An undated cycle of 14 sonnets: in the first William Browne of Tavistock echoes the Proem to the Faerie Queen; in the fourth he pays a passing compliment to Edmund Spenser; in the fifth he imitates Amoretti by alluding to his more ambitious poem. There is a line missing in VI.
Universal Magazine: "This poet deserves to be classed with Drayton, Massinger, and Waller; and yet no edition of his works, till the one before us has been given since the usurpation of Cromwell. His pieces recommend themselves by a beautiful enthusiasm, and by a degree of harmony which was not always characteristic of the poets of his age" Review of Works (1772) 50 (May 1772) 266.
F. W. Moorman offers some biographical speculations: "It is clear that Browne had loved one before the Caelia to whom he addresses the Sonnets, and that this loved one had died. This we gather from the first of these Sonnets. Whether this death took place before or after the marriage is uncertain, but I am inclined to think before. The courtship of Caelia probably began about 1617, after the completion of the Second Book of the Pastorals, as we learn from the fifth Sonnet which has already been quoted. The courtship lasted many years, for in the poem entitled 'a Sigh from Oxford', which could not have been written earlier than 1624, Caelia is still the object of his thoughts" "William Browne and the Pastoral Poetry of the Elizabethan Age" (1897) 13.
Lo, I the man that whilom lov'd and lost,
Not dreading loss, do sing again of love;
And like a man but lately tempest-tost,
Try if my stars still inauspicious prove:
Not to make good that poets never can
Long time without a chosen mistress be,
Do I sing thus; or my affections ran
Within the maze of mutability;
What last I lov'd was beauty of the mind,
And that lodg'd in a temple truly fair,
Which ruin'd now by death, if I can find
The saint that liv'd therein some otherwhere,
I may adore it there, and love the cell
For entertaining what I lov'd so well.
Why might I not for once be of that sect
Which hold that souls, when Nature hath her right,
Some other bodies to themselves elect;
And sunlike make the day, and license night?
That soul, whose setting in one hemisphere
Was to enlighten straight another part;
In that horizon, if I see it there,
Calls for my first respect and its desert;
Her virtue is the same and may be more;
For as the sun is distant, so his power
In operation differs, and the store
Of thick clouds interpos'd make him less our.
And verily I think her climate such,
Since to my former flame it adds so much.
Fairest, when by the rules of palmistry
You took my hand to try if you could guess
By lines therein if any wight there be
Ordain'd to make me know some happiness
I wish'd that those characters could explain,
Whom I will never wrong with hope to win;
Or that by them a copy might be ta'en,
By you alone what thoughts I have within.
But since the hand of Nature did not set
(As providently loath to have it known)
The means to find that hidden alphabet,
Mine eyes shall be th' interpreters alone;
By them conceive my thoughts, and tell me, fair,
If now you see her, that doth love me there?
So sat the muses on the banks of Thames,
And pleas'd to sing our heavenly Spenser's wit,
Inspiring almost trees with pow'rful flames,
As Caelia when she sings what I have writ:
Methinks there is a spirit more divine,
An elegance more rare when ought is sung
By her sweet voice, in every verse of mine,
Than I conceive by any other tongue:
So a musician sets what some one plays
With better relish, sweeter stroke, than he
That first compos'd; nay, oft the maker weighs
If what he hears, his own, or other's be.
Such are my lines: the highest, best of choice,
Become more gracious by her sweetest voice.
Were't not for you, here should my pen have rest
And take a long leave of sweet poesy;
Britannia's swains, and rivers far by west,
Should hear no more mine oaten melody;
Yet shall the song I sung of them awhile
Unperfect lie, and make no further known
The happy loves of this our pleasant Isle;
Till I have left some record of mine own.
You are the subject now, and, writing you,
I well may versify, not poetize:
Here needs no fiction: for the graces true
And virtues clip not with base flatteries.
Here could I write what you deserve of praise,
Others might wear, but I should win the bays.
Sing soft, ye pretty birds, while Caelia sleeps,
And gentle gales play gently with the leaves;
Learn of the neighbour brooks, whose silent deeps
Would teach him fear, that her soft sleep bereaves.
Mine oaten reed, devoted to her praise,
(A theme that would befit the Delphian lyre)
Give way, that I in silence may admire.
Is not her sleep like that of innocents,
Sweet as herself; and is she not more fair,
Almost in death, than are the ornaments
Of fruitful trees, which newly budding are?
She is, and tell it, Truth, when she shall lie
And sleep for ever, for she cannot die.
