The Poetry of Daniel Essay - Critical Essays

Samuel Daniel

Critical Evaluation

Samuel Daniel’s career as a poet spanned the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I and the first fifteen years of that of her successor, James I; and his works reflect aspects of the prevailing literary climate of both courts. The early poems, including DELIA, a sonnet sequence, and the COMPLAINT OF ROSAMOND, both written while Daniel was living at Wilton as tutor to the son of the Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, are modeled on the works of his English predecessors, men steeped in the Renaissance tradition as well as in the medieval writings of their own country. Several later works, reflective philosophical poems, reveal the more academic side of Daniel’s interests and suggest his readings in the classics, especially in the works of Horace. His lyrics, masques, and pastoral plays were inspired by the tastes of King James and Queen Anne and their court.

Daniel’s sonnets, first published in an authorized edition in 1592, lack the intellectual brilliance and complexity of Shakespeare’s and Donne’s works in the same genre, but as pure lyrics they are worthy successors to Sidney’s sequence, ASTROPHEL AND STELLA, which undoubtedly served as their model. Daniel commends his ideal lady in terms that are no less effective for being rather conventional:

Fair is my Love, and cruel as she’s fair:Her brow shades frowns, althoughher eyes are sunny;Her smiles are lightning, though herpride despair,And her disdains are gall, her favourshoney.

Another fine sonnet begins:

Look, Delia, how w’ esteem the half-blown rose,The image of thy blush and sum-mer’s honour,Whilst yet her tender bud doth undiscloseThat full of beauty, Time bestows uponher.

As a sequence Daniel’s work has less plot than Sidney’s. In the latter can be traced at least the shadows of a love affair, real or imaginary. Daniel, however, was content to create variations on themes made popular by the Italian sonneteers: the transience of earthly beauty and the desirability of yielding to love while one still possesses it, the immortality that poetry can confer, the laments of the rejected lover. He links one group of sonnets within the sequence by beginning each poem with a modification of the last line of the preceding one, a device which is clever and effective.

The COMPLAINT OF ROSAMOND is one of a long line of poems written in imitation of A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES, a collection of verse tales relating the fall of princes and noblemen, written by a number of mid-sixteenth century poets, published first in 1559 and reissued with additions several times in the next twenty-five years. The vast majority of poems of this type were mediocre, lugubrious, excessively didactic efforts, but Daniel succeeds remarkably well in lifting his poem above the standard set in the MIRROR, though the COMPLAINT inevitably retains some of the faults of the genre, notably in its sometimes excessive moralizing. The seven-line stanza occasionally encouraged the poet to unnecessary verbosity, and almost inevitably passages of fine poetry are mingled with dull verse. The poem relates the story of the mistress of Henry II, a beautiful young woman who was poisoned by her lover’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Rosamond appears to the poet in a vision, expecting sympathy from the lover of Delia, and she instructs him to retell the tale of her temptation, submission, and unhappy end, that “Lovers’ sighes on earth” may carry her soul into the Elysian fields. Rosamond’s character is appealingly presented, and Daniel evokes the reader’s sympathy for her weakness:

For whilst the sunn-shine of my fortunelasted,I joy’d the happiest warmth, the sweet-est heatThat ever yet imperious beautie tasted,I had what glory ever flesh could get:But this faire morning had a shamefullset;Disgrace darkt honor, sinne didclowd my brow,As note the sequel, and I’ll tell theehow.

The COMPLAINT OF ROSAMOND was followed by “A Letter sent from Octavia to her Husband Marcus Antonius into Egypt,” a work in the tradition of Ovid’s HEROIDES. The aggrieved Roman matron protests the injuries she has suffered from her faithless husband. She promises to remain true to him, isolated from the gossiping tongues of society, and finally...

(The entire section is 2148 words.)