A Reading of 'The Ocean's Love to Cynthia'
WE can begin by reminding ourselves, in brief and bold strokes, of the personality of Ralegh as it is presented by the biographer. We shall recall that, like Philip Sidney, Ralegh was an amateur in poetry, a many-sided man, already a legend in his own lifetime; but that where Sidney was loved and admired, Ralegh, it seems, was hated and feared, by all but an immediate circle of friends who were devoted to him. And the thing which made him hated, which all his contemporaries record, is his pride. The image we get is of a man touchy, insolent, flashy, uncontrollable; a haughty, headstrong exhibitionist.
Something of this can be traced to his origin--significantly different from Sidney's. Ralegh came of the country gentry, of an ancient and honourable family; but he was not born to the highest level of the aristocracy, like the Sidneys, or the Dudleys and Devereux who were later his rivals at court. He could not assume, as Sidney could, that his birth would entitle him from the first to positions of great power. He had to win his way, to force his way to the top by sheer force of personality. And so we may imagine him as a go-getter, a man on the make, a thruster. Everything depended on his pleasing two capricious monarchs. His life and most of his poetry are devoted to this one end. And so there could not be for him, in life or in writing, that ease which is so conspicuous and persuasive in Sidney. Sidney was poet and courtier 'as to the manner born'; Ralegh was poet and courtier because his life depended on it.
It was in 1582, when he was thirty years old, that Ralegh came home from Ireland, an obscure army officer with no backing and no influence. Almost at once he rose to become Elizabeth's favourite. No one knows why--but the story of his laying his cloak on a puddle for the Queen to step on, if it is false in fact, is probably true in spirit. He became the Queen's favourite principally because, in Elizabeth's ceremonious and elaborate and extravagant court, he was the most inventively ceremonious, the most elaborate and extravagant figure of them all. He