LYRIC POETRY has traditionally been regarded, along with the drama, as the greatest literary accomplishment of sixteenth- century England. Originally, the lyric consisted of verses to be sung and accompanied by an instrument--in ancient Greece, the lyre. This musical notion of the lyric persisted in both theory and practice throughout the Renaissance, inspiring a number of critical treatises on meter and harmony in English verse as well as a multitude of songs by musicians and poets such as Sir Thomas Wyatt, William Byrd, Edmund Campion, and William Shakespeare among others. While John Stevens has shown how complex and uncertain the relationship between music and poetry can be in this period, it is still evident that lyrics such as Wyatt's "Blame Not My Lute" were set to music and sung before a select, often courtly audience. At the same time, the circulation of these verses in manuscript and their subsequent publication in printed collections made the lyric into one of the period's most popular and durable forms of literature, combining the immediacy and charm of song with the cryptic pleasures of the text.
The lyric has perennially been given pride of place in both contemporary and modern anthologies of sixteenth-century poetry. Tottel's Miscellany ( 1557), a collection of songs and sonnets, went through nine editions in thirty years and inspired a flood of comparable publications such as The Paradise of Dainty Devices ( 1576), The Phoenix Nest ( 1593), and England's Helicon ( 1600). These, in turn, have been a source for later collections such as Francis Palgrave's Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language ( 1861)--described by