A Shroud for the Mind: Ralegh's Poetic Rewriting of the Self

Miri Tashma-Baum
Tel-Aviv University

Tashma-Baum, Miri. "A Shroud for the Mind: Ralegh's Poetic Rewriting of the Self." Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004) 1.1-34<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-1/tashrale.htm>.

  1. Sir Walter Ralegh's longest, most complex, and probably unfinished poem "The 11th: and last booke of the Ocean to Scinthia,"[1] has long served as a riddle for interpreters. While scholars have disagreed on almost all aspects related to the poem, from title and date to whether the poem is genuinely unfinished or intentionally unpolished, whether it is Ralegh's masterpiece or a clear-cut failure, "Ocean to Scinthia" is usually treated in isolation from Ralegh's earlier poetry. This article will show that while there are structural and thematic differences between the poetry written in Ralegh's days of courtly favor and the poem recording his downfall, "Ocean to Scinthia" expresses qualities characteristic of Ralegh's writing throughout. Foremost among these is a strong impulse of self-assertion, and a concomitant, growing anxiety regarding the true efficacy of language as the tool for such assertion. In "Ocean to Scinthia," this anxiety, reaching its climax, resolves itself in the idea of writing as "labour," involving the implicit rejection of the sprezzatura which had characterized Ralegh the courtier, and asserting the existence of a different, internally rather than externally-focused speaking self.

  2. In order to fully appreciate the closeness of language and selfhood in Ralegh's poetry, an awareness of the strong link between the two in sixteenth century England in general is necessary. Most scholars have agreed that a central characteristic of the period was, in Helen Wilcox's words, "a heightened consciousness of individual identity" (155), an identity "fashioned rather than born," as Erasmus reputedly put it (Greene, 249). In recent decades critics have argued for the complete dependence of this fashioning on the semiotic matrix provided by specific social, religious, political and sexual circumstances, a matrix which subjected the individual and yet allowed him a measure of freedom in manipulating the pre-ordained codes for his own self-enhancement.[2] Thinkers in the English Renaissance itself corroborate this position, presenting "person-hood" as the product of social norms and constraints, in Lancelot Andrewes' words: "all by-respects that do personate, attire, or mask any, to make him personable" (Works, 3:330). For William Perkins, "thou art a person in respect of another. Thou art husband, father, mother. . .and thou must do according to thine office" (Work, 382)[3]; for Hobbes, "a Person is the same that an Actor is, both on the Stage and in common Conversation" (Leviathan, 1.16.217).[4] Personal identity, in other words, is achieved by inheriting or adopting a social role and fitting one's language to its circumstances. Protestant writers like Andrewes and Perkins, despite their differences, agree that beneath the mask lies a passive, spiritual self under Christ, isolated from the secular world (Shuger, 93-105); for Hobbes, the mask hides only unformed and dangerous desire (Greenblatt, 222).

  3. The Renaissance courtier, formed through the performance and manipulation of social discourse, naturally found poetry an efficient tool. Petrarch's view that "of all earthly delights none. . .[but] literature. . .so readily endows its practitioners with a splendid cloak for every circumstance" (Bishop, 302) found ready ears, and is the underlying theme of George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie. In a world in which the mask fuses with the face, a "splendid cloak" of poetry clearly signals a splendid courtly self. According to the Arte, literary style, "a certaine contriued forme and qualitie. . .many times [the writer's] peculier by election and arte," is nevertheless "the image of man. . .for man is but his minde, and as his minde is tempered and qualified, so are his speeches and language at large, and his inward conceits be the metall of his minde, and his manner of vtterance the very warp and woofe of his conceits" (148).[5]

  4. Here "inward conceit" and "utterance," thought and expression, res and verba, are of the same cloth. A changed style indicates a changed nature, and therefore Puttenham's promise of raising his poet-reader "first from the carte to the schoole, and from thence to the Court, and preferr[ing] him to your Maiesties seruice. . .being now. . .become a Courtier" (298-9) is the promise of remaking identity. In other words, despite the emphasis on dissembling in Puttenham, language is, paradoxically, still to be trusted: while the courtier dissembles, he becomes that which he dissembles; while he adopts a flattering Petrarchan style to gain advancement, he internalizes that style. In the process, the courtier turns into a true servant of the queen's majesty, the very "metal of his mind" re-formed by the literary conceits addressed to her.

  5. The elaborate writing style advocated by Puttenham is, significantly, preoccupied with order, structure, and boundaries, as these are necessary for the fashioning of the courtly self.[6] Samuel Daniel's Defence of Ryme (1603) expresses a similar preoccupation, advocating rhyme as part of the strict restrictions which poetry should impose on the chaotic emotion lurking beneath the mask:
    For the body of our imagination being as an unformed Chaos without fashion, without day, if by the divine power of the spirit it be wrought into an Orbe of order and forme, is it not more pleasing to Nature, that desires a certaintie and comports not with that which is infinite, to have these clozes, rather than not to know where to end, or how farre to goe, especially seeing our passions are often without measure (138).[7]
    The poet is here given a high, almost divine role, probably influenced by popularized Neoplatonism. However, what is God-like about the poet in Daniel is not, as in Plato's Ion, the poet's prophetic inspiration, but rather the poet's ability to master and control self-defining language, and thus impose form and closure on chaos.

  6. This belief in the power of poetry to create, express, and control identity is rooted in a wider philosophical tradition which closely linked res - both things in the world and concepts in the mind - and verba.[8] However, recent studies have also pointed to strains of anxiety within this seemingly assured tradition, to the "increasingly fragile and brittle" nature of "epistemological, linguistic, and poetic mirrors" as the Renaissance proceeds.[9] Katherine Maus, for example, has shown that the English Renaissance search for truth-revealing verbal techniques was always coupled with a mistrust of language as such (1-34). As I shall show, this mistrust seems, in "Ocean to Scinthia" in particular, to be closely linked to an admission of hidden, unruly passions, the passions which Hobbes and Daniel point to. In his shorter, more controlled pieces, Ralegh could appeal to the "durable fire" of love and its clear-cut linguistic expression as the bedrock of his identity. However in "Ocean to Scinthia," an inner reality of "whole seas of woe" is expressed by a flood of seemingly unending, uncontrolled verbiage, punctuated by self-reflexive expressions of linguistic doubt. And yet, as I shall show, it is the formlessness itself of the resulting poem which makes its expression of passionate "woe" convincing.

