THE Elizabethan Poetry, as it is rather vaguely termed, forms the substance of this book, which contains pieces from Wyatt, under Henry the Eighth, to Shakespeare, midway through the reign of James the First, and Drummond, who carried on the early manner to a still later period. There is here a wide range of style, from simplicity expressed in a language hardly yet broken into versethrough the pastoral fancies and Italian conceits of the strictly Elizabethan timeto the passionate reality of Shakespeare. Yet a general uniformity of tone prevails. Few readers can fail to observe the natural sweetness of the verse, the single-hearted straightforwardness of the thoughts, nor less the limitation of subject to the many phases of one passion, which then characterized our lyrical poetryunless when, as with Drummond and Shakespeare, the "purple light of Love" is tempered by a spirit of sterner reflection.
It should be observed that this and the following summaries apply in the main to the Collection here presented, in which (besides its restriction to lyrical poetry) a strictly representative or historical anthology has not been aimed at. Great excellence, in human art as in human character, has from the beginning of things been even more uniform than mediocrity, by virtue of the closeness of its approach to Nature; and so far as the standard of excellence kept in view has been attained in this volume, a comparative absence of extreme or temporary phases in style, a similarity of tone and manner, will be found throughoutsomething neither modern nor ancient, but true in all ages, and like the works of creation, perfect as on the first day.
Line 4.Rouse Memnon's mother: Awaken the Dawn from the dark Earth and the clouds where she is resting. Aurora in the old mythology is mother of Memnon (the East), and wife of Tithonus (the appearances of Earth and Sky during the last hours of Night). She leaves him every morning in renewed youth, to prepare the way for Phoebus (the Sun), whilst Tithonus remains in perpetual old age and grayness.
L. 27.By Peneus' streams. Phoebus loved the nymph Daphne, whom he met by the river Peneus in the vale of Tempe. This legend expressed the attachment of the Laurel (Daphne) to the Sun, under whose heat the tree both fades and flourishes.
It has been thought worth while to explain these allusions, because they illustrate the character of the Grecian mythology, which arose in the personification of natural phenomena, and was totally free from those debasing and ludicrous ideas with which, through Roman and later misunderstanding or perversion, it has been associated.
L. 31.Amphion's lyre. He was said to have built the walls of Thebes to the sound of his music.
L. 39.Night like a drunkard reels. Compare Romeo and Juliet, Act II., Scene 3: "The gray-eyed morn smiles," etc.
It should be added that three lines, which appeared hopelessly misprinted, have been omitted in this poem.
A fine example of the high-wrought and conventional Elizabethan pastoralism, which it would be ludicrous to criticize on the ground of the unshepherd-like or unreal character of some images suggested. Stanza 6 was probably inserted by Izaak Walton.
This poem, with xxv. and xciv., is taken from Davidson's "Rhapsody," first published in 1602. One stanza has been here omitted, in accordance with the principle noticed in the Preface. Similar omissions occur in xlv., lxxxvii., c., cxxviii., clx., clxv., ccxxvii., ccxxxv. The more serious abbreviation by which it has been attempted to bring Crashaw's "Wishes" and Shelley's "Euganean Hills" within the limits of lyrical unity, is commended with much diffidence to the judgment of readers acquainted with the original pieces.
This charming little poem, truly "old and plain, and dallying with the innocence of love," like that spoken of in the Twelfth Night, is taken, with v., xvii., xx., xxxiv., and xl., from the most characteristic collection of Elizabeth's reign, "England's Helicon," first published in 1600.
Readers who have visited Italy will be reminded of more than one picture by this gorgeous "vision of beauty," equally sublime and pure in its Paradisaical naturalness. Lodge wrote it on a voyage to "the islands of Terceras and the Canaries;" and he seems to have caught, in those southern seas, no small portion of the qualities which marked the almost contemporary Art of Venicethe glory and the glow of Veronese, or Titian, or Tintoretto when he most resembles Titian, and all but surpasses him.
Line 1.The clear: the crystalline or outermost heaven of the old cosmography.
L. 7.Resembling: other copies give refining; the correct reading is perhaps revealing.
L. 43.For a fair there's fairer none: If you desire a beauty, there is none more beautiful than Rosaline.
Line 8.The star whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken: apparently, Whose stellar influence is uncalculated, although his angular altitude from the plane of the astrolabe, or artificial horizon used by astrologers, has been determined.
Line 5.Nativity once in the main of light: when a star has risen and entered on the full stream of lightanother of the astrological phrases no longer familiar.
L. 7.Crooked eclipses: as coming athwart the Sun's apparent course.
Wordsworth, thinking probably of the "Venus" and the "Lucrece," said finely of Shakespeare: "Shakespeare could not have written an epic; he would have died of plethora of thought." This prodigality of nature is exemplified equally in his sonnets. The copious selection here given (which, from the wealth of the material, required greater consideration than any other portion of the Editor's task) contains many that will not be fully felt and understood without some earnestness of thought on the reader's part. But he is not likely to regret the labour.
With the tone of this sonnet compare Hamlet's "Give me that man that is not passion's slave," etc. Shakespeare's writings show the deepest sensitiveness to passion: hence the attraction he felt in the contrasting effects of apathy.
Line 2.Cypres, or cyprus, used by the old writers for crape, either from the French crespe or from the island whence it was imported. Its accidental similarity in spelling to cypress has here, and in Milton's "Penseroso," probably confused readers.
"I never saw anything like this funeral dirge," says Charles Lamb, "except the ditty which reminds Ferdinand of his drowned father in the Tempest. As that is of the water, watery, so this is of the earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness of feeling which seems to resolve itself into the element which it contemplates."
This "spousal verse" was written in honour of the Ladies Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset. Although beautiful, it is inferior to the "Epithalamion" on Spenser's own marriageomitted with great reluctance as not in harmony with modern manners.
L. 145.A noble peer: Robert Devereux, second Lord Essex, then at the height of his brief triumph after taking Cadiz: hence the allusion following to the Pillars of Hercules, placed near Gades by ancient legend.
A fine example of a peculiar class of poetrythat written by thoughtful men who practised this art but little. Wotton's, lxxii., is another. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Berkeley, Dr. Johnson, and Lord Macaulay have left similar specimens.