Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Michael Drayton and my borrowings from his sonnets (the originals presented)

I have now ‘finished’ the second book of my The English Strain project, which is entitled Bad Idea. It is a re-working, a transposition, if you will, of the whole of Michael Drayton’s sequence Idea; that’s 64 poems (with the addition of its ‘Address to the Reader of these Sonnets’). One of the ways of reading most of the poems in ‘The English Strain’ project, both book one and two, accessing their deeper resonances, I hope, is by comparing my versions with the originals.

The ‘Bad Idea’ poems, unusually for Drayton, are widely available. The first modern edition of them is online, and may be found here:

Drayton, Michael. ‘Idea.’ in Arundell Esdaile, ed. Daniel’s Delia and Drayton’s Idea.
London: Chatto and Windus: 1908. 67-141; online at Luminarium:

I also found 

Tuley, Mark. ed. Elizabethan Sonnet Cycles: Five Major Elizabethan Sonnet Cycles: by Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. Crescent Moon Publishing, Maidstone: Kent, 2010,

a careless book that even misses one sonnet out!  Much better (not least of all for the other sequences there) is

Evans, Maurice, ed. Revised by Roy J. Booth. Eizabethan Sonnets. London and North Clarendon: Phoenix Paperback, 2003,

a careful book that includes the 1619 Idea entire (with original orthography) and has some useful notes.

[Update 2021:I’m delighted to announce that Bad Idea is available NOW from Alec Newman’s excellent press Knives Forks and Spoons, with a cover design by Patricia Farrell. You may get it HERE: ]

 I write about Bad Idea extensively (with lots of explanation, photos, and links) in the hub post HERE:

I write more about its sequel‘Idea’s Mirror’ here:

In both I outline my thinking behind these Brexit poems. As I ran out of Drayton’s sonnets in Idea before Brexit was resolved, I was forced to continue book two of The English Strain with Idea’s Mirror, using selected Drayton sonnets jettisoned on his way to the definitive 1619 edition, accessing the literary equivalent to the record collector’s ‘completism’. As you can see I finished them just after the 2019 General Election. Since this is a selection rather than a sequential ‘writing through’ of a readily available edition, I felt the need to write an index for them.

This includes the dates of composition (of my versions!) and sources in the various editions of Michael Drayton’s sonnets (which is an epic story of extensive revision).

1: 8th October 2019; 1605: Sonnet 57
2: 15th October 2019; 1605: To Sir Walter Aston, Knight of the honourable order of the Bath, and my most worthy Patron
3: 17th October 2019: 1602: Sonnet 63 (To the high and mighty Prince, James, King of Scots)
4: 20th October 2019: 1599: Sonet 1
5: 24th October 2019: 1599: Sonet 3
6: 30th October (one day short of Brexit Day 2, Halloween) 2019: 1599: Sonet 9
7: 5th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 11 (To the Moone)
8: 11th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 23 (To the Spheares)
9: 18th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 27
10: 21st November 2019: 1599: Sonet 57 (To the Excellent and most accomplisht Ladie: Lucie Countesse of Bedford); incorporating a phrase from the Eighth Eclogue of Poemes lyrick and pastorall (1606)
11: 28th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 58 (To the Lady Anne Harington)
12: 5th December 2019: Ideas Mirrour 1594: Amour 4
13: 9th December 2019: Ideas Mirrour 1594: Amour 5
14: 15th December 2019: Ideas Mirrour 1594: Amour 9

These poems are all to be found in MINOR POEMS OF MICHAEL DRAYTON


but not necessarily together, so it seems sensible to gather them here in this post.

Some may be found here:

2 sonnets from the Edition of 1605:


Sonnet 57


You best discern'd of my interior eies,
And yet your graces outwardly diuine,
Whose deare remembrance in my bosome lies,
Too riche a relique for so poore a shrine:
You in whome Nature chose herselfe to view,
When she her owne perfection would admire,
Bestowing all her excellence on you;
At whose pure eies Loue lights his halowed fire,
Euen as a man that in some traunce hath scene,
More than his wondring vttrance can vnfolde,
That rapt in spirite in better worlds hath beene,
So must your praise distractedly be tolde;
Most of all short, when I should shew you most,
In your perfections altogether lost.

To Sir Walter Aston, Knight of the honourable
order of the Bath, and my most
worthy Patron


I will not striue m' inuention to inforce,
With needlesse words your eyes to entertaine,
T' obserue the formall ordinarie course
That euerie one so vulgarly doth faine:
Our interchanged and deliberate choise,
Is with more firme and true election sorted,
Then stands in censure of the common voice.
That with light humor fondly is transported:
Nor take I patterne of another's praise,
Then what my pen may constantly avow.
Nor walke more publique nor obscurer waies
Then vertue bids, and iudgement will allow;
So shall my tone, and best endeuours serue you,
And still shall studie, still so to deserue you.

Michaell Drayton.

