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Elizabethan Poetry: An Anthology

Elizabethan Poetry: An Anthology

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by Bob Blaisdell

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The relative peace and prosperity of the Elizabethan age (1558–1603) fostered the growth of one of the most fruitful eras in literary history. Lyric poetry, prose, and drama flourished in sixteenth-century England in works that blended medieval traditions with Renaissance optimism.
This anthology celebrates the wit and imaginative creativity of the


The relative peace and prosperity of the Elizabethan age (1558–1603) fostered the growth of one of the most fruitful eras in literary history. Lyric poetry, prose, and drama flourished in sixteenth-century England in works that blended medieval traditions with Renaissance optimism.
This anthology celebrates the wit and imaginative creativity of the Elizabethan poets with a generous selection of their graceful and sophisticated verse. Highlights include sonnets from Astrophel and Stella, written by Sir Philip Sidney — a scholar, poet, critic, courtier, diplomat, soldier, and ideal English Renaissance man; poems by Edmund Spenser, whose works combined romance with allegory, adventure, and morality; and sonnets by William Shakespeare, whose towering poetic genius transcends the ages. Other celebrated contributors include John Donne ("Go, and catch a fallen star"), Ben Jonson ("Drink to me only with thine eyes"), and Christopher Marlowe ("The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"). The poetry of lesser-known figures such as Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, and Fulke Greville appears here, along with verses by individuals better known in other fields — Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth I, and Walter Raleigh — whose poems offer valuable insights into the spirit of the age.

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Elizabethan Poetry

An Anthology

By Bob Blaisdell, John Green

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11363-0


ANONYMOUS (1595–1608)

Most of the poems from this section were set to music as madrigals in the late 1580s and subsequently published in one of the nearly one hundred songbooks that appeared through the early 1600s. (Love was usually the topic of madrigals, which were always sung unaccompanied by instruments; the majority of the other songs were accompanied by lute.) While the madrigal form developed in Italy, English composers took it up and probably wrote more than musicians anywhere else, the most notable being William Byrd, Thomas Morley, John Dowland and Thomas Weekles. Any titles to the poems seem to have been added by the original or subsequent editors.

* * *

    Now is the month of maying,
    When merry lads are playing
    Each with his bonny lass
    Upon the greeny grass.

    The Spring, clad all in gladness,
    Doth laugh at Winter's sadness,
    And to the bagpipe's sound
    The nymphs tread out their ground.

    Fie then! why sit we musing,
    Youth's sweet delight refusing?
    Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
    Shall we play barley-break?

    A Sonnet in the Grace of Wit, of Tongue, of Face

    Her face, her tongue, her wit, so fair, so sweet, so sharp,
    First bent, then drew, now hit, mine eye, mine ear, my heart:
    Mine eye, mine ear, my heart, to like, to learn, to love,
    Her face, her tongue, her wit, doth lead, doth teach, doth move.
    Her face, her tongue, her wit, with beams, with sound, with art,
    Doth blind, doth charm, doth rule, mine eye, mine ear, my heart.
    Mine eye, mine ear, my heart, with life, with hope, with skill,
    Her face, her tongue, her wit, doth feed, doth feast, doth fill.
    Oh face, oh tongue, oh wit, with frowns, with checks, with smart,
    Wring not, vex not, wound not, mine eye, mine ear, my heart:
    This eye, this ear, this heart, shall 'join, shall bind, shall swear,
    Your face, your tongue, your wit, to serve, to love, to fear.

    Love's a Bee, and Bees Have Stings

    Once I thought, but falsely thought
    Cupid all delight had brought,
    And that love had been a treasure,
    And a palace full of pleasure,
    But alas! too soon I prove,
    Nothing is so sour as love;
    That for sorrow my muse sings,
    Love's a bee, and bees have stings.

    When I thought I had obtained
    That dear solace, which if gained
    Should have caused all joy to spring,
    Viewed, I found it no such thing:
    But instead of sweet desires,
    Found a rose hemmed in with briars;
    That for sorrow my muse sings,
    Love's a bee, and bees have stings.

    Wonted pleasant life adieu,
    Love hath changed thee for a new:
    New indeed, and sour I prove it,
    Yet I cannot choose but love it;
    And as if it were delight,
    I pursue it day and night;
    That with sorrow my muse sings,
    I love bees, though bees have stings.


    Love resisted is a child;
    Suffered, is a tiger wild.

    The scourge of heaven and earth, hell, sea and land,
    Is scourged and mastered by a human hand.

