Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The complete title of Michael Drayton’s long topographical poem is Poly-Olbion: Or, A Chorographicall Description of Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests, and other Parts of this renowned Isle of Great Britaine, With intermixture of the most Remarquable Stories, Antiquities, Wonders, Rarityes, Pleasures, and Commodities of the same, Digested in a Poem. Quite a bit of digesting is entailed, especially when a title page note continues, “With a Table added, for direction to those occurrences of Story and Antiquitie, whereunto the Course of the Volume easily leades not.” This table is Drayton’s extensive index to the proper names in the poem, and it is printed separately in volume 5 of the standard edition. The poem’s title derives from the Greek poly, meaning “many,” and Albion, a name for England that is related to the Greek word for “happy.”
Drayton’s opus comprises thirty songs—as he calls his poems—eighteen in part 1 and twelve in part 2, each preceded by a summary “argument” of twelve to twenty lines in rhymed iambic tetrameter. Each song celebrates the natural beauties and historic events of a particular region of Great Britain and is accompanied by an impressionistic map of that area. Although songs 22 and 24 go on for 1,638 and 1,320 lines, respectively, most of the songs are between 450 and 500 lines in length; the rhymed Alexandrines, or lines of iambic hexameter, are divided frequently by caesuras and...
(The entire section is 1690 words.)
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