A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eight
ELIZABETHAN POETRY

WHEN Spenser returned to England in 1589 he found the state of poetry more full of promise than when he wrote his Tears of the Muses,

mourning for the death
Of learning late deceas'd in beggary,

though indeed it is the lack of generous patrons which Spenser chiefly deplores. The nation was aglow with the triumph of the Armada, and a chorus of new poets was tuning up, several of whom Spenser enumerates under Latin names in Colin Clout's Come Home Again. In poetry other than dramatic the closing years of the century were years of experiment in one direction or another, as suggested by the poetry of Italy and France and, of course, Greek and Latin. There was much writing both of, and on, poetry, --the theory of poetry including its justification, the kinds of poetry, the diction and metre proper to poetry. Sidney Defence of Poesy, printed in 1595, had been composed earlier. Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie appeared in 1589. Meres Palladis Tamia, a comparative estimate of English poets and those of Greece and Rome, followed in 1598.

In one of the ambitions of which The Faerie Queene was the outcome, the reinspiration of the romantic epic, Spenser found no follower. The Orlando Furioso of Ariosto found a translator in Sir John Harington, and the Gerusalemme Liberata of Tasso was rendered in somewhat too Spenserian a style in the Godfrey of Bulloigne of Edward Fairfax ( 1600). But no poet tried to revive the old themes of Arthur and the Grail. Later narrative poems such as Chamberlayne Pharonnida ( 1659) and others found their inspiration in the tedious Greek prose romances. It was the pastoral and allegorical Spenser, and the diffuse and musical poet, who appealed to his successors. They tried their hand at many kinds-- legends after the manner of the Mirror for Magistrates but com

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