Sir John Suckling – 1

John Suckling (1609-1641)

Allen’s 1980 Naropa class on Basic Poetics continues

AG: Let’s start in the anthology with Sir John Suckling  (page three forty-nine),  with the poem called “Song”, which my father used to stomp around the house and recite when he was  teaching it in high school all the time  because it’s a charming poem, and, apparently, it was very popular among the lyric poets of the 1920s as a model example of all-time great top-ten lyric out of English history. And it fitted in with the tuneful cynicism of the ‘twenties, like (the) Floradora Sextette and the Flappers, and easy living, and charming witty Fitzgerald-ian dances and affairs (John making it with Mary and Mary making it with Joan and Joan making it with Harry and Harry with John). So – “Why so pale and wan..?”

“Why so pale and wan fond lover?/  Prithee why so pale?/Will, when looking well can’t move her,/Looking ill prevail?/Prithee why so pale?/   Why so dull and mute young sinner?/  Prithee why so mute?/ Will, when speaking well can’t win her,/ Saying nothing do’t?/Prithee why so mute?/.  Quit, quit for shame, this will not move,/  This cannot take her;/If of herself she will not love,/ Nothing can make her;/ The devil take her.”

So, it’s like the nineteen-twenties’ wit. So it was popular then, as I say. But who was  this guy, Suckling, with this funny name? Suckling?, most amazing, he was, like, a Cavalier poet, of the Royalist Party in the wars between the Puritans and the..

Student; What does that mean a Cavalier poet?

AG: Cavalier Cavalier poet – i.e of the Cavalier age, a royalist, a loyalist and royalist in the wars between the Puritans and the Royalty – (The Puritan Revolution, as you may remember, involved Oliver Cromwell taking over, with his secretary John Milton, and Milton’s Latin secretary and Cromwell’s Latin Secretary, Andrew Marvell. But they were pretty (secondary)…  And they beheaded the King.. who? James II? – does anybody know English history?   [to Student] – you know (it)

Student: Charles the First

AG: Charles the First – okay – what was the politics?

Student: (Land..)

AG: Well, ok..

Student: The Puritans were..

AG: Land reform too and…?

Student: Land reform was part of it….but… I don’t know…

AG:  But, okay, Suckling, Lovelace, various others, were of the Royalist side.

Student: They questioned the divine right of. kings.

AG: Pardon me?

Student: They questioned the divine right of kings, but they couldn’t do anything. They had to get the populace behind them…

AG: Yeah – Milton, Marvell and Cromwell did question the divine right of kings

Student: On The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Milton’s prose, “On The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates”. That was the argument  justifying getting rid of a king who doesn’t have popular support.

AG: Anyway, libertarian, democratic (in the sense that it was anti-Royalist, anti-monarchical, but, on the other hand, very puritanical, they banished the plays from the stage – they had all these great bawdy dirty plays coming up from Shakespeare’s time, and.. was it dirtier before the Restoration, or afterwards?

Student ; They didn’t have any plays?

AG: In the age before, before the Puritans. Was it dirtier before the Puritans than it got to be during Restoration times?

Student: I don’t know.. .. blatant

AG: More blatant. Before?  After?

Student: No, before.

AG: Okay, In other words, it was an era of royalty, licence, libertine-ism, charm, bohemianism – and then the Puritans came on, laid their story down and then there was a Restoration (who was that? Charles II then?) – the Carolinian group?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately four-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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