Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century

Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century

Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century

Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century

Excerpt

The word silver in the title of this volume, where minor might perhaps have been expected, marks its editor's resolve to distinguish without disparagement and to admire without extravagance. It acknowledges a distinction between this particular assembly of poets and their more eminent contemporaries and near-contemporaries, while implying that the least we can claim for them is a silver-tongued eloquence. Nor will the judicious reader complain if he finds, as he will, some golden verses here. The critical survey of English poetry is an activity different in principle, as well as in kind, from marking examination-papers; and the terms major and minor, convenient enough for broad generalizing judgments, are apt to become meaningless or worse when applied to particular poems. More than one 'minor' poet lives for us today by virtue of a poem or poems which no sensible person, if the question were put, could regard as anything but 'major' in quality. Take Ralegh's seven lines:

Even such is Time, that takes in trust

Our youth, our joys, our all we have,

And pays us but with earth and dust:

Who in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our ways,

Shuts up the story of our days.

But from this earth, this grave, this dust,

My God shall raise me up, I trust.

Or Sidney, perennially fresh, exquisitely artificial, My true love bath my heart. Or the best of Wyatt's lyrics. Or that early anonymous carol, I sing of a maiden. Minor poems, of major? The question makes no sense. These things are poetry, and leave nothing more to be said.

Our Silver Posts of The Sixteenth Century range in time from the virtual beginning of the English Renaissance to beyond the end of the Elizabethan Age. Renaissance, rebirth, of what? The question cannot be answered in a word. We may use the term, if we will, to denote that process of transition between . . .

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