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“Anacreontics, Drinking” by Abraham Cowley Essay

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Abraham Cowley is a famous English poet of the 17th century. He was a devout royalist and he invested a lot of his time to fight for the restoration of the monarchy. However, he is most famous for his poetry and essays. He published several books of poetry that are still popular. One of his poems is especially interesting in terms of its theme and figurative language.

The poem is titled “Anacreontics, Drinking” and it was published in 1656 (University of the Incarnate Word 591). The poem dwells upon drinking alcohol. The theme of the poem is drinking alcohol and its justification. Each line of the piece can be seen as certain kind of justification of drinking. It is noteworthy that the poet obtained a medical degree from Oxford and he knew about negative effects of drinking. Clearly, the poem can be regarded as a humorous account of a witty man.

Prior to analyzing the figurative language of the poem, it is necessary to pay attention to its structure and title. The word “Anacreontic” stands for “a tradition established” by Cowley and Moore who translated odes of Anacreon who wrote about love and wine (Markley 105).

Thus, Anacreontics had a seven-syllable line that had an accented syllable at the beginning and an eight-syllable line that started with an unaccented syllable. Thus, the poem in question is a certain kind of dialogue with the classical Greek poetry. Clearly, there is a hint at the theme of the piece as the Greek writer focused on love and alcohol. The poem in question is ‘doomed’ to be devoted to drinking alcohol.

At this point, it is possible to concentrate on the figurative language of the poem. First, it is important to stress that Cowley uses numerous literary devices to create lively images. One of the most widely used literary tools in the present poem is personification.

Thus, the earth is “thirsty”, it “drinks and gapes”; the sea also “drinks”; the sun has “drunken fiery face”; the “Moon and Stars… drink and dance” (University of the Incarnate Word 591). Clearly, the earth does not drink water as drinking is a human action. Cowley also provides an image of the “busy Sun” with a “drunken fiery face” (University of the Incarnate Word 591).

He makes the reader imagine a red face of a person who drinks a lot. It appears to be very similar to the fiery (red) face of the Sun, which is not better than a drunkard, according to Cowley. The poet attributes human properties to celestial bodies and earth. The use of this tool makes the poem very clear for people who can imagine themselves in one line with numerous objects mentioned.

Another literary device extensively used in the poem in question is metaphor. For instance, the poet describes the amount of liquid soaked by the ocean and states that it “[d]rinks twice ten thousand rivers up, / So fill’d that they o’erflow the cup” (University of the Incarnate Word 591). The poet manages to create a lively image of rivers that burst their banks as water overflows a plenty cup. The use of a specific number makes the poet sound more reliable.

Cowley also makes use of an allegory. The poet stresses that “an eternal health goes round” (University of the Incarnate Word 591). These words stand for life itself that never stops. ‘Eternal health’ mentioned in the poem means the eternal universe. This is a very potent tool as it adds certain solemnity and, at the same time, it creates the humorous effect.

It is important to note that Cowley employs authorial intrusion as well. This tool makes the reader involved as the author addresses him/her directly. Thus, Cowley addresses his reader:

Fill up the bowl, then, fill it high,

Fill all the glasses there – for why

Should every creature drink but I?

Why, man of morals, tell me why? (University of the Incarnate Word 591)

At that, the poet assumes that his reader will judge him as he calls the reader ‘man of morals’. The poet knows that drinking is seen as something immoral and even sinful. Thus, he is trying to justify this act with the help of his humorous poem.

It is possible to note that the literary devices analyzed above create a very specific atmosphere or rather a new world. It is possible to call it Cowley’s world. This is the universe where all objects are participating in an eternal banquet. All celestial bodies and all parts of the world drink (alcohol), which is the most important premise for existence:

Drinks up the sea, and when he’s done,

The Moon and Stars drink up the Sun:

They drink and dance by their own light,

They drink and revel all the night:

Nothing in Nature’s sober found,

But an eternal health goes round. (University of the Incarnate Word 591)

All the objects seem to be in motion and they acquire human features. This makes the poem very understandable to people who can associate themselves with the nature.

At the same time, the humorous effect is created with the help of the contraposition of what the poet desires to drink and what the earth, the ocean and so on soaks. The poet creates an image of the Sun, ocean, Moon and stars intoxicated after drinking water. He juxtaposes people’s desire to drink alcohol with the need of nature to soak water. In other words, the poet stresses that he (and/or someone like him) needs alcohol just as the earth needs water. Alcohol seems precious and life giving for the man.

Admittedly, when reading the poem, each reader will find his/her ideas and will make his/her own conclusions. Some will not find the humorous aspect and will try to justify their bad habit with saying something about their natural needs. However, some will think that the justification failed as the substances consumed by the nature and drunkards are totally different and, hence, drinking is still seen as sinful and immoral.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that Cowley created a new world where celestial bodies and the earth need drinking to keep the ‘eternal health’. The poet uses this newly created world as an attempt to justify people’s desire to drink alcohol, which is condemned in the society. The poet’s figurative language is full of such literary devices as metaphors, personification, allegory and authorial intrusion. These devices also help the poet create a humorous effect and people will inevitably smile when reading the poem. Abraham Cowley manages to write a didactic and very appealing poem that is timeless.

Works Cited

Markley, Arnold Albert. Stateliest Measures: Tennyson and the Literature of Greece and Rome. Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto, 2004. Print.

University of the Incarnate Word. The Water and Culture Reader. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press, 2011. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 4). “Anacreontics, Drinking” by Abraham Cowley. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/anacreontics-drinking-by-abraham-cowley/

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IvyPanda. 2020. "“Anacreontics, Drinking” by Abraham Cowley." May 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/anacreontics-drinking-by-abraham-cowley/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '“Anacreontics, Drinking” by Abraham Cowley'. 4 May.

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