Elizabethan Poets

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Authors born between 1500 and 1550 CE

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Epigram Written in Prison

The Happy Life

Youth and Age

My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is

Let Not Old Age Disgrace My High Desire

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

What is our life?

Raleigh to His Son

My Body in the Walls Captived

Affection is Not Love

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

They that have Power to Hurt and will Do None

When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought

The Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame

Fain Would I Wed

Tears at the Grave of Sir Albertus Morton

Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton's Wife

To His Little Child Benjamin, from the Tower

Of The Loss of Time




The Elizabethan poets (Sixteenth Century and shortly after) appeared in England during a period roughly contemporaneous with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Previous to this, the genius of Chaucer (1343-1400) had established English as a new language of literature and was a primary influence on poets of the Fifteenth Century. With the English renaissance of the Sixteenth Century, the language had moved much closer to its modern form, Chaucer came to be regarded as the English Homer, and a new flowering of poetry took place. These poets adopted sonnet forms from Italy and wrote enormous numbers of love poems, but they also tried new meters and entertained other subjects, such as the passage of time, the effect of imprisonment, views on the happy life, the kingdom of the mind, old age, advice to a son, true joy, and  tributes to the dead. Here, some short extracts from Wyatt, Surrey, Dyer, Sidney, Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Campion, Wooton, and Hoskins are presented.


Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), born at Allington, Kent, and educated at Cambridge, was in and out of favor with Henry VIII, whom he served in a number of offices.  He was repeatedly in jail—for associating with Anne Boleyn, quarreling with the duke of Suffolk, and on charges of treason. He was knighted in 1537  and served two years as ambassador to Charles V. He translated some of Petrarch's sonnets, as well as writing many of his own and other lyrics and songs.


          1. Remembrance


They flee from me, that sometime did me seek,

With naked foot, stalking within my chamber;

Once have I seen them gentle, tame, and meek,

That now are wild, and do not once remember

That sometime they have put themselves in danger

To take bread at my hand; and now they range

Busily seeking in continual change.


Thanked be Fortune it hath been otherwise

Twenty times better; but once, especial,

In thin array, after a pleasant guise,

When her loose gown did from her shoulders fall,

And she me caught in her arms long and small,

And therewithall so sweetly did me kiss,

And softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'


It was no dream; for I lay broad awaking:

But all is turned now thorough my gentleness,

Into a bitter fashion of forsaking;

And I have leave to go from her goodness,

And she also to use newfangledness.

But since that I so unkindly am served:

How like you this, what hath she now deserved?

                                                                Sir Thomas Wyatt



          2. Epigram Written in Prison


Sighs are my food, my drink are my tears;

Clinking of fetters would such music crave;

Stink and close air away my life wears;

Poor innocence is all the hope I have;

Rain, wind or weather judge I by my ears.

Malice assaults that righteousness should have.

Sure I am, Brian, this wound shall heal again,

But yet, alas, the scar shall still remain.

                                                          Sir Thomas Wyatt




Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47) received his title when his father became duke of Norfolk. He fought in Scotland and in Flanders and became commander of a garrison of Boulogne. Quick-tempered and quarrelsome, he made many enemies and was imprisoned several times for misconduct. Arrested on false charges of treason, he was executed in 1547. As with other Elizabe­thans, his poetry was somewhat secondary to his other activities, but he was technically skilled and, like Wyatt, an enthusiast of the Italian sonnet



          3. The Happy Life


My friend, the things that do attain

The happy life be these, I find.

The riches left, not got with pain;

The fruitful ground; the quiet mind;


The equal friend, no grudge, no strife;

No charge of rule, nor governance;

Without disease, the healthy life;

The household of continuance;


The mean diet, no delicate fare;

True wisdom joined with simpleness;

The night discharged of all care,

Where wine the wit may not oppress;


The faithful wife, without debate;

Such sleeps as may beguile the night;

Contented with mine own estate,

No wish for death, nor fear his might.

                                             Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey



          4. Youth and Age


Laid in my quiet bed, in study as I were,

I saw within my troubled head a heap of thoughts appear.