  7. While poetry's central role within the Elizabethan court made every courtly poem an instance of social self-assertion, Ralegh's biographical circumstances lent his poetic efforts particular urgency. Ralegh was regarded in his own day as the most dazzling and accomplished of individuals, yet coming from a relatively undistinguished family, his position was based entirely on his relationship with the Queen. "Sir Walter Ralegh" was to all intents and purposes born in 1581, upon his arrival at Court with dispatches from Ireland, when he made an immediate impression on Elizabeth, whose ear, according to the Fragmenta Regalia, "he got in a trice. . .she began to be taken with his elocution, and loved to hear his reasons to her demands" (Thompson, 21).[10] For the next ten years this verbal facility, this masterful courtship of the greatest Petrarchan mistress, made Ralegh the reigning favorite, the recipient of honors, monopolies and estates. However, Ralegh never developed a power-base of his own, and even at the height of his glory, his haughty, "Damnable proud" demeanor coupled with his non-aristocratic background kept him to some extent an outsider, a fact which explains Ralegh's total isolation following his banishment to the Tower.

  8. Ralegh's dazzling career "both enacted a common fantasy and violated a social norm," as Tennenhouse puts it (236), making Ralegh both the epitome of Elizabethan courtiership and unique in the extent of his self-creation. Interestingly, George Puttenham seems to have been sensitive to the double nature of Ralegh's poetry, at once communal and unique, as he first mentions it in the Arte as part of the poetry of the "crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen..who haue written excellently well," and then on its own: "For dittie and amourous Ode I finde Sir Walter Rawleyghs vayne most loftie, insolent, and passionate" (61, 63). In his courtly poetry, Ralegh indeed manages to convey his individual brilliance by exhibiting his mastery of the Petrarchan codes while admitting his subjection to them, and by implicitly stressing the place of the writer within his socially-regulated poem. At the same time, this self-assertion is always accompanied by anxious undertones, creating a fragile balance which becomes most precarious in "Ocean to Scinthia".

  9. In his early poetry, written as part of the effort to consolidate his position at court, Ralegh grounds his identity in Elizabeth's life-giving and identity-conferring love. The tightly-knit structures of the poems of this period contribute to the effect of a stable authorial self, speaking with assurance from within and for an ordered, Queen-centered world. Yet even in the early poems, the effort is subtly undermined by an implicit questioning of the reliability of the Queen, the great social and sexual Other, in her prescribed role as fully-present and wholly-responsive audience of Ralegh's loving words. Anxiety at such moments causes Ralegh's poetic spotlight to move from the external to the internal, from Elizabeth to inner constancy. The move does not lessen the anxiety, however, as it is always accompanied by a self-reflexive unease as to the ability of language to express inner truth.

  10. A good example of the type of poem written by Ralegh in his days of power is the stately and assured "Diana." The opening lines set the tone:
    Praisd be Dianas faire and harmles light,
    Praisd be the dewes, wherwith she moists the ground;
    Praisd be hir beams, the glorie of the night,
    Praisd be hir powre, by which all powres abound.
    Praisd be hir Nimphs, with whom she decks the woods,
    Praisd be hir knights, in whom true honor liues,
    Praisd be that force, by which she moues the floods,
    Let that Diana shine, which all these giues. . .. (ll.1-8)[11]
    Ralegh's poem depicts Elizabeth's goddess-like stature and the correspondingly exalted stature of her retinue. "Diana" presents the Elizabethan court as a timeless, serene, perfect world, complete and self-enclosed. It is fittingly portrayed in slow and stately rhythms, no tension ruffling the calm assurance of meter and rhyme. Elizabeth is the creator, the mover and the aesthetic and moral center of this world, and the poem uses the specular language of "light," "beams" and "perfect image[s]" (l.16) to describe what is a fantasy of full imaginary identification, achieved through poetry, of the courtier with her. 

  11. A close look at the syntax of the first two stanzas reveals, however, that despite the identificatory language of the poem, its focus is not on the queen per se. The ultimate purpose of the poem is not to list the queen's virtues but to praise them; the exhortation in the opening "Praisd be" is further emphasized by insistent anaphora and repeated trochees in the first seven lines. The syntax of the first half of the poem creates a double image for the speaker, the praiser. On the one hand, the impersonal structure, the lack of agency, denies him all individuality; his voice anonymously represents a nameless community, the community which the poem also describes. On the other hand, despite her glory, the Queen is the passive object of the speaker's powerful praise; his foregrounded act of epideixis is what brings to light Elizabeth's greatness, is what performs it - in a deliberately artificial, literary manner - for the listener or reader. The anonymous yet commanding voice of the David-like poet then reappears and neatly concludes the poem with its final hortative: "With Circes let them dwell that thinke not so."

  12. "Diana" presents, in other words, an image of the courtly world as a perfect, self-contained community with the queen as its living heart, and at the same time fashions its implied speaker, the courtier-poet, as the one enabling this community. The poet creates himself as "knight," glamorous and powerful though indistinguishable as an individual from his equally-glamorous fellows. The only hint of anxiety, slightly undoing the serene decorum of the epideixis, can be detected in the closing line with its first and last suggestion of the possibility of disbelief, of doubt, of thinking "not so." Tellingly, it takes the form of an attack on a female Other - "Circes" - dwelling, as it were, on the dark side of Diana's moon. This suggests that the unease stems from the Queen's gender, from the Elizabethan reality of male dependence upon a superior female, a reality against which the constant emphasis upon the performative power of the poet can be seen as directed.[12]

  13. In "Diana" words seem to transparently convey sense. The appellation "Diana" itself is an instance of inspired naming which conveys the truth of its object - Elizabeth - within itself, in implications of dominion, bravery, virginity, and the moon as both changing and constant, with a mysterious power over the "floods" of English nationhood, and implicitly over Ralegh himself, nicknamed "Water" by Elizabeth (Litt, 319). However in other, more intimate poems, Ralegh addresses with more anxiety the question of words' efficacy in conveying meaning. A striking example is the poem "Sir Walter Ralegh to the Qveen," which seems to argue for the truth of a silent interiority while in fact proving the inseparability of the psychic from the verbalized in the courtly milieu which makes the courtier. The opening lines introduce the water imagery which will be a central motif of "Ocean to Scinthia", and present a Hamlet-like rejection of outward signification:
    Our Passions are most like to Floods and streames;
    The shallow Murmure; but the Deep are Dumb.
    So when Affections yeeld Discourse, it seems

    The bottom is but shallow whence they come.
    They that are Rich in Words must needs discouer
    That they are Poore in that which makes a Louer. (ll.1-6)
    The "dumb" speaker "sues for no Compassion" (l.10) because overcome by "Despaire," (l.22) but this despair suddenly turns into "Discretion" in the fourth stanza:
    Thus those desires that aime too high,
    For any mortall Louer,
    When Reason cannot make them dye,
    Discretion will them Couer.
    Yet when discretion dothe bereaue
    The Plaints that they should vtter,
    Then your discretion may perceiue.
    That Silence is a Suitor. (ll.23-30)
    The gap the poem claims exists between res and verbum, emotion and word, the self and its expression, is bridged by their common root in the community and its norms of "discretion." Here, discretion silences and discretion reveals, and Ralegh and Elizabeth's shared possession of it puts both in a privileged position and seems to make possible the impossible, paradoxical situation in which "Silence is a Suitor." At the same time, this claim is negated by the existence of the witty poem itself. Thus, the poem actually shows that in the courtly community silence is inconceivable. The system of sexual politics within which "To the Qveen" is written demands the constant verbalization of feelings and suits; this cannot be otherwise in a society which attempts to collapse the distinction between the inner and the outer, the emotional and the political, "su[ing] for compassion" and vying for political advantage (Tennenhouse, 238.) The final portrayal of language in general and courtly poetry in particular in the poem is thus an ambivalent one. Poetry is pictured as shallow and deceiving as regards the writer's innermost "dumb" emotions, yet it is also, as the existence of the poem confirms, absolutely necessary to the creation of the writer as a loving "suitor" - the very word implying speech - an identity which only comes into being when society, headed by the queen, recognizes the speaker as one.

