An exchange of poems between Sir Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth I

This exchange probably dates from 1587, around the time Ralegh’s influence of power had reached its high-water mark. I don’t propose to blog at length about the poems – I have said what I have to say about them in The Favourite and, for the most part, they speak for themselves.

I would say, though, that it’s evident – beneath the histrionic, self-pitying rhetoric – that Ralegh can sense the tide of favour turning against him; and I’m not sure we should automatically dismiss as fraudulent the expressions of pain such a rejection might engender. For a man in his circumstances, the cooling of royal warmth towards him could presage a wider kind of abandonment and ruin too. As for Elizabeth’s poem, I think it reveals something we don’t often see in portrayals of her: a gentle affection and an unmistakeable kindness and solicitude. It also shows, of course, how perceptive her judgement of those around her was.

Ralegh to Elizabeth

Fortune hath taken away my love,
My life’s joy and my soul’s heaven above.
Fortune hath taken thee away, my princess,
My world’s joy and my true fantasy’s mistress.

Fortune hath taken thee away from me;
Fortune hath taken all by taking thee.
Dead to all joys, I only live to woe:
So is Fortune become my fantasy’s foe.

In vain, my eyes, in vain ye waste your tears;
In vain my sights, the smoke of my despairs,
In vain you search the earth and heaven above.
In vain you search, for Fortune keeps my love.

Then will I leave my love in Fortune’s hand:
Then will I leave my love in worldings’ band,
And only love the sorrows due to me –
Sorrow, henceforth, that shall my princess be –

And only joy that Fortune conquers kings.
Fortune, that rules the earth and earthly things,
Hath taken my love in spite of virtue’s might:
So blind a goddess did never virtue right.

With wisdom’s eyes had but blind Fortune seen,
Then had my love, my love forever been.
But love, farewell – though Fortune conquer thee,
No fortune base nor frail shall alter me.

Elizabeth to Ralegh

Ah, silly Pug, wert thou so sore afraid?
Mourn not, my Wat, nor be thou so dismayed.
It passeth fickle Fortune’s power and skill
To force my heart to think thee any ill.
No Fortune base, thou sayest, shall conquer thee?
And may so blind a witch so conquer me?
No, no, my Pug, though Fortune were not blind,
Assure thyself she could not rule my mind.
Fortune, I know, sometimes doth conquer kings,
And rules and reigns on earth and earthly things,
But never think Fortune can bear the sway
If virtue watch, and will her not obey.
Ne chose I thee by fickle Fortune’s rede,
Ne she shall force me alter with such speed
But if to try this mistress’ jest with thee,
Pull up thy heart, suppress thy brackish tears,
Torment thee not, but put away thy fears.
Dead to all joys and living unto woe,
Slain quite by her that ne’er gave wise men blow,
Revive again and live without all dread,
The less afraid, the better thou shalt speed.


NOTE: If you are interested in my other posts on Ralegh, they are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

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