And every thought did show so lively in mine eyes,

That now I sighed, and then I smiled, as cause of thought did rise.

I saw the little boy in thought how oft that he

Did wish of God to scape the rod, a tall young man to be.

The young man, too, that feels his bones with pains opprest,

How he would be a rich old man, to live and lie at rest.

The rich old man, that sees his end draw on so sore,

How he would be a boy again, to live so much the more.

Whereat full oft I smiled, to see how all these three,

From boy to man, from man to boy, would chop and change degree.

And, musing thus, I think the case is very strange

That man from wealth, to live in woe, doth ever seek to change.

Thus thoughtful as I lay, I saw my withered skin,

How it doth show my dinted cheeks, the flesh was worn so thin.

And, too, my toothless jaws, the gates of my rightway,

That opes and shuts as I do speak, do thus unto me say:

“Thy white and hoarish hairs, the messengers of age,

That show, like lines of true belief, that this life doth assuage,

Bid thee lay hand, and feel them hanging on thy chin;

The which do write two ages past, the third now coming in.

Hang up therefore the bit of thy young wanton time:

And thou that therein beaten art, the happiest life define.”

Whereat I sigh'd, and said, “Farewell, my wonted joy!

Truss up thy pack, and trudge from me to every little boy,

And tell them thus from me: their time most happy is,

If, to their time, they reason had to know the truth of this.”

                                                  Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey




Sir Edward Dyer (?-1607)was born in Somersetshire and was educated at Oxford, but left before taking a degree. He is mentioned as one of the ornaments of Queen Elizabeth’s court, and was sent by her on missions to Holland and Denmark in the1580s. He was knighted in 1596. He was well esteemed as a poet by his contemporaries, but little of his poetry has survived.



          5. My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is


My mind to me a kingdom is,

Such present joys therein I find,

That it excels all other bliss

That earth affords or grows by kind:

Though much I want which most would have,

Yet still my mind forbids to crave.


No princely pomp, no wealthy store,

No force to win the victory,

No wily wit to salve a sore,

No shape to feed a loving eye;

To none of these I yield as thrall:

For why? My mind doth serve for all.


I see how plenty surfeits oft,

And hasty climbers soon do fall;

I see that those which are aloft

Mishap doth threaten most of all;

They get with toil, they keep with fear;

Such cares my mind could never bear.


Content I live, this is my stay,

      I seek no more than may suffice,

I press to bear no haughty sway;

      Look, what I lack my mind supplies.

Lo, thus I triumph like a king,

Content with that my mind doth bring.


Some have too much, yet still do crave,

      I little have, and seek no more:

They are but poor, though much they have,

      And I am rich with little store:

They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.


I laugh not at another's loss,

      I grudge not at another's gain;

No worldly waves my mind can toss,

      My state at one doth still remain.

I fear no foe, I fawn no friend;

I loathe not life, nor dread my end.


Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,

      Their wisdom by their rage of will;

Their treasure is their only trust,

      A cloaked craft their store of skill:

But all the pleasure that I find

Is to maintain a quiet mind.


My wealth is health and perfect ease:

      My conscience clear my chief defense;

I neither seek by bribes to please,

      Nor by deceit to breed offence.

Thus do I live, thus will I die;

Would all did so, as well as I.

                            Sir Edward Dyer



Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) was a courtier, soldier, and poet. Born Kent, and educated at Oxford he was sent by Elizabeth I on diplomatic missions and was considered one of her favorites. He fell out of favor at one point but was subsequently appointed governor of Vlissingen in the Netherlands, taking part in an expedition aiding the Netherlands against Spain. Sidney died of wounds received in a raid on a Spanish convoy. His best known poetic works are some 108 sonnets about unrequited love (Astrophel and Stella), and a pastoral romance (Arcadia). He defended of poetry against the Puritans in An Apologie for Poetrie.



          6. Let Not Old Age Disgrace 
                   My High Desire


Let not old age disgrace my high desire,

O heavenly soul, in human shape contained:

Old wood inflamed doth yield the bravest fire,

When younger doth in smoke his virtue spend.

