anthems to the ears of men,
To woo them from their beds, still murmuring
That men can sleep while they their matins sing ;—
Most divine service ! whose so early lay
Prevents the eyelids of the blushing day.
There might you hear her kindle her soft voice
In the close murmur of a sparkling noise,
And lay the ground-work of her hopeful song ;
Still keeping in the forward stream so long,
Till a sweet whirlwind, striving to get out,
Heaves her soft bosom, wanders round about,
And makes a pretty earthquake in her breast ;
Till the fledged notes at length forsake their nest,
Fluttering in wanton shoals, and to the sky,
Wing'd with their own wild echos, pratt'ling fly.
She opes the floodgate, and lets loose a tide
Of streaming sweetness, which in state doth ride
On the waved back of every swelling strain,
Rising and falling in a pompous train ;
And while she thus discharges a shrill peal
Of flashing airs, she qualifies their zeal
With the cool epode of a graver note ;
Thus high, thus low, as if her silver throat
Would reach the brazen voice of war's hoarse bird ;
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:59 min read
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Richard Crashaw

Richard Crashaw, was an English poet, styled "the divine," and known as one of the central figures associated with the Metaphysical poets in 17th Century English literature. The son of a prominent Puritan minister, Crashaw was educated at Charterhouse School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. After taking a degree, Crashaw began to publish religious poetry and to teach at Cambridge. During the English Civil War he was ejected from his college position and went into exile in Italy. While in exile he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Crashaw's poetry is firmly within the Metaphysical tradition. Though his oeuvre is considered of uneven quality and among the weakest examples of the genre, his work is said to be marked by a focus toward "love with the smaller graces of life and the profounder truths of religion, while he seems forever preoccupied with the secret architecture of things." more…

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