    My heart's heart likes my heart, and I again
    Like my heart's heart; so both content remain.

    Mars and Cupid differ far,
    Love cannot agree with war;
    And till Mars and Love agree,
    Look not, Love, to conquer me.

    If Fortune's hand be not a stop,
    I will attain the highest top;
    The which if Fortune do deny,
    Fortune is to blame, not I.

* * *

    Except I love, I cannot have delight,
    It is a care that doth to life belong;
    For why I hold that life in great despite
    That hath not soür mixed with sweet among.
    And though the torments which I feel be strong,
    Yet had I rather thus for to remain
    Than laugh, and live, not feeling lover's pain.

* * *

    April is in my mistress' face,
    And July in her eyes hath place,
    Within her bosom is September,
    But in her heart a cold December.

* * *

    My Love in her attire doth shew her wit,
    It doth so well become her:
    For every season she hath dressings fit,
    For Winter, Spring, and Summer.
    No beauty she doth miss,
    When all her robes are on:
    But Beauty's self she is,
    When all her robes are gone.

* * *

    Fie on this feigning!
    Is love without desire?
    Heat still remaining,
    And yet no spark of fire?
    Thou art untrue, nor wert with Fancy moved!
    For Desire hath power on all that ever loved!

    Sow some relenting!
    Or grant thou dost not love!
    Two hearts consenting,
    Shall they no comforts prove?
    Yield! or confess that Love is without Pleasure;
    And that women's bounties rob men of their treasure!

    Truth is not placed
    In words and forcèd smiles!
    Love is not graced
    With that which still beguiles!
    Love, or dislike! yield fire, or give no fuel!
    So mayest thou prove kind; or, at the least less, cruel!

* * *

    Come, sirrah Jack, ho!
    Fill some tobacco.
    Bring a wire
    And some fire!
    Haste away,
    Quick I say!
    Do not stay!
    Shun delay!
    For I drank none good to-day.

    I swear that this tobacco
    It's perfect Trinidado.
    By the Mass
    Never was
    Better gear
    Than is here.
    By the rood
    For the blood
    It is very very good.

    Fill the pipe once more,
    My brains dance trenchmore.
    It is heady,
    I am giddy.
    Head and brains,
    Back and reins,
    Joints and veins
    From all pains
    It doth well purge and make clean.
    For those that do condemn it,
    Or such as not commend it,
    Never were so wise to learn
    Good tobacco to discern;
    Let them go
    Pluck a crow,
    And not know,
    As I do,
    The sweet of Trinidado.

* * *

    In love with you, I all things else do hate;
    I hate the Sun, that shows me not your face!
    I hate my Stars, that make my fault my fate.
    Not having you! I hate both Time and Place.
    I hate Opinion, for her nice respects,
    The chiefest hinderer of my dear delight;
    I hate Occasion, for his lame defects;
    I hate that Day worse than the blackest night,
    Whose progress ends, and brings me not to you!
    I hate the Night, because her sable wings
    Aids not love, but hides you from my view.
    I hate my Life, and hate all other things;
    And Death I hate, and yet I know not why,
    But that, because you live, I would not die.

* * *

    Crabbed age and youth
    Cannot live together;
    Youth is full of pleasance,
    Age is full of care:
    Youth like summer morn,
    Age like winter weather;
    Youth like summer brave,
    Age like winter bare.
    Youth is full of sport,
    Age's breath is short,
    Youth is nimble, age is lame:
    Youth is hot and bold,
    Age is weak and cold;
    Youth is wild, and age is tame.
    Age, I do abhor thee;
    Youth, I do adore thee;
    O, my love, my love is young:
    Age, I do defy thee;
    O, sweet shepherd, hie thee,
    For methinks thou stay'st too long.

* * *
    If fathers knew but how to leave
    Their children wit, as they do wealth;
    And could constrain them to receive
    That physic which brings perfect health,
    The world would not admiring stand
    A woman's face and woman's hand.

    Women confess they must obey;
    We men will needs be servants still.
    We kiss their hands, and what they say
    We must commend be 't never so ill.
    Thus we like fools admiring stand
    Her pretty foot and pretty hand.

    We blame their pride, which we increase
    By making mountains of a mouse.
    We praise because we know we please.
    Poor women are too credulous
    To think that we admiring stand
    Or foot, or face, or foolish hand.

* * *

    O sleep, fond Fancy, sleep, my head thou tirest
    With false delight of that which thou desirest.
    Sleep, sleep, I say, and leave my thoughts molesting,
    Thy master's head hath need of sleep and resting.

