To hear Robert Pinsky read “Elegy on the Death of Sidney,” click here.
Fulke Greville deserves to be better known; I personally consider him to be an equal of Donne, Marvell, Jonson, and the Shakespeare of the sonnets. He was a boyhood friend of Sir Philip Sidney. (An early school notebook of Sidney’s contains, in Sidney’s childish handwriting, the notation “Fulk Grivil is a good boy.”) Greville’s admiring biography of his friend, who died young, may have somewhat eclipsed Greville’s own reputation. It is important for the reader of the “Elegy on the Death of Sidney” to realize that Sidney–a brilliant writer, of extremely noble family, a statesman and soldier who died of war wounds at the age of 32–was looked on as a kind of perfect man: one born with the greatest advantages, who had the talent and goodness to make the best of them. (This poem is sometimes attributed to another author, Sir Edward Dyer, also a member of the Sidney-Greville circle.)
Silence augmenteth grief, writing increaseth rage,
Staled are my thoughts, which loved and lost the wonder of our age;
Yet quickened now with fire, though dead with frost ere now,
Enraged I write I know not what; dead, quick, I know not how.
Hard-hearted minds relent and rigor’s tears abound,
And envy strangely rues his end, in who no fault was found.
Knowledge her light hath lost, valor hath slain her knight,
Sidney is dead, dead is my friend, dead is the world’s delight.
Place, pensive, wails his fall whose presence was her pride;
Time crieth out, My ebb is come; his life was my spring tide.
Fame mourns in that she lost the ground of her reports;
Each living wight laments his lack, and all in sundry sorts.
He was–woe worth that word!--to each well-thinking mind
A spotless friend, a matchless man, whose virtue ever shined;
Declaring in his thoughts, his life and that he write,
Highest conceits, longest foresights, and deepest works of wit.
He, only like himself, was second unto none.
Whose death, though life, we rue and wrong, and all in vain do moan;
Their loss, not him, wail they that fill the world with cries;
Death slew not him, but he made death his ladder to the skies.
Now sink of sorrow I who live–the more the wrong!
Who wishing death, whom death denies, whose thread is all too long;
Who tied to wretched life, who looks for no relief,
Must spend my ever dying days in never ending grief.
Heart’s ease and only I, like parallels, run on,
Whose equal length keep equal breadth and never meet in one;
Yet for not wronging him, my thoughts, my sorrow’s cell,
Shall not run out, though leak they will for liking him so well.
Farewell to you, my hopes, my wonted waking dreams;
Farewell, sometimes enjoyed joy, eclipsed are thy beams;
Farewell, self-pleasing thoughts which quietness brings forth;
And farewell, friendship’s sacred league, uniting minds of worth.
And farewell, merry heart, the gift of guiltless minds,
And all sports which for life’s restore variety assigns.
Let all that sweet is, void; in me no mirth may dwell:
Philip, the cause of all this woe, my life’s content, farewell!
Now rime, the son of rage, which art no kin to skill,
And endless grief, which deads my life, yet knows not how to kill,
Go seek that hapless tomb, which if ye hap to find,
Salute the stones that keep the bones that held so good a mind.