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Shakespeare's Rival Poet and "A Coronet for His Mistress Philosophy" by George Chapman


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There is no decent online collection of Chapman's "A Coronet for His Mistress Philosophy", so I thought I'd reproduce it below.  

I like to entertain the possibility that Chapman was the rival poet referred to in sonnets 78 to 86. And this led me to wonder what sort of poet could make Shakespeare "tongue-tied" (80 & 85) and believe Marlowe's ghost was giving the rival poet nightly aid (86)? 
Chapman's not taught much beyond his translations of the Iliad. My first (and I suspect this is the same for most), and only, encounter in High School was from Keat's"On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" - with its charming historical blemish preserved for the sake of a syllable, Cortez fitting tighter in the mouth than the unfortunately named Balboa. Later education introduced me to his haunted completion of Marlowe's Hero and Leander and, of course, his Homer.  

Chapman's poetry is more rarefied, more esoteric and gnomic (pompous) than Shakespeare's - it's easy to imagine WS's benumbed, perhaps amused, silence in the face thereof. How was it that the Young Man was so seduced by this? In sonnet 82, you get a sense of the dismay WS felt in the face of Chapman's verse. There was no way he was going to out do Chapman's baroque incantations, so he fell back on the simple truth of his plain words, hammering the word "true" four times deep into the wood: 

And do so, love; yet when they have devis'd,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathiz'd
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
 

Now listen to the thought, meter and rhyme in these lines from Chapman: 

But dwell in darkness, for your God is blind, 
Humour pours down such torrents on his eyes ; 
Which, as from mountains, fall on his base kind, 
And eat your entrails out with ecstasies. 
 

I can see young Coleridge, dreaming of Mistress Philosophy but lost in the the opium dream, ringing with Chapman's words - which echo in the last four lines of Kubla Kahn: 

Weave a circle round him thrice, 
And close your eyes with holy dread 
For he on honey-dew hath fed, 
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
 

Then in III: 

Her mind the beam of God draws in the fires 
Of her chaste eyes, from all earth's tempting fuel; 
Which upward lifts the looks of her desires, 
And makes each precious thought in her a jewel.  

To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. 

In V: 

Loathes all her toys, and thoughts cupidinine, 
Arranging in the army of her face 
All virtue's forces, to dismay loose eyne, 
That hold no quarter with renown or grace. 
War to all frailty; peace of all things pure, 
Her look doth promise and her life assure.
 

I love the stretched meter in the neologism of "cupidinine" rhymed with the archaic plural of eye in "eyne". 
I also hear the echo of the couplet in Dylan Thomas' "Find Meat on Bones": 

'War on the spider and the wren! 
War on the destiny of man! 
Doom on the sun!' 
 

The brutal soul-transforming alchemy in VII: 

To living virtues turns the deadly vices; 
For covetous she is of all good parts, 
Incontinent, for still she shows entices 
To consort with them sucking out their hearts
 

And X, with it's image of the lessor poets as ignorant vulturous creatures, unregenerate to seeds of memory, their sycophantic verse irrelevant: 

Far, then, be this foul cloudy-brow'd contempt 
From like-plumed birds: and let your sacred rhymes 
From honour's court their servile feet exempt, 
That live by soothing moods, and serving times: 
And let my love adorn with modest eyes, 
Muses that sing Love's sensual emperies. 
 

In my own idiosyncratic world of poetry, I imagine Baudelaire degenerate, invoking chant out of spleen to align himself with the scorned vulturine creatures, then to sail high to sing the song of Love's sensual emperies: 

So too the Poet, like that prince of space,
Who haunts the storm and scorns the archer's bow:
Mocked, jeered, his giant's wings hobble his pace
When exiled from his heights to earth below.
 



Lucidius olim = brighter than the past 


A Coronet for his Mistress Philosophy 

I

MUSES that sing Love's sensual empery,  
And lovers kindling your enraged fires  
At Cupid's bonfires burning in the eye,  
Blown with the empty breath of vain desires,  
You that prefer the painted cabinet  
Before the wealthy jewels it doth store ye,  
That all your joys in dying figures set,  
And stain the living substance of your glory,  
Abjure those joys, abhor their memory,  
And let my love the honour' d subject be  
Of love, and honour's complete history ;  
Your eyes were never yet let in to see  
The majesty and riches of the mind,  
But dwell in darkness; for your God is blind.  


II

But dwell in darkness, for your God is blind,  
Humour pours down such torrents on his eyes;  
Which, as from mountains, fall on his base kind,  
And eat your entrails out with ecstasies.  
Colour, whose hands for faintness are not felt,  
Can bind your waxen thoughts in adamant;  
And with her painted fires your heart doth melt,  
Which beat your souls in pieces with a pant.  
But my love is the cordial of souls,  
Teaching by passion what perfection is,  
In whose fix'd beauties shine the sacred scroll,  
And long-lost records of your human bliss,  
Spirit to flesh, and soul to spirit giving,  
Love flows not from my liver but her living.  