  14. Even in these relatively self-assured poems Ralegh is never totally free of unease as to the true strength and stability of the queen's favor. Other poems, most notably "Like to a Hermite poore" and "Farewell to the Covrt," paint a more explicitly negative picture of desolation and exile - the courtier's ultimate evil - although their graceful style counteracts their woeful tone and mark them as, at most, moments of anxiety expressed in relative security. Around 1587, however, Elizabeth's growing partiality for Essex, partly sincere but also an example of the balance of favorites and factions which she always sought to maintain,[13] formed a new threat to Ralegh's position and induced him to write the bitter complaint "Fortune hath taken thee away, my Love" (May, 119.)[14] This poem clearly expresses what was to become the main theme of "Ocean to Scinthia," the proclaimed turning away from wooing Elizabeth towards an existence which, though based on love for the queen, is at the same time wholly self-centered. The poem as a whole is instructive:
    Fortune hath taken thee away, my Love,
    My live's Joy and my sowle's heaven above;

    Fortune hath taken thee away my princess,
    My world's delight and my true fancie's mistris.

    Fortune hath taken all away from me,

    Fortune hath taken all by takinge thee;

    Ded to all Joyes, I onlie Live to woe,
    So Fortune now becomes my fancie's foe.

    In vaine mine eyes, in vaine you wast your tears,
    In vaine my sighes, the smokes of my despairs,
    In vaine you serch the earth and heavens above,
    In vaine you serch, for fortune keepes my love.

    Then will I leave my Love in fortune's hands,
    Then will I leave my love in worthlesse bands,

    And onlie love the sorrowe Due to me,

    Sorrowe hencefourth that shall my princess bee.

    And onlie Joy that fortune conquers kings,

    Fortune that rules on earth and earthlie things

    Hath ta'ne my Love in spite of vertue's might,

    So blind a goddesse did never vertue right.

    With wisdome's eyes had but blind fortune seen,

    Then had my love my love for ever bin;

    But Love farewell, though fortune conquer thee,

    No fortune base shall ever alter me.
    "Fortune hath taken thee away, my love" is clearly a product of the "salutary anxiety" which Elizabeth sought to awaken within her subjects as an excellent means of ensuring their dependency and love.[15] Used on the proud and sensitive Ralegh, however, it elicits a definite, if subtle, subversion. The guilty party in Ralegh's poem is of course not Elizabeth but "Fortune," who might possibly stand for Essex (Tennenhouse, 240), but who is also definitely the erratic goddess Fortuna, yet another of Ralegh's malignant female aliens. Here, she not only complements but fully controls the queen, who is thus totally disempowered by Ralegh's very act of exoneration.[16] It is against this image of malevolent femaleness that Ralegh, again, defines himself. Faced with Elizabeth's absence - an absence reiterated by four repetitions of the Queen's being "taken away" and by the visionary motifs of the blindness of fortune and the futilely searching eyes - Ralegh declares himself eternally loving, yet intending to "onlie love the sorrowe Due to me / Sorrowe hencefourth that shall my princess bee." This shift echoes the refrain of "Farewell to the Covrt": "Of all which past, the sorow onely staies," yet in "Fortune hath taken thee away" sorrow becomes the clearly defined object of love, not in addition to but instead of the queen herself, who is left at the mercy of "fortune's hands."

  15. Ralegh's declared change in self-perception should not blind us to the fact that the poem was written as an apparently successful complaint to the queen, and that it presents, together with its companion reply poem by Elizabeth, an exemplary case of the use of poetry in the practice of courtly power negotiations. The elegant style, which led Puttenham to quote the third stanza as an outstanding instance of anaphora and two lines from stanza six as exemplifying "Epizeuxis, the vnderlay, or Coocko-spel" (198, 201). likewise indicates that emotion is here still masterfully "wrought into an Orbe of order and forme," to quote Daniel. Nevertheless, the woeful self-centeredness upon which the poem insists should also not be ignored. For, though its use in "Fortune hath taken thee away" may be wholly "utilitarian,"[17] it is a central, defining feature of Ralegh's poetry, subdued in the early celebratory poems but emerging powerfully when external address proves "vain." 

  16. External address did indeed prove vain for Ralegh when in 1592, at the height of his political, social and economic success, Queen Elizabeth discovered Ralegh's secret marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton, a Lady of the Privy Chamber, and consequently had him imprisoned in the Tower. Most scholars agree that it was at this time and place that "Ocean to Scinthia" was composed (Campbell, 237.) Ralegh's marriage could only be considered a heinous betrayal in a social system based so fully upon the myth of mistress and enamored suitors, and therefore it thoroughly destroyed the basis for Ralegh's position as the queen's favorite courtier. Paradoxically, this betrayal of the Petrarchan myth made Ralegh's oft-used Petrarchan conceits suddenly come horribly true: Ralegh indeed found himself alone, despairing, banished by his cruel mistress and in real fear of death - if not literal (the queen was not known to actually execute courtiers guilty of marriage) then certainly the "death" of Ralegh's carefully-constructed identity. At the same time, Ralegh's disloyalty to the world of Petrarchan love denied him all possibility of continuing to influence that world through Petrarchan sonneteering. Abandoned by his audience, his epideictic poetry ending with the end of dialogue, Ralegh faced a world of paralyzing solitude. "Ocean to Scinthia" expresses the anguished confrontation with this new reality, one in which the ability of poetry to both mirror and affect reality, and create within it a space of authority and relative autonomy for the poet-courtier seems to have disappeared.[18]

  17.  Critics have read this tantalizing, enigmatic poem in widely divergent ways, dividing primarily into those who view it as another masterful complaint, and those who pronounce it a failure.[19] Marion Campbell belongs to the latter group, claiming, in the most recent major article devoted to "Ocean to Scinthia", that the poem "demonstrates the ego's incapacity to fashion itself inside poetic discourse without social sanction. . . The poetry remains inert because it is ineffectual" (248-9). While Campbell's perception of the disintegration of Ralegh's courtly identity is astute, a careful reading proves that the fact that it was socially "ineffectual" does by no means make "Ocean to Scinthia" "inert." Rather, the poem records Ralegh's attempt to cancel out the political res now irreparably severed from his courtly verba and totally beyond his control, and to focus exclusively on the res of inner emotion - eternal love for the Queen - asserting its position as the sole core of his being and positing for it the verba of the heart.

