Elizabethan Sonnet Month

George Gascoigne (1539-1577)


Disclaimer: There is some confusion over the identity of Gascoigne as research has shown there is more than one person of this name at the time. The author is going to go with established facts but is willing to add and change if research brings anything new to light.

Born: Bedfordshire, UK, c.1539
Died: UK, 1577.

Allegedly attended Trinity, Cambridge but there are no records to support this.

1555: Evidence suggests Gascoigne came to Gray's Inn, London.

1558: Became a young Member of Parliament in Mary I's last parliament.

1559: Attended court in replacement of his father as almoner at the coronation of Elizabeth I. Gascoigne spent most of his life trying to win favour as a courtier and like fellow poet John Donne, consistently failed.

1559-1565 At some point Gascoigne married Elizabeth Breton, however there was some issue over the legality of the marriage.

1566 -1570 Wrote the play 'Supposes' and tried his hand at farming without success. Imprisoned for debt, and various family issues are but there is no real evidence to substantiate details.

1571: Gascoigne attempted re-election for parliament but his candidacy was disallowed by the Privy Council for "being a notorious ruffian... an atheist and godless person'. Instead he joined the army serving under William the Silent in the Netherlands.

1572 Gascoigne returned to England for the wedding of Lord Montague, further catastrophes forced him to return to the Netherlands almost immediately. Gascoigne was accused and acquitted of treason.

1575: Gascoigne returned to England again.

1576; Gascoigne led a fact-finding mission to Paris and Antwerp.

1577: Just as life seemed to be going in his favour Gascoigne fell victim to an illness and died.

Critics have concentrated on Gascoigne as a poet because they have felt, since the time of C.S. Lewis at any rate, that the early period of the Renaissance in England produced few poets of note. Apart from Surrey and Wyatt, and perhaps Sackville (co-author of Gorboduc), late Henrician and Marian literature has been dismissed as, in Lewis's word, "drab." More recently, however, Alicia Ostriker, writing in Christopher Ricks's anthology, called Gascoigne one of the best poets writing in what she still calls "that fallow time." Ivor Winters thought him a better poet than Samuel Daniel or Michael Drayton, and his poems are appearing in greater quantity in anthologies, not to mention being reprinted on the Web, where the complete text of A Hundreth Sundry Flowres may be read. His account of military expeditions in Holland deserve a reading, too, and The Adventures of Master F.J. is a signifcant work of early Renaissance prose fiction which deserves at least as much attention as Nashe's Unfortunate Traveller.

Jem Farmer

"Sonnet I"

In haste, post haste, when first my wandering mind
Beheld the glistring Court with gazing eye,
Such deep delights I seemed therein to find,
As might beguile a graver guest than I.
The stately pomp of Princes and their peers
Did seem to swim in floods of beaten gold;
The wanton world of young delightful year
Was not unlike a heaven for to behold,
Wherein did swarm (for every saint) a Dame
So fair of hue, so fresh of their attire,
As might excel Dame Cynthia for Fame,
Or conquer Cupid with his own desire.
These and such like baits that blazed still
Before mine eye, to feed my greedy will.

"Sonnet II"

Before mine eye, to feed my greedy will,
'Gan muster eke mine old acquainted mates,
Who helped the dish (of vain delight) to fill
My empty mouth with dainty delicates;
And foolish boldness took the whip in hand
To lash my life into this trustless trace,
Till all in haste I leapt a loof from land
And hoist up sail to catch a Courtly grace.
Each lingering day did seem a world of woe,
Till in that hapless haven my head was brought;
Waves of wanhope so tossed me to and fro
In deep despair to drown my dreadful thought;
Each hour a day, each day a year, did seem
And every year a world my will did deem.

"Sonnet III"

And every year a world my will did deem,
Till lo! at last, to Court now am I come,
A seemly swain that might the place beseem,
A gladsome guest embraced by all and some.
Not there content with common dignity,
My wandering eye in haste (yea post post haste)
Beheld the blazing badge of bravery,
For want whereof I thought myself disgraced.
Then peevish pride puffed up my swelling heart,
To further forth so hot an enterprise;
And comely cost began to play his part
In praising patterns of mine own devise.
Thus all was good and might be got in haste,
To prink me up, and make me higher placed.

"Sonnet IV"

To prink me up, and make me higher placed,
All came too late that tarried any time;
Piles of provision pleased not my taste,
They made my heels too heavy for to climb.
Methought it best that boughs of boistrous oak
Should first be shread to make my feathers gay,
Till at the last a deadly dinting stroke
Brought down the bulk with edgetools of decay.
Of every farm I then let fly a leaf
To feed the purse that paid for peevishnesss,
Till rent and all were fallen in such disease,
As scarce could serve to maintain cleanliness;
They bought the body, fine, farm, leaf, and land;
All were too little for the merchant's hand.

"Sonnet V"

All were too little for the merchant's hand,
And yet my bravery bigger than his book;
But when this hot account was coldly scanned,
I thought high time about me for to look.
With heavenly cheer I cast my head aback
To see the fountain of my furious race,
Compared my loss, my living, and my lack
In equal balance with my jolly grace,
And saw expenses grating on the ground
Like lumps of lead to press my purse full oft,
When light reward and recompense were found,
Fleeting like feathers in the wind aloft.
These thus compared, I left the Court at large,
For why the gains doth seldom quit the charge.

"Sonnet VI"

The Skies gan scowle, orecast with misty clowdes,
When (as I rode alone by London waye,
Cloakelesse, unclad) thus did I sing and say:
Behold quoth I, bright Titan how he shroudes
His head abacke, and yelds the raine his reach,
Till in his wrath, Dan Jove have soust the soile,
And washt me wretch which in his travaile toile.
But holla (here) doth rudenesse me appeach,
Since Jove is Lord and king of mighty power,
Which can commaund the Sunne to shewe his face,
And (when him lyst) to give the raine his place.
Why doe not I my wery muses frame,
(Although I bee well soused in this showre,)
To write some verse in honour of his name?

"Sonnet VII"

For why the gains doth seldom quit the charge:
And so say I by proof too dearly bought,
My haste made waste; my brave and brainsick barge
Did float too fast to catch a thing of naught.
With leisure, measure, mean, and many moe
I mought have kept a chair of quiet state.
But hasty heads cannot be settled so,
Till crooked Fortune gave a crabbed mate.
As busy brains must beat on tickle toys,
As rash invention breeds a raw devise,
So sudden falls do hinder hasty joys;
And as swift baits do fleetest fish entice,
So haste makes waste, and therefore now I say,
No haste but good, where wisdom makes the way.


In Court where Princes raigne, hir place is nowe assignde,
And well were worthy for the roome, if she were not unkinde.
There I (in wonted wise) dyd shewe my selfe of late,
And found that as the soile was chang'd, so love was turnd to hate.
But why? God knowes, not I: save as I sayde before,
Pitie is put from porters place, and daunger keepes the dore.
If courting then have skill, to chaunge good Ladies so,
God send eche wilful Dame in Court, some wound of my like wo.
That with a troubled head, she may both turne and tosse,
In restlesse bed when she should sleepe and feele of love the losse.
And I (since porters put me from my wonted place)
And deepe deceipte hath wrought a wyle to wrest me out of grace:
Wyll home againe to cart, as fitter were for mee,
Then thus in court to serve and starve, where such proude porters bee.

If you have any suggestions or questions regarding these poems please email me

Elizabethan Sonnet Month
The Poets Garret
Tir Na nOg Poetry Community

Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will we realise that money cannot be eaten
- Cree Indian Prophesy