Francis Thompson's debt to Richard Crashaw in poetical thought and content
Reilly, Robert Thomas
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Though women were most influential in the lives of both Crashaw and Thompson, neither of the poets has ever been connected with an orthodox or romantic affair. Crashaw had his friends at court and Thompson had Mrs. Meynell and his strange street companion of his unhappy days as their only female interests. Some have viewed Thompson's disinterest as an indication that he was of the feminine temperament himself but this has little ground for argument. In the person of the infant Jesus Crashaw shows us that he had a tender feeling for children and that he knew how to portray them in his poetry. Thompson has written more directly to children and we know who some of his models were but his poetry is often thought too deep for the understanding of children, written about children, not for them. Thompson felt awed in the presence of the innocence of the child and the differences of Youth and Age were prime problems with which he contended. The love developed by the poets in their verse emerges as a type of Platonic love given individual treatment by each of them. Crashaw regarded women as friends and as creatures of the same God who had made him. Their ambition should be the love of the Redeemer as above mere human love. The Platonic Love of Thompson is less religious and more earthly than that of Crashaw. It centers about Mrs. Meynell as its actual object but actually she represents Ideal beauty and it is this latter that Thompson celebrates. Both men have a particular devotion to a certain woman. In Crashaw it is St. Teresa and in Thompson it is Mary, the Mother of God. Crashaw admires the courage of the youthful martyr and calls upon her for a reproduction of that fervour in him. She sums up and symbolizes all of his other types of love, though he has dedicated poems to the Blessed Virgin and to Mary Magdelen. When Thompson is not concerned with Mrs. Meynell or Ideal Beauty he is playing host to the mystical vision of Mary. Sometimes, he fuses all of his ideas on Platonic love into her person. His is less fire and more admiration and respect. Neither poet can lay any great claim to being a poet of Nature. Both lack the attention given to details by the true poets of the subject. Crashaw had some appreciation of the dawn and flowers but his use of nature was mostly symbolic and never freshly observant. Thompson suffered somewhat from the same failing, in that his interest in Nature was narrowed to a few limited subjects. Those subjects, always broad, like the earth and sky, he did well. He was more interested in the Divinity behind Nature than in the Nature before him personally. Crashaw and Thompson were both Catholics at different periods in the history of the church. Crashaw had the added experience of being a convert and thus had a slightly different attitude towards the Church. Crashaw was attracted by the symbolism of the Catholic religion to some extent and he became more of a devotional poet than a strictly religious one. Thompson had less of the fiery faith of Crashaw but he had more reasoning power in his poetry. His life, too, had brought him closer to God because he saw the futility of it all without a belief in a better world ruled by a more benificent Being. Crashaw stood not in awe of the Father and the Son but placed them affectionately in his verse. Thompson was a bit frightened by his subjects and always pictured God as great Being about Whom very little could be known, or should be known. They both had an avid interest in Christ and treated the most important events of his life with almost identical sympathy, stressing above all things the Crucifixion, which for Crashaw had a symbolic pattern and for Thompson had a moral one. Saints and angels made up a large part of the imagery of the work of both men. They believed in both species implicitly as part of their religious teaching. Crashaw uses his saints to inspire and his angels for color, usually picturing the latter as kind, fairy-like creatures. Thompson takes more liberties with the angels and humanizes them in some of his poems. By and large they are likewise sweet and gentle beings. Thompson's saints conform to the tradition of the Three Churches and the saints form the Church Triumphant in Heaven. In this vein everyone in Heaven is technically a saint. Heaven and Hell are real places to both of the men and an essential part of the Godhead since they represent his Mercy and Justice. Crashaw was able to present Hell far better than Thompson, while the Victorian poet's Heaven outshone that of seventeenth-century poet. Due to the mystical achievements of both we are able to get fairly accurate pictures of their conceptions of the 1ife-after-death. Purgatory is more part of the poetry of Thompson than Crashaw, undoubtedly because of the range of the former's sufferings here on earth. Sin to Thompson is a personal problem and he struggles within himself to defeat the powers of evil at work. With Christian hope he expects the aid of the Saviour in the bestowing of Grace and the granting of final absolution. He intends to aid himself in this achievement by the proper applications of the Cardinal Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Crashaw is not nearly so worried about his own soul, or at least he does not use his poetry as a vehicle for such a confession. As a teacher he is more concerned with the sins of his flock and directs his poetry towards this end. The Virtues are of equal importance to him and there is every reason to believe that he lived by them as well as taught them to his parishioners. Religion had significance, too, in the abundant imagery that it gave to the poets. They were able to adopt symbols from the Mass, from the Liturgy and from the Sacraments. In this way their religion aided their poetry and their poetic nuse was an aid to their appreciation of their religion. It has been mentioned that both men were mystics, that they believed in the possibility of a direct spiritual union with God. Crashaw and Thompson developed along similar and somewhat conventional lines as mystics and suffered so that they might attain the vision. There is claim in their poetry that they were possessed at times of a vision beyond the ken of ordinary senses. Their poetry abounds in references and allusions to their strugbles and their rewards. Rather than make their poetry more diffuse, it serves to make it more interesting and even imparts it a special flavor which does much to give it the high position it holds. Crashaw was no great thinker. He was decidedly more emotional than intellectual and never consciously sought to be didactic. If there is something to be learned in his poetry it is because we feel as he does not because we think along his lines. Thompson is more of a philosopher, albeit an unwitting one. He delves into the problems of meaning of the world and Man and the destiny of God's creature. The views of both are colored by their religion. In Crashaw religion takes over entirely while in Thompson there is an attempt to extend the religion and religious ideas to fit other and more universal problems. Both Crashaw and Thompson are today sadly neglected. Time seems to have given Crashaw his little niche and from it there is a little likelihood that he will stir, or, if he does, it will hardly be in the direction of elevation. Thompson's stock, on the other hand, has been rising and interest in the man and his poetry grows daily. Perhaps his final estimate will be no higher than Crashaw's but now it appears that it may emerge on a higher plane than many of those Victorian poets presently considered his masters.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University