  18. Manifestly created by and for the self, the rhetoric foregrounded in "Ocean to Scinthia" claims to be, in effect, un-rhetorical: private, plain, neither seeking to persuade another nor to ornament itself with stylistic jewels. Yet un-rhetorical rhetoric is, as the poem proves, impossible. As "passion" breaks through the erstwhile barriers of courtly self and courtly verse, the attempt at "simple words" is all but swamped in a flood of Petrarchan, pastoral, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, aphoristic, humoral and mercantile imagery, all grasping at the new, unspeakable "essence" of Ralegh's love while betraying an unquenchable longing for the old dispensation. The chaotic imagery, coupled with the often indefinite syntax, repeated ellipses, and the irregularity of meter, rhyme and stanza length create the overall effect of incompleteness and thematic obscurity in the poem; yet its unique harshness of tone, unremitting self-absorption and repeated foregrounding of the laboriousness of poetic expression actually give its speaker a more individualistic and self-conscious voice, making it the most memorable of Ralegh's poems.

  19. Ralegh begins "Ocean to Scinthia," somewhat surprisingly, not with the "complaint" but with the problem of language, earlier addressed in "To the Queen" and now again foregrounded as both paralyzing and urging the poetry on:

    Sufficeth it to yow, my ioys interred
    In simpell wordes that I my woes cumplayne,
    Yow that then died when first my fancy erred,
    Ioys vnder dust that never live agayne.

    If to the liuinge weare my muse adressed,
    Or did my minde her own spirrit still inhold,
    Weare not my livinge passion so repressed,
    As to the dead, the dead did thes vnfold,

    Sume sweeter wordes, sume more becumming vers,
    Should witness my myshapp in hygher kynd;

    But my loues wounds, my fancy in the hearse,
    The Idea but restinge, of a wasted mind,

    The blossumes fallen, the sapp gon from the tree,
    The broken monuments of my great desires,

    From thes so lost what may th'affections bee,
    What heat in Cynders of extinguisht fiers? (ll.1-16)

    The "sweeter wordes" and "more becumming vers" that Ralegh is accustomed to are not fit to describe his great predicament. Another language, "simpell wordes," must be found. Yet found for what purpose, if all that is left is an extinguished fire? A second look suggests that the opening lines, even as they proclaim devastation, already suggest that the devastated self can look in another direction for re-establishment and expression. Despite the title "Ocean to Scinthia," Ralegh turns in the opening line not to the queen but to his own "ioyes interred."[20] He then claims in line 12 that his "Idea" - the preconception guiding his poem, and perhaps his life - is the "resting" of the mind,[21] an image of internal stability, albeit one devoid of positive content, an image to which he will return at the end of the poem.

  20. Notwithstanding the proclaimed transition to "simpell words," Ralegh then proceeds to describe his plight in pastoral, one of the courtliest of languages, signaling the first of the countless stylistic fluctuations in the poem:
    From frutful trees I gather withred leues
    And glean the broken eares with misers hands,
    Who sumetyme did inioy the waighty sheves
    I seeke fair flours amidd the brinish sand.

    All in the shade, yeven in the faire soon dayes
    Vnder thos healthless trees I sytt alone,
    Wher ioyfull byrdds singe neather lovely layes
    Nor Phillomen recounts her direfull mone.

    No feedinge flockes, no sheapherds cumpunye,
    That might renew my dollorus consayte,
    . . .
    But all onn yearth as from the colde stormes bendinge
    Shrinck from my thoughts in hygh heauens and below. (ll.21-36)
    The isolation from society is clearly what leads to the predicament of language. Courtly "sheapherds cumpunye" is indispensable for the composition of Ralegh's "lovely layes" and "direfull mone[s]" - interestingly, both epideixis and complaint are here treated, and eschewed, equally. Yet the passage also proves that Ralegh still manages to use the "sweeter wordes" of traditionally polysemic pastoral to effectively express a multifaceted plight. From the very beginning Ralegh links his inner state to his social one, as can be seen by the interchangeable: "If to the liuinge weare my muse adressed, / Or did my minde her own spirrit still inhold." Here, politically and socially banished, Ralegh's mind becomes isolated and wasted: "But all onn yearth as from the colde stormes bendinge / Shrinck from my thoughts in hygh heauens and below" (l.477). The pastoral image: "From frutful trees I gather withred leues /. . . / Who sumetyme did inioy the waighty sheves / I seeke fair flours amidd the brinish sand" thus can, and probably does refer to social exclusion, lack of economic recompense, mental exhaustion and the poor quality of the resulting poem all in one - since these different fields are indeed one for the courtier. At the same time, pastoral supplies the speaker's identity here with some stability, by associating him with the long line of lonesome, lovesick shepherds in the tradition of Sannazaro's Sincero and Spenser's January Colin, who use the bleak landscape of a dark pastoral as a linguistic mirror for the melancholic self.

  21. A few stanzas later come the next reflexive references to the work of writing in the poem, now foregrounding its link with fading light:
    So my forsaken heart, my withered mind,
    Widow of all the joys it once possessed
    . . .
    Alone, forsaken, frindless onn the shore
    With many wounds, with deaths cold pangs inebrased,
    Writes in the dust as onn that could no more
    Whom love, and tyme, and fortune had defaced,

    Of things so great, so longe, so manefolde
    With meanes so weake, the sowle yeven then departing
    The weale, the wo, the passages of olde
    And worlds of thoughts discribed by onn last sythinge:

    As if when after Phebus is dessended
    And leves a light mich like the past dayes dawninge,
    And, every toyle and labor wholy ended,
    Each livinge creature draweth to his restinge

    Wee should beginn by such a partinge light
    To write the story of all ages past
    And end the same before th'approchinge night.

    Such is agayne the labor of my minde
    Whose shroude by sorrow woven now to end
    Hath seene that ever shininge soon declynde
    So many yeares that so could not dissende (ll.85-107)
    Throughout the poem, as in Ralegh's earlier poems such as "Diana," Elizabeth's associations with light, sight, the sun and the moon are stressed. Ralegh's days as favored courtier are described as a time in which "the eyes of my minde helde her beames" (l.108), "such force her angellike appearance had" (l.112), "My darkest wayes her eyes make cleare as day" (l.117) and so on. The poetry of that period had been a pure reflection of this joyous presence: "Out of her eyes (the store of ioys) [my Muse] did chuse / Equall delights, my sorrowes counterpoysinge" (ll.47-8). This state of Petrarchan bliss, drawing upon a fantasy of plenitude and identification, ends with the setting of the sun and the concurrent "defac[ing]" of Ralegh - literally de-faced, in the sense of losing social identity, the face he had presented to the world. Coming fast upon the heels of stanzas of pastoral imagery, the image of the setting sun also brings to mind the closing lines of a pastoral eclogue, the sunset which traditionally ends each Arcadian song.

