1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Drayton

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 2:161-63.



If we closely consider the two following passages from this poet, there will be no occasion to suppose with Dr. Farmer, (see his Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, p. 30.) that Milton in his justly admired description of the swan, had a passage of Donne in his eye:

—the swan with arched neck
Between her white wings mantling, proudly "rows
Her state with oary feet."
Milton.

The jealous swan, there "swimming in his pride,"
With his "arch'd breast" the waters did divide,
His "saily wings" him forward strongly pushing
Against the billows with such fury rushing,
As from the same, a foam as arose
As seem'd to mock the breast that them oppose.
Man in the Moon, p. 480. Edit. 1619.

The swan by his great master taught this good,
T' avoid the fury of the falling flood,
His "boat-like breast, his wings rais'd for his sail,"
And "oar-like feet"....

Peck quotes an apposite passage from Shakspeare's Tempest, from which he supposes Milton to have taken his epithet "oary." The lines are these:

—his bold head
'Bove the contentious waves he kept, and "oar'd"
Himself with his good arms in lusty-strokes
To th' shore....

But had Peck been a minute reader of Drayton, he would have found that from him, Milton copied the most material features in his image. It is worthy of observation, that the idea of the swan's having a musical voice prevails in Iceland, as well as in the writings of the ancients. See Uno Von Troil, speaking of this bird. "They are said to sing very harmoniously in the dark cold winters nights: but though it was in the month of September, when I was upon the island, I never once enjoyed the pleasure of a single song." Letters on Iceland, p. 143.

The word "imparadis'd," used by Milton, Paradise Lost, 13. iv. 506. and supposed by some of his first commentators to have been coined by him, occurs twice in Drayton, perhaps oftener:

Within the castle hath the queen devis'd
A chamber with choice rarities so fraught,
As in the same she had "imparadis'd"
Almost what man by industry hath sought.
Bar. Wars, B. VI. Stan. 30.

See also his Poly-Olbion:

O my bright lovely brook, whose name doth bear the sound
Of God's first garden-plot th' "imparadised" ground
Wherein he placed man.

The word seems to have been not uncommon with other of our older poets, as the following instances prove:

For she that can my heart "imparadise."
Daniel, Son. 12.

—this "paradised" earth.
Warner's Alb. Eng. B. X. Ch. 60,

Thou sitt'st "emparadis'd," and chaunt'st eternal lays.
P. Fletcher's P. Isl. Cant. i. St. 14.

As in his burning throne he sits "emparadis'd."
G. Fletcher's Chr. Triumph. Part II. St. 43.

My soule's "imparadis'd," for 'tis with her.
Habington's Castara, p. 31. Edit. 1640.

Pope in the course of his Translation of Homer, in a variety of instances, has with great happiness and success availed himself of the opportunity of interweaving with his version applicable passages from our best poets, as Shakspeare and Milton; perhaps in rendering the following line he had Milton in his eye: [Greek characters] Il. 10. line 8.

Or bids the "brazen throat" of war to roar.
Pope.

But what he has here gained in strength, he has lost in accuracy. Homer says nothing about "brazen," Milton tempted him to use this epithet:

The "brazen throat" of war had ceas'd to roar.
P. Lost, B. Xl. 713.

I was induced to quote these passages, as they will tend to introduce one of the most nervous and sublime lines in the whole compass of English poetry. It is in our author's Epistle from Mortimer to Isabel:

For which Rome sends her curses out from far
"Through the stern throat of terror-breathing War."