Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of WILLIAM BROWNE (1591-1643)

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William Browne was a pastoral poet, born in Tavistock, Devon in 1591. Not to be confused with the physician of the same name from the 17th century, Browne’s poetry is imbued with an appreciation for nature, reflecting the idyllic pastoral tradition of the English countryside. His work, though not as widely known today as some of his contemporaries, is a significant part of the canon of early 17th-century English literature.

Literary Background: Browne’s literary career flourished during the early Stuart period, a time which saw a flowering of English poetry with figures like John Donne, Ben Jonson, and later, John Milton. Browne was part of an intellectual circle that included Michael Drayton, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Ben Jonson.

Early Influences: Browne attended Exeter College, Oxford, but it is not clear if he graduated. His poetry shows a deep knowledge of earlier English poets, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, and classical poets, like Virgil and Ovid, who were the foundational influences of the pastoral genre. He was also influenced by the work of Edmund Spenser and incorporated Spenserian elements into his own writing.

Poetic Schools or Movements: Browne is most closely associated with the pastoral tradition in poetry, which typically involves an idealized vision of rural life and often serves as a platform for political and social commentary. This genre harks back to the classical poets but was revived during the Renaissance.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes: Browne’s poetic career is marked by two major works:

*Britannia’s Pastorals: Published in two books (1613, 1616), this work consists of lengthy pastoral poems that describe the English countryside, replete with mythological and pastoral figures. The verse is characterized by elaborate descriptions, the use of allegory, and a tone of nostalgic romance.

*The Shepherd’s Pipe: This collection of eclogues (short pastoral poems) was published in 1614. These poems follow the classical tradition of Virgil but are distinctly English in their depiction of rural life.

Browne’s work also includes funerary poetry and a masque presented to King James I. Throughout his oeuvre, themes of nature, love, and the idealized pastoral life are prevalent. His work has an escapist quality, creating a peaceful and ordered world contrasted with the political and social upheavals of his time.

Influence: Browne’s influence was modest compared to the titans of English literature, but his work was admired by his contemporaries and influenced poets such as John Milton, who is said to have admired his work for its naturalistic descriptions and melodious quality. His influence can be seen in the pastoral elements of "Lycidas," Milton's famous elegy.

Honors: Browne did not receive significant honors during his lifetime, and his pastoral poetry, while popular in his own time, did not have the lasting fame of some of his peers. The pastoral genre itself waned in popularity as the political and social climate of England grew more complex and less conducive to the genre's idealized simplicity.

Conclusion: William Browne’s contribution to the pastoral tradition captures the bucolic landscape and the harmonious relationships that were envisioned to exist within it. His work is characterized by its vivid imagery and the music of its verse, contributing a distinctive voice to the literary world of early 17th-century England. While not as revolutionary as the Metaphysical poets or as grand in scope as the later epics of Milton, Browne’s quiet celebration of the English countryside offers a glimpse into the rural life and literary tastes of his era. His works stand as a testament to the enduring charm of pastoral poetry and its ability to encapsulate the cultural and idyllic aspirations of a moment in English literary history.

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