Nor let white hairs, which on my face do grow,

Seem to your eyes of a disgraceful hue,

Since whiteness doth present the sweetest show,

Which makes all eyes do homage unto you.

Old age is wise and full of constant truth;

Old age well stayed from ranging humor lives;

Old age hath known what ever was in youth;

Old age o'ercome, the greater honor gives:

And to old age since you yourself aspire,

Let not old age disgrace my high desire.

                                                  Sir Philip Sidney




Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was born in Kent and educated at Cambridge. He became connected with a company of actors for whom he wrote plays. He was also said to be a secret agent and to have led the adventurous life typical of English agents. Denounced as a heretic, he inadvertently avoided further action against him by being murdered in a tavern brawl. While he is most famous as the first great English playwright (Dr. Faustus, Tamerlane the Great, etc.), he also wrote poetry and translated some of the poems of Lucan and Ovid.


          7. The Passionate Shepherd 
                        to His Love


Come live with me, and be my love:

And we will all the pleasures prove

That hills and valleys, dales and fields,

Woods or steepy mountain yields.


And we will sit upon the rocks,

Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,

By shallow rivers to whose falls

Melodious birds sing madrigals.


And I will make thee beds of roses

With a thousand fragrant posies,

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle

Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;


A gown made of the finest wool

Which from our pretty lambs we pull;

Fair lined slippers for the cold,

With buckles of the purest gold,


A belt of straw and ivy buds,

With coral clasps and amber studs:

And, if these pleasures may thee move,

Come live with me and be my love.


The shepherd-swains shall dance and sing

For thy delight each May morning:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me, and be my love.

                             Christopher Marlowe




Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618) was born in Devon, educated at Oxford and studied law in London. He first sailed to America in 1578 and then in 1585 attempted to sponsor the first English colony there, which failed. He became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, who knighted him but became disenchanted with him when he secretly married one of her maids of honor. He was convicted of plotting against Elizabeth’s successor, James I, and was sentenced to death—commuted to a life sentence in the Tower of London, where much of his writing was done in the 13 years that followed. This contained many poems, but most of them have been lost. He persuaded the king to release him in exchange for a fortune in gold that he would find in the Orinoco. He was unsuccessful and his son was killed when they attacked a Spanish settlement, violating an agreement with the king. James had Raleigh beheaded when he returned to England.



          8. The Nymph's Reply 
                to the Shepherd


If all the world and love were young,

And truth in every shepherd's tongue,

These pretty pleasures might me move

To live with thee and be thy love.


But time drives flocks from field and fold,

When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;

And Philomel becometh dumb;

The rest complain of cares to come.


The flowers do fade, and wanton fields

To wayward winter reckoning yields:

A honey tongue, a heart of gall,

Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.


Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,

Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies

Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten—

In folly ripe, in reason rotten.


Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,

Thy coral clasps and amber studs,

All these in me no means can move

To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed:

Had joys no date nor age no need:

Then those delights my mind might move

To live with thee and be thy love.

                                      Sir Walter Raleigh



          9. What is Our Life?


What is our life? A play of passion.

Our mirth? The music of division:

Our mother's wombs the tiring-houses be,

Where we are dressed for this short comedy.

Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is

Who sits and views whosoe'er doth act amiss.

The graves which hide us from the scorching sun

Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.

Thus playing, post we to our latest rest,

And then we die, in earnest, not in jest.

                                                  Sir Walter Raleigh



         10. Raleigh to His Son


Three things there be that prosper all apace

And flourish, while they are asunder far:

But on a day, they meet all in a place,

And when they meet, they one another mar.

And they be these: the wood, the weed, the wag.

The wood is that which makes the gallow tree;

The weed is that that strings the hangman's bag;

The wag, my pretty knave, betokens thee.

Now mark, dear boy—while these assemble not,

Green springs the tree, hemp grows, the wag is wild;

But when they meet, it makes the timber rot,

It frets the halter, and it chokes the child.

