Friday, January 19, 2007

Poetic Dialogue: A Poetry Friday Post

Sometimes, reading the writing of others is the impetus for inspiration. Yeesh, talk about a tortured sentence, even if it's correct. What I mean to say is that there are times in every writer's life -- and I'm including poets within that term, for what is a poet if not a particular type of writer? -- when they read something someone else wrote and it sets them off. They're so moved by what they read that they decide to write something on the subject themselves. And in that last sentence, "moved" could mean amused or impressed or enamored or angered or, well, pretty much any other sort of emotion one can think up.

Sometimes it's immediate, the poetic equivalent of The Donald and Rosie show, where one fires back right away. Other times, "responses" can be delayed. This, however, was not one of those times, inasmuch as both poems appeared in the 1590's, a fact which will undoubtedly surprise you when you consider, particularly, the second one, which could as easily come from the 20th century.

The first poem is a well-loved poem by Christopher Marlowe, a famous playwright and poet from Shakespeare's time. He was christened in early 1564, and therefore presumably born in late 1563 or early 1564. Marlowe was the son of a tradesman and a clergyman's daughter, who was one of the first (if not the first) playwright's to use blank verse in his work. He also led a life shrouded in mystery, including some sort of secret "services to the Queen" which may have included spying on the House of Stuart. Based on an analysis of his works and widespread consensus in the writings of his contemporaries at the time, Marlowe is believed to have been gay. He was killed in a tavern, allegedly over a dispute involving the tab, although the men with him at the time were all secret service (and in some cases, loan sharks as well). To say nothing of his murder occurring within a few days of his arrest for heresy. But I digress. Here, now, is his poem:

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.

Based on Marlowe's knowledge of much older Greek poems in which older men wrote in this sort of fashion to seduce younger men, this one can be read (if one chooses) as a sort of Brokeback proposition. But mostly it's read as a love poem from a man to a woman.

Not long after publication of Marlowe's poem, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a response. And yes, it's the same Sir Walter Raleigh who established the first English colony in North America, which was called Roanoke. He was about 12 years older than Marlowe, inasmuch as he is believed to have been born in 1552. He engaged in Court-sanctioned piracy against Spain on England's behalf, and richly rewarded for it. He not only planted English settlers in what is now Virginia, but also in parts of Ireland. He became a particular favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. He also struck up a romance with one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, whom he married on the sly when she was already pregnant. When the Queen eventually learned of the "unauthorized" marriage, she threw Raleigh in jail and dismissed his wife, Bess, from her service. He eventually came back into the Queen's good graces, but upon her death was thrown into the Tower of London for 13 years because he'd (allegedly) plotted to overthrow King James. Released from prison to lead an expedition to South America, he returned to England only to be beheaded at the request of a Spanish ambassador. But again, I digress.

Raleigh, an older and, to his mind, wiser poet than Marlowe, wrote a response to Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd poem which can only be read as a put-down. On the surface, the response is based on the "love's" belief in the transience of life, but really, it was intended as a criticism of Marlowe's youth and naiveté. Although at least Raleigh (apparently) gave Marlowe credit for intending the poem for a female. Here's his response:

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy Love.

But Time drives flocks from field to fold;
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward Winter reckoning yields:
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither—soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy-buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,—
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy Love.

But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy Love.

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