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Poet on Poet of the Week on Monday, 26 July 2021

Fulke Greville

Fergus Allen

Born at Beauchamp Court, Warwick, educated at Shrewsbury and Cambridge, a Privy Councillor and
friend of Sir Philip Sidney, servant to Queen Elizabeth I, knighted in 1597 and Chancellor of
the Exchequer from 1614 to 1621, in which year he was raised to the peerage as Lord Brooke, Fulke
Greville (1554-1628) can fairly be described as one of the élite, and it was presumably
to please or impress the more literary members of that select group that he composed his poems
and closet-dramas. Most of his works as we know them were published after his death. But
resentment of élites is no reason to turn away from Greville's verses, which address the
universal subjects of love and mortality. Though he wrote two tragedies, Alaham and Mustapha
(1609), the work for which he will be remembered is the collection of 109 short poems, Caelica,
begun in the 1580s and printed in 1633. In this the earlier pieces have the flavour of Petrarchan
love poems, but spiritual and philosophical considerations crowd in as the years pass - and in
handling these Greville reflected the prevailing beliefs of the English renaissance. His poems
make their appeal to the ear and the intellect, not to the inner eye. While the verses, with
their elaborate analogies and parallels, are always elegantly turned, he sometimes allowed the
exigencies of rhyme and scansion to distort the syntax to a point at which two readings may be
needed to discover his meaning, though the effort will usually be rewarded. Despite the wry
undertone there are hints of a lighter side to Greville in 'Scoggin his wife', but he remains
essentially a grave and reflective writer. What follows is a selection of his less abstract work.


Chorus Sacerdotum

From Mustapha


Oh, wearisome condition of humanity!
      Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot, and yet forbidden vanity;
      Created sick, commanded to be sound.
            What meaneth Nature by these diverse laws?
            Passion and Reason self-division cause.

Is it the mark or majesty of power
      To make offences that it may forgive?
Nature herself doth her own self deflower
      To hate those errors she herself doth give.
            But how should man think what he may not do,
            If Nature did not fail, and punish too?

Tyrant to others, to herself unjust,
      Only commands things difficult and hard,
Forbids us all things which it knows we lust,
      Makes easy pains, unpossible reward.
            If Nature did not take delight in blood,
            She would have made more easy ways to good.

We that are bound by vows and by promotion,
      With pomp of holy sacrifice and rites,
To lead belief in good and still devotion,
      To preach of heaven's wonders and delights;
            Yet, when each of us in his own heart looks,
            He find the God there far unlike his books.

*

Caelica: XXII

I, with whose colours Myra dress'd her head,
I, that wore posies of her own hand-making,
I, that mine own name in the chimneys read
By Myra finely wrought ere I was waking:
            Must I look on, in hope time coming may
            With change bring back my turn again to play?

I, that on Sunday at the church-stile found
A garland sweet, with true-love knots in flowers,
Which I to wear about mine arm was bound
That each of us might know that all was ours:
            Must I now lead an idle life in wishes,
            And follow Cupid for his loaves and fishes?

I, that did wear the ring her mother left,
I, for whose love she gloried to be blamed,
I, with whose eyes her eyes committed theft,
I, who did make her blush when I was named;
            Must I lose ring, flowers, blush, theft and go naked,
            Watching with sighs, till dead love be awaked?

I, that when drowsie Argus fell asleep,
Like jealousy o'erwatched with desire,
Was even warned modesty to keep,
While her breath speaking kindled Nature's fire:
            Must I look on a-cold while others warm them?
            Do Vulcan's brothers in such fine nets arm them?

Was it for this that I might Myra see,
Washing the water with her beauties white?
Yet would she never write her love to me;
Thinks wit of change while thoughts are in delight?
            Mad girls must safely love, as they may leave,
            No man can print a kiss, lines may deceive.

*

Caelica: XL

The nurse-life wheat within his green husk growing
Flatters our hope and tickles our desire,
Nature's true riches in sweet beauties showing,
Which sets all hearts, with labour's love, on fire.

No less fair is the wheat, when golden ear
Shows unto hope the joys of near enjoying:
Fair and sweet is the bud, more sweet and fair
The rose, which proves that time is not destroying.

Caelica, your youth, the morning of delight,
Enamel'd o'er with beauties white and red,
All sense and thoughts did to belief invite
That love and glory there are brought to bed;
            And your ripe year's love noon, he goes no higher,
            Turns all the spirits of man into desire.

*

Caelica: L

Scoggin his wife by chance mistook her bed;
Such chances oft befall poor womankind,
Alas poor souls, for when they miss their head,
What marvel it is, though the rest be blind?

This bed it was a lord's bed where she light,
Who nobly pitying this poor woman's hap,
Gave alms both to relieve and to delight,
And made the golden shower fall on her lap.

Then in a freedom asks her as they lay,
Whose were her lips and breasts: and she sware, his:
For hearts are open when thoughts fall to play.
At last he asks her, whose her backside is?
            She vow'd that it was Scoggin's only part,
            Who never yet came nearer to her heart.

Scoggin o'erheard; but taught by common use
That he who sees all those which do him harm,
Or will in marriage boast such small abuse,
Shall never have his nightgown furred warm:
            And was content, since all was done in play,
            To know his luck and bear his arms away.

Yet when his wife should to the market go,
Her breast and belly he in canvas dress'd,
And on her backside fine silk did bestow;
Joying to see it braver than the rest.

His neighbours ask'd him, why? and Scoggin sware
That part of all his wife was only his:
The lord should deck the rest, to whom they are,
For he knew not what lordly fashion is.
            If husbands now should only deck their own,
            Silk would make many by their backs be known.

*

Caelica: LV

Cynthia, because your horns look diverse ways,
Now darken'd to the East, now to the West,
Then at full glory once in thirty days,
Sense doth believe that change is Nature's rest.

Poor earth, that dare presume to judge the sky;
Cynthia is ever round, and never varies,
Shadows and distance do abuse the eye,
And in abused sense truth oft miscarries:
            Yet who this language to the people speaks,
            Opinion's empire, sense's idol breaks.

*

Caelica: LXXXVI

The earth, with thunder torn, with fire blasted,
With waters drowned, with windy palsy shaken
Cannot for this with heaven be distasted,
Since thunder, rain and winds from earth are taken:
Man torn with love, with inward furies blasted,
Drown'd with despair, with fleshly lustings shaken,
Cannot for this with heaven be distasted;
Love, fury, lustings out of man are taken.
Then man, endure thyself, those clouds will vanish;
Life is a top which whipping sorrow driveth;
Wisdom must bear what our flesh cannot banish,
The humble lead, the stubborn bootless striveth:
            Or man, forsake thyself, to heaven turn thee,
            Her flames enlighten nature, never burn thee.

*

Caelica: C

In night, when colours all to black are cast,
Distinction lost or gone down with the light,
The eye a watch to inward senses plac'd,
Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirr'd up with witty tyranny
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offence,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:

Such as in thick depriving darknesses
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;
            And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils,
            Which but expressions be of inward evils.
Taken from 'Poets on Poets'...
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