"His Helmet Now Shall Make A Hive For Bees"
Context: During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it became customary to entertain her with a grand military pageant and tournament every seventeenth of November. Feats of arms were performed by noblemen of prowess; music and various tableaux added to the glittering displays of costume and armor. One outstanding feature of the "Triumph at Tylt" for 1590 was a song in honor of Sir Henry Lea, performed by one Mr. Hales. Sir Henry had originated the annual tourney some thirty years before and had competed in it every year; now, because of advancing age, he was retiring from the lists. The lyric for his farewell song was written by George Peele and set to music by John Dowland, eminent English composer. Peele, an English playwright and poet, was the author of numerous dramas, pageants, lyrics for songs in his own plays, and considerable verse celebrating important personages and events. It is likely that he had a part in designing the pageant for the 1590 tournament, in addition to providing a song; in a poem of moderate length, Polyhymnia, he describes the event and its participants in laudatory terms. To Polyhymnia is appended the song that had been so well received. Entitled simply "A Sonnet," though not written in one of the two regular sonnet forms, it voices the loyal sentiments of a warrior grown old in service to his queen and country:
His golden locks time hath to silver turn'd;O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd,But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing:Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,And, lovers' sonnets turn'd to holy psalms,A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,And feed on prayers, which are age his alms:But though from court to cottage he depart,His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.And when he saddest sits in homely cell,He'll teach his swains this carol for a song,–"Bless'd be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,Cursed be the souls that think her any wrong!"Goddess, allow this agèd man his right,To be your beadsman now that was your knight.