Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Constancie #2

I am indebted to my friend and former professor, Karl Maurer, for sending me some notes on the poem I referenced in the previous post (Herbert's "Constancie"). I quote the poem again for reference and beneath it offer his notes. I found them helpful, though I am still pondering the Mark-man.

   Who is the honest man?                           1

He that doth still and strongly good pursue;
To God, his neighbor, and himself most true;
   Whom neither force nor fawning can
Unpinne, or wrench from giving all their due.       5 

   Whose honestie is not
So loose or easie, that a ruffling winde
Can blow away, or glitt'ring look it blinde;
   Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the world now rides by, now lags behinde.     10

   Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks nor shunnes them, but doth calmly stay,
Till he the thing and the example weigh:
   All being brought into a summe,
What place or person calls for he doth pay.         15

   Whom none can work or wooe
To use in any thing a trick or sleight,
For above all things he abhorres deceit;
   His words and works and fashion too
All of a piece, and all are cleare and straight.    20

   Who never melts or thaws 
At close tentations: when the day is done,
His goodnesse sets not, but in dark can runne:
   The sunne to others writeth laws,
And is their vertue, Vertue is his sunne.           25

   Who, when he is to treat
With sick folks, women, those whom passions sway,
Allows for that, and keeps his constant way;
   Whom others' faults do not defeat,
But though men fail him, yet his part doth play.    30

   Whom nothing can procure,
When the wide world runnes bias, from his will,
To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend, the ill.
   This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,
Who still is right, and prayes to be so still.      35

16 ‘work’ = induce:  OED  <<39. trans.  a. To act on the mind or will of; to influence, prevail on, induce, persuade; (also) to strive or seek to influence in this way; to urge. Chiefly with to, into.  In early use freq. with connotations of cunning or deceit.>>  E.g. <<1610   P. Holland tr. W. Camden Brit. i. 532   Yet could hee not bee wrought... to disclose his complices.>>

31 ‘procure... to writhe’ = induce to writhe: OED << †5. trans. To try to induce or persuade; to urge, press. Obs.>>  E.g. <<1590   Spenser Faerie Queene iii. i. sig. Bb5,   The famous Briton Prince and Faery Knight,... Of the faire Alma greatly were procur'd, To make there lenger soiourne and abode.>>
     (By the way, I suspect that we should erase the comma after ‘bias’; for ‘procure’ governs the infinitive, and ‘from his will’ seems to go not with that but with ‘runnes’.)

36 ‘bias’ here an adverb:  OED: <<C. adv.  [Compare on the bias, French en biais, de biais.] 1. Obliquely, aslope, athwart. Obs. exc. of dress. 1575   R. Laneham Let. (1871) 25   Wold run hiz race byas among the thickest of the throng. (...) 1878   G. H. Napheys Physical Life Woman   A body-case of strong linen, cut bias.>>

38 ‘writhe’ = coil or wreath; transitively, to force into wreaths.  (Nowadays I think we use the word only intransitively.)  One writer on Herbert (alas, I didn't write down the reference) thinks that it refers to how bowlers twist themselves into unnatural shapes when trying to spin or bias the ball.

39 ‘Mark-man’: acc. to the OED this can mean ‘marksman’, and some readers take it that way; others think that Herbert means not that but a man whose life is a mark for others to aim at or imitate or steer by. 

     It seems very hard to decide.  But the first way seems probably right; for in 36-8 it's the constant man himself who is aiming (so the 'mark' is Goodness, or God, as in Balde's poem 'Virtue').  But I can see why the second way is tempting; compare Shakespeare, and here just change ‘it’ to ‘he’: ‘O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark, / That looks on tempests and is never shaken; / It is the star to every wandering bark, / Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.’

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