The Poetry of Abraham Cowley by David Trotter

By David Trotter

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Adde, quod ornandis ilia est operata cap ill is et tibi perdocta est grate ministra manuscillicet ancillam, quae tam tibi fida, rogarem! The tone of outraged innocence, and of contempt for the maid, is clearly the same in both poems. But Ovid, in his next poem, immediately flouts the reader's expectations, admitting what he had previously denied: Ponendis in mille modos perfecta capillis, comere sed solas digna, Cypassi, deas, et mihi iucundo non rustica cognita furto, a pta quidem dominae, sed magis a pta mihiquis fuit inter nos sociati corporis index?

Saying the same means saying it in the same way each time, and the even constancy of form and tone in many Elizabethan sonnet-sequences has been remarked on often enough. The burning marks of his mistress's scorn engrave a kind oftribal memory on the body of the lover, who thus becomes assimilated to collective experience and survives a rejection which would otherwise have been hard to take. His ritualised commentaries on grief are themselves furthermore complicit with locutionary truth, since in each case we attend to 'the person propounding' rather than to 'the proposition itself'; we receive a message whose function is to sustain a familiar frame of reference, not to assert its own uniqueness.

Try his hand, that is, eighty-four times. Could it be that this private and retrusive form had become 'privileged'? I mean that the positions provided by the lyric (lover, loved, rival) and the relations established between them (dominance, subordination, envy)apparently so specific-had acquired an unusual generality of application. In the first instance, since the 'lover' is usually male and the 'loved' female (which would certainly not be true of classical The Poetry of Abraham Cowley 24 love-poetry), any lyric is always already a comment on the particular stereotyping of sexual and gender roles in contemporary society.

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