Reference > Cambridge History > Renascence and Reformation > The Elizabethan Sonnet > Drayton
  Lodge Richard Barnfield  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XII. The Elizabethan Sonnet.

§ 12. Drayton.


The only other Elizabethan of high poetic rank, apart from Shakespeare, who prominently associated himself with the sonneteering movement, was Michael Drayton. In one effort, Drayton reached the highest level of poetic feeling and expression. His familiar quatorzain opening “Since there ’s no help, come let us kiss and part” is the one sonnet by a contemporary which deserves to rank with some of Shakespeare’s best. It is curious to note that Drayton’s triumphant poem was first printed in 1619, just a quarter of a century after he first sought the suffrages of the Elizabethan public as a sonneteer. The editio princeps of his sonnet-sequence, called Ideas Mirrour: Amours in Quatorzains, included fifty-two sonnets, and was reprinted no less than eight times, with much revision, omission and addition, before the final version came forth in 1619.   39
  Drayton’s sonneteering labours constitute a microcosm of the whole sonneteering movement in Elizabethan England. He borrows ideas and speech from all available sources at home and abroad. Yet, like many contemporary offenders, he deprecates the charge that he is “a thief” of the “wit” of Petrarch or Desportes. With equal vigour of language he disclaims pretensions to tell the story of his own heart:
       
Into these loves who but for passion looks:
At this first sight, here let him lay them by!
And seek elsewhere in turning other books,
Which better may his labour satisfy.
  40
  For the most part, Drayton is a sonneteer on the normal Elizabethan pattern, and his sonnets are rarely distinguished by poetic elevation. Occasionally, a thin rivulet of natural sentiment winds its way through the fantastic conceits which his wide reading suggests to him. But only in his famous sonnet did his genius find in that poetic form full scope.   41
  The title of Drayton’s sonnet-sequence, Idea, gives a valuable clue to one source of his inspiration. The title was directly borrowed from an extensive sonnet-sequence in French called L’Idée, by Claude de Pontoux, a poetic physician of Chalon. The name symbolises the Platonic [char] of beauty, which was notably familiar to Du Bellay and Pontus de Tyard in France and to Spenser in England. Drayton’s “soul-shrined saint,” his “divine Idea,” his “fair Idea,” is the child of de Pontoux’s Céleste Idée, Fille de Dieu (sonnet X). But Drayton by no means confined his sonneteering studies to the volume whence he took his shadowy mistress’s name. Drayton’s imitative appeals to night, to his lady’s fair eyes, to rivers; his classical allusions, his insistence that his verse is eternal—all these themes recall expressions of Ronsard, and Desportes, or of their humble disciples. A little is usually added and a little taken away; but such slight substance as the sentiments possess is, with rare exception, a foreign invention. Doubtless, Drayton was more conscious than his companions of the triviality of the sonneteering conventions. No precise foreign origin seems accessible for his sonnet (XV) entitled His Remedy for Love, in which he describes a potion concocted of the powder of a dead woman’s heart, moistened with another woman’s tears, boiled in a widow’s sighs and breathed upon by an old maid. The satire is clearly intended to apply to the strained simples out of which the conventional type of sonnet was, too often, compounded.   42
  Like Sidney, Spenser and Daniel, Drayton, despite his warning, added fuel to the fire of the sonneteering craze. His work inspired younger men with the ambition to win the fame of sonneteer.   43

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  Lodge Richard Barnfield  
 
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