What does "mannered whimsy" mean in the following passage taken from Eucharist and the Poetic Imagination in Early Modern England by Sophie Read?

Marvell does, it is true, come off better from this particular comparison: Crashaw's little bit of mannered whimsy cannot compete with the liquid grace of Marvell's simile, even if one acknowledges that this crystallisation (or, perhaps more accurately here, this dissolution—Ricks's choice of term recalls once more the bon-bons of fond critical memory) is a deliberate rhetorical ploy.

(More context available via Google Books.)

  • Thanks but I know the dictionary definitions for each term. I am particularly hesitant about the meaning of the word "whimsy" here as it ranges in meaning from "fancifulness," "playfulness" to "impulsiveness," and "eccentricity". Can I paraphrase it as "affected playfulness", for instance or does it mean "pretentious impulsiveness"? – developer Aug 17 at 18:51
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The context is a discussion of some poetry by Richard Crashaw (c. 1613 – 1649) and some other poetry by Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678). Both belong to a loose group of poets known as the metaphysical poets. Ingenuity was an important aspect of their poetry.

The relevant passage from Sophie Read's book quotes the following stanza from Richard Crashaw's poem Wishes to his (Supposed) Mistress:

Each ruby there,
Or pearl that dare appear,
Be its own blush, be its own tear.

(The author also mentions Crashaw's poem On the wounds of our crucified Lord.)

The image of a ruby or pearl being its own tear is very ingenious (like many so-called conceits) and, to some readers perhaps, playful. This is probably why Sophie Read calls it whimsical. See Wiktionary's definition of whimsy:

  1. A quaint and fanciful idea; a whim; playfully odd behaviour.

In literature, metaphysical poetry is regarded as an example of mannerism, a term that is first and foremost associated with painting. In that sense, the above example from Crashaw's poem can be called "mannered".

  • I have the impression (especially when you compare with the following liquid grace) that mannered here really does mean simply elegant or "classy" :) – Will Crawford Aug 20 at 2:25

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