Authors: Richard Crashaw

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber, 1634

Steps to the Temple, 1646, 1648

Carmen Deo Nostro, 1652

Poems: English, Latin, and Greek, 1927, 1957

Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw, 1970


Richard Crashaw (KRASH-aw), who is among the best of England’s Roman Catholic poets, began his life as the son of an anti-Catholic Anglican clergyman with Puritan leanings. He was born in London in 1612 or 1613, while his father was preacher to the Temple, and he was enrolled in the Charterhouse School there about 1629, three years after the death of his father. It has been suggested that Robert Brooke, the headmaster of Charterhouse, gave young Crashaw his first training in writing poetry. In 1631, Crashaw entered Pembroke College at Cambridge University, where he contributed poems and drawings to several occasional volumes.{$I[AN]9810000571}{$I[A]Crashaw, Richard}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Crashaw, Richard}{$I[tim]1612;Crashaw, Richard}

Crashaw remained in Cambridge until after the outbreak of the civil war, taking his degree in 1634. Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber was published that same year. In 1635, Crashaw became a fellow of Peterhouse College, the stronghold of the High Church party of Archbishop Laud, one of the most influential ministers of Charles I. While there he met poet Abraham Cowley, who became a lifelong friend.

Crashaw’s poetry reveals a joy in beauty and sensuous, concrete imagery that helps explain his preference for the ceremonies of High Church Anglicanism and finally the Roman Catholic Church. During the late 1630’s, he formed close friendships with members of Nicholas Ferrar’s Anglo-Catholic community at Little Gidding. By 1939, Crashaw had been ordained in the Anglican Church; that year he assumed the curacy of nearby Little St. Mary’s.

Crashaw’s first volume of English poetry, Steps to the Temple, appeared in 1646. Its title reflects his admiration for the religious lyrics of George Herbert, published in The Temple. The same volume also contained The Delights of the Muses, featuring classical and occasional poetry. Crashaw, ever revising his poetry, reissued the collection in 1648.

As a Laudian Anglican and a strong royalist, Crashaw was forced to flee Cambridge in 1643, before Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary Commissioners came to Peterhouse to destroy the church ornaments they considered idolatrous and to root out royalist sympathizers. Crashaw may have gone first to Little Gidding, but he was soon on the Continent, in Leiden. He went on to Paris in 1644 to the exiled English queen, Henrietta Maria, who had taken refuge at the court of her nephew, Louis XIV, and to whom Crashaw may have been introduced by Cowley. At court, Crashaw met his patron, the countess of Denbigh, recipient of Crashaw’s famous letter of spiritual advice. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1644 or 1645.

Crashaw went to Rome in 1645 or shortly thereafter, but in spite of a letter from Henrietta Maria to the pope in his behalf, his reception there was cool. He was finally given a post in the household of Cardinal Palotto in 1646 or 1647. English travelers reported that Crashaw was soon disillusioned with the corruption of the cardinal’s retinue and had made enemies of many of his servants. In 1649, Crashaw was transferred, possibly for his own safety, to Loreto. He died there months later, ostensibly of fever but with rumors of poisoning.

Carmen Deo Nostro, containing revisions of poems in Steps to the Temple and a number of new works, was published posthumously in 1652. Crashaw’s works have often been reprinted since his death, and he remains a well-established minor poet, one of the few English writers with the “baroque sensibility,” the love for rich colors, sensuous imagery, and intense emotion that inspired the sculptors, painters, and poets of seventeenth century France and Italy.

BibliographyBertonasco, Marc F. Crashaw and the Baroque. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1971. Traces Crashaw’s key images to seventeenth century emblem books and finds Saint Francis de Sales’s meditative method the major influence on Crashaw’s spiritual development. Provides a detailed analysis of “The Weeper” which demonstrates these influences. The appendix contains a review of Crashaw’s scholarship and a bibliography.Cousins, Anthony D. The Catholic Religious Poets from Southwell to Crashaw: A Critical History. London: Sheed & Ward, 1991. History of the criticism and interpretation of these English poets from a Christian perspective. Bibliographical references, index.Healy, Thomas F. Richard Crashaw. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986. Explains that Crashaw’s poetry owes much to his Cambridge years at Pembroke and Peterhouse, when the religious, intellectual, and poetic environment shaped his ideas and his work. Includes extended criticism of “Musick’s Duell” and, particularly, “To the Name of Jesus.”LeVay, John. “Crashaw’s ‘Wishes to His (Supposed) Mistresse.’” Explicator 50, no. 4 (Summer, 1992): 205. A critique of Crashaw’s “Delight of the Muses,” which includes a wishful reverie of the poet’s ideal woman.Mintz, Susannah B. “The Crashavian Mother.” Studies in English Literature 39, no. 1 (Winter, 1999): 111-129. A study of the history of critical thought regarding Crashaw’s relationship to women.Parrish, Paul A. Richard Crashaw. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Surveys Crashaw’s life and work and contains several relatively long explications of individual Crashaw poems. Provides a biography, followed by chapters on Crashaw’s early work, the secular poems, Steps to the Temple, the major hymns, and the Teresa poems. Includes a selected, annotated bibliography.Sabine, Maureen. Feminine Engendered Faith: The Poetry of John Donne and Richard Crashaw. London: Macmillan Academic and Professional, 1992. Examines these two poets’ religious imagery and content with particular emphasis on the impact of the Virgin Mary. Contains bibliographical references, index.Wallerstein, Ruth C. Richard Crashaw: A Study of Style and Poetic Development. 1935. Reprint. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959. One of the best early studies of Crashaw. Contains invaluable commentary on the translations Crashaw wrote in his formative years. Provides detailed information about the emblem tradition and lists many early primary sources in the bibliography.Warren, Austin. Richard Crashaw: A Study in Baroque Sensibility. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1939. An early influential overview of Crashaw’s achievement. Examines the Counter-Reformation and chronicles Crashaw’s life. Contains a detailed study of Baroque art, comments on Crashaw’s secular and sacred verse, and summarizes the critical response to his subject. The bibliography is valuable for its listing of primary sources.Williams, George Walton. Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1963. Provides a well-written catalog of Crashaw’s symbols, which he groups in three clusters: quantity (God’s magnificence and man’s insignificance), color (red and white), and “liquidity” (tears, blood, wine, and water). Also provides an extensive bibliography and indexes to symbols and poems.Young, R. V. Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Poetry. Rochester, N.Y.: D. S. Brewer, 2000. History and criticism of Christian poetry in seventeenth-century England. The works of Richard Crashaw, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and John Donne are analyzed. Includes bibliographic references.Young, R. V. Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Places Crashaw within a metaphysical context and argues that Crashaw’s poetry is impersonal and public, that he was familiar with contemporary Spanish literature, and that his poems about saints and feast days (“The Flaming Heart,” “Hymn to the Name of Jesus,” and “A Hymn to the Name and Honor of the Admirable Saint Teresa”) deserve the extended criticism he devotes to them.
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