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Our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,
And here they will be merry.
Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we I pray be duller ? No let us sing our roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller ; And whilest thus inspired we sing Let all the streets with echoes ring : Woods, and hills, and every-thing
Bear witness we are merry.
WHEN WE ARE UPON THE SEAS.
[From Hallelujah.] I On those great waters now I am,
Of which I have been told,
Should wonders there behold.
Be present, Lord, with me;
I depths of danger see.
A headstrong steed I ride,
Which curbs his lofty pride.
Doth make him gallop fast;
The more he maketh haste. 3 Take Thou, oh Lord! the reins in hand,
Assume our Master's room ; Vouchsafe Thou at our helm to stand,
And pilot to become.
Trim Thou the sails, and let good speed
Accompany our haste;
And anchor for us cast. 4 A fit and favourable wind
To further us provide ;
Or lackey by our side.
And from the raging wave ;
Men, goods, and vessel save.
And sickness of the seas;
A danger worse than these.
Where we desire to be ;
Due thanks and praise to Thee.
FOR SUMMER TIME.
I Now the glories of the year
May be viewed at the best,
Sweetly smelling plants and flowers
Do perfume the garden bowers ; Hill and valley, wood and field,
Mixed with pleasure profits yield.
Herds on every mountain go,
Now each orchard banquets giveth,
Every hedge with fruit relieveth ; And on every shrub and tree Useful fruits or berries be.
3 Walks and ways which winter marr'd
By the winds are swept and dried ;
Warmth enough the sun doth lend us,
From his heat the shades defend us ; And thereby we share in these Safety, profit, pleasure, ease.
4 Other blessings, many more,
At this time enjoyed may be,
Grant that this my free oblation
May have gracious acceptation, And that I may well employ Everything which I enjoy.
THE PRAYER OF OLD AGE.
[Third part of Hallelujah.] As this my carnal robe grows old, Soild, rent, and worn by length of years, Let me on that by faith lay hold Which man in life immortal wears :
So sanctify my days behind,
So let my manners be refined, That when my soul and flesh must part, There lurk no terrors in my heart.
So shall my rest be safe and sweet
Their essence then shall be divine,
This muddy flesh shall starlike shine, And God shall that fresh youth restore Which will abide for evermore.
[Born about 1588, died 1623. Christ's Victory and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death was published in 1640.]
Giles, the brother of Phineas, and cousin of John Fletcher, is one of the chief poets of what may be called the Spenserian School, which 'flourished in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Spenser and Chaucer were the supreme names in nondramatic poetry till Milton arose ; and in the Jacobean period the Plantagenet poet was eclipsed by the Elizabethan ; and thus it was to Spenser that the lesser poetic spirits of the age looked up to as their master, and upon their writings his influence is deeply impressed. Amongst these retainers of Colin' must be counted Milton when young, before he had developed his own style and become himself an original power, himself a master; and not the least of the interests that distinguish Giles Fletcher and his fellow Spenserians is that Milton extended to them the study and attention which he gave with no ordinary sympathy to ‘our sage and serious Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus and Aquinas.'
These words of Milton's suggest some leading characteristics of the Spenserian school. It too proposed to be 'sage and serious.' It inclined indeed to be didactic. In that notorious production, 'The Purple Island,' we have in fact a lecture on Anatomy. More commonly its purpose was directly ethical; and it must be allowed that the artist is at times lost in the moralist.
Giles Fletcher is eminently a religious poet—in the technical sense of the word, as happily also in the more general sense. He deals with Christian themes : ‘Christ's Victory in Heaven,' 'Christ's Victory on Earth,' Christ's Triumph over Death,''Christ's Triumph after Death'; and it is his special distinction, that in handling such themes he does not sink into a mere rhyming dogmatist, but writes with a genuine enthusiasm and joy. For certainly what has commonly been written for 'religious' poetry has been religious' rather than poetical. Its orthodoxy may have been unimpeachable ; but no less so its prosiness. How few hymns are worthy of the name of poems! The cause of this frequent failure is probably to be looked for in the writer's relation to his subject. It is not, and cannot be, one of sufficient freedom. His mind is in a sense subdued and fettered by the very conditions of the case.
He is dealing with a certain definite interpretation of profound mysteries ; and the mysteries themselves are such as to overpower and paralyse the free movement of his intelligence. How can he sing at ease? He is like one with a lesson set him, which he must reproduce as best he may. It is rather his faith and his memory that are called into action than his imagination. At all events his imagination has an inferior part assigned her ; she is not to create but rather to decorate and glorify what is created. To worship and adore and love—these are real movements and impulses of the poet's mind, and may have and have had their expression in lyrics that may be fully styled divine; but, when the details of a creed are celebrated, then for the most part the sweet enthusiasm dies away out of the poet's eyes, the rapture chills and freezes, and we are reminded of the Thirty-nine Articles rather than of the Beatific Vision.
Giles Fletcher's success as a 'religious' poet, so far as he succeeds, is due first to the selection of themes which he makes, and secondly to the genuine religious ardour that inspired him. He delighted to contemplate the career of the central Hero of his Christian faith and love-His ineffable self-sacrifice, His leading captivity captive, His complete and irreversible triumph. That career he conceived and beheld vividly and intensely with a pure unalloyed acceptance; it thrilled and inspired him with a real passion of worship and delight. So blissfully enthralled and enraptured, what else could he sing of? His heart was hot within him ; while he was musing, the fire burned; then spake he with his tongue.
It was the tongue of one highly cultured and accomplished, of a rich and clear imagination, with a natural gift of eloquence, with a fine sense of melody, and metrical skill to express it.
JOHN W. HALES.