Cavalier poets are a group of English lyric poets who supported King Charles I during the Civil War(1642–1651) as opposed to Roundheads, who supported Parliament. Charles I, a connoisseur of the fine arts, supported poets who created the art he craved. A cavalier was traditionally a mounted soldier or knight, but when the term was applied to those who supported Charles, it was meant to portray them as roistering gallants.
These poets were the followers of Ben Jonson and may properly be called the”Sons of Ben”, though some of them show the influence of John Donne, pioneer of Metaphysical poetry.
The leading Cavalier poets were Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, and Thomas Carew and some minor ones like Godolphin and Randolph. Most of the cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a cavalier poet. Cavalier poets certainly wrote to promote Loyalist principles in favor of the crown.
These poets virtually abandoned the sonnet form which had been the favoured medium for love poems a century. They were considerably influenced by Ben Jonson. Their lyrics are light, witty, elegant, and, for the most part, concerned with love. They show much technical virtuosity. Platonic Love was also another characteristic of cavalier poetry. These poets are great lovers of nature. They observe nature minutely and describe it with feelings.
‘Cavalier lyrics’ is the term applied to lyrics by Thomas Carew, Richard Lovelace, John Suckling, and Robert Herrick.
Good representative examples of Cavalier poetry are: Suckling’s Why so pale and wan, fond lover?; Herrick’s Delight in Disorder; Hesperides, Lovelace’s To Althea, from Prison, Thomas Carew’s An Elegy upon the death of the Deane of Paul’s, Dr. John Donne.
Also read: Characteristics of Romantic poetry