Constable's quiet book was followed in 1593 by the most elaborate of the purely "literary" sequences, Barnabe Barnes's Parthenophil and Parthenophe.1 Not only sonnets, but odes, elegies,
1Grosart, Occasional Issues, i.
madrigals, canzons, and sestinas are used to express the lover's emotion. So far as the subject-matter is concerned there is no discrimination between the forms; an idea introduced in a sonnet may be carried on in a madrigal.1 The number of literary forms employed shows the bent of Barnes's genius; he is more interested in metrical experiments than in ideas. As a result, his series is extremely hard to read, and none of his sonnets are remembered by any but students of literature. His range of themes is very narrow, and his lyric emotion is slight. He sings the cruelty of his mistress in a few sonnets, notably in the twenty-eighth,2 which is one of the few examples of lyric manner:--
"So be my labours endlesse in their turnes,
Turne, turne Parthenophe turne and relent,
Hard is thine harte and never will repent;
See how this heart within my body burns," etc.
Barnes also has the inevitable description of his lady, but his terms are very conventional; he refers to "golden wyers" for her hair; to pearls set in rubies, when he means her teeth; to diamonds for her eyes, and to ivory for her skin.3 This inventory of ruby, crystal, ivory, pearl, and gold was perfectly familiar to earlier English poets; it is remarkable only that Barnes and his sonnet comrades should return to it in such a barefaced manner after Sidney had set an example of poetic
1Sonnet xiii and madr. iv, p. 10.
2Ibid., p. 18.
sincerity. It remained for Shakspere to depart from such trite and far-fetched images.
The first nine sonnets are purely narrative, telling how Parthenophil's heart left Laya, his first love, for Parthenophe. A narrative rather than a lyric tendency is observable throughout the sequence. Besides the two general themes mentioned, Barnes has nothing but rather fantastic ideas, which would link him with the later metaphysical poets, had he any of their enthusiasm. Twice he compares his love to a clock, working out a parallel for all parts of the mechanism1; and as is usual with such writing, the mind is diverted from the idea to the image. Rather less pleasant are the several poems involving sensuous physical images. What is bearable in Sidney or Spenser only on account of the elevation of mood that accompanies it, is treated by Barnes with the utmost cold-blooded frankness, and seems nothing short of brutal. The sixty-third sonnet2 is especially unpleasant when it is remembered that Barnes is describing the woman whom he is supposed to love. How little his interest was in his pretended passion, and how far afield he went for queer ideas, is illustrated by the thirty-second3 and the ten following sonnets, which find their inspiration in the signs of the Zodiac. The eighty-ninth4 sonnet is an echo-song, the last syllable of each line being repeated. The
1Nos. 18 and 54.
2Occasional Issues, i. p. 43.
lyric impulse is at its lowest, perhaps, in the thirty-first sonnet, in which each line is made up of phrases and their inversions:--
"I burne yet am I cold, I am a cold yet burne,
In pleasing discontent, in discontentment pleased," etc.1
The so-called madrigals, odes, and elegies scattered through the series are nothing but irregular rime-forms, and cannot be generalized. The term madrigal is evidently used to imply song-quality, since to the Elizabethan mind a madrigal was essentially a musical form. Barnes, however, is unsuccessful in achieving any special melody in this class of his lyrics; they are no more like songs than his sonnets. The sestina, whose only interest is its form, will be considered later.
1Occasional Issues, i. p. 20.