  22. And yet within this unstable, fleeting, peripheral period of time, Ralegh places a new kind of composition, one created in the margins of social and poetic culture, out of that which has been left to the "withered mind" at the end of its day - its "worlds of thoughts." Ralegh's first image of this state is of writing "in the dust," short-lived and meaningless. His second - writing the history of the world in one short twilight - though grander, and strangely foreshadowing Ralegh's future experiences under another, equally unresponsive monarch, expresses here as great a futility. The final image is, however, subtly different. As is perhaps fitting for one who had been famous, and notorious, for his extravagant dress, Ralegh uses the well-worn metaphor of rhetoric as the garment of thought to describe his present writing as a labor of "shroud-weaving." It is a self-generated and self-addressed labor, the mind using its own sorrow to weave itself a last rhetorical piece of clothing, a plain, unpretentious garment, woven solely for final use by its own - and only its own - creator. As a shroud, it implies a lack of interest in its impression on others or in its own beauty, and as such is, in effect, un-rhetorical. True, this labor can only be performed in the light of Elizabeth's last rays, it still needs her external inspiration; moreover, as a shroud, this language points to an ending rather than to a brave new beginning (though Ralegh might be suggesting otherwise when he describes Phoebus' descent as leaving "a light much like the past day's dawning.") Nevertheless, the image of poetry as a shroud remains a powerful symbol of a different, more independent labor for a different, more independent self, a self that survives - even if not for long - the decline of what it had considered an "ever shininge soonn."

  23. The definition of writing as "labor" is also significant: serving as part of the imagery of struggle and hardship in the poem, it also lifts up the curtain of sprezzatura, as it were, to reveal the writer hard at work. This exposure suggests what is for Ralegh a new insistence on his ownership of his poetry as product of his own toil. Foucault has famously noted that "the coming into being of the notion of 'author' constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas" ("What is an Author?" 141). Robert Weimann has written of the development of this notion in early modern prose narratives, noting that "the sense of ownership affects the self-referential quality of the author's language. The ties between product and producer. . .become so close and so personal that the process of appropriation is sanctioned by metaphors of procreation. . .the book. . .directly result[s] from the author's own invention and labor. . .the process of bringing forth one's own" (479). Elizabethan courtly poetry, on the whole, was anonymous and rarely published, adhering to an earlier conception of writing as communal praise. Ralegh's growing "appropriation" of his writing as "labor" as he is separated from the court - here a labor imagined in artisan terms (weaving) rather than through the more common metaphor of the "labor" of bringing forth a child - can thus be seen as part of his increasing individualization. The unprecedented lack of gracefulness, as well as the admission of "labor" in itself exposes Ralegh's loss of courtly poise, yet the new verba of simplicity and effort are the clothing that suits Ralegh's new inward-looking self, just as the old had, in his "Diana" days, fitted his courtly suit.

  24. Nonetheless, immediately following the "shroud" stanza, Ralegh irresistibly reverts to a Petrarchan yearning for his mistress, back to courtly tropes, again turning outwards for recognition and love:
    But that the eyes of my minde helde her beames
    In every part transfered by loues swift thought;
    Farr off or nire, in wakinge or in dreames,
    Imagination stronge their lustre brought. (ll.108-11)
    and so on. This is also a return to Ralegh's courtly self, the self whose potent "minde" and "imagination" bring out the lustre of the queen's beams. The sudden switch to a former language and a former identity is another manifestation of the immense struggle between the old and the new which takes place in the poem, and yet these stanzas keep to the past tense, and culminate in the startling summary: "of all which past the sorrow only stayes. / So wrate I once and my mishapp fortolde" (ll.123-24). In this startling allusion to his earlier poem "Farewell to the Court," quotation may indeed be "annexed into the rhetoric of fragmentation" as Campbell puts it (241), yet the reference to earlier composition also asserts Ralegh's poetic authority - his words of woe had foretold, had fore-known the Queen's betrayal, and had pointed to the one enduring truth of the heart - sorrow - which the present writing now affirms.

  25. In the stanzas that follow, the ideas behind the image of this writing as a labor of shroud-weaving are repeated and developed:
  26. Then fludds of sorrow and whole seas of wo
    The bancks of all my hope did overbeare

    And drovnd my minde in deapts of missery.
    Sumetyme I died, sumetyme I was distract,
    My sowle the stage of fancies tragedye.
    Then furious madness, wher trew reason lackt

    Wrate what it would, and scurgde myne own consayte.
    Oh, hevy hart who cann thee witnes beare,
    What tounge, what penn could thy tormentinge treat
    But thyne owne mourning thoughts which present weare,

    What stranger minde beleue the meanest part
    What altered sence conceve the weakest wo
    That tare, that rent, that peirsed thy sadd hart? (ll.140-152)
    Deserted by both society and reason, Ralegh here admits the chaotic nature of his own poem, marked by its "mad," formless swinging from mood to mood. At the same time, he protests its intrinsic truth and that of the heart from which it springs. Ralegh's theatricalism is evident in the line: "My sowle the stage of fancies tragedye," yet the stage, actor and audience are here all internalized.[22] This is a poetry whose only possible source is the poet's mad heart, whose only possible producer is the poet's "owne mourning thoughts" and whose only possible audience is the poet himself. As such, it stands in sharp opposition to the writing of happier times to which "sheapherds cumpunye" had been essential. Presented as lacking all decorum and structure, since it is written in isolation from the society which had provided everything - from rules of style to the mind's very principles of "reason" - it nonetheless provides the only true expression of the speaker's frenzied, solitary soul, a soul whose animating power is now its overwhelming inner grief. Ralegh's "penn" and "thoughts" are at one (as suggested by the phrasing of lines 148-9) and they are unique. The courtly shepherds from whose society and writing Ralegh had in the past barely distinguished himself, are now correspondingly re-viewed as "stranger mind[s]," as essentially, internally other, alien to the speaker's "sadd hart" and able neither to "conceve" nor "treat" it.[23]

  27. As the poem progresses, the tension between remembrance of past bliss and recognition of present woe grows, and the unquenchable longing for the past continually disrupts Ralegh's attempts at constructing a more independent, inner-based present. As the oscillation between moods and tenses quickens, as syntax and meaning grow obscure, Ralegh seems to be frantically attempting to regain control over his poem. From line 183, Ralegh is drawn back to a long description of Elizabeth's Petrarchan and pastoral beauties, piling metaphor upon metaphor and praise upon praise, when the frenzied epideixis is abruptly terminated by the authorial voice, much in the manner of the earlier quotation from "Farewell to the Court":
    But leue her prayse; speak thow of nought but wo,
    Write on the tale that Sorrow bydds thee tell,
    Strive to forgett, and care no more to know
    Thy cares are known, by knowinge thos too well.

