Authors: Edmund Waller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Poems, 1645, 1664, 1686, 1690, 1693

“A Panegyrick to My Lord Protector,” 1655

“A Poem on St. James’ Park as Lately Improved by His Majesty,” 1661

“Instructions to a Painter,” 1666

Divine Poems, 1685

The Second Part of Mr. Waller’s Poems, 1690

Drama:

Pompey the Great, pb. 1664 (translation of Pierre Corneille)

The Maid’s Tragedy, pb. 1690 (adaptation of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher)

Nonfiction:

The Workes of Edmund Waller in This Parliament, 1645

Debates of the House of Commons from the Year 1667 to the Year 1694, 1763 (10 volumes; with others)

Miscellaneous:

The Works of Edmund Waller, Esq., in Verse and Prose, 1729 (Elijah Fenton, editor)

Biography

Edmund Waller was an innovative seventeenth century English poet. As a youth, he had several years of private instruction, as did most of the literary figures of his time. Thereafter he was sent to Eton and to Cambridge. Waller was married in 1631, after having served for several years as a member of Parliament. A son and a daughter were born before his wife’s death in 1634. After she died Waller retired to Beaconfield, where he lived the life of a wealthy country gentleman. He wrote at this time some of the poems that were to make him famous, especially those love poems to a married woman he called Sacharissa (who was indifferent to his verse).{$I[AN]9810000367}{$I[A]Waller, Edmund}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Waller, Edmund}{$I[tim]1606;Waller, Edmund}

In Parliament once again, Waller distinguished himself as a speaker. He became known as a moderate, and was therefore out of place, as his surroundings were becoming increasingly revolutionary. After attempting to conciliate the king and the House of Commons, Waller tried to arrange to liberate the former. As a result he was placed under arrest and then banished to France. He spent the next six years in France and Italy; during this time, he married his second wife, and his poems were published in England, purportedly without his permission. In 1651 Waller received a pardon from Parliament, and in 1652 he returned to England. He soon reached accommodation with Oliver Cromwell’s regime; in 1655 he published his famous “A Panegyrick to My Lord Protector,” and was appointed a commissioner of trade. When the monarchy was later restored he managed to dispel a reputation for ingratiating himself with Cromwell, and he became popular with Cromwell’s enemies. He was among the first to welcome the newly arrived Charles II, with a poem titled “Upon His Majesty’s Happy Return.” He continued his service in Parliament and distinguished himself in the cause of religious toleration for Catholics and Protestant dissenters. At court he was a literary model for the younger men who admired his poetry.

Soon after Waller’s second wife died in 1677, he retired to the woods and gardens of his home at Hall Barn. In these last years he apparently underwent a religious conversion; rejecting his earlier works, he returned to meditations on spiritual themes. He died at Hall Barn on October 21, 1687, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, at the age of eighty-one.

Waller’s work consisted of short lyrical poems, for the most part on love. He was an important innovator, giving to the couplet the form, smoothness, and precision that later poets were to admire and imitate. He can be thought of as one of the best of the seventeenth century poetic craftsmen. His poems are not read much today, yet Waller’s technical work had great influence; he endowed the poets of the eighteenth century with the couplet, which became their favorite mode of verse. He endowed them, too, with a diction and an attitude toward poetry that dominated literary life for a considerable time after his death. Classicism in English poetry is attributable not only to the Roman verse that serves as its models but also to men like Waller and Sir John Denham, who tried to replace the poetry of the early seventeenth century. Under their influence poetry became less intellectual and more lyrical. In essence, Waller brought back harmonics to English verse and laid the groundwork for poets as distinguished as John Dryden and Alexander Pope.

BibliographyChernaik, Warren L. The Poetry of Limitation: A Study of Edmund Waller. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968. Vividly depicts the political, cultural, and literary context in which Waller wrote his Cavalier lyric poetry, formal occasional poems, and heroic satire, but there are few extended analyses of his works. Contains a chapter accounting for the rise and fall of Waller’s literary reputation.Gilbert, Jack G. Edmund Waller. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Gilbert explores the complex relationship between Waller’s political career and poetry, devotes separate chapters (with extended analyses of some poems) to the lyric and the political poems, and concludes by defining Waller’s view of art and fixing his position in English literature. Includes a chronology and an annotated select bibliography.Hillyer, Richard. “Edmund Waller’s Sacred Poems.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 39, no. 1 (Winter, 1999): 155-169. At age 79, Waller published Divine Poems, the fruits of his late rebirth that crowned the final collected edition of his works printed during his lifetime. Waller’s sacred poems are discussed.Kaminski, Thomas. “Edmund Waller, English Precieux.” Philological Quarterly 79, no. 1 (Winter, 2000): 19-43. Kaminski places Waller in a seventeenth-century context that should enable the reader to grasp both what was new in his poetry and why it should have been praised so highly during his life and for nearly a century after his death.Miner, Earl. The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971. Miner uses Waller to demonstrate past Ben Jonson Cavalier motifs and provides lengthy analyses of “At Penshurst” and “A Poem on St. James’ Park as Lately Improved by His Majesty,” two topographical poems that express the social order that characterizes Cavalier poetry.Piper, William Bowman. The Heroic Couplet. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1969. Provides an overall assessment of Waller’s use of the heroic couplet, from the early imperfections to the mature style reflected in “A Poem on St. James’ Park.”Richmond, H. M. “The Fate of Edmund Waller.” In Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by William R. Keast. Rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1971. Richmond attributes Waller’s decline in popularity and in literary merit to his faults as a person (his feigned madness, bribery, and informing to save his life), rather than to his poetic talents and the lack of the thought/feeling tension associated with the metaphysical poets.Williamson, George. The Proper Wit of Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Williamson discusses Waller’s Restoration and Augustan wit in the poems “On a Girdle” and “The Story of Phoebus and Daphne, applied.” For Williamson, Waller’s use of myth as the chief source of his wit was unique among his contemporaries.
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