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shaped poems, country life, English poetry


In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham describes certain "Geometricall figures," i.e., shaped poems, written in the "Courts of the great Princes of China and Tartarie." Puttenham argues that the concise verse forms

insinuat some secret, wittie, morall and brave purpose presented to the beholder, either to recreate his eye, or please his phantasie, or examine his iudgement, or occupie his braine or to manage his will either by hope or by dread, every of which respects be of no little moment to the interest and ornament of the civill life: and therefore give them no litle commendation.

During the seventeenth century, English poets diversified beyond geometrically shaped poems and wrote poems whose typographical appearance related to their subject. Robert Herrick is known to have "exercised some supervision over the printer," according to F. W. Moorman, and John L. Kimmey notes eighteen shaped poems in Herrick's Hesperides and Noble Numbers. Kimmey recognizes Herrick's "bold experimentation with long and short lines" in "His Grange, or private wealth" as the persona "catalogues the things that belong to his house in an affectionate as well as a burlesque way." In fact, the overall shape of this poem is actually that of a ledger in which the persona enters and evaluates the assets of his country life and manor: the assets attain private, emotional value for the persona through their contribution to the harmony and order of the grange.