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Lyric poetry in general is designed, as the word lyric suggests, to be sung as well as read, and it dates as far back as the ancient Greeks. Elizabethan lyric poetry is characterized by both its subject matter (themes) and its form. Lyric poetry was often intended to be accompanied by music in the form of a lyre, which was quite different than elegiac poetry of the time which would have been accompanied by a flute.
The themes of most lyric poetry of the era often center around the theme of love and romance. This could include the concept of courtly love, in which a young man or woman (usually a man) falls quickly (and soundly) in love with someone and then gets almost physically ill at the thought that his (or her) love might be unrequited. Other Elizabethan lyric poetry have pastoral or nature (the idyllic world) themes, patriotic themes, as well as religious or reflective themes. In most cases, the speaker of the poem is speaking about his own experience and feelings, making the poems more personal in theme than many other kinds of poetry.
While the form of Elizabethan lyric poetry can vary greatly in terms of stanzas and other structural elements, most lyric poems are written in short lines. This, of course, is because they were often designed to be sung as well as read.
Lyric poetry was written by poets we no long read about, such as John Wootton who wrote:
Her eyes like shining lamps in midst of night,
Night dark and dead:
Or as the stars that give the seamen light,
Light for to lead
Their wandering ships.
Some lyric poetry (in fact much of it) remains anonymous, but some familiar examples were written by Shakespeare and others, whose works we still read today:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Elizabethan lyric poetry is distinctive in both its themes and its form, and they all lend themselves to the music of the lyre.
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