At the prompting of Motto, Gorbo sings decries the ambition of poets who would emulate Virgil in singing of heroic matters, launching instead into praises of the Golden Age, a topic Spenser had avoided in Shepheardes Calender. In reply, Motto offers the humble domestic story of Dowsabell, "A pretie Tale, which when I was a boy, | My toothles Grandame oft hath tolde to me." In the story the gentle lady, gone a-maying, yields to a shepherd boy who making an offer she cannot refuse: "And I to thee will be as kinde, | As Colin was to Rosalinde, | Of curtesie the flower."
While Drayton's gesture of reviving older national literature in pastoral was anticipated by Spenser uses of Chaucer, the introduction of ballad material here is an important innovation. William Browne of Tavistock may have had this poem in mind, as well as Spenser's Chaucerisms, when he incorporated an old tale by Thomas Hoccleve into the first pastoral of his Shepheards Pipe (1614).
Monthly Anthology and Boston Review: "Drayton has all the quaintness of Spenser. He had an eye, that looked carefully and curiously on nature, and a mind, that did not despise learning. His fancy was creative and peculiar, of which his description of the bosom of a fair lady is an eminent example.... Drayton, though not a leviathan in literature, was a charming poet in the natural age of English verse, when Chaucer was read; when Spenser was honoured; when Shakespeare lived; and when Sidney played at tournament and told the tales of Arcadia" 3 (February 1806) 65.
John Payne Collier: "There are several mentions of Spenser in the eclogues, by his assumed and well-known name of Colin: — 'And I to thee will be as kinde, | As Colin was to Rosalinde,' &c. It may be noticed that in the stanza we have just quoted, in praise of 'Sidney's sister,' Drayton adopts an expression Spenser had applied to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1590, in the sonnet to him appended to the first three books of The Fairy Queen" Bibliographical and Critical Account (1866) 1:275.
Oliver Elton: here "Drayton first uses the jingle of the old rhymed romances in a sportive way to which he afterwards — thirty and more years afterwards — gave his fullest finish in Nymphidia and the Shepherd's Sirena. This echo of Chaucer's Sir Thopas may have come to him through Spenser; and he finds just the right, flat sheep-bell tinkle, and the right, faded archaic diction, 'miniver,' 'Dowsabel,' 'Chanteclere, ' that is the far echo of a burlesque of something itself long perished" Michael Drayton: a Critical Study (1905) 35.
Herbert E. Cory: "Drayton's sense of humour flashes forth with some very significant and charming verses. Humour, except for delicate touches in Theocritus, had been too much lacking in the pastoral. A few sly touches would have saved many a bucolic poem. Spenser pointed out this way of improving the pastoral by an attempt to enliven his eclogues with echoes of the merry notes of Chaucer. In Februarie he introduces a fable which he says is a poem of Chaucer's and which is, unquestionably, an imitation of Chaucer's manner. A similar attempt to infuse some of the racy qualities of Chaucer's narrative is found in the fable of the fox and the kid introduced in the Maye. In the ballad of Bonnie Dowsabelle, which Motto sang to Gordo, Drayton adopted Spenser's plan of enlivening the pastoral with a pseudo-antique, pseudo-Chaucerian story and carried it to perfection. It is an evident imitation of Chaucer's indulgent mirthmaking in Sir Thopas. So delicate is the interplay of cunning satire and fancy in these poems that one reads of Chaucer's knight and Drayton's shepherdess with the smile of a man who loves a jest and the saucer-eyes of a child who loves a fairy-tale. This complex reaction may be best described to readers of our day as the Alice-in-Wonderland mood: — 'Far in the country of Arden | There wonn'd a knight, hight Cassamen'.... Thus easily love progresses in Arcadia. The lilt of the French pastourelle and of Henryson's Robyn and Makyn is here found in a man who probably never saw them" "Spenserian Pastoral" PMLA 25 (1910) 248-50.
Tillotson and Newdigate: "The opening theme of poetry and fame is developed with obvious reminiscences of Spenser's June and October; the succeeding account of the Golden Age derives from Virgil, Ovid, and Chaucer; while the Dowsabel story, though it draws much of its archaism from Spenser as well as Chaucer, is essentially original" Works of Drayton, ed. Hebel (1931-61) 5:10.
Good Gorbo of the golden world,
And Saturns raigne doth tell,
And afterward doth make reporte,
Of bonnie Dowsabell.
Shepheard why creepe we in this lowly vaine,
As though our muse no store at all affordes,
Whilst others vaunt it with the frolicke swayne,
And strut the stage with reperfumed wordes.
See how these yonkers rave it out in rime,
Who make a traffique of their rarest wits,
And in Bellonas buskin tread it fine,
Like Bacchus priests raging in franticke fits.
