Perhaps the most sensible point at which to begin an analysis of Samuel Daniel’s poetry is the commentary of his contemporaries. The poets of his day saw considerable quality in his work. Francis Meres, a rector, schoolmaster, and literary reviewer, believed that in the Delia sonnets, Daniel captured the matchless beauty of his titled subject, while the individual’s passion rose at the reading of the distressed Rosamond’s death. Meres also found the Civile Warres to be equal to Lucan’s Pharsalia. The lyric poet and writer of romances Thomas Lodge gave him the highest praise for invention and choice of language, while Thomas Carew, one of Jonson’s principal disciples, labeled him the English Lucan. Daniel’s rhyme caught the attention of the Scots pamphleteer and versifier William Drummond of Hawthornden, who believed it second to none, and a number of lesser poetic lights during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I heaped praise upon Daniel’s sharp conceits, pure English, and choice of words. There were, of course, a like number of detractors, foremost among them being Jonson, the dramatist John Marston, and Michael Drayton, who claimed that Daniel was only a historian in verse who should have written prose rather than poetry. Interestingly, the judgments of Daniel’s contemporaries, both positive and unfavorable, were not too far off the mark.
Daniel’s career as a poet must be viewed in two stages. In his early period, the poet committed himself to pageantry and the patriotism of Elizabethan England. He sought to glorify his nation, applying his imagination to its ideals and achievements. As he matured, however—as his experiences widened and his intellect developed and deepened—he learned how to control the complex combination of poetry and history. Further, he learned about the language of poetry. Once in command of the poet’s art of language, he began to understand the conflicts in which all Elizabethan poets engaged: confidence in and concern for the ability to write poetry; dedication to the notion of England, but doubt of the events of history; and trust in beauty, but skepticism about surface materialism. Still, with all these conflicts, Daniel managed to succeed as a poet because, in the end, he appealed to custom and nature, both of which provided him “wings” to carry him “not out of his course, but as it were beyond his power to a faire happier flights.”
Daniel reached the height of his stature as a poet with the publication of his sonnet sequence, Delia, and its apparent companion piece, the long narrative poem The Complaynt of Rosamonde. Although the poet, by 1592, might have been expected to demonstrate some evidence of having been influenced by Sidney and his sister, the countess of Pembroke, Delia, in particular, differs significantly from Astrophel and Stella. The former contains little of the drama and personal tension found in Sidney’s sequence, but it has considerably more melody and clear imagery. The majority of the sonnets follow the English (or Shakespearean) pattern, with three quatrains and a final couplet. Unlike those of Shakespeare, however, the poems lack any bursts of emotional surge or lift. Instead, Daniel clung to this pure diction, serene rhythms, and sparkling clarity that allowed his reader to see, without difficulty, such objects as a clear-eyed rector of a holy hill, a modest maid decked with the blush of honor, and the green paths of youth and love. True, the sonnets are supposed to reflect the passionate love adventures of the poet’s youth; obviously, however, time, a series of careful revisions for later editions, and the quiet and placid nature of maturity created a unified series of sober, restrained, and mediated utterances. There are a number of interesting biographical and source problems surrounding Delia, particularly the identity of the lady of the title and accusations of plagiarism from several French sonneteers; these remain debates of a speculative nature and ought not to detract from the true poetic force of the complete sequence.
The Complaynt of Rosamonde
The Complaynt of Rosamonde first appeared in 1592, bound with the authorized edition of Delia. Thus, scholars have quickly labeled it a companion to the sonnets, although it might be more accurately termed a transition. On one hand, its style and content relate it to Delia, but it also moves in the opposite direction, toward the serious, contemplative tone of later...
(The entire section is 1871 words.)