"He Would Love, And She Would Not"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Nicholas Breton was a versatile poet, from an old Essex family. His birthdate has only recently been ascertained. He probably attended Oxford, since some of his work was published there. His most ambitious volume was The Wil of Wits (1580), but he also wrote considerable satirical and romantic poetry. His sympathy with country life and rural scenery may be found in his pastoral lyrics, in which he shows a delicate and refined touch. In his period, Breton was classified among the greatest writers of all time. Suckling, the Cavalier poet, linked his name with that of Shakespeare. Lyrics about shepherds, or a nymph and a shepherd, courting in the Spring, were very common at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Generally, as in this poem, by convention they were given Greek-sounding names, yet most of them acted no differently from young people today with more modern names. This universality is one reason why this poem still survives, reprinted in twentieth century anthologies. Sometimes the names are written Phillida and Coridon.

In the Merry month of May,
In a morn by break of day,
Forth I walk'd by the wood-side,
Whenas May was in his pride;
There I spièd all alone,
Phyllida and Corydon.
Much ado there was, God wot!
He would love, and she would not.
She said, never man was true:
He said, none was false to you.
He said, he had loved her long,
She said, love should have no wrong.
Corydon would kiss her then:
She said, maids must kiss no men
Till they did for good and all;
Then she made the shepherd call
All the heavens to witness truth:
Never loved a truer youth.
Thus with many a pretty oath–
Yea and nay, and faith and troth,
Such as silly shepherds use
When they would not love abuse,
Love which had been long deluded
Was with kisses sweet concluded:
And Phyllida with garlands gay,
Was made the Lady of the May.