A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn

I have been luxuriating this August in a college textbook, Tudor Poetry and Prose, edited by five superior scholars (J. William Hebel is first on the list). I’ve been hugely rewarded by the selections as well as the notes and biographies of the poets.Samuel_Daniel

So we’ll add to our summer store of poems on love and courtship (and thwarted and vaunted wooing, as you shall see). We’ll begin with sonnets by Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), who was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and made his early living mostly as tutor to the children of exceptionally well-placed people—among them, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, whose literary circle Daniel considered his “best school.”

In 1591, twenty eight of his sonnets appeared in the “surreptitious” edition of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. (Please investigate this fascinating episode of English literary history.) The next year saw his authorized publication of a volume of sonnets, and in 1604, he was commissioned to write the first masque for the court of the new king, James I, patron of Shakespeare and force behind the third and ever-glorious translation of the Hebrew Bible into English.

In the 19th century, Coleridge described the style which Daniel’s contemporaries praised in similar terms (Sir Thomas Browne referred to him as “well-languaged Daniel”) as “just such as any very pure and manly writer of the present day—Wordsworth, for example—would use,” adding “Thousands of educated men could become more sensible, fitter to be members of Parliament or Ministers, by reading Daniel.”

From the sonnet sequence, To Delia by Samuel Daniel:

Fair is my love, and cruel as she’s fair:
Her brow shades frowns, although her eyes are sunny,
Her smiles are lightning, though her pride despair,
And her disdains are gall, her favors honey.
A modest maid, decked with a blush of honor,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, designed a saint above,
Chastity and beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconciled friends within her brow;
And had she pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?
For had she not been fair and thus unkind,
My muse had slept, and none had known my mind.

(Frontispiece engraving of Daniel for his poem The Civile Ware, 1609, via Wikimedia Commons)