    Discribe her now as she appeeres to thee,
    Not as shee did apeere in dayes fordunn.  (ll.213-8)
    The lines are remarkable for their sudden, brusque turn from the extroverted writing of praise linked with "thoughts of passed times," to the introverted writing of woe "now." Internal "Sorrow" takes the place of Elizabeth as the commissioner of the poetry, just as "princess Sorrow" replaced the Queen in "Fortune hath taken thee away," and the outward focus is likewise consciously rejected: "care no more to know / Thy cares are known." When compared to the subtle, artful intimation of the writer's authority in poems such as "Diana" and even "Fortune hath taken thee away," the abrupt exposure of the controlling voice actually betrays the extreme tenuousness of Ralegh's hold over his poem. Yet the admission of the textuality of the poetry also gains a new importance for Ralegh's "mind," starkly asserting the validity of his perception by presenting the golden Petrarchan queen as no more than a subjective image in which "shee did appeere" to Ralegh "in dayes fordunn," rejected in favor of the presumably less favorable one in which she "appeeres to [him]" now.

  28. Thus, in the midst of chaos, Ralegh attempts to define and defend his self-centered poetry as he is writing it. More and more emphatically, continuing the thrust of "Fortune hath taken thee away," Ralegh comes to designate woeful "love" - namely, his own feelings for the queen regardless of her response or physical presence, as the immortal center of this poetry and of the inward-looking self it implies. Ralegh thus attempts to give his new, unformed identity, "mad" with sorrow, a reliable, if woeful, center of stability, defined in opposition to the fickle favor sustaining him in his courtly days:
    Vnlastinge passion, soune outworne consayte
    Whereon I built, and onn so dureless trust!
    My minde had wounds, I dare not say desait,
    Weare I resolvde her promis was not Just.

    Sorrow was my revendge, and wo my hate;
    I pourless was to alter my desire.
    My love is not of tyme or bound to date;
    My heart's internall heat and livinge fier

    Would not, or could be quencht with suddayn shoures.
    My bound respect was not confinde to dayes
    My vowed fayth not sett to ended houres.
    I love the bearinge and not bearinge sprayes

    Which now to others do their sweetnes send. (ll.295-307)
    The emotions which according to Ralegh are regarded by the court as "foylde and frutless /. . ./ . . .cleane outworne as things that never weare" (278-86) are here established as Ralegh's eternal living core, impervious to the "suddayn shoures" that, like the "fludds of sorrow" and "seas of wo" of line 140, threaten to drown him. The balanced stresses and simple, dignified diction of the lines add to the effect of solemn assurance, which is only slightly marred by the rapid alteration of tenses.

  29. The renewed self-affirmation based on Ralegh's redefinition of his "cause of beinge" (l.443) rises from the ruins of his trust in both Queen and court. The strict separation of the perfect Diana from the evil female Other now wavers as Ralegh reveals the Queen's mind to contain "some markes of humayne race / Yet will shee bee a wooman for a fashion / So douth shee pleas her vertues to deface" (ll.202-4). The court, once pictured as a world of timeless concordance, is now alluded to in the lament for "twelue yeares. . .wasted in this warr /. . ./ Butt I in them" (ll.120-2), and it is this "I" that Ralegh now attempts to rescue from total waste. Notwithstanding Ralegh's brave rejection of courtly Petrarchanism as "outworne consayte" and "merchandise," however, when Ralegh attempts to describe his different, self-creating "love," he can of course only do so in the language of the court:
    But in my minde so is her love inclosde
    And is therof not only the best parte
    But into it the essence is disposde. . .
    Oh love (the more my wo) to it thow art

    Yeven as the moysture in each plant that growes,
    Yeven as the soonn vnto the frosen grovnd,
    Yeven as the sweetness, to th'incarnate rose,
    Yeven as the Center in each perfait rovnd,

    As water to the fysh, to men as ayre,
    As heat to fier, as light vnto the soonn. . . (ll.426-35)
    and so on. The attempt here to nail down the extra-lingual "essence" of his love, to verbally express a res beyond language, necessarily results in deferral and endless repetition of Petrarchan clichés, a repetition which Ralegh's favorite device of anaphora, usually adding to the forceful, assertive tone of his poetry, here only serves to foreground. Petrarchan sentiment is overemphasized and overstated since it is attempting to span the abyss at Ralegh's "Center", where the image of the queen had formerly reigned. The images betray Ralegh's unbreakable links to his past, and the obsessive reiteration reveals the difficulty of finding a new anchor when the former has disappeared. And yet the very frenzy of this poetry distinguishes it from its courtly analogues, as it gives the effect of a truly anguished subjectivity, an effect of sincerity created not by the (highly conventional) contents, but by the disorder itself of their passionate expression.

  30. Till the very end Ralegh finds it near-impossible to reject the life and identity from which he has been banned, fully aware that "of the same now buried bee the ioy /. . ./ But that the thoughts and memories of thees / Worke a relapps of passion, and remayne / Of my sadd harte the sorrow suckinge bees" (ll.411-5). Nevertheless, after one final desperate cry to the world to "Witness thos withered leues left on the tree /. . ./ The externall shews what may th'internall bee," Ralegh's grim authorial voice returns a final time to the unavoidable truth:

    But stay, my thoughts, make end, geue fortune way.
    Harshe is the voice of woe and sorrow's sovnd,
    Complaynts cure not, and teares do but allay
    Greifs for a tyme, which after more abovnde.

    To seeke for moysture in th'Arabien sande
    Is butt a losse of labor, and of rest.
    The lincks which tyme did break of harty bands

    Words cannot knytt, or waylings make a new.
    Seeke not the soonn in clovds, when it is sett. . .
    . . .
    Thow lookest for light in vayne, and stormes arise;
    Shee sleaps thy death that erst thy danger syth-ed;
    Strive then no more, bow down thy weery eyes,
    Eyes, which to all thes woes thy hart have guided. (ll.474-492)
    The claim that "Words cannot knytt" refers to the inability of poetry, "now an Idell labor" in the eyes of Elizabeth (357), to heal Ralegh's social wounds, to restore the "lincks" between heart and heart, and to rebuild Ralegh's broken identity. It may even allude to the entire philosophy that believes in the bond between res and verba - that "the externall showes what may th'internall be" - and that effort can, in Foucault's words "restore the unbroken plain of words and things" (The Order of Things, 29-38.)[24] The expression of such far-reaching doubt suggests the depth of Ralegh's disillusionment with the world and language upon which he had formerly based himself, although all that can take their place are chaotic "storms." In a world upon which the pivotal "fair and harmless light" of Diana has now set, the full awareness of loss and absence, including the absence inherent in language, takes the place of the belief in visionary presence, and Ralegh bids his eyes - responsible for the fantasy - to bow down forever.[25]

