is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds”;
or, as XVIII.:—
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease bath all too short a date.
* * * * *
But thy eternal summer shall not fade.”
Sonnets came to be used in much the same way as a modern love letter or valentine. In the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, sonnets were even called “merchantable ware.” Michael Drayton (1563-1631), a prolific poet, author of the Ballad of Agincourt, one of England’s greatest war songs, tells how he was employed by a lover to write a sonnet which won the lady. Drayton’s best sonnet is, Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
Outside of the sonnets, we shall find love lyrics in great variety. One of the most popular of Elizabethan songs is Ben Jonson’s:—
“Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.”
The Elizabethans were called a “nest of singing birds” because such songs as the following are not unusual in the work of their minor writers:—
“Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark,
To give my love good morrow!
Winds from the wind to please her mind,
Notes from the lark I’ll borrow."
Pastoral Lyrics.—In Shakespeare’s early youth it was the fashion to write lyrics about the delights of rustic life with sheep and shepherds. The Italians, freshly interesting in Vergil’s Georgics and Bucolics, had taught the English how to write pastoral verse. The entire joyous world had become a Utopian sheep pasture, in which shepherds piped and fell in love with glorified sheperdesses. A great poet named one of his productions, Shepherd’s Calendar and Sir Philip Sidney wrote in poetic prose the pastoral romance Arcadia.
Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is a typical poetic expression of the fancied delight in pastoral life:—
“...we will sit upon the rocks, Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks By shallow rivers, to whose falls Melodious birds sing madrigals.”
Miscellaneous Lyrics.—As the Elizabethan age progressed, the subject matter of the lyrics became broader. Verse showing consummate mastery of turns expressed the most varied emotions. Some of the greatest lyrics of the period are the songs interspersed in the plays of the dramatists, from Lyly to Beaumont and Fletcher. The plays of Shakespeare, the greatest and most varied of Elizabethan lyrical poets, especially abound in such songs. Two of the best of these occur in his Cymbeline. One is the song—
“Hark! hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings,”