Sunday Poetry – Elizabeth I

I’ve just finished reading Leanda de Lisle’s excellent book Tudor. In it she quotes this poem by Elizabeth I (picture from here). It was written in the 1580s after the departure of the Duc d’Alencon, her Frog, as Elizabeth affectionately called him. d’Alencon was Elizabeth’s last serious suitor & the poem is full of regret & melancholy. Elizabeth was nearly 50 & knew that, even if she had married d’Alencon, she would be unlikely to have a child. The fantasy of the ever-youthful queen was fading fast.  de Lisle speculates that the poem is really about Elizabeth’s feelings for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the only man she really loved but was unable to marry. Maybe it shows Elizabeth looking back at the personal price she has paid as Queen &, for a moment, wondering if it was worth it.

I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
      I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
      Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun—
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth what I have done;
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
      No means I find to rid him from my breast,
      Till by the end of things it be supprest.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft, and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, Love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low;
      Or let me live with some more sweet content,
      Or die, and so forget what love e’er meant.

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