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The New York Review of Books: Wildly Different Poets

By John Carey
The New York Review of Books

The English Poems of Richard CrashawRichard Crashaw considered himself a disciple of George Herbert, but the two poets are, in fact, as different as two poets could possibly be, and an admirer of one is seldom an admirer of the other. Drury, in his few pages on Crashaw, deplores his “complete failure of taste,” and that judgment will seem wearisomely familiar to Crashaw’s new editor, Richard Rambuss. His witty introduction conducts us through the annals of Crashaw criticism to demonstrate how the poet’s detractors, generally Anglican Protestants, have regularly found him disgusting, perverted, unmanly, and, in a word, foreign—“an exotic Italian import like pasta or castrati,” as one disaffected commentator put it.

He was not really Italian, of course, but his critics thought his poetry was, and they were right to an extent. Crashaw is the only truly baroque English poet, and his aesthetics are those of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, with its cultivation of sensuous excess as a means of mystical uplift. Yet as Rambuss points out, almost all his poetry was written before his conversion, while he was still an Anglican clergyman.

Read the full article (Crashaw review begins on Page 2).