Sunday, June 15, 2014

Idea: To The Reader of these Sonnets - Michael Drayton

Into these loves, who but for passion looks,
At this first sight here let him lay them by
And seek elsewhere in turning other books,
Which better may his labour satisfy.
No far-fetch'd sigh shall ever wound my breast;
Love from mine eye a tear shall never wring;
Nor in "Ah me's!" my whining sonnets drest:
A libertine, fantasticly I sing.
My verse is the true image of my mind,
Ever in motion, still desiring change;
And as thus to variety inclin'd,
So in all humours sportively I range:
My Muse is rightly of the English strain,
That cannot long one fashion entertain.

At the beginning of his sonnet, Drayton warns the reader: anyone looking just for passion in his or her love is advised to look elsewhere, because they will not find that in his poems.  Look to other books, "which may better his labour satisfy."  Basically, if you're reading sonnets just for some thrill of love and passion, you're in the wrong place.  Drayton seems proud that he is immune to the slings and arrows of love, that he avoids its piercing dart.  "No far-fetch'd sign shall ever wound by breast" he boasts, and he mocks other sonnets, "drest" (dressed) in "Ah me's!" and other breathy exclamations of love, the likes of which are nowhere to be seen in his work.

Rather, Drayton fancies himself a libertine, someone who seeks out pleasure as his whims take him, always mutable, "ever in motion."  He ranges "sportively" in all humours, as rightly befits an English man.  He cannot stay in one mode, but rather, he feels the need to explore, because his "verse is the image of [his] mind."  I love that image particularly, the verse being the very image of the mind.  While I don't think it's healthy to declare "Love from mine eye a tear shall never wring" I do find the attitude of celebrating radical mental freedom highly appealing.  As with all things poetic, it is surely an exaggeration, as no one is so unfeeling as to never cry.  I think Drayton means to say that his poems will never be weepy stuff, dripping with idle tears of Love and Passion.

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