* * *

    If I could shut the gate against my thoughts,
    And keep out sorrow from this room within,
    Or memory could cancel all the notes
    Of my misdeeds, and I unthink the sin,
    How free, how clear, how clean my mind should lie,
    Discharged of such a loathsome company.

    Or were there other rooms without my heart,
    That did not to my conscience join so near,
    Where I might lodge the thoughts of sin apart,
    That I might not their clamorous crying hear,
    What peace, what joy, what ease should I possess,
    Freed from their horrors that my soul oppress.

    But, O my Saviour, who my refuge art,
    Let thy dear mercies stand 'twixt them and me,
    And be the wall to separate my heart,
    So that I may at length repose me free,
    That peace and joy and rest may be within,
    And I remain divided from my sin.

* * *

    In midst of woods or pleasant grove
    Where all sweet birds do sing,
    Methought I heard so rare a sound,
    Which made the heavens to ring.
    The charm was good, the noise full sweet,
    Each bird did play his part;
    And I admired to hear the same;
    Joy sprung into my heart.

    The blackbird made the sweetest sound,
    Whose tunes did far excel,
    Full pleasantly and most profound
    Was all things placed well.
    Thy pretty tunes, mine own sweet bird,
    Done with so good a grace,
    Extols thy name, prefers the same
    Abroad in every place.

    Thy music grave, bedecked well
    With sundry points of skill,
    Bewrays thy knowledge excellent,
    Engrafted in thy will.
    My tongue shall speak, my pen shall write,
    In praise of thee to tell.
    The sweetest bird that ever was,
    In friendly sort, farewell.

    Life and Death

    The longer life, the more offence;
    The more offence, the greater pain;
    The greater pain, the less defence;
    The less defence, the lesser gain;
    The loss of gain long ill doth try,
    Wherefore, come Death, and let me die.

    The shorter life, less count I find;
    The less account, the sooner made;
    The account soon made, the merrier mind;
    The merrier mind doth thought evade;
    Short life in truth this thing doth try,
    Wherefore, come Death, and let me die.

    Come, gentle Death, the ebb of care;
    The ebb of care, the flood of life;
    The flood of life, the joyful fare;
    The joyful fare, the end of strife;
    The end of strife, that thing wish I,
    Wherefore, come Death, and let me die.


ANNE ASKEW (1521–1546)

Anne Askew was imprisoned for her Protestantism and executed for heresy by Henry VIII's bishops.

    The Ballad Which Anne Askew Made and Sang When She Was in Newgate

    Like as the armed knight
    Appointed to the field,
    With this world will I fight
    And Faith shall be my shield.

    Faith is that weapon strong
    Which will not fail at need.
    My foes, therefore, among
    Therewith will I proceed.

    As it is had in strength
    And force of Christés way,
    It will prevail at length
    Though all the devils say nay.

    Faith in the fathers old
    Obtained righteousness,
    Which make me very bold
    To fear no world's distress.

    I now rejoice in heart
    And Hope bid me do so,
    For Christ will take my part
    And ease me of my woe.

    Thou say'st, Lord, who so knock,
    To them wilt thou attend.
    Undo, therefore, the lock
    And thy strong power send.

    More en'mies now I have
    Than hairs upon my head.
    Let them not me deprave
    But fight thou in my stead.

    On thee my care I cast.
    For all their cruel spite,
    I set not by their haste,
    For thou art my delight.

    I am not she that list
    My anchor to let fall,
    For every drizzling mist
    My ship substantial.

    Not oft use I to write
    In prose nor yet in rhyme,
    Yet will I show one sight
    That I saw in my time.

    I saw a royal throne
    Where Justice should have sit,
    But in her stead was one
    Of moody, cruel wit.

    Absorbed was rightwisness
    As of the raging flood,
    Satan in his excess
    Sucked up the guiltless blood.

    Then thought I, Jesus Lord,
    When Thou shalt judge us all
    Hard is it to record
    On these men what will fall.

    Yet, Lord, I thee desire
    For that they do to me
    Let them not taste the hire
    Of their iniquity.


Excerpted from Elizabethan Poetry by Bob Blaisdell, John Green. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bob Blaisdell is the editor of several successful Dover anthologies, including Elizabethan Poetry, Famous Documents and Speeches of the Civil War, and The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.

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Elizabethan Poetry: An Anthology 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Endless reflection, can be read over and over again.