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Posts Tagged ‘George Wither’

Moral and Divine (and Terrifying)

October 28, 2014 | by

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Cruel fate.

Yesterday’s journey into the macabre (via Thackeray) was so lousy with skulls and black cats and seasonal pageantry that I thought, Hell, let’s do it again.

The public domain is teeming with hoary, scary fare for Halloween. Time was, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting something spooky.

I present to you, then, a few morbid selections from George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne: Quickened with Metrical Illustrations, both Moral and Divine; and disposed into Lotteries, that Instruction and Good Counsel, may be furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation, from 1635. Wither wrote verses to accompany these allegorical plates, which were originally by Crispin van Passe from earlier in the seventeenth century. The allegories depicted here aren’t always easy to parse, but I think we can safely assume that they instruct humankind in the evasion of sin. If you sin, after all, your hand may wind up mounted to a stick, or you may become like the caged cat, beset by the mice you once terrorized. Read More »

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Caveat Emptor

January 23, 2013 | by

I was at Moe’s Books in Berkeley looking for material on seventeenth-century shape poems with my not-yet-two-year-old daughter when a wizened man with mutton chops spotted me reshelving the books she was piling in the corner.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

I quickly learned that he’d spent his entire scholarly life immersed in the study of shape poems. Moe’s must be rich with encounters like this; it’s a four-story bookstore just three blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus.

He told me about a contemporaneous vogue for something called emblem books. Perhaps the best known emblem book is Hans Holbein the Younger’s beautifully decorated The Dance of Death, in which woodcuts of various scenes and settings depict a skeleton reminding us of time’s wicked work on our health and aspirations. Beneath each woodcut is an epigram in verse. The best-known English practitioners of emblem books, Francis Quarles and George Wither, are hardly known at all, possibly because it’s hard to anthologize poems that are incomplete without an accompanying picture. Read More »

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