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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: May ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0376.  Tuesday, 14 May 1996.

From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Monday, 13 May 1996 18:58:32 -0700
Subject:        Funeral Elegy

William Gifford, editor of John Ford's works, comments on the man's tangled
style:  "Ford's principle failure is his perplexity of language; frequently,
too, after perversely labouring with a remote idea till he has confused his
meaning, instead of throwing it aside, he obtrudes it upon the reader involved
in inextricable obscurity."  Gifford was speaking of such lines as these, from
Ford's  "Fame's Memorial".

"Lo, here the pith of valour moulded fast
In curious workmanship of Nature's art:
Lo, here the monuments which ever last
To all succeeding ages of desert,
Noble in all, and all in every part:
Records of fame and characters of brass,
Containing acts, such acts conceit do pass."

Compare this with these lines from the "Funeral Elegy".

"Lo, here a lesson by experience taught
For men whose pure simplicity hath drawn
Their trust to be betray'd by being caught
Within the snares of making truth a pawn:
Whiles it, not doubting whereinto it enters,
Without true proof and knowledge of a friend,
Sincere in singleness of heart, adventers
To give fit cause, ere love begin to end...."

Not that it's totally impossible to draw the writer's meaning out of these
passages, but one wonders also if it was worth the struggle to discover such
common sentiments.  The man means well, but he is sluggish, and lacks clarity
of expression.  Gifford says further of the writer: "Ford's grammatical
experiments take from the simplicity of his diction, while they afford no
strength whatever to his descriptions."  Gifford also lays to him the
"composition of uncouth phrases", and chides him for his "peevish mood". The
Funeral Elegy, as you will see, is full of these faults:

"But O far be it, our unholy lips
Should so profane the deity above
As thereby to ordain revenging whips
Against the day of Judgement and of Love.
The hand that lends us honor in our days
May shorten when it please, and justly take
Our honor from us many sundry ways,
As best becomes that wisdom did us make."

If you've not read the Elegy, the above is a fair sample of what you're in for.
It's been claimed that you have to hear the words spoken to really appreciate
the poem.  Anything would help, of course, but I like a poem I can hold in my
hand. To be sure, there are a few lines that echo Shakespeare,such as "And
those are much more noble in the mind", or maybe "obscur'd without a tomb", and
such sparce phrases, but there is no extended line or thought which bears
comparison with Shakespear.  As Gifford says of John Ford, and this applies to
W.S. of the Funeral Elegy, the poet seems "to have aspired to imitate
[Shakespeare].  He cannot be complimented on his success...."

And so I think that Don Foster has discovered a new poem by John Ford, which is
very good for him, and are there some Ford scholars who would care to comment?
Besides, there's some excellent biography to go along with it, Ford being in
the right place at the right time, a Devonshire man, friend of the Peter
family, all that, a young man interested in the theater. On the other hand, if
we think that Shakespeare wrote the Elegy there is no biographical connection
at all, except what may be imagined out of the very obscure language of the
poem.
 

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