                                             Sir Walter Raleigh



          11. My Body in the Walls Captived


My body in the walls captived

Feels not the wounds of spiteful envy;

But my thrall'd mind, of liberty deprived,

Fast fetter'd in her ancient memory,

Doth nought behold but sorrow's dying face;

Such prison erst was so delightful

As it desired no other dwelling place;

But time's effects and destinies despiteful

Have changèd both my keeper and my fare.

Love's fire and beauty's light I then had store;

But now, close kept, as captives wonted are,

That food, that heat, that light, l find no more.

Despair bolts up my doors, and I alone

Speak to dead walls: but those hear not my moan.

                                       Sir Walter Raleigh



          12. Affection is Not Love


Conceit, begotten by the eyes,

Is quickly born and quickly dies;

For while it seeks our hearts to have,

Meanwhile, there reason makes his grave;

For many things the eyes approve,

Which yet the heart doth seldom love.


For as the seeds in spring time sown

Die in the ground ere they be grown,

Such is conceit, whose rooting fails,

As child that in the cradle quails;

Or else within the mother's womb

Hath his beginning and his tomb.


Affection follows Fortune's wheels,

And soon is shaken from her heels;

For, following beauty or estate,

Her liking still is turned to hate;

For all affections have their change,

And fancy only loves to range.


Desire himself runs out of breath,

And, getting, doth but gain his death:

Desire nor reason hath nor rest,

And, blind, doth seldom choose the best:

Desire attained is not desire,

But as the cinders of the fire.


As ships in ports desired are drowned,

As fruit, once ripe, then falls to ground,

As flies that seek for flames are brought

To cinders by the flames they sought;

So fond desire when it attains,

The life expires, the woe remains.


And yet some poets fain would prove

Affection to be perfect love;

And that desire is of that kind,

No less a passion of the mind;

As if wild beasts and men did seek

To like, to love, to choose alike.

                             Sir Walter Raleigh




William Shakespeare (1564-1616) recognized as possible the world’s greatest dramatist left little on record to describe his life. The poetry he used in his plays to capture character, motivation, and drama is unique and represents one of the great achievements in human expression. He also took the sonnet form that had been brought from Italy by his Elizabethan predecessors and made it his own in a sequence of sonnets that has no equal.


          13. Shall I Compare Thee to 
                    a Summer's Day?


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May;

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or Nature's changing course, untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ownest,

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou growest.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

                                         William Shakespeare



          14. They that have Power to Hurt 
                            and will Do None


They that have power to hurt and will do none,

That do not do the thing they most do show,

Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, 

They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,

And husband Nature's riches from expense;

They are the lords and owners of their faces,

Others but stewards of their excellence.

The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,

Though to itself it only live and die;

But if that flower with base infection meet,

The basest weed outbraves his dignity:

     For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;

     Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

                                       William Shakespeare



          15. When to the Sessions of 
                   Sweet Silent Thought


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,

And weep afresh love's long since cancelled woe,

And moan the expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er

The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

                                     William Shakespeare



          16. The Expense of Spirit 
                 in a Waste of Shame


The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and, till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, 

 Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;

Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,

Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,

On purpose laid to make the taker mad:

Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;  

 Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof —and, proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream,  

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well  

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.            

                                       William Shakespeare



Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was born in London and became a successful physician. He was a lutenist and composed lyrics, such as Cherry Ripe, which he and others set to music. His poems, also often set to music, are generally light and charming. The one selected here, however, has a somewhat earthier quality reminiscent of the Chinese Odes.


                   17.  Fain Would I Wed


Fain would I wed a fair young man that night and day could

please me,

When my mind or body grieved that had the power to ease me.

Maids are full of longing thoughts that breed a bloodless


And that, oft I hear men say, is only cured by quickness.

Oft I have been wooed and praised, but never could be moved;

Many for a day or so I have most dearly loved,

But this foolish mind of mine straight loathes the thing


If to love be sin in me, that sin is soon absolved.

Sure I think I shall at last fly to some holy order;

When I once am settled there, then can I fly no farther.

Yet I would not die a maid, because I had a mother,

As I was by one brought forth, I would bring forth another.