Those mirtle Groves decay'd, done growe againe,
Their rootes refresht with Heliconas spring,
Whose pleasant shade invites the homely swayne,
To sit him downe and heare the Muses sing.
Then if thy Muse hath spent her wonted zeale,
With Ivie twist thy temples shall be crownd,
Or if she dares hoyse up top-gallant sayle,
Amongst the rest, then may she be renownd.
My boy, these yonkers reachen after fame,
And so done presse into the learned troupe,
With filed quill to glorifie their name,
Which otherwise were pend in shamefull coupe.
But this hie object hath abjected me,
And I must pipe amongst the lowly sorte,
Those little heard-groomes who admir'd to see,
When I by Moone-shine made the fayries sporte.
Who dares describe the toyles of Hercules,
And puts his hand to fames eternall penne,
Must invocate the soule of Hercules,
Attended with the troupes of conquered men.
Who writes of thrice renowmed Theseus,
A monster-tamers rare description,
Trophies the jawes of uglie Cerberus,
And paynts out Styx, and fiery Acheron.
My Muse may not affect night-charming spels,
Whose force effects th' Olympicke vault to quake,
Nor call those grysly Goblins from their Cels,
The ever-damned frye of Limbo lake.
And who erects the brave Pyramides,
Of Monarches or renowned warriours,
Neede bath his quill for such attempts as these,
In flowing streames of learned Maros showres.
For when the great worlds conquerer began,
To prove his helmet and his habergeon,
The sweat that from the Poets-God Orpheus ran,
Foretold his Prophets had to play upon.
When Pens and Launces sawe the Olympiad prize,
Those chariot triumphes with the Lawrell crowne,
Then gan the worthies glorie first to rise,
And plumes were vayled to the purple gowne.
The gravest Censor, sagest Senator,
With wings of Justice and Religion,
Mounted the top of Nimrods statelie Tower,
Soring unto that hie celestiall throne:
Where blessed Angels in their heavenly queares,
Chaunt Anthemes with shrill Syren harmonie,
Tun'd to the sound of those aye-crouding sphears,
Which herien their makers eternitie.
Those who foretell the times of unborne men,
And future things in foretime augured,
Have slumbred in that spell-gods darkest den,
Which first inspir'd his prophesiyng head.
Sooth-saying Sibels sleepen long agone,
We have their reede, but few have cond their Arte,
Welch-wisard Merlyn, cleveth to a stone,
No Oracle more wonders may impart.
The Infant age could deftly caroll love,
Till greedy thirst of that ambitious honor,
Drew Poets pen, from his sweete lasses glove,
To chaunt of slaughtering broiles and bloody horror.
Then Joves love-theft was privily discri'd,
How he playd false play in Amphitrios bed,
And how Apollo in the mount of Ide,
Gave Oenon phisick for her maydenhead.
The tender grasse was then the softest bed,
The pleasant'st shades were deem'd the statelyest hals,
No belly-god with Bacchus banqueted,
Nor paynted ragges then covered rotten wals.
Then simple love with simple vertue way'd,
Flowers the favours which true fayth revayled,
Kindnes with kindnes was againe repay'd,
With sweetest kisses covenants were sealed.
Then beauties selfe with her selfe beautified,
Scornd payntings pergit, and the borrowed hayre,
Nor monstrous formes deformities did hide,
Nor foule was vernisht with compounded fayre.
The purest fleece then covered purest skin,
For pride as then with Lucifer remaynd:
Deformed fashions now were to begin,
Nor clothes were yet with poysned liquor staynd.
But when the bowels of the earth were sought,
And men her golden intrayles did espie,
This mischiefe then into the world was brought,
This fram'd the mint which coynd our miserie.
Then lofty Pines were by ambition hewne,
And men sea-monsters swamme the brackish flood,
In waynscot tubs, to seeke out worlds unknowne,
For certain ill to leave assured good.
The starteling steede is manag'd from the field,
And serves a subject to the riders lawes,
He whom the churlish bit did never weeld,
Now feels the courb controll his angrie jawes.
The hammering Vulcane spent his wasting fire,
Till he the use of tempred mettals found,
His anvile wrought the steeled cotes attire,
And forged tooles to carve the foe-mans wound.
The Citie builder then intrencht his towres,
And wald his wealth within the fenced towne,
Which afterward in bloudy stormy stours,
Kindled that flame which burnt his Bulwarks downe.
And thus began th' Exordium of our woes,
The fatall dumbe shewe of our miserie:
Here sprang the tree on which our mischiefe growes,
The drery subject of worlds tragedie.
Well, shepheard well, the golden age is gone,
Wishes may not revoke that which is past:
It were no wit to make two griefes of one,
Our proverb sayth, Nothing can alwayes last.
