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A Lover's Complaint was first published in 1609, at the end of the Sonnets. There is no evidence by which to determine the date of its composition; I scarcely think, however, that it can have come very early, the style of the poem being, to my mind, much more difficult and involved than that of Venus and Adonis or Lucrece. Indeed, the sense at times is really obscure, perhaps, though, through corruption of the text; lines 240-242, for instance, can hardly have come down to us just as Shakespeare wrote them. The merits of the poem speak for themselves. It is a beautiful piece of narrative verse which makes us wish once more that Shakespeare had given the world a larger body of such poetry, instead, say, of wrestling into shape the formless chaos of Henry VI. parts i. ii. and iii. Titus Andronicus, too, with its midsummer madness of bloodthirsty melodrama, could have been spared, if a second Lover's Complaint had been the substitute. Very noticeable in the present poem is the effortless ease of the narra


From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded1
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits t' attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tun'd tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain.

Upon her head a platted hive of straw,
Which fortified her visage from the sun,
Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of a beauty spent and done:
Time hath not scythed all that youth begun,


tive. The poet's muse does not soar to the empyrean, essaying “things unattempted yet." She wings the middle air with a sustained flight that never falters. It is the same great faculty of telling a story that makes Venus and Adonis and Lucrece such perfect specimens of the narrator's act. Beautiful, too, is the elaboration and preciousness (almost) of the style in the purely descriptive passages, as where the deserted Ariadne describes the faithless Theseus; while throughout the poem, under the fanciful language, beats just a sufficiency of passion and emotion. Among the old commentators none speaks with more sympathy of A Lover's Complaint than Malone; and he makes, I think, rather a happy criticism when he says that the poem reads like a challenge to Spenser on his own ground. A Lover's Complaint has a distinctly Spenserian flavour; it has much of Spenser's stately pathos, and sense of physical beauty, and exquisite verbal melody; and, Spenserian or not, it is wholly charming.

1 Re-worded, re-echoed.

2 Hive, a kind of bonnet, resembling a hive.

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Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside;
Some in her threaden fillet still did bide,
And, true to bondage, would not break from thence,
Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

A thousand favours from a maund 3 she drew
Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,
Which one by one she in a river threw,
Upon whose weeping margent she was set;


A reverend man that graz'd his cattle nigh-
Sometime a blusterer, that the ruffle knew
Of court, of city, and had let go by

The swiftest hours, observed as they flew-
Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew,
And, privileg'd by age, desires to know
In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.
So slides he down upon his grained bat,
And comely-distant sits he by her side;
When he again desires her, being sat,
Her grievance with his hearing to divide:
If that from him there may be aught applied
Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage,
"T is promis'd in the charity of age.



'Father," she says, "though in me you behold The injury of many a blasting hour,

Let it not tell your judgment I am old;

Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power:

6 Ruffle, noise, brawls.


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