Fairest, when I am gone, as now the glass
Of Time is mark'd how long I have to stay,
Let me entreat you, ere from hence I pass,
Perhaps from you for evermore away,
Think that no common love hath fir'd my breast,
Nor base desire, but virtue truly known,
Which I may love, and wish to have possess'd,
Were you the high'st as fair'st of any one;
'Tis not your lovely eye enforcing flames,
Nor beauteous red beneath a snowy skin,
That so much binds me yours, or makes you fame's,
As the pure light and beauty shrin'd within:
Yet outward parts I must aflect of duty,
As for the smell we like the rose's beauty.
As oft as I meet one that comes from you,
And ask your health, not as the usual fashion,
Before he speaks, I doubt there will ensue,
As oft there doth, the common commendation:
Alas, think I, did he but know my mind
(Though for the world I would not have it so)
He would relate it in another kind,
Discourse of it at large, and yet but slow;
He should th' occasion tell, and with it too
Add how you charg'd him he should not forget;
For thus you might, as sure some lovers do,
Though such a messenger I have not met:
Nor do I care, since 'twill not further move me:
Love me alone and say alone you love me.
Tell me, my thoughts (for you each minute fly,
And see those beauties which mine eyes have lost,)
Is any worthier love beneath the sky?
Would not the cold Norwegian mix'd with frost
(If in their clime she were) from her bright eyes
Receive a heat, so pow'rfully begun,
In all his veins and numbed arteries,
That would supply the lowness of the sun?
I wonder at her harmony of words,
Rare (and as rare as seldom doth she talk)
That rivers stand not in their speedy fords,
And down the hills the trees forbear to walk:
But more I muse why I should hope in fine
To get a Love, a Beauty so divine.
To get a Love and Beauty so divine,
(In these so wary times) the fact must be
Of greater fortunes to the world than mine;
Those are the steps to that felicity;
For love no other gate hath than the eyes,
And inward worth is now esteem'd as none;
Mere outsides only to that blessing rise,
Which Truth and Love did once account their own;
Yet as she wants her fairer, she may miss
The common cause of love, and be as free
From earth, as her composure beavenly is;
If not, I restless rest in misery,
And daily wish, to keep me from despair,
Fortune my mistress, or you not so fair.
Fair Laurel, that the only witness art
To that discourse, which underneath thy shade
Our grief-swoll'n breasts did lovingly impart,
With vows as true as e'er Religion made:
If (forced by our sighs) the flame shall fly
Of our kind love, and get within thy rind,
Be wary, gentle bay, and shriek not high,
When thou dost such unusual fervour find;
Suppress the fire; for should it take thy leaves,
Their crackling would betray us, and thy glory
(Honour's fair symbol) dies; thy trunk receives
But heat sufficient for our future story:
And when our sad misfortunes vanquish'd lie,
Embrace our fronts in sign of memory.
Had not the soil that bred me further done,
And fill'd part of those veins which sweetly do,
Much like the living streams of Eden, run,
Embracing such a Paradise as you;
My Muse had fail'd me in the course I ran,
But that she from your virtues took new breath,
And from your eyes such fire that, like a swan,
She in your praise can sing herself to death.
Now could I wish those golden hours unspent,
Wherein my fancy led me to the woods,
And tun'd soft lays of rural merriment,
Of shepherds' loves and never-resting floods:
For had I seen you then, though in a dream,
Those songs had slept, and you had been my theme.
Night, steal not on too fast: we have not yet
Shed all our parting tears, nor paid the kisses,
Which four days' absence made us run in debt,
(O, who would absent be where grow such blisses?)
The Rose, which but this morning spread her leaves,
Kiss'd not her neighbour flower more chaste than we:
Nor are the timely ears bound up in sheaves
More strict than in our arms we twisted be;
O who would part us then, and disunite
Two harmless souls, so innocent and true,
That were all honest love forgotten quite,
By our example men might learn anew!
Night severs us, but pardon her she may,
And will once make us happier than the day.
Divinest Caelia, send no more to ask
How I in absence do; your servant may
Be freed of that unnecessary task:
For you may know it by a shorter way.
I was a shadow when I went from you;
And shadows are from sickness ever free.
My heart you kept (a sad one, though a true)
And nought but memory went home with me.
Look in your breast, where now two hearts you have,
And see if they agree together there:
If mine want aid, be merciful and save,
And seek not for me any other where:
Should my physician question how I do,
I cannot tell him, till I ask of you.
[Poems, ed. Goodwin (1893) 217-25]