  31. The motif of poetic "labor" and the image of "knit[ting]" words are also connected, however, with Ralegh's earlier image of his present writing as "shroud-weaving," and the opposition between courtly and internally-focused poetry is thus strengthened. The former is "a loss of labour" that can no longer elegantly "knit" the social reality it addresses. The latter, drawing upon "thoughts, knitt up by fayth" [whichl shall ever last" (l.390) does manage to "weave" chaotic sorrow into a work of art, a garment for a new, inner-focused self, although the text has value and meaning only for its creator, and is composed in the shadow of impending death.[26]

  32. It is this shroud-weaving that generates the final stanzas of "Ocean to Scinthia," in which Ralegh concludes his poem in the pastoral mode with which he had begun. The motif of the declining sun makes its last appearance here, however now its corresponding image of the homeward-bound shepherd is foregrounded rather than implied, allowing Ralegh to present a final portrait of himself as an eternally sorrowful, yet independent and self-focused lover-poet, approaching the relaxation and peace of a natural death:

    Do then by Diinge, what life cannot do. . .

    Vnfolde thy flockes and leve them to the feilds
    To feed on hylls, or dales, wher likes them best,
    Of what the summer or the springe tyme yeildes,
    For love, and tyme, hath geven thee leve to rest.

    Thy hart, which was their folde, now in decay
    By often stormes, and winter's many blasts
    All torne and rent, becumes misfortunes pray,
    Falce hope, my shepherds staff, now age hath brast.

    My pipe, which loues own hand, gave my desire
    To sing her prayses, and my wo vppon,
    Dispaire hath often threatened to the fier,
    As vayne to keipe now all the rest ar gonn.

    Thus home I draw, as deaths longe night drawes onn; (ll.496-509)
    The pipe - poetry -  which for Ralegh had always been so intimately connected with "all the rest," indeed seems "vayne" with their disappearance, though significantly Despair as yet only "threaten[s]" it to the fire. Ralegh succeeds in playing a final, and different, tune upon it, one heard fitfully throughout the poem and now dominating its ending. Unlike the opening pastoral depiction of a shepherd deserted by his fellows, in the closing pastoral the cause of tragedy is solely the passing of time. Utilizing an ancient pastoral trope, Ralegh cleverly turns the Queen's rejection into a natural, inevitable, poetically-fitting event, now calmly if sorrowfully accepted. Sunset allows the shepherd-speaker his well-earned, almost fortunate "rest" (l.500), replacing the unreliable, agonizing "rest" (l.508) from which he has been severed.

  33. Death-as-sunset thus becomes the enabling condition for the existence of the independent self: it is the "home," the fold, which the speaker enters in a movement parallel to the abandonment, the "unfolding," of his flocks of courtly poetry.[27] It is a home in which confusion and longing come to an end and the final seal is put upon the poet's new identity, "[doing] then by Diinge, what life cannot doo." The last notes which the pipe "which loues own hand, gave my desire / To singe her prayses and my wo vppon" plays, concerned as they are not with the former ("her prayses") but with the latter ("my wo"), not with the deserting queen but with the woeful, yet resigned speaker, are devoted to this identity.

  34. It is with this private woe that Ralegh, not without one last description of turning back his eyes and "gasinge on [his] loss" (l.514) - a phrase encapsulating the dialectic of vain looking and recognition of absence which has both impelled and mangled his poem -  finally ends "Ocean to Scinthia": "Her love hath end, my woe must ever last." This cornerstone of Ralegh's new self is thus granted an eternal existence beyond death, constituting a radical final affirmation. Greenblatt has claimed that "inwardness. . .bespeaks withdrawal and yet is insistently public, for we may only encounter a discursive inwardness, one dependent not only upon language but upon an audience" (Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 126.) Here, however, Ralegh turns to his imagined audience with a final assertion that his "woe" will continue in the space beyond the poem which has now ended - in the space beyond language and beyond any audience it may have. This bespeaks an inwardness whose break with society is more radical, an inwardness existing in the non-discursive state which the audience cannot enter. Following upon the expression of identity through the isolating language of woeful "madness," it expresses final identity through the most extremely isolating language of silence.

  35. The state of imprisonment in which "Ocean to Scinthia" was composed can be seen as a condition in which repression and individuation, in their most extreme forms, meet. Imprisonment signifies both the extreme subjection of individuals to the laws of their society and at the same time their setting apart from that society. Fittingly, the poem which Ralegh composed from within this paradoxical state is, on the one hand, one totally dominated by the social norms, literary paradigms, desires and language of the courtly community, while on the other hand, a poem of singular self-awareness, defined in opposition to that community. Physically imprisoned, Ralegh himself understands his abandonment as a frightening release from bonds: "A prissoner in her brest I could not bee, / Shee did vnty the gentell chaynes of love" (ll.329-330). Unwillingly "freed" from the social milieu which had provided clear limits to his identity and secure boundaries for his emotions, Ralegh's writing threatens to fall into chaos. Yet this unexpected freedom is also, as this article has shown, a challenge, leading Ralegh to the creation of a more self-focused and self-aware voice, a voice whose beginnings can be found in some of Ralegh's earlier poems, but which only in "Ocean to Scinthia" comes to fuller expression. The result is a fascinating, paradoxical text which provides an especially clear example of Foucault's definition of discourse as "both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling-block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposite strategy" (The History of Sexuality, 100-1.)

Works Cited


     [1]The title: "The 11th: and last booke of the Ocean to Scinthia," is the one given in Latham's edition to a poem of which the first ten chapters, if such existed, have been lost. There are many, however, who disagree with Latham's reading of the numerals. Pierre Lefranc, Stephen Greenblatt and Philip Edwards, among others, believe the book to be the "21th," although, as Greenblatt says, Ralegh "may simply have used the grandiose titles to create an aura of an immensely long poem, suggesting. . .an almost boundless suffering immortalized in verse" (Sir Walter Ralegh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles, 62).

     [2] The gendering is intentional. For the construction of Woman in the English Renaissance see L. Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, and S. Davies, The Idea of Woman in Renaissance Literature. For good surveys of relatively recent work on Renaissance subjectivity see the introduction to Richard Hillman's Self-Speaking in Medieval and Early Modern English Drama and the introduction to Elizabeth Hanson's Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England.

[3] Both Andrewes and Perkins are quoted in Shuger, 94-5.

[4] Hobbes is quoted in Greenblatt, “Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture,” 222.

[5] See also a very similar statement in Thomas Wright: "Words represent most exactly the very image of the minde and soule. . .for in wordes, as in a glasse may be seene, a mans life and inclination." (The Passions of the Minde, 105, quoted in Ferry, 58.)

