A Poem For Monday

by Alice Quinn


From the anthology, Tudor Poetry and Prose, which I praised last week, I relish the following passage about lyrics from song-books of the time:

Singing seems to have been almost universal in Elizabeth England. The countryside, the street corner, the cottage, and the tavern rang with ballads, rounds, catches . . . . The craftsman’s shop was ‘a very bird-cage’ says [Thomas] Dekker, and [Thomas] Deloney in his Gentle Craft writes that every journeyman shoemaker had to be able to ‘sound the trumpet, or play upon his flute, and bear his part in a three-man’s song, and readily reckon up his tools in rhyme.’ Among the educated, singing was a necessary social accomplishment. The breeding of a man who could not join in the song after supper, reading his part at sight, was in question.

Songs were also a staple of plays. Here’s one of my favorites by the Restoration poet John Dryden (1631-1700), born after Elizabeth’s reign and so beyond the compass (but not the influence) of the period celebrated in the anthology, appointed Poet Laureate in 1668, and buried in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer in what later became known as Poets’ Corner.

“Song for a Girl,” from Love Triumphant, by John Dryden:

Young I am, and yet unskill’d
How to make a Lover yield:
How to keep, or how to gain,
When to love; and when to feign.

Take me, take me, some of you,
While I yet am Young and True;
E’re I can my Soul disguise;
Heave my Breasts, and roul my Eyes.

Stay not till I learn the way,
How to Lye, and to Betray:
He that has me first, is blest,
For I may deceive the rest.

Cou’d I find a blooming Youth,
Full of Love, and full of Truth,
Brisk, and of a jaunty mean
I shou’d long to be Fifteen.

(Portrait of Dryden by James Maubert, circa 1695 , via Wikimedia Commons)