The poems I read today are similarly to the previous ones quite bitter. “Farewell, false love” is a long list of all the bad things that love is – a poisoned serpent covered all with flowers, a maze, a raging cloud etc. Now the poet is older, presumably wiser and can bid adieu to all this, because in what I guess is potentially a lewd pun “dead is the root whence all these fancies grew”.
“Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay” is an elaborate sonnet in praise of the first three books of The Faerie Queene. The poet has a vision in which he sees the grave of Laura, Petrarch’s beloved, guarded by Fatih and Virtue. But when the Faerie Queene comes by to pay a visit, they leave the grave to serve her, presumably because she is superior to her. Petrarch weeps as he is laid by Oblivion on Laura’s grave. The groans of buried ghosts pierce heavens where Homer trembles and curses the day when “that celestial thief” (i.e. Spenser) appeared.
“Nature, that washed her hands in milk” is an elaborate “carpe diem” allegory. Nature washes her hands in milk and does not dry them afterwards, but takes snow and silk and makes out of them the perfect mistress for Love. The beauty has “a violet breath”, eyes made of light, hair neither too dark nor too bright, and her insides are full of wantonness (i.e. playfulness) and wit. But unfortunately her heart is made out of stone and so Love must die. But then comes Time, who does not wash his hands at all, but “being made of steel and rust/Turns snow and silk and milk to dust”, and the playfulness and wit are not preserved either.
“The Author’s Epitaph, Made by Himself” is according to a legend a poem written down in the Bible on the night before Ralegh’s execution. It is a subtle reworking of the last stanza of the previous poem, with two lines added, While the last stanza of the original poem is the lament on the cruelty of Time, who takes everything from us and drives us to the grave, the last two lines express the hope about the resurrection.
The poems of Ralegh, at least in this selection give me the impression of a rather melancholy and embittered man. Even when he wants to pay a compliment to his friend Spenser, he cannot imagine doing it any other way but by dissing other poets. I know that biographical criticism is a dangerous game, but the image these poems project is of a very frustrated person, even though for a big part of his life Ralegh was a very successful self-made man, rising from provincial gentry to a member of the Queen’s closest circles.