The strong historical links to the Seventeenth-century in the series had me hunting among my favourite Metaphysical poets: John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. Not only did Donne provide the titles for the first three books – Mortal Fire; Death Be Not Proud; and Rope of Sand, but his – and other poets – feature and is referenced throughout the series.
I loved studying Metaphysical poetry at college. I enjoyed the subtlety of Donne and the self-deprecating piety of Herbert, while Marvell provided sly humour and memorable one-liners. In To His Coy Mistress, he manages to juggle a rather acidic, earthy remark, with one of sublime beauty, the latter made more poignant by its juxtaposition with the temporal subject of the poem.
‘My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;’
‘But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.’
By book 4 – Realm of Darkness – I had moved through the centuries and found a quote in Longfellow to reflect Matthew’s development and change. How apt that Longfellow was also a resident of Portland, Maine, near where much of the story is set.
By the last book – Fearful Symmetry – I went back in time again, this time to William Blake, whose poetry often reflects a mind seeking answers in nature for the mysteries of heart and soul. Given Matthew’s unique status, it seemed fitting somehow, to finish with a poet who understood the sublime and divine in Creation.