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Thursday 19 September 2019

The Sunday poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

from In Windsor Castle

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (pictured) may not himself have been the greatest of poets but he made a huge contribution to English poetry. It was he who re-discovered the line called the iambic pentameter.

This is a line of ten syllables alternately stressed and unstressed. It was the line of Chaucer and has remained, thanks to Henry Howard, the basic line of English verse into which English naturally falls if you, more or less, let it alone.

It became the "mighty line" of Christopher Marlowe and through him of William Shakespeare who admired Marlowe intensely. 'Was it the proudful sail of his great verse?' he asks his erstwhile mistress, who has left him for Marlowe. It  remained the dominant line, surviving even the advent of the Modernists such as Ezra Pound who wanted to replace it with free verse. Brought up in Windsor Castle, a cousin of Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, Howard fell from favour along with them and was subsequently imprisoned there. 

from In Windsor Castle

Henry Howard Earl of Surrey

The secret thoughts imparted with such trust,

The wanton talk, the divers change of play,

The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,

Wherewith we passed the winter nights away.

And with this thought the blood forsakes my face,

The tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue,

The which as soon as sobbing sighs, alas!

Upsupped have, thus I my plaint renew :

'O place of bliss, renewer of my woes,

Give me account where is my noble fere,

Whom in thy walls thou didst each night enclose,

To other lief, but unto me most dear.'

Echo, alas ! that doth my sorrow rue,

Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint.

Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew,

In prison pine with bondage and restraint;

And with remembrance of the greater grief

To banish the less, I find my chief relief.

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