III 

Love flows not from my liver but her living,  
From whence all stings to perfect love are darted  
All power, and thought of prideful lust depriving  
Her life so pure and she so spotless-hearted.  
In whom sits beauty with so firm a brow,  
That age, nor care, nor torment can contract it ;  
Heaven's glories shining there, do stuff allow,  
And virtue's constant graces do compact it.  
Her mind the beam of God draws in the fires  
Of her chaste eyes, from all earth's tempting fuel;  
Which upward lifts the looks of her desires,  
And makes each precious thought in her a jewel.  
And as huge fires compress'd more proudly flame,  
So her close beauties further blaze her fame.  


IV 

So her close beauties further blaze her fame;  
When from the world, into herself reflected;  
She lets her shameless glory in her shame,  
Content for heaven to be of earth rejected.  
She thus depress'd, knocks at Olympus' gate,  
And in th' untainted temple of her heart  
Doth the divorceless nuptials celebrate  
'Twixt God and her ; where love's profaned dart  
Feeds the chaste flames of Hymen's firmament,  
Wherein she sacrificeth, for her part;  
The robes, looks, deeds, desires and whole descent  
Of female natures, built in shops of art,  
Virtue is both the merit and reward  
Of her removed and soul-infused regard.  


V 

Of her removed and soul-infused regard,  
With whose firm species, as with golden lances,  
She points her life's field, for all wars prepared,  
And bears one chanceless mind, in all mischances;  
Th'i nversed world that goes upon her head,  
And with her wanton heels doth kick the sky,  
My love disdains, though she be honoured,  
And without envy sees her empery  
Loathes all her toys, and thoughts cupidinine,  
Arranging in the army of her face  
All virtue's forces, to dismay loose eyne,  
That hold no quarter with renown or grace.  
War to all frailty; peace of all things pure,  
Her look doth promise and her life assure.  


VI 

Her look doth promise and her life assure;  
A right line forcing a rebateless point,  
In her high deeds, through everything obscure,  
To full perfection ; not the weak disjoint  
Of female humours ; nor the Protean rages  
Of pied-faced fashion, that doth shrink and swell,  
Working poor men like waxen Images,  
And makes them apish strangers where they dwell,  
Can alter her, titles of primacy,  
Courtship of antic gestures, brainless jests,  
Blood without soul of false nobility,  
Nor any folly that the world infests  
Can alter her who with her constant guises  
To living virtues turns the deadly vices.  


VII 

To living virtues turns the deadly vices;  
For covetous she is of all good parts,  
Incontinent, for still she shows entices  
To consort with them sucking out their hearts,  
Proud, for she scorns prostrate humility,  
And gluttonous in store of abstinence,  
Drunk with extractions still'd in fervency  
From contemplation, and true continence,  
Burning in wrath against impatience,  
And sloth itself, for she will never rise  
From that all-seeing trance, the band of sense,  
Wherein in view of all souls' skill she lies.  
No constancy to that her mind doth move,  
Nor riches to the virtues of my love.  


VIII 

Nor riches to the virtues of my love,
Nor empire to her mighty government;  
Which fair analysed in her beauties' grove,  
Shows Laws for care, and Canons for content;  
And as a purple tincture given to glass,  
By clear transmission of the sun doth taint  
Opposed subjects ; so my mistress' face  
Doth reverence in her viewers' brows depaint,  
And like the pansy, with a little veil,  
She gives her inward work the greater grace;  
Which my lines imitate, though much they fail  
Her gifts so high, and times' conceit so base;  
Her virtues then above my verse must raise her,  
For words want art, and Art wants words to praise her.  


IX

For words want art, and Art wants words to praise her;  
Yet shall my active and industrious pen  
Wind his sharp forehead through those parts that raise her,  
And register her worth past rarest women.  
Herself shall be my Muse; that well will know  
Her proper inspirations; and assuage  
With her dear love the wrongs my fortunes show,  
Which to my youth bind heartless grief in age.  
Herself shall be my comfort and my riches,  
And all my thoughts I will on her convert;  
Honour, and error, which the world bewitches,  
Shall still crown fools, and tread upon desert,  
And never shall my friendless verse envy 
Muses that Fame's loose feathers beautify.  


X 

Muses that Fame's loose feathers beautify,  
And such as scorn to tread the theatre,  
As ignorant: the seed of memory  
Have most inspired, and shown their glories there  
To noblest wits, and men of highest doom,  
That for the kingly laurel bent affair  
The theatres of Athens and of Rome,  
Have been the crowns, and not the base impair.  
Far, then, be this foul cloudy-brow'd contempt  
From like-plumed birds: and let your sacred rhymes  
From honour's court their servile feet exempt,  
That live by soothing moods, and serving times:  
And let my love adorn with modest eyes,  
Muses that sing Love's sensual emperies. 
Lucidius olim. 
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