Michael Drayton



Illustration from the cover of 'Roaring Boys: Shakespeare's Rat Pack'


To my most dearely-loued friend
HENERY REYNOLDS Esquire, of Poets & Poesie


      My dearely loued friend how oft haue we,
In winter evenings (meaning to be free,)
To some well-chosen place vs'd to retire;
And there with moderate meate, and wine, and fire,
Haue past the howres contentedly with chat,
Now talk of this, and then discours'd of that,
Spoke our owne verses 'twixt our selves, if not
Other mens lines, which we by chance had got,
Or some Stage pieces famous long before,
Of which your happy memory had store;
And I remember you much pleased were,
Of those who liued long agoe to heare,
As well as of those, of these latter times,
Who have inricht our language with their rimes,
And in succession, how still vp they grew,
Which is the subiect, that I now pursue;
For from my cradle, (you must know that) I,
Was still inclin'd to noble Poesie,
And when that once Pueriles I had read,
And newly had my Cato construed,
In my small selfe I greatly marueil'd then,
Amonst all other, what strange kinde of men
These Poets were; And pleased with the name,
To my milde Tutor merrily I came,
(For I was then a proper goodly page,
Much like a Pigmy, scarse ten yeares of age)
Clasping my slender armes about his thigh.
O my deare master! cannot you (quoth I)
Make me a Poet, doe it if you can,
And you shall see, Ile quickly bee a man,
Who me thus answered smiling, boy quoth he,
If you'le not play the wag, but I may see
You ply your learning, I will shortly read
Some Poets to you; Phoebus be my speed,
Too't hard went I, when shortly he began,
And first read to me honest Mantuan,
Then Virgils Eglogues, being entred thus,
Me thought I straight had mounted Pegasus,
And in his full Careere could make him stop,
And bound vpon Parnassus' by-clift top.
I scornd your ballet then though it were done
And had for Finis, William Elderton.
But soft, in sporting with this childish iest,
I from my subiect haue too long digrest,
Then to the matter that we tooke in hand,
Ioue and Apollo for the Muses stand.
      Then noble Chaucer, in those former times,
The first inrich'd our English with his rimes,
And was the first of ours, that euer brake,
Into the Muses treasure, and first spake
In weighty numbers, deluing in the Mine
Of perfect knowledge, which he could refine,
And coyne for currant, and as much as then
The English language could expresse to men,
He made it doe; and by his wondrous skill,
Gaue vs much light from his abundant quill.
      And honest Gower, who in respect of him,
Had only sipt at Aganippas brimme,
And though in yeares this last was him before,
Yet fell he far short of the others store.
      When after those, foure ages very neare,
They with the Muses which conuersed, were
That Princely Surrey, early in the time
Of the Eight Henry, who was then the prime
Of Englands noble youth; with him there came
Wyat; with reuerence whom we still doe name
Amongst our Poets, Brian had a share
With the two former, which accompted are
That times best makers, and the authors were
Of those small poems, which the title beare,
Of songs and sonnets, wherein oft they hit
On many dainty passages of wit.
      Gascoine and Churchyard after them againe
In the beginning of Eliza's raine,
Accoumpted were great Meterers many a day,
But not inspired with braue fier, had they
Liu'd but a little longer, they had seene,
Their works before them to have buried beene.
      Graue morrall Spencer after these came on
Then whom I am perswaded there was none
Since the blind Bard his Iliads vp did make,
Fitter a taske like that to vndertake,
To set downe boldly, brauely to inuent,
In all high knowledge, surely excellent.
      The noble Sidney with this last arose,
That Heroe for numbers, and for Prose.
That throughly pac'd our language as to show,
The plenteous English hand in hand might goe
With Greek or Latine, and did first reduce
Our tongue from Lillies writing then in vse;
Talking of Stones, Stars, Plants, of fishes, Flyes,
Playing with words, and idle Similies,
As th' English, Apes and very Zanies be,
Of euery thing, that they doe heare and see,
So imitating his ridiculous tricks,
They spake and writ, all like meere lunatiques.
      Then Warner though his lines were not so trim'd,
Nor yet his Poem so exactly lim'd
And neatly ioynted, but the Criticke may
Easily reprooue him, yet thus let me say;
For my old friend, some passages there be
In him, which I protest haue taken me,
With almost wonder, so fine, cleere, and new
As yet they haue bin equalled by few.
