December 8, 2010 2 Comments
By: Jay (c) copyright, all rights reserved.
The significance of the mirror as an actual object and its usage a symbolic metaphor in literature is found in several English Renaissance era poems. The view of the mirror following upon the Renaissance and its philosophical progenitors, however, continued to have its somewhat mystical connotations in writers. Viewed in the ancient world as a kind of quasi-magical object, a portal to another world, and a kind of picture the mind itself, in the Renaissance it retained this association through its conceptual usage in the Platonic tradition. This paper will focus on analyzing the different usages of the mirror in poems by Ben Johnson and George Herbert.
Poet and playwright Ben Johnson (1572-1637) utilizes a fascinating portrayal of the mirror in his poem “XIII Epistle to Lady Katherine Aubigny” from the collection The Forest, published around 1616. Johnson lived in the house of Lady Aubigny, her husband Lord Aubigny being a patron of Johnson’s. In the “XIII Epistle,” Johnson turns the mirror into an image of the poem itself. The poem is lengthy, so the following will be the relevant sections. He writes in praise of Lady Katherine:
|Yourself but told unto yourself, and see
In my character what your features be,
You will not from the paper slightly pass:
No lady, but at some time loves her glass.
And this shall be no false one, but as much
Remov’d, as you from need to have it such.
Look then, and see your self — I will not say
|Your beauty, for you see that every day;
And so do many more: all which can call
It perfect, proper, pure, and natural,
Not taken up o’ the doctors, but as well
As I, can say and see it doth excel;
That asks but to be censured by the eyes:
And in those outward forms, all fools are wise.
Johnson describes the “self” as the subject of the poem, and that just as a mirror presents the self to a person, so his poem itself will become a mirror. However, for Johnson, as a mirror is useful for presenting the outward form of the body, his poem will be a mirror for the real form of Lady Katherine, which is her virtue. Already we have somewhat Platonic notions, which will become clearer as we move on, and which were in vogue in the Renaissance writers’ rediscovery of the classical Greek tradition, especially the Platonic and Neo-platonic corpus. Read more of this post