One sonnet from the Edition of 1602:


Sonnet 63


To the high and mighty Prince, James, King of Scots

Not thy graue Counsells, nor thy Subiects loue,
Nor all that famous Scottish royaltie,
Or what thy soueraigne greatnes may approue,
Others in vaine doe but historifie,
When thine owne glorie from thy selfe doth spring,
As though thou did'st, all meaner prayses scorne:
Of Kings a Poet, and the Poets King,
They Princes, but thou Prophets do'st adorne;
Whilst others by their Empires are renown'd,
Thou do'st enrich thy Scotland with renowne,
And Kings can but with Diadems be crown'd,
But with thy Laurell, thou doo'st crowne thy Crowne;
That they whose pens, euen life to Kings doe giue,
In thee a King, shall seeke them selues to liue.


8 Sonets from the 1599 edition: 


Sonet 1


The worlds faire Rose, and Henries frosty fire,
Iohns tyrannie; and chast Matilda's wrong,
Th'inraged Queene, and furious Mortimer,
The scourge of Fraunce, and his chast loue I song;
Deposed Richard, Isabell exil'd,
The gallant Tudor, and fayre Katherine,
Duke Humfrey, and old Cobhams haplesse child,
Couragious Pole, and that braue spiritfull Queene;
Edward, and that delicious London Dame,
Brandon, and that rich dowager of Fraunce,
Surrey, with his fayre paragon of fame,
Dudleys mishap, and vertuous Grays mischance;
Their seuerall loues since I before haue showne,
Now giue me leaue at last to sing mine owne.


Sonet 3


Many there be excelling in this kind,
Whose well trick'd rimes with all inuention swell,
Let each commend as best shall like his minde,
Some Sidney, Constable, some Daniell.
That thus theyr names familiarly I sing,
Let none think them disparaged to be,
Poore men with reuerence may speake of a King,
And so may these be spoken of by mee;
My wanton verse nere keepes one certaine stay,
But now, at hand; then, seekes inuention far,
And with each little motion runnes astray,
Wilde, madding, iocond, and irreguler;
Like me that lust, my honest merry rimes,
Nor care for Criticke, nor regard the times.


Sonet 9

Loue once would daunce within my Mistres eye,
And wanting musique fitting for the place,
Swore that I should the Instrument supply,
And sodainly presents me with her face:
Straightwayes my pulse playes liuely in my vaines,
My panting breath doth keepe a meaner time,
My quau'ring artiers be the Tenours Straynes,
My trembling sinewes serue the Counterchime,
My hollow sighs the deepest base doe beare,
True diapazon in distincted sound:
My panting hart the treble makes the ayre,
And descants finely on the musiques ground;
Thus like a Lute or Violl did I lye,
Whilst the proud slaue daunc'd galliards in her eye.

Sonet 11

To the Moone


Phæbe looke downe, and here behold in mee,
The elements within thy sphere inclosed,
How kindly Nature plac'd them vnder thee,
And in my world, see how they are disposed;
My hope is earth, the lowest, cold and dry,
The grosser mother of deepe melancholie,
Water my teares, coold with humidity,
Wan, flegmatick, inclind by nature wholie;
My sighs, the ayre, hote, moyst, ascending hier,
Subtile of sanguine, dy'de in my harts dolor,
My thoughts, they be the element of fire,
Hote, dry, and piercing, still inclind to choller,
Thine eye the Orbe vnto all these, from whence,
Proceeds th' effects of powerfull influence.


Sonet 23

To the Spheares


Thou which do'st guide this little world of loue,
Thy planets mansions heere thou mayst behold,
My brow the spheare where Saturne still doth moue,
Wrinkled with cares: and withered, dry, and cold;
Mine eyes the Orbe where Iupiter doth trace,
Which gently smile because they looke on thee,
Mars in my swarty visage takes his place,
Made leane with loue, where furious conflicts bee.
Sol in my breast with his hote scorching flame,
And in my hart alone doth Venus raigne:
Mercury my hands the Organs of thy fame,
And Luna glides in my fantastick braine;
The starry heauen thy prayse by me exprest,
Thou the first moouer, guiding all the rest.

Sonet 27


I gaue my faith to Loue, Loue his to mee,
That hee and I, sworne brothers should remaine,
Thus fayth receiu'd, fayth giuen back againe,
Who would imagine bond more sure could be?
Loue flies to her, yet holds he my fayth taken,
Thus from my vertue raiseth my offence,
Making me guilty by mine innocence;
And surer bond by beeing so forsaken,
He makes her aske what I before had vow'd,
Giuing her that, which he had giuen me,
I bound by him, and he by her made free,
Who euer so hard breach of fayth alow'd?
Speake you that should of right and wrong discusse,
Was right ere wrong'd, or wrong ere righted thus?

