Sir Walter Raleigh, Selected Poems with Introduction


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Sir Walter Ralegh’s poems, selected and introduced by Ruth Padel. In this Poet to Poet series from Faber, a contemporary poet selects and introduces a poet of the past