Monday, February 25, 2008

Michael Drayton - thou might'st him yet recover

I took a (totally fair) crack at Michael Drayton (1563-1631) a couple of weeks ago. I'll make it up to him by having him lead off Favorite Pre-19th Century Poems in English week. Here's a sonnet from the 1619 edition of Idea:

Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part;
Nay I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one lot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now if thou would'st, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.

The last six lines are tangled, and easy to read in a way that gives the sense but misses the weirdness of the scene. Passion is personified, and dying, personified faith is at his side, personified innocence closes passion's eyes. Pretty strange. But he's not dead yet - "thou" might save him.

Clumsy attention can crush poetry, so I want to be careful. Some gentle appreciation: the opening line is perfect, just monosyllables. Also excellent, "cleanly" - he doesn't really mean it. This light and liquid poem is heavy on "l"s - "last gasp of love's latest" is where they're loveliest.

Drayton is a minor poet because unlike Shakespeare or Sidney or Donne, he only wrote a few poems as perfect as this one.


  1. Am Read: What did you do to add the comments to your sidebar? Is that part of blogger or did you bring it in from elsewhere?

  2. What a wonderful poem. Clearly the narrator doesn't want to just "shake hands for ever" but is hooping to appeal to his lover for another chance. For some reason poems like these always tickle my fancy.