                                                   Thomas Campion



Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1630) was born in Kent and was educated at Winchester and Oxford. He wrote a play and was a friend of John Donne, but his interests appear to have been mainly scientific. He obtained a diplomatic post under the second Earl of Essex, whose downfall prompted him to leave England for Italy rather rapidly. He later traveled to Scotland to warn James VI of a plot to murder him. When James acceded to the English throne, Wotton was knighted and became ambassador to Venice. He is credited with the saying that an ambassador is a honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country. His poems were published in 1651.


          18. Tears at the Grave of 
                Sir Albertus Morton


Silence in truth would speak my sorrow best,

For deepest wounds can least their feelings tell;

Yet let me borrow from mine own unrest

But time to bid him, whom I loved, farewell.


O my unhappy lines! you that before

Have served my youth to vent some wanton cries,

And now, congealed with grief, can scarce implore

Strength to assent,—Here my Albertus lies!


This is the sable stone,—this is the cave

And womb of earth that doth his corpse embrace;

While others sing his praise, let me engrave

These bleeding numbers to adorn the place.


Here will I paint the characters of woe;

Here will I pay my tribute to the dead;

And here my faithful tears in showers shall flow,

To humanize the flints whereon I tread:


Where, though I mourn my matchless loss alone,

And none between my weakness judge and me,

Yet even these gentle wails allow my moan,

Whose doleful echoes to my plaints agree.


But is he gone? and live I rhyming here,

As if some Muse would listen to my lay,

When all distuned sit wailing for their dear,

And bathe the banks where he was wont to play?


Dwell thou in endless light, discharged soul,

Freed now from Nature's and from Fortune's trust!

While on this fluent globe my glass shall roll,

And run the rest of my remaining dust.

                                                       Henry Wotton




          19. Upon the Death of 
        Sir Albert Morton's Wife


He first deceased; she for a little tried

To live without him, liked it not, and died.

                                                     Henry Wotton




John Hoskins (?-1638) was a Fellow of New College, where he graduated M.A. in 1592. He was expelled, apparently for some sarcastic remarks, made a prosperous marriage, and entered Parliament. There, "a desperate allusion to the Sicilian Vespers" led to his confinement in the Tower of London in 1614 for a year. He subsequently held a series of public offices, including that of a judge for Wales. He died in 1638. He was said to have produced a book of poems larger than that of John Donne, but it has not been found.



          20. To His Little Child Benjamin, 
                from the Tower


Sweet Benjamin, since thou art young,

And hast not yet the use of tongue,

Make it thy slave, while thou art free;

Imprison it, lest it do thee.

                                     John Hoskins



          21. Of the Loss of Time


If life be time that here is lent,

And time on earth be cast away,

Whoso his time hath here misspent,

Hath hastened his own dying day:

So it doth prove a killing crime

To massacre our living time.


If doing nought be like to death,

Of him that doth, chameleon-wise

Take only pains to draw his breath,

The passers-by may pasquilize,

Not, here he lives: but, here, he dies.

                                      John Hoskins




1, 3, 4     Tottel's Miscellany. Songes and Sonettes by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder, Nicholas Grimald and Uncertain Authors. Edited by Edward Arber. 1557. Reprinted, London, 1870. (pp 40, 27, 30.)

2             The Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt. W. Pickering, London,    1831 (p 176.)

5, 8, 9, 10, 11,12, 18, 19, 20, 21 The Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh Collected and Authenticated with Those of Sir Henry Wotton and Other Courtly Poets. Edited by J. Hannah. George Bell & Sons, London 1892. (p 149, 11, 29, 18, 18, 22, 96, 98, 122, 122.)

6             The Compete Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, Edited by Alexander Grosart, Vol. 2, Chatto and Windus, London, 1877. (p 150.)

7             The Poems of Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Johnson, Edited by Robert Bell. George Bell & Sons, London, 1910. (p 231.)

13, 14, 15, 16 The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Edited by W. J. Craig. Oxford University Press, 1905.( p 1108, 1119, 1110, 1124.)

17           Campion's Works, Edited by Percival Vivian. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1909. (p187.)

           Adaptation and selection Copyright © Rex Pay 2000