Critical appreciation - Sample Essay

Since There’s No Help’ is a typical example of Drayton’s work, yet it has been solely responsible for plucking Drayton from the general obscurity of Elizabethan sonneteers. It was his one and only “excellent” sonnet, reaching the “highest level of poetic feeling and expression”1 considered to be the “the one sonnet by a contemporary which deserves to rank with some of Shakespeare’s best”1. This poem is written in traditional Shakespearian sonnet form, consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter.

The rhyme scheme is also consistent of a Shakespearean sonnet, being [abab cdcd efef gg]; yet critics are divided as to whether this sonnet can be split into the traditional three quatrains and a rhyming couplet, as with other Shakespearean sonnets. Lemuel Whitaker, in his essay ‘The Sonnets of Michael Drayton’, argued “many critics have shut their eyes to the sestet”. “Now”, at the opening of line 9, undoubtedly acts as a Volta, marking a substantial change in tone and causing some critics, including Whitaker, to consider this sonnet as an octave and a sestet, following the Petrachan sonnet form, rather than as a Shakespearian sonnet.

The language has a vivid, spoken quality, whilst being sincerely simplistic. It also displays the directness that characterises most Elizabethan poetry. After the Volta in line nine, the language and tone changes greatly. In the final stanza, Drayton employs alliteration and sibilance to great effect. He also uses personification of “Love”, “Passion”, “Innocence” and “Faith” in the third stanza. This style of expression is very elaborate and contrasts with the simple language used previously. Michael Drayton was born in Warwickshire in 1563, the son of a prosperous tradesman.

As a youth, he received his educational training in the house of Sir Henry Goodere of Polesworth2, to whom he eventually became page. ‘Since There’s No Help’ has been generally regarded as the “culminating cry of his unrequited passion”3 for Goodere’s daughter, Anne, who also served as the inspiration of Drayton’s collection of sonnets ‘Idea’ in which ‘Since There’s No Help’ was published. Whitaker dismisses the idea that Drayton addressed Anne Goodere in the strain of a lover, as a “not a tenable theory”.

His work undoubtedly reflects many of the poetic fashions of the time and it this “gallantry of the age” that leads Whitaker to this conclusion. This poem appeared circa 1620 under the title ‘Breaking up is hard to do’ and is also frequently referred to as the ‘Love Parting sonnet’. Despite this, the critic Lemuel Whitaker maintains “a cursory reading of the final lines shows that it is not a love-parting theme, but a love-reconciliation”. This is a view, which I personally disagree with.

While, in the final couplet the tone unexpectedly changes, with the poet saying that it is up to his lover (presumably Anne) to revitalise their relationship and breathe life into it, because, despite the sentiments expressed in the opening two stanzas, he really doesn’t want “to cancel all our vows”, there is no suggestion that she returns his affections, therefore making a “reconciliation” impossible. Line two suggests that it is the poet, who is rejecting the woman, presumably Anne Goodere, which, bearing in mind the strong autobiographical note present in the poem is unlikely.

The repetition of “glad” in line three adds power and emphasis. This type of rhetorical device is often used when a poet is trying to convince the reader of his point of view. It also suggests that that the poet is not only trying to persuade the reader, but himself also. From this, it can be inferred that he deeply loves the woman and that his opinion in line four that “so cleanly I myself can free” is not the case. This language appears to be a form of self-deception and a male refusal to admit an emotional problem, which he cannot overcome, and is one that I think many modern audiences could identify with.

This attempt to conceal pain and true emotion is also evident in line 8, where the poet’s uses the colloquial expression, “one jot”, professing to be careless and almost cynical of the power of love. Here, the simplistic language adds poignancy to the words of the poet. While Drayton was one of the sonneteers that indulged in a conventional literary expression, this seemingly male reluctance to admit his pain and loss of control of his feelings for a woman who has rejected him does not fit into this form of sonnet vogue.

Despite displaying many of the literary forms and techniques of the time, ‘Since there’s no help’ was not written, as Whitaker claims “In terms of the gallantry of the age” or as “the homage of a friend”, but in fact, as the “culminating cry of his unrequited passion”. Sidney Lee4 agrees with Whitaker that “for the most part, Drayton is a sonneteer on the normal Elizabethan pattern and his sonnets are rarely distinguished by poetic elevation” but he asserts that “occasionally a thin rivulet of natural sentiment winds its way through the fantastic conceits…only in his famous sonnet [‘Since there’s no help’] did his genius find in that poetic form full scope”. The third stanza contrasts in both tone and language to the rest of the sonnet.

Here Drayton personifies Love on its deathbed. He uses the literary embellishment of alliteration and sibilance to convey the drama, feelings and passion of his conflicting emotions. The word “lies” at the end of line 10 has a duel meaning. Firstly it can be interpreted as a way of describing Passion’s position on his deathbed.

Alternatively, it can be seen to suggest that Drayton was admitting that his words were untrue and that the feelings his poem professes were not consistent to what he felt. Drayton describes how “Faith is kneeling by his bed of death”. This suggests that his experience with this woman has shaken his faith in God. Drayton lived in a time of great religious upheaval and this contextual suggestion, is not altogether surprising. It is a very powerful image where even God is mourning the loss of the life of this relationship.

The traditional image of first love is consistent with ideas of innocence and purity. Line 11 suggests that Drayton’s innocence is also standing by, watching his love die. Drayton associates his railed relationship with his loss of innocence. This may be a reference to how his ‘innocent’, romantic illusions, possibly consistent with the tradition form of courtly love, have been shattered by this experience. Unexpectedly, the tone again changes in the final couplet. It is only here that Drayton admits that he really doesn’t want his relationship and love to “die”, he wants he to help them “recover”.

It is this idea of recovery that provides the reader with an important clue to the ‘real’ sentiments of the poet. The couplet also implies, that it was not in fact the poet who ended the relationship, but the woman, as it is her that he begs to save it “when all have given him over”. While ‘Since There’s No Help’ displays many of the literary conventions of the time, it is by no means a stereotypical ‘Courtly Love’ sonnet, conveying no real feelings. Considering the context of the poet’s life, this poem is probably autobiographical, dedicated to the love Drayton felt for Anne Goodere.

I believe that it truly is the “culminating cry of his unrequited passion”5. 1 Sidney Lee, ‘The Cambridge History of English and American Literature’.

http://www. bartleby. com/213/1212. htm 2 http://print. inforplease. com/ce6/people/A0816085. html 3 Lemuel Whitaker, ‘The Sonnets of Michael Drayton’, http://www. luminarium. org/renlit/whitaker. htm 4 Sidney Lee, ‘The Cambridge History of English and American Literature’, http://www. bartleby. com/213/1212. htm 5 5 Lemuel Whitaker, ‘The Sonnets of Michael Drayton’, http://www. luminarium. org/renlit/whitaker. htm.