Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
The Ballad of Dowsabel
By Michael Drayton (1563–1631)
 
FAR 1 in the country of Arden,
There wonned a knight, hight Cassamen,
    As bold as Isenbras: 2
Fell was he and eager bent,
In battle and in tournament,        5
    As was the good Sir Topas. 3
 
He had, as antique stories tell,
A daughter cleped Dowsabel,
    A maiden fair and free:
And for she was her father’s heir,        10
Full well she was yconned the leir 4
    Of mickle courtesy.
 
The silk well couth she twist and twine,
And make the fine march-pine, 5
    And with the needle work:        15
And she could help the priest to say
His matins on a holyday,
    And sing a psalm in kirk.
 
She wore a frock of frolic green,
Might well become a maiden queen,        20
    Which seemly was to see:
A hood to that so neat and fine
In colour like the columbine,
    Ywrought full featously.
 
Her features all as fresh above,        25
As is the grass that grows by Dove,
    And lythe as lass of Kent: 6
Her skin as soft as Lemster wool,
As white as snow on Peakish Hull,
    Or swan that swims in Trent.        30
 
This maiden in a morn betime,
Went forth when May was in the prime,
    To get sweet setywall, 7
The honey-suckle, the harlock,
The lily, and the lady-smock,        35
    To deck her summer hall.
 
Thus as she wandered here and there,
And picked of the bloomy briar,
    She chancèd to espy
A shepherd sitting on a bank,        40
Like chanticleer he crowed crank, 8
    And piped full merrily.
 
He learned his sheep, as he him list,
When he would whistle in his fist,
    To feed about him round,        45
Whilst he full many a carol sang,
Until the fields and meadows rang,
    And that the woods did sound.
 
In favour this same shepherd swain
Was like the bedlam Tamberlane,        50
    Which held proud kings in awe:
But meek as any lamb mought be,
And innocent of ill as he
    Whom his lewd brother slaw.
 
This shepherd wore a sheep-gray cloak,        55
Which was of the finest loke 9
    That could be cut with sheer,
His mittons were of bauzons’ skin, 10
His cockers were 11 of cordiwin, 12
    His hood of minivere. 13        60
 
His awl and lingel in a thong,
His tar-box 14 on his broad belt hung,
    His breech of Cointree blue; 15
Full crisp and curlèd were his locks,
His brows as white as Albion rocks,        65
    So like a lover true.
 
And piping still he spent the day,
So merry as the popinjay,
    Which likèd Dowsabel;
That would she ought, or would she nought,        70
This lad would never from her thought,
    She in love-longing fell.
 
At length she tuckèd up her frock,
White as a lily was her smock,
    She drew the shepherd nigh:        75
But then the shepherd piped a good,
That all his sheep forsook their food,
    To hear his melody.
 
“Thy sheep,” quoth she, “cannot be lean,
That have a jolly shepherd swain,        80
    The which can pipe so well.”
“Yea, but,” said he, “their shepherd may,
If piping thus he pine away,
    In love of Dowsabel.”
 
“Of love, fond boy, take thou no keep,”        85
Quoth she, “look well unto thy sheep,
    Lest they should hap to stray.”
Quoth he, “So had I done full well,
Had I not seen fair Dowsabel
    Come forth to gather May.”        90
 
With that she ’gan to vail her head,
Her cheeks were like the roses red,
    But not a word she said;
With that the shepherd ’gan to frown,
He threw his pretty pipes adown,        95
    And on the ground him laid.
 
Saith she, “I may not stay till night,
And leave my summer hall undight,
    And all for love of thee.”
“My cote,” saith he, “nor yet my fold,        100
Shall neither sheep nor shepherd hold,
    Except thou favour me.”
 
Saith she, “Yet liever I were dead,
Than I should lose my maidenhead,
    And all for love of men.”        105
Saith he, “Yet are you too unkind
If in your heart you cannot find
    To love us now and then.
 
“And I to thee will be as kind,
As Colin was to Rosalind,        110
    Of courtesy the flower.”
“Then will I be as true,” quoth she,
“As ever maiden yet might be,
    Unto her paramour.”
 
With that she bent her snow-white knee,        115
Down by the shepherd kneeled she,
    And him she sweetly kist.
With that the shepherd whooped for joy.
Quoth he, “There’s never shepherd’s boy
    That ever was so blist.”        120
 
Note 1. This charming ballad is from The Shepherd’s Garland, 1593, where it is sung by the shepherd Motto in the Eighth Eclogue. It was republished in Poems Lyrick and Pastorall, 1605, and again in the 1619 Folio of Drayton’s Works. [back]
Note 2. Isenbras: the metrical romance of Sir Isenbras was printed by Copland early in the sixteenth century from an unknown French original. A copy from MS. is given by Halliwell among the Thorton Romances in the Camden Society, 1844. [back]
Note 3. Sir Topas: the Rime of Sire Thopas in the Canterbury Tales. Drayton, in this ballad, has borrowed Chaucer’s metre and some of his expressions. [back]
Note 4. Yconned the leire: she knew the learning belonging to great courtesy. (Collier.) [back]
Note 5. March-pine: a kind of sweet biscuit usually composed of almonds and sugar. [back]
Note 6. And lythe as lass of Kent: Cf. Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calendar: Second Eclogue:
  Seest how brag yond bullocke beares
So smirke, so smoothe, his pricked eares?
His homes bene as broade as rainebow bent,
His dewelap as lythe as lasse of Kent.
Note 7. To get sweet setywall: Cf. the Rime of Sire Thopas:
  There springen herbes grete and smale,
The licoris and the setewale.
“Setwall, or garden valerian, at the first hath broad leaves of a whitish green colour.” (Lyte’s Herbal apud Nares.) Quoted by Bullen. (Selections from Drayton’s Poems.) [back]
Note 8. He crowed crank: i.e., lustily. The word is used by Spenser. Crancke, or cranke, an old word, and yet still in use among country people, used for lustie, courageous, spiritfull. (Minshewe.) “The derivation is uncertain,” says Mr. Bullen. “On the lucus a non lucendo principle, Minshewe derived it from Dutch kranck, sick.” [back]
Note 9. Of the finest loke: i.e., lock or fleece of wool. [back]
Note 10. Bauzons’ skin: badger’s skin. [back]
Note 11. His cockers were: a kind of rustic high shoes, or half-boots; probably from cocking up. Cf. Hall’s Satires, iv. 6:
  Now doth he inly scorn his Kendall-grene
And his patch’d cockers now despised bene.
Note 12. Of cordiwin: Cf. the Rime of Sire Thopas:
  His here, his berde was like saffroun,
That to his girdle raught adoun,
        His shoon of cordewane.
Note 13. Hood of miniver: a kind of fur. [back]
Note 14. His tarbox: tar was used for curling sheep’s sores. [back]
Note 15. Breech of Cointree blue: Coventry blue. Coventry blue stuffs were as famous as Lincoln green. (Bullen.) [back]
 
 
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