Fear not, dear love, that I’ll reveal
Those hours of pleasure we two steal ;
No eye shall see, nor yet the sun
Descry, what thou and I have done.
No ear shall hear our love, but we
Silent as the night will be ;
The god of love himself (whose dart
Did first wound mine and then thy heart),
Shall never know that we can tell
What sweets in stol’n embraces dwell.
This only means may find it out ;
If, when I die, physicians doubt
What caused my death, and there to view
Of all their judgments which was true,
Rip up my heart, oh ! then, I fear,
The world will see thy picture there.
Thomas Carew interests me.
Part of this is because he’s a 17th Century poet, friends with my beloved Ben Jonson and John Donne, and also because his name is pronounced “Carey,” which tripped me up in college more than once and proves that English is a wretched patchwork language and being born to it doesn’t always offer an advantage.
But mostly it’s because so little is actually known about him—no one is even sure exactly when he died, or what got him in the end*—that everything we do know seems that much more important.
Or maybe that’s just me. Or his methods of persuasion.
I do not love thee for those soft
Red coral lips I’ve kissed so oft,
Nor teeth of pearl, the double guard
To speech whence music still is heard;
Though from those lips a kiss being taken
Mighty tyrants melt, and death awaken.
—“I Do Not Love Thee For That Fair”
Carew was born in London around 1595 to a respectably well-off family—his grandfather had been the Lord Mayor. He earned an academic degree at the age of sixteen and joined the household of the Ambassador to Italy as a secretary.
He was dismissed for “levity and slander” a few years later—and I can’t say I’m much surprised. Even before he and Donne became good friends—and probably co-wingmen, who are we kidding?—Carew had an attitude that was both blunt and insouciant:
Boldness in Love
Mark how the bashful morn in vain
Courts the amorous marigold,
With sighing blasts and weeping rain,
Yet she refuses to unfold.
But when the planet of the day
Approacheth with his powerful ray,
The she spreads, then she receives
His warmer beams into her virgin leaves.
So shalt thou thrive in love, fond boy;
If thy tears and sighs discover
Thy grief, thou never shalt enjoy
The just reward of a bold lover.
But when with moving accents thou
Shalt constant faith and service vow,
Thy Celia shall receive those charms
With open ears, and with unfolded arms.
He eventually found a position with the Baron of Cherbury, lived in France for half a decade or so, and returned to England to hang around the Royal Court until it took notice of him and was allowed to attend the Royal Chambers.
There’s a terrific story about how, as he led Charles I into the Queen’s room one night, he glimpsed a certain Lord taking liberties with Her Majesty’s person and quickly pretended to stumble and drop his candle. History does not record what His Majesty thought of his clumsy courtier, but Queen Henrietta immediately decided that Carew was one of her favorite people.
Timing, as they say, is everything.
Carew was one of the first Cavalier poets—one of those well-spoken wits who were able to see the court for exactly who they were, and write so beautifully about their foibles and follies that the subjects themselves applauded them for it, mostly. His fellow poets admired him for his wit and lyrical descriptions—but even they thought that he occasionally edged over the line. “Levity and slander” appears to have been his métier.
This is especially evident in his “Rapture,” which is approximately 166 lines discussing society’s artificial and arbitrary notions of chastity talking his lady-love into bed. Here’s his closing argument:
Come then, my Celia, we’ll no more forbear
To taste our joys, struck with a panic fear,
But will depose from his imperious sway
This proud usurper, and walk as free as they,
With necks unyoked ; nor is it just that he
Should fetter your soft sex with chastity,
Whom Nature made unapt for abstinence ;
When yet this false impostor can dispense
With human justice and with sacred right
And, maugre both their laws, command me fight
With rivals or with emulous loves that dare
Equal with thine their mistress’ eyes or hair.
If thou complain of wrong, and call my sword
To carve out thy revenge, upon that word
He bids me fight and kill ; or else he brands
With marks of infamy my coward hands.
And yet religion bids from blood-shed fly,
And damns me for that act. Then tell me why
This goblin Honour, which the world adores,
Should make men atheists, and not women whores?
His readership and popularity fell after his death,** which was probably no later than 1653,*** and no one much paid attention to him until his poetry was unearthed some three hundred years later and several critics decided that this Thomas Carew dude had some serious writing chops.
I’ll gaze no more on her bewitching face,
Since ruin harbours there in every place ;
For my enchanted soul alike she drowns
With calms and tempests of her smiles and frowns.
I’ll love no more those cruel eyes of hers,
Which, pleased or anger’d, still are murderers :
For if she dart, like lightning, through the air
Her beams of wrath, she kills me with despair :
If she behold me with a pleasing eye,
I surfeit with excess of joy, and die.
I’m kind of glad they did.
*Though odds are it was something lingering and lung-y. With a few exceptions, pre-20th century poets appear to have tended towards respiratory illnesses, often exacerbated by poverty and/or livers like wine-soaked lace.
**Which honestly isn’t that big a surprise considering the relative flamboyance of his contemporaries and the sheer number of poets who followed him.
***Because additions and revisions to his last collection of verse stopped around then. They could have been done posthumously, I suppose, but as far as I know, no one ever claimed editing credit.