Listen to me my lovely shepheards joye,
And thou shalt heare with mirth and mickle glee,
A pretie Tale, which when I was a boy,
My toothles Grandame oft hath tolde to me.
Shepheard say on, so may we passe the time,
There is no doubt it is some worthy ryme.
Farre in the countrey of Arden,
There wond a knight hight Cassemen,
As bolde as Isenbras:
Fell was he and eger bent,
In battell and in Tournament,
As was the good sir Topas.
He had as antique stories tell,
A daughter cleaped Dowsabell,
A mayden fayre and free:
And for she was her fathers heire,
Full well she was ycond the leyre,
Of mickle curtesie.
The silke wel couth she twist and twine,
And make the fine Marchpine,
And with the needle werke,
And she couth helpe the priest to say
His Mattens on a holyday,
And sing a Psalme in Kirke.
She ware a frock of frolicke greene,
Might well beseeme a mayden Queene,
Which seemly was to see.
A hood to that so neat and fine,
In colour like the colombine,
Ywrought full featuously.
Her feature all as fresh above,
As is the grasse that growes by Dove,
As lyth as lasse of Kent:
Her skin as soft as Lemster wooll,
As white as snow on peakish hull,
Or Swanne that swims in Trent.
This mayden in a morne betime,
Went forth when May was in her prime,
To get sweete Cetywall,
The hony-suckle, the Harlocke,
The Lilly and the Lady-smocke,
To deck her summer hall.
Thus as she wandred here and there,
Ypicking of the bloomed Breere,
She chanced to espie
A shepheard sitting on a bancke,
Like Chanteclere he crowed crancke,
And pip'd with merrie glee:
He leard his sheepe as he him list,
When he would whistle in his fist,
To feede about him round:
Whilst he full many a caroll sung,
Untill the fields and medowes rung,
And that the woods did sound:
In favour this same shepheards swayne,
Was like the bedlam Tamburlayne,
Which helde prowd Kings in awe:
But meeke he was as Lamb mought be,
Ylike that gentle Abel he,
Whom his lewd brother slaw.
This shepheard ware a sheepe gray cloke,
Which was of the finest loke,
That could be cut with sheere,
His mittens were of Bauzens skinne,
His cockers were of Cordiwin,
His hood of Meniveere.
His aule and lingell in a thong,
His tar-boxe on his broad belt hong,
His breech of Coyntrie blew:
Full crispe and curled were his lockes,
His browes as white as Albion rocks,
So like a lover true.
And pyping still he spent the day,
So mery as the Popingay:
Which liked Dowsabell,
That would she ought or would she nought,
This lad would never from her thought:
She in love-longing fell.
At length she tucked up her frocke,
White as the Lilly was her smocke,
She drew the shepheard nie,
But then the shepheard pyp'd a good,
That all his sheepe forsooke their foode,
To heare his melodie.
Thy sheepe quoth she cannot be leane,
That have a jolly shepheards swayne,
The which can pipe so well.
Yea but (sayth he) their shepheard may,
If pyping thus he pine away,
In love of Dowsabell.
Of love fond boy take thou no keepe,
Quoth she, looke well unto thy sheepe,
Lest they should hap to stray.
Quoth he, so had I done full well,
Had I not seene fayre Dowsabell,
Come forth to gather Maye.
With that she gan to vaile her head,
Her cheekes were like the Roses red,
But not a word she sayd.
With that the shepheard gan to frowne,
He threw his pretie pypes adowne,
And on the ground him layd.
Sayth she, I may not stay till night,
And leave my summer hall undight,
And all for long of thee.
My Coate sayth he, nor yet my foulde,
Shall neither sheepe nor shepheard hould,
Except thou favour me.
Sayth she yet lever I were dead,
Then I should lose my maydenhead,
And all for love of men:
Sayth he yet are you too unkind,
If in your heart you cannot finde,
To love us now and then:
And I to thee will be as kinde,
As Colin was to Rosalinde,
Of curtesie the flower:
Then will I be as true quoth she,
As ever mayden yet might be,
Unto her Paramour:
With that she bent her snow-white knee,
Downe by the shepheard kneeled shee,
And him she sweetely kist.
With that the shepheard whoop'd for joy,
Quoth he, ther's never shepheards boy,
That ever was so blist.
Now by my sheep-hooke here's a tale alone,
Learne me the same and I will give thee hier,
This were as good as curds for our Jone,
When at a night we sitten by the fire.
Why gentle hodge I will not sticke for that,
When we two meeten here another day,
But see whilst we have set us downe to chat,
Yon tikes of mine begin to steale away.
And if thou wilt but come unto our greene,
On Lammas day when as we have our feast,
Thou shalt sit next unto our summer Queene,
And thou shalt be the onely welcome guest.