The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse

The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse

The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse

The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse

Excerpt

The long tradition of medieval poetry ends with a burst of sweetness in the religious carols. On the threshold between old and newstands the remarkable achievement of The Nutbrown Maid, in which a theme of balladry is brought to the purpose of a conscious and fully ordered craftsmanship. The rapid improvisation of Skelton has its links both with the past and with the future. It is easy to undervalue Skelton. His is the only authentic voice which comes to us from the first quarter of the sixteenth century. But musical composition had long been cultivated in England, and from the art of the lutenist the art of poetry made a fresh beginning in the literate and fight-of-love court of Henry the Eighth. A rather irritating kind of scholarship insists that Sir Thomas Wyatt was chiefly notable for the acclimatization of the Italian sonnet, and the Earl of Surrey for the invention of blank verse. Such a method of approach to poetry is of little value, except perhaps for the uses of classroom discipline. It is the pageant of genius which makes the history of literature, not the procession of influences. The source of a poem, in form or in substance, is surely the least important thing about it. Wyatt's hesitating and perhaps unfinished translations . . .

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