HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
Outlines of English and American Literature
The Lyric Poets
by Long, William J.

Lyrics of Love

Love was the subject of a very large part of the minor poems of the period, the monotony being relieved by an occasional ballad, such as Drayton's "Battle of Agincourt" and his "Ode to the Virginian Voyage," the latter being one of the first poems inspired by the New World. Since love was still subject to literary rules, as in the metrical romances, it is not strange that most Elizabethan lyrics seem to the modern reader artificial. They deal largely with goddesses and airy shepherd folk; they contain many references to classic characters and scenes, to Venus, Olympus and the rest; they are nearly all characterized by extravagance of language. A single selection, "Apelles' Song" by Lyly, may serve as typical of the more fantastic love lyrics:

  Cupid and my Campaspe played
  At cards for kisses; Cupid paid.
  He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
  His mother's doves and team of sparrows:
  Loses them too; then down he throws
  The coral of his lip, the rose
  Growing on's cheek (but none knows how);
  With these the crystal of his brow,
  And then the dimple of his chin.
  All these did my Campaspe win.
  At last he set her both his eyes;
  She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
  O Love, has she done this to thee?
  What shall, alas! become of me?

Music and Poetry

Another reason for the outburst of lyric poetry in Elizabethan times was that choral music began to be studied, and there was great demand for new songs. Then appeared a theory of the close relation between poetry and music, which was followed by the American poet Lanier more than two centuries later. [Footnote: Much of Lanier's verse seems more like a musical improvisation than like an ordinary poem. His theory that music and poetry are subject to the same laws is developed in his Science of English Verse. It is interesting to note that Lanier's ancestors were musical directors at the courts of Elizabeth and of James I.] This interesting theory is foreshadowed in several minor works of the period; for example, in Barnfield's sonnet "To R. L.," beginning:

  If music and sweet poetry agree,
  As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
  Then must the love be great 'twixt thee and me,
  Because thou lov'st the one, and I the other.

The stage caught up the new fashion, and hundreds of lyrics appeared in the Elizabethan drama, such as Dekker's "Content" (from the play of Patient Grissell), which almost sets itself to music as we read it:

  Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?
         O sweet content!
  Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed?
         O punishment!
  Dost laugh to see how fools are vexed
  To add to golden numbers golden numbers?
    O sweet content, O sweet, O sweet content!

  Work apace, apace, apace, apace!
  Honest labour bears a lovely face.
  Then hey noney, noney; hey noney, noney!

  Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring?
         O sweet content!
  Swim'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears?
         O punishment!
  Then he that patiently want's burden bears
  No burden bears, but is a king, a king.
    O sweet content, O sweet, O sweet content!

So many lyric poets appeared during this period that we cannot here classify them; and it would be idle to list their names. The best place to make acquaintance with theo is not in a dry history of literature, but in such a pleasant little book as Palgrave's Golden Treasury, where their best work is accessible to every reader.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works