      Neat Marlow bathed in the Thespian springs
Had in him those braue translunary things,
That the first Poets had, his raptures were,
All ayre, and fire, which made his verses cleere,
For that fine madnes still he did retaine,
Which rightly should possesse a Poets braine.
      And surely Nashe, though he a Proser were
A branch of Lawrell yet deserues to beare,
Sharply Satirick was he, and that way
He went, since that his being, to this day
Few haue attempted, and I surely thinke
Those wordes shall hardly be set downe with inke;
Shall scorch and blast, so as his could, where he,
Would inflict vengeance, and be it said of thee,
Shakespeare, thou hadst as smooth a Comicke vaine,
Fitting the socke, and in thy naturall braine,
As strong conception, and as Cleere a rage,
As any one that trafiqu'd with the stage.
      Amongst these Samuel Daniel, whom if I
May spake of, but to sensure doe denie,
Onely haue heard some wisemen him rehearse,
To be too much Historian in verse;
His rimes were smooth, his meeters well did close
But yet his maner better fitted prose:
Next these, learn'd Johnson, in this List I bring,
Who had drunke deepe of the Pierian spring,
Whose knowledge did him worthily prefer,
And long was Lord here of the Theater,
Who in opinion made our learn'st to sticke,
Whether in Poems rightly dramatique,
Strong Seneca or Plautus, he or they,
Should beare the Buskin, or the Socke away.
Others againe here liued in my dayes,
That haue of vs deserued no lesse praise
For their translations, then the daintiest wit
That on Parnassus thinks, he highst doth sit,
And for a chaire may mongst the Muses call,
As the most curious maker of them all;
As reuerent Chapman, who hath brought to vs,
Musæus, Homer and Hesiodus
Out of the Greeke; and by his skill hath reard
Them to that height, and to our tongue endear'd,
That were those Poets at this day aliue,
To see their bookes thus with vs to suruiue,
They would think, hauing neglected them so long,
They had bin written in the English tongue.
      And Siluester who from the French more weake,
Made Bartas of his sixe dayes labour speake
In naturall English, who, had he there stayd,
He had done well, and neuer had bewraid
His owne inuention, to haue bin so poore
Who still wrote lesse, in striuing to write more.
      Then dainty Sands that hath to English done,
Smooth sliding Ouid, and hath made him run
With so much sweetnesse and vnusuall grace,
As though the neatnesse of the English pace,
Should tell the Ietting Lattine that it came
But slowly after, as though stiff and lame.
      So Scotland sent vs hither, for our owne
That man, whose name I euer would haue knowne,
To stand by mine, that most ingenious knight,
My Alexander, to whom in his right,
I want extreamely, yet in speaking thus
I doe but shew the loue, that was twixt vs,
And not his numbers which were braue and hie,
So like his mind, was his clear Poesie,
And my deare Drummond to whom much I owe
For his much loue, and proud I was to know,
His poesie, for which two worthy men,
I Menstry still shall loue, and Hauthorne-den.
Then the two Beamounts and my Browne arose,
My deare companions whom I freely chose
My bosome friends; and in their seuerall wayes,
Rightly borne Poets, and in these last dayes,
Men of much note, and no lesse nobler parts,
Such as haue freely tould to me their hearts,
As I have mine to them; but if you shall
Say in your knowledge, that these be not all
Haue writ in numbers, be inform'd that I
Only my selfe, to these few men doe tye,
Whose works oft printed, set on euery post,
To publique censure subiect haue bin most;
For such whose poems, be they nere so rare,
In priuate chambers, that incloistered are,
And by transcription daintyly must goe;
As though the world vnworthy were to know,
Their rich composures, let those men that keepe
These wonderous reliques in their iudgement deepe;
And cry them vp so, let such Peeces bee
Spoke of by those that shall come after me,
I passe not for them: nor doe meane to run,
In quest of these, that them applause haue wonne,
Vpon our Stages in these latter dayes,
That are so many, let them haue their bayes
That doe deserue it; let those wits that haunt
Those publique circuits, let them freely chaunt
Their fine Composures, and their praise pursue
And so my deare friend, for this time adue.











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Source:
The Minor Poems of Michael Drayton. Cyril Brett, Ed.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907. 108-113.




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