Happy birthday, Fulke Greville!

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The birthday boy

A few more hours to wish a very happy birthday to Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke,  de jure 13th Baron Latimer and 5th Baron Willoughby de Broke, born this day in 1554.

Patrick Kurp has a fine tribute to him at Anecdotal Evidence here:  “He was known not as a poet but as treasurer of the navy, chancellor of the exchequer and commissioner of the Treasury. Only in the twentieth century was his accomplishment as a writer of austerely passionate verse, the peer of Herbert, Donne and Shakespeare, truly weighed.”

Kurp credits the late Thom Gunn, who edited Selected Poems of Fulke Greville in 1968.  Not surprising, since Gunn was a student of Yvor Winters, and no one exalted the obscure poet Greville more than Winters,  who rated Greville more highly than Sidney and Spenser.  Said Winters:

“How great a poet Greville is. It is my opinion that he should be ranked with Jonson as one of the two great masters of the short poem in the Renaissance”
— Yvor Winters, Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English, 1967

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky compared him with John Donne in imaginative power.  Here’s Pinsky in The Paris Review on the subject of Greville (and Winters):

Pinsky -- a Winters protégé (Photo: Steve Castillo)

PINSKY:  Winters claimed to have read every poem by every poet of any distinction who ever wrote in English; he challenged those of us who disagreed with him to do the same. He certainly seemed able to respond to anything anybody ever alluded to. Winters resurrected Fulke Greville,  a really great poet, I am convinced; and some of the poems he pointed to, like Herbert’s “Church Monuments” and Jonson’s “To Heaven,” were influential to many of us who studied with him, like Thom Gunn, Bob Hass, Donald Justice, Phil Levine, James McMichael, John Peck.

INTERVIEWER:  Some of Winters’s favorite poems seem to have found their way into your own work, as for instance your “Poem with Refrains,” with its gobbets of Fulke Greville.

PINSKY:  Yes, “Absence my presence is, strangeness my grace. / With them that walk against me is my sun.” That’s Greville,  and he is unsurpassed at lines of that kind. What Winters showed me about the English poets of that period gave me an inkling of the level of the art, the quality of seriousness, the principles of musical language that one might hope to attain. I feel that those couple of years when I read poetry intensely with him have served me well, and I’m grateful for that.

He gets the final word

Let’s give Winters the final word on the subject, then.  Try this, from “Problems for the Modern Critic of Literature” from Winters’s 1956 The Function of Criticism:

“The language of metaphysics from Plato onward is a concentration of the theoretical understanding of human experience; and that language as it was refined by the great theologians is even more obviously so. The writings of Aquinas have latent in them the most profound and intense experiences of our race. It is the command of scholastic thought, the realization in terms of experience and feeling of the meaning of scholastic language, that gives Shakespeare his peculiar power among dramatists and Fulke Greville his peculiar power among the English masters of the short poem. I do not mean that other writers of the period were ignorant of these matters, for they were not, and so far as the short poem is concerned there were a good many great poets, four or five of whom wrote one or more poems apiece as great as any by Greville; but the command in these two men is not merely knowledge, it is command, and it gives to three or four tragedies by Shakespeare, and to fifteen or twenty poems by Greville, a concentration of meaning, a kind of somber power, which one will scarcely find matched elsewhere at such great length in the respective forms.”



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One Response to “Happy birthday, Fulke Greville!”

  1. Roseanne Sullivan Says:

    It’s inspiring to find out that I share a birthday with such a great, albeit little known, poet. I met an English professor at Moorhead State College who had written his dissertation on Greville, but have never heard of Greville before, or since–until this article. BTW, when WInters is quoted in this articla as saying, “The writings of Aquinas have latent in them the most profound and intense experiences of our race,” it struck me that i Winter is giving the highest of accolades to Aquinas, almost as an aside.

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