Listening time: under 5 minutes. One of the greatest love poems in English, this was written by Michael Drayton (1563-1631) the night before he died. Drayton was a friend of Shakespeare and a student of Spenser.
I can think of few more dignified and moving farewells: Anne Goodeare and Drayton were childhood friends and later fell in love. The difference in their social station meant they could only maintain a lifelong friendship, but he never married and appears to have loved her constantly for some 60 years.
The poem is all the more powerful for its restraint, and the splendour and originality of its two metaphors. It begins with an image of love as corn seed, and the eyes of the beloved as having first sown that seed in the untilled ground of his emotions. He then introduces the idea of a mirror which, when broken into pieces, can reflect the same image numerous times. The closing verse carries this forward into an analogy of all-encompassing love.
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So well I love thee, as without thee I
Love nothing; if I might choose, I’d rather dye
Than be one day debarred thy company.
Since beasts, and plants do grow, and live and move,
Beasts are those men, that such a life approve:
He only lives, that deadly is in love.
The corn that in the ground is sown first dies
And of one seed do many ears arise:
Love this world’s corn, by dying multiplies.
The seeds of love first by thy eyes were thrown
Into a ground untilled, a heart unknown
To bear such fruit, till by thy hands t’was sown.
Look as your looking glass by chance may fall
Divide and break in many pieces small
And yet shows forth, the selfsame face in all;
Proportions, features, graces just the same,
And in the smallest piece as well the name
Of fairest one deserves, as in the richest frame,
So all my thoughts are pieces but of you
Which put together makes a glass so true
As I therein no others face but yours can view.