Cavalier Poetry

An early seventeenth-century (mostly Caroline) movement, centered on Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, John Suckling, Richard Lovelace, and Henry Vaughn. Most were admirers of Ben Jonson. They get their name from the supporters of King Charles I in the seventeenth century: the Cavaliers were Royalists during the Civil Wars. (The supporters of Parliament were nicknamed Roundheads.)

It's traditional to oppose the Cavalier poets to the Metaphysical poets, including John Donne and George Herbert. Whereas the Metaphysical poets were fond of abstruse imagery and complicated metaphors, the Cavaliers preferred more straightforward expression. They valued elegance, and were part of a refined, courtly culture, but their poetry is often frankly erotic. Their strength was the short lyric poem, and a favorite theme was carpe diem, "seize the day."

Here's a famous, and perhaps typical, Cavalier lyric, Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time":

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
   To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
   You may for ever tarry.


From the Guide to Literary Terms by Jack Lynch.
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Note: This guide is still in the early stages of development.
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