The Sonnet-Series (Cont.)

In the next year, 1592, appeared Samuel Daniel's Delia,1 which to the literary student must always suggest the two great sequences. It recalls Astrophel and Stella, because Delia is almost certainly Sidney's sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke; it is associated with Shakspere because it illustrates the first extended use of his sonnet-form. It is at first surprising that these sonnets show so little of Sidney's influence, but it is not hard to find the explanation. The Countess of Pembroke was Daniel's patroness, and out of gratitude he wished to celebrate her in his art. His love, to say the least, was disinterested, and never quite distinguishable from respectful friendship. Five sonnets of the first edition, the third, eighth, tenth, twelfth, and sixteenth he afterward omitted, apparently because they were vehement in their declaration of passion. With the intention, then, of "eternizing" his lady in this distant manner, he could hardly use the burning art of Sidney; he could but imitate the most chivalrous phases of Petrarch's worship of Laura. Of course this meant simply to ignore the sincere note of Astrophel, and to return to the French models or to the subjective quality of Wyatt's love-plaints. This low temperature of the lyric passion is accompanied by a revival of old themes; for example, that of the lady's cruelty, Petrarch's familiar motive, on which fully half of the Delia sonnets are written. Sidney had escaped from the conventionality of this theme through the circumstances of his love, where honor dictated that he should not love at all; Stella thereby came almost to symbolize virtue, and Astrophel's love, in his own eyes, was terribly like desire, so that the repulses and final dismissal were not acts of cruelty, but triumphs of spiritual love. To offset this, however, the very conditions of Daniel's admiration for the Countess of Pembroke would persuade him to dwell on her intellectual and spiritual beauty rather than on physical charms, as Sidney had done. In one sonnet, the sixth, we might feel a suggestion of Platonic emphasis on the soul, often the motive of Spenser's love-poetry:--

"A modest maid, decked with a blush of honor,

Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;

The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,

Sacred on earth, designed a saint above."2

1Elizabethan Sonnet-Cycles, Martha F. Crow, ii.

2Ibid., p.21.

There is no narrative element in Delia, nor any progression in the lover's moods. The poet sings praises of his lady, or laments her cruelty, or introduces decorative themes perhaps after Sidney's example, but more probably in direct imitation of French poets. The best of these incidental themes, and the most familiar sonnet, is the one on sleep:--
"Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable night"1

It has been pointed out that this is one of the favorite decorative themes of all the sonnet-series; evidently Sidney's sonnet is followed here.2 The famous image of the rose from canto sixteen of the Gerusalemme Liberata, afterwards entering our literature once for all in bk. iv, canto xii of the Faerie Queene, here serves a decorative purpose as translated in the thirty-sixth sonnet:--

"Look, Delia, how w' esteem the half-blown rose,

The image of thy blush, and summer's honor."3

Daniel introduces from Italian poetry the "eternizing" theme--the promise to make his love immortal by his verse. The idea of the deathless quality of poetry has been seen in the Anglo-Saxon song Widsith, where praise is rendered to the patron "free in gifts, who would be raised

1Elizabethan Sonnet-Cycles, Martha F. Crow, ii, p. 66.

2See Mod. Lang. Notes, iv. 8, 229, and v. 1, 11.

3Elizabethan Sonnet-Cycles, ii, p. 51.

among his friends to fame"; it is found also in Homer; but its most persistent expression is in the sonnet-sequences that follow Daniel. The fact that he introduced this theme, a favorite one later with Shakspere, is another link to bind him with the great poet.

The main reason for considering the two names together is that Daniel uses largely the English sonnet of three quatrains and a couplet. Critics have objected that the form was in use long before Delia was written, and that the knowledge of it was general. But Daniel first discovered its proper development, to which Shakspere added nothing--the gradual rise of emotion and thought to an epigrammatic climax in the last two lines, instead of the swell and fall of the Petrarchan stanza. In the ninth sonnet Daniel anticipates the very cadence of much of Shakspere, where he begins each quatrain and the couplet with a subordinate clause, and completes the sense in the last lines:--

"If this be love, to draw a weary breath,

To paint on floods till the shore cry to th' air;

      *           *          *          *           *         *

If this be love, to war against my soul,

Lie down to wail, rise up to sigh and grieve,

     *           *           *           *             *         *

If this be love, to clothe me with dark thoughts,

Haunting untrodden paths to wail apart,

     *          *           *           *             *         *

If this be love, to live a living death,

Then do I love and draw this weary breath."1

1Ibid., p. 24.

Daniel, like Shakspere, frequently gives different versions of one theme. In that case he binds the sonnets together, either by making them grammatically dependent, as are sonnets six and seven, or more usually, by making the last line of each sonnet the first line of the next. A series on one theme thus bound together are sonnets thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and forty. This method of concatenation has been observed already in the English lyric in the stanzas of Minot's poems, and perhaps should be referred ultimately to a similar stylistic device in Welsh poetry.

In several minor points Daniel recalls the lyrics of the miscellanies; as, to take an external trait, where he prefaces one sonnet by a title-introduction, which is necessary for understanding the poem: Alluding to the Sparrow pursued by A Hawk, that flew into the Bosom of Zenocrates.1 In another sonnet he repeats the old thought--with more sincerity, no doubt, than most love-poets could--that his passion finds ample satisfaction in having aimed high.

"The mounting venture for a high delight

Did make the honor of the fall the more.

        *           *        *         *           *             *

And therefore, Delia, 'tis to me no blot

To have attempted though attained thee not."2

Finally, two sonnets on going to Italy3 recall

1No. xxviii, p.43.

2 No. xxxii, p.47.

3Nos. xlix, p. 64, 1, p. 65.

the old lyric theme of travel. The resemblance is strengthened by the patriotic apostrophe to Albion, in which, by the way, such a small thing as absence from Delia is quite forgotten in the more keenly felt absence from English shores.

In the fifty-fourth sonnet,--

"Like as the lute delights or else dislikes

As is his art that plays upon the same,"1

a musical instrument appears in the sonnets for the first time as an image of love and its moods. The habit persists into Shakspere's series, with the familiar picture in his hundred and twenty-eighth sonnet, of virginal-playing. It has been customary for scholars to collect such passages as this from Daniel, to prove an Elizabethan's familiarity with the music of his time; and as the lute is most often mentioned, the deduction is made that the instrument was in every one's hands. It may not be out of place, however, to notice that this and similar references to the lute are probably literary, in the same spirit in which sculptors carve Homer always with his lyre. The lute survives even in modern lyrics, perhaps because of its very melodious name, and possibly because our minds refuse to associate the poet's art with a familiar musical instrument, like the piano, for example, or the guitar. The difficulty was as great to the Elizabethans, who could not picture

1Ibid., p. 69.

their poets seated at the virginal; the fact that they do imagine them with a lute in their hands, would seem to argue that the lute already was becoming a literary convention, and superseded as a practical instrument. It is a proof of Shakspere's power to find his image near at hand, that he uses the virginal, instead of the lute; but it is his mistress who plays, not the poet.