Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Sir Walter Ralegh, like so many other Renaissance courtiers, considered the writing of poetry one of the polite arts, to be practiced in one’s leisure moments for the pleasure of friends. In his busy political, military, and adventuring career, his poetic efforts apparently carried little weight, and he never seems to have encouraged their publication, although he was much interested in presenting to the public his History of the World (1614) and his treatises on his expeditions to the new world. As a result of this carelessness, on his part and on the part of publishers who did publish his work and who sometimes published work that was not his under his name, over the years countless verses have been attributed to him, and no one can be sure how many of them he actually wrote. The small body of work that is unquestionably his, however, shows him to be a poet of high ability.
Ralegh was perhaps second only to Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney as poets in the court of Elizabeth I. He shunned the opulence of the typical poetry of his time for a sparse, dignified style that has many echoes of his predecessors, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. The melancholy quality that pervades much of Ralegh’s work is close to that of almost all of Wyatt’s poems and to the last lyrics of Surrey, written while he was in the Tower awaiting trial and execution. Ralegh himself spent more than ten years in the Tower, hoping against hope for...
(The entire section is 1646 words.)
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