The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written sometime between 1581 and 1587, “Sir Walter Ralegh to the Queen,” a thirty-eight-line lyrical poem in five stanzas, directly addresses Queen Elizabeth I of England. The queen has perhaps criticized Ralegh’s failure to write love poems for her recently as indicative of his lack of affection or passion. His poem is meant to refute such criticism and to explain that his love is indeed true and unwavering despite his poetic silence. His organizing idea is the difference between true love and false love—with his love being true and others’ love false.

His initial image compares human passions to “floods and streams” to argue that shallow passions, like shallow streams, “murmur,” while deep passions, like deep floods of water, remain silent because of their natures. His conclusion on the basis of this analogy is that those who speak or write much about their inner feelings of affection in reality feel no such affection. If they are very verbal and outspoken about their emotions (“rich in words”), they will be lacking in the deeper affections characteristic of a lover and will be incompetent in the true art of love (“poor in that which makes a lover”). The second stanza applies the general rule to the particular case and asks the Queen, whom Ralegh praises as the “dear Empress” or ruler of his heart, not to misunderstand the value and nature of true passion. He asks her not to think that he feels no pain at her silence or...

(The entire section is 584 words.)