     [6] On the importance of prosody in early modern English poetry in general and for Puttenham in particular see Joseph Tate, "Numme Feete: Meter in Early Modern England," EMLS, 7.1 (May 2001): 3.1-31.

     [7] See also the discussion in R. Helgerson's "Barbarous Tongues: The Ideology of Poetic Form in Renaissance England."

     [8] See Michel Foucault, The Order Things, chapter 1. Foucault claims that up to the end of the sixteenth century language was regarded as "the locus of revelations and. . .truth" and the function of words was to "form a thin film that duplicates thoughts on the outside" (36, 78.)

     [9] See Fineman, 344. See also Murray Krieger, "Poetic Presence and Illusion," 604.

     [10] The exact date and manner in which Ralegh became a courtier is not clear. There is evidence that he was described as "of the Court" as early as 1577 [Eccles, M., "Sir Walter Ralegh" in Brief Lives: Tudor and Stuart Authors, SP Texts and Studies, 79:4 (1982), 110-11, in Mills, 227] but during these years Ralegh was mainly fighting in Ireland, and his swift rise to fame only began on his return.

     [11] All references to and quotations from Ralegh's poems, unless otherwise noted, are based on Agnes Latham's 1951 edition of Ralegh's poetry, still considered the standard (see Mills, 225.)

     [12] This point has been convincingly demonstrated in the case of Spenser's Shepheardes Calender in Louis Montrose's "The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text."

     [13] See Smith, 124-5. For a less flattering description see Haigh, 100. Both talk of the collapse of this balance in the 1590's, caused by Essex's increasing power.

     [14] The poem, entitled "A sonnett," and Elizabeth's reply - "An answer," are reproduced in May 318-9.

     [15] See Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: "the ruling elite believed that a measure of insecurity and fear was a necessary, healthy element in the shaping of proper loyalties, and. . .deliberately evoked this insecurity. . .Salutary anxiety blocks the anger and resentment that would well up against what must, if contemplated in a secure state, seem an unjust order. And. . .represses those responses at their source, so that potential anger gives way to obedience, loyalty and admiration." (135, 138).

     [16] Elizabeth's reply centers on her control of fortune, showing that she did not miss the implied disempowerment: "No fortune base, thou saist, shall alter thee; / And may so blind a wretch then conquer me? / No, no, my pug, though fortune weare not blind, / Assure thie selfe she could not rule my mind."

     [17] The expression is May's, ch. 4

     [18] One must note, however, that as with all of Ralegh's poetry, the date of composition is conjectural. Latham believes it to be 1592, although admits this has only a "high degree of probability" (xxxvii), and most contemporary commentators follow her lead (see Greenblatt, 12-13; Lefranc, 99-132; Campbell, 237). For a summary of the argument on the dating of the poem see Mills, 234-5.

     [19] To the former group belongs, among others, Steven May, who describes "Ocean to Scinthia" as "an ambitious poem written by a courtier to regain his sovereign's grace" through its "personal tone and persuasive strategy. . .set forth in pentameter cross rhyme and a comparatively conversational language in which similes of all kinds are the primary ornamental device" (128-9.) Unlike May, Pierre Lefrank acknowledges the stylistic and thematic confusion of the poem, but argues that it is intentional: "En realite, ce desordre est de parti pris. Il vise a evoquer, sans qu'aucun ecran ne s'interpose, le trouble d'une ame dechiree" (134.) Among those who see the stylistic disorder as a mark of failure is Robert Stillman, who claims that the poem portrays ""the exhaustion of a whole order of symbolism upon whose existence [Ralegh's] status at court, his identity and the coherence of his world depended" (36.) In his book on Ralegh, Stephen Greenblatt sees the poem as an expression of "the loneliness of the individual who has come to full awareness of himself for the first time," however the poem remains for Greenblatt in essence an "abandoned lover's gesture of despair," an example of what he considers Ralegh's life-long "theatricalism" (Sir Walter Ralegh, 82, 76).

     [20] As Greenblatt points out, whatever his initial intentions, Ralegh himself probably realized that "Ocean to Scinthia" was not a poem to show to the queen (Sir Walter Ralegh, 79).

     [21] As Philip Sidney points out, the "idea" is the "fore-conceit of the work" (23-4.) According to the OED, the "fore-conceit" is "a conception previously formed; a preconception."

     [22] See Greenblatt, Sir Walter Ralegh, 93.

     [23] Ralegh seems to act out here Foucault's second principle of exclusion from the discourse of Power: "Since the depth of the Middle Ages, the madman has been the one whose discourse cannot have the same currency as others. His word may be considered null and void, having neither truth nor importance, worthless as evidence. . .On the other hand, strange powers not held by any other may be attributed to the madman's speech: the power of uttering a hidden truth" ("The Order of Discourse," 53). Witnessing his own chaotic poetry, Ralegh indeed claims for his discourse a "hidden truth" - the truth of the soul - that is very different from the politically-valuable "truths" Ralegh produced when his poetry was part of the discourse of Power. Of course Ralegh is not clinically mad; however, in complete isolation from his former identity, from his community and from its principles of "reason," Ralegh's "madness" is not a mere show either. One source of "mad" power which Ralegh may of-course be deliberately alluding to here is the furor poeticus, the originally Platonic notion of the irrational yet inspired poet.

     [24] See also Debora Shuger, 47-8. Also related to this are Murray Krieger's ideas on Renaissance "word-magic" in "Poetic Presence and Illusion," 600. See also the short summary of the history of the relationship of words and things from Medieval to Early Modern linguistic and poetic theory in Fineman, Shakespeare's Perjured Eye, 342-5, nt.32.

   [25] This defeat of the Imaginary can also be sensed in what "Ocean to Scinthia" presents as Elizabeth's abandonment of her role as loving and enveloping mother and adoption of a forbidding paternalistic role:

But I unblessed, and ill born creature,
. . .
That loved her both by fancy and by nature,
That drew even with the milk in my first sucking
Affection from the parent's breast that bare me,
Have found her as a stranger so severe,
. . .

A Queen she was to me, no more Belphoebe,
A Lion then, no more a milk-white Dove,
A prisoner in her breast I could not be,
She did untie the gentle chains of love. (ll.323-30)

     [26] The earlier image of the sorrow-sucking bees (ll.412-5) might also be a subtle reference to this possibility, if we see it as alluding to the popular Petrarchan metaphor of the poet as a bee sucking nectar from many flowers and transforming it into a new creation, "different, and better" (see Waller, 51).

     [27] See Spenser's Aprill eclogue for what was an influential example of the identification of the pastoral flock with literary production: in this eclogue, Spenser, as Colin, presents his epideictic poem to the Queen - Elisa - in the form of "a milkwhite Lamb" (95-99).

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).