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This article is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Crashaw 400, Part I

A Quatercentennial Celebration
Alex Wong
Richard Crashaw was born four hundred years ago this winter. We have an exact date for his death. Recently accommodated within the Roman Catholic church, and newly installed at Loreto, Reverendus Dominus Riccardus Crosius, as the records tell us, gave back his soul to God on the twenty-first day of August 1649; animam Deo reddidit. But we cannot be more precise about his birth than to say he must have entered the world some time before the hounds of spring were on winter's traces in 1613.

That uncertainty is somehow characteristic of the otherworldly vagueness surrounding 'This Divine Poet, that had set a Language for the Angels to converse in' - the man who seemed to admiring contemporaries a bird of paradise for whom no hyperbole could be ill-befitting. Cowley's famous elegy grudges nothing: 'Poet and Saint! to thee alone are given / The two most sacred Names of Earth and Heaven'. The quotation will be tiresome to anyone familiar with Crashaw, but it is too hard to resist the rehearsal. And Cowley's poem is without doubt one of the finest products of that special romantic glamour which Crashaw certainly had, and which is still so much a part of his aura. Crashaw, to whom the mystical raptures of Saint Teresa placed her beyond the niggardly scruples of denomination, himself became a saintly figure whose sacred inspiration and extravagant devotions were, for many of his Anglican contemporaries, sufficient apology for his secession.

There was and there still ...


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