Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 10. His Poems

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

VIII. Ford and Shirley

§ 10. His Poems

In 1646, Shirley collected and published a number of his non-dramatic poems. A manuscript in the Bodleian library supplies variant versions of a large number of these, and a few additional pieces. For the most part, these poems are amorous and personal, and show, to a much greater extent than his dramas, evidences of that discipleship to Ben Jonson which he was ever ready to acknowledge. Many of them appeared originally as songs in the dramas, or as prologues and epilogues; others as epithalamiums, epitaphs and elegies. Though conventional in manner and matter, they are often graceful and ingenious. One song rises far above the rest, and is one of the great lyrics not merely of Shirley’s age, but of English literature. “The glories of our blood and state,” the funeral chant which closes The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, would have been sufficient to ensure a place for Shirley in our anthologies, even had all memory of his dramas been lost. Narcissus, or The Self-lover is almost certainly a republication of Echo, or The Infortunate Lovers, which Shirley had issued in 1618. This is an example, not without beauty, of the elaborate re-telling of Ovidian tales which many Elizabethan poets attempted. Shirley’s immediate model seems to have been the Venus and Adonis of Shakespeare.