Sonet 57

To the Excellent and most accomplisht Ladie: Lucie Countesse of Bedford

Great Lady, essence of my chiefest good,
Of the most pure and finest tempred spirit,
Adorn’d with gifts, enobled by thy blood,
Which by discent true vertue do'st inherit:
That vertue which no fortune can depriue,
Which thou by birth tak’st from thy gracious mother,
Whose royall minds with equall motion striue,
Which most in honour shall excell the other;
Vnto thy fame my Muse herself shall taske,
Which rain'st vpon me thy sweet golden showers,
And but thy selfe, no subject will I aske,
Vpon whose praise my soule shall spend her powers.
Sweet Lady yet, grace this poore Muse of mine,
Whose faith, whose zeale, whose life, whose all is thine.

(I also allude to the Eighth Eclogue of Poemes lyrick and pastorall (1606), when this view of Lucy is viciously revised:

Let age sit soone and ugly on her brow,
No sheepheards praises living let her have
To her last end noe creature pay one vow
Nor flower be strew’d on her forgotten grave,
And to the last of all devouring tyme
Nere be her name remembered more in rime.)  

Sonet 58

To the Lady Anne Harington

Madam, my words cannot expresse my mind,
My zealous kindnes to make knowne to you,
When your desarts all seuerally I find;
In this attempt of me doe claim their due,
Your gracious kindnes that doth claime my hart;
Your bounty bids my hand to make it knowne,
Of me your vertues each doe claime a part,
And leaue me thus the least part of mine owne.
What should commend your modesty and wit,
Is by your wit and modesty commended
And standeth dumbe, in much admiring it,
And where it should begin, it there is ended;
Returning this your prayses onely due,
And to your selfe say you are onely you.

(Anne was Lucy's mother.)

Sonnets from Ideas Mirrour, 1594:

Amour 4

My faire, had I not erst adorned my Lute
With those sweet strings stolne from thy golden hayre,
Vnto the world had all my ioyes been mute,
Nor had I learn'd to descant on my faire.
Had not mine eye seene thy Celestiall eye,
Nor my hart knowne the power of thy name,
My soule had ne'er felt thy Diuinitie,
Nor my Muse been the trumpet of thy fame.
But thy diuine perfections, by their skill,
This miracle on my poore Muse haue tried,
And, by inspiring, glorifide my quill,
And in my verse thy selfe art deified:
Thus from thy selfe the cause is thus deriued,
That by thy fame all fame shall be suruiued.

Amour 5


Since holy Vestall lawes haue been neglected,
The Gods pure fire hath been extinguisht quite;
No Virgin once attending on that light,
Nor yet those heauenly secrets once respected;
Till thou alone, to pay the heauens their dutie
Within the Temple of thy sacred name,
With thine eyes kindling that Celestiall flame,
By those reflecting Sun-beames of thy beautie.
Here Chastity that Vestall most diuine,
Attends that Lampe with eye which neuer sleepeth;
The volumes of Religions lawes shee keepeth,
Making thy breast that sacred reliques shryne,
Where blessed Angels, singing day and night,
Praise him which made that fire, which lends that light.

Amour 9


Beauty sometime, in all her glory crowned,
Passing by that cleere fountain of thine eye,
Her sun-shine face there chaunsing to espy,
Forgot herselfe, and thought she had been drowned.
And thus, whilst Beautie on her beauty gazed,
Who then, yet liuing, deemd she had been dying,
And yet in death some hope of life espying,
At her owne rare perfections so amazed;
Twixt ioy and griefe, yet with a smyling frowning,
The glorious sun-beames of her eyes bright shining,
And shee, in her owne destiny diuining,
Threw in herselfe, to saue herselfe by drowning;
The Well of Nectar, pau'd with pearle and gold,
Where shee remaines for all eyes to behold.

They make an interesting group of 14, kind of outtakes (like alternative recordings of songs arranged as bonus tracks on a complete CD). They stand on their own as well as together. For more on Drayton consult Brink, Jean R. Michael Drayton Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1990, which proved extremely useful in giving an overview of Drayton’s career and voluminous works, and questioning a lot of the unsupported assumptions that still circulate about his poetry (particularly about identifications of ‘Idea’).
Finally here is the sonnet that provided my epigraph to ‘Idea’s Mirror’, from ‘Endymion and Phœbe,’ n.d., 4to, entered in the ‘Stationers’ Register’ 12. April 1594

To Idea
Amidst those shades wherein the Muses sit,
    Thus to
Idea, my Idea sings,
   Support of wisedome, better force of Wit:
    Which by desert, desert to honour brings,
Borne to create good thoughts by thy rare woorth,
    Whom Nature with her bounteous store doth blesse,
    More excellent then Art can set thee forth;
    Happy in more, then praises can expresse:
Which by thy selfe shalt make thy selfe continue,
    When all worlds glory shall be cleane forgot,
    Thus I the least of skilfull Arts retinue:
    Write in thy prayse which time shall neuer blot;
Heauen made thee what thou art, till worlds be done,
Thy fame shall flourish like the rising Sunne.

The last three are the first to appear from ‘Idea’s Mirror’.

This showing of just pre- and just post- 2019 Election poems is accompanied by Patricia Farrell’s fine illustration of a Techno-Dogging Site.