Elizabethan Sonnet Cycles by Michael Drayton and Bartholomew Griffin and Sir William Smith


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Page 1

About 1590, when Drayton was twenty-eight, and Anne was probably
twenty-one years old, Drayton left Polesworth Hall and came to London.
Perhaps the very parting was the means of revealing his heart to
himself, for it is from near this time that, as he confesses later, he
dates the first consciousness of his love. He soon publishes _Idea,
the Shepherd's Garland, Rowland's Sacrifice to the Nine Muses_, where
we first see our poet, in his pastoral-poetic character, carving his
"rime of love's idolatry," upon a beechen tree. Thirteen stanzas of
these pastoral eclogues do not exhaust the catalogue of her beauties;
and when he praises the proportion of her shape and carriage, we know
that it was not the poet's frenzied eye alone that saw these graces,
for Dr. John Hall, of Stratford, who attended her professionally,
records in his case-book that she was "beautiful and of gallant
structure of body." Anne was married about 1595 to Sir Henry
Rainsford, who became Drayton's friend, host and patron. It is likely
that Lady Rainsford deserved a goodly portion of the praises bestowed
upon her beauty. And she need not have been ashamed of the devotion of
her knight of poesy; for Michael Drayton was, like Constable and
Daniel and Fletcher, a man good and true, and the chorus of
contemporaries that praise his character and his verse is led by pious
Meres himself, and echoed by Jonson.

_Idea's Mirrour, Amours in Quatorzains_, formed the title under which
the sonnet-cycle appeared in 1594. _Idea_ was reprinted eight times
before 1637, the edition of 1619 being the chief and serving for the
foundation of our text. Many changes and additions were made by the
author in the successive editions; in fact only twenty of the
fifty-one "amours" in _Idea's Mirrour_ escaped the winnowing, while
the famous sixty-first appears for the first time in 1619. There is a
distinct progress manifest in the subdual of language and form to
artistic finish, and while the cycle in its unevenness represents the
early and late stages of poetic progress, the more delicate examples
of his work show him worthy of the praise bestowed by his latest
admirer and critic,

"Faith, Michael Drayton bears the bell
For numbers airy."

It will be noted that, while many rhyme-arrangements are experimented
upon, the Shakespearean or quatrain-and-couplet form predominates. In
the less praiseworthy sonnets he is found to lack grammatical clamping
and to allow frequent faults in rhythm, and he toys with the
glittering and soulless conceit as much as any; but where his
individuality has fullest sway, as in the picturesque Arden memory of
the fifty-third, the personal reminiscences of the Ankor sonnets, and
the vivid theatre theme of the forty-seventh, in what Main calls that
"magical realisation of the spirit of evening" in the thirty-seventh,

strength that pierces beneath the formalities and touches and moves
the heart. Drayton, like Sidney and Daniel and Shakespeare, draws
freely upon the general thought-storehouse of the Italianate
sonneteers: time and the transitoriness of beauty, the lover's
extremes, the Platonic ideas of soul-functions and of love-madness,
the phoenix and Icarus and all the classic gods, engage his fancy
first or last; and no sonnet trifler has been more attracted by the
great theme of immortality in verse than he. When honouring Idea in
the favourite mode he cries

"Queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise."

A late writer holds that years have falsified this prophecy. It is
true that Lamb valued Drayton chiefly as the panegyrist of his native
earth, and we would hardly venture to predict the future of our
sonneteer; but the fact remains that now three hundred years after his
time, his lifelong devotion to the prototype of Idea constitutes, as
he conventionally asserted it would, his most valid claim to interest,
and that the sonnets where this love has found most potent expression
mount the nearest to the true note of immortality.




TO THE READER OF THESE SONNETS


Into these loves who but for passion looks,
At this first sight here let him lay them by,
And seek elsewhere in turning other books,
Which better may his labour satisfy.
No far-fetched sigh shall ever wound my breast;
Love from mine eye a tear shall never wring;
Nor in "Ah me's!" my whining sonnets drest,
A libertine fantasticly I sing.
My verse is the true image of my mind,
Ever in motion, still desiring change;
To choice of all variety inclined,
And in all humours sportively I range.
My muse is rightly of the English strain,
That cannot long one fashion entertain.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Mon 20th May 2019, 18:47