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The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by the Rev. W. W. Skeat, Litt.D. Seven vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894.
1 The Hous of Fame, vv. 1365-7.
6 The Clerkes Tale. Tercia pars, vv. 598-602, and Quinta pars, vv. 897-903 and 911-14.
? Ibid., Pars sexta, vv. 1145–6 and 1138-40.
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
1554-1586 Even for poets it is an honour for the English Bayard to be reckoned of their fraternity: He himself never denied his vocation, though, after the manner of the age, he apologized for 'having, I know not by what mischance, in these my not old years and idlest times, slipped into the title of a poet’.1 His own period enthusiastically acknowledged his poetic merits. By the ordinary modern reader, while his name for chivalrous virtues and accomplishments has become a proverb, he is not regarded as a poet at all.
The indiscriminateness of the neglect is the more surprising for the character of the fugitive pieces, which he scattered among his friends and associates, never heeding whether they died, or lived, and under whatever name. They are commonly of the bright and joyous character which might have been expected to echo long. Take for instance :
O faire ! O sweete! when I do look on thee,
In whome all joyes so well agree,
Just accord all musicke makes ;
One of other beautie takes,
That in thee liues harmonie,
Hart and soule do sing in me.? I should have supposed that the address to Love even was too airy, too unsubstantial, for the heavy foot of Time to overtake and crush it :
Ah, poore Love, whi dost thou live,
Thus to see thy service lost?
Make an end, yeald up the goaste;
That she hardlye long beloved,
That is not in tyme relieved.
Service so to be refused,
Never love was so abused.3 The mere sauciness ought to have guaranteed against superannuation the repeated entreaties to the crossgrained babe to sleep, and let its mother keep her tryst, not, I am afraid, with the infant's father. So too with the mocking at a faint-hearted lover :
Doth she chide thee? 'Tis to shew it
That thy coldness makes her do it;
Silence fully 'grants thy sute ;
Then she goes to bid thee cor ;
She invites thee to the cure ;
Tush, she loves to hear thee woo ;
In question ? nay, 'uds-foot, she love thee than ;
Dares attempt no farther tryals,
The dainties of his chaste desire.4 Later generations have not in any case had the curiosity to ransack hospitals of literary foundlings, on the chance of identifying the dainty creatures of his imagination. They
knew, and had tired, of the subtlety and intricate thoughtfulness of the poems he acknowledged. The neglect has for centuries been a waste of precious matter; for he never wrote without striving to put into his work the best of himself according to his prevailing mood and subject. When his pen and they really suited each other, the result is exquisite in its own sort. The Arcadia, amid a mass of preposterous affectation, often breaks into loveliness. How charmingly, for instance, a shepherd's suspicion of sorcery becomes a tribute of adoration to the fascination of the
When I see her, my sinewes shake for feare,
I still doe see, though I be still alone.5 Lovers twain, the one incapable of surviving the other, could not have been mourned more fittingly :
His being was in her alone;
That tombes the two is justly one.6 Zelmane's extraordinarily detailed inventory of Philoclea's charms in some hundred and fifty verses, ends with the prettiest analysis of the fair one's hand :
my first love the fatall band, Where whitenesse doth for ever sit ; Nature herselfe enameld it ;
For there with strange compact doth lie
Thus hath each part his beautie's part ;
No tongue can her perfections tell,
In whose each part all tongues may dwell.? But Astrophel and Stella is the production by which Sidney may most adequately claim in these times to be judged as a poet; and there by its main constituents. In the ten songs interspersed the wooer is delightfully ingenious in arriving by as many different roads at one same conclusion :
This small wind, which so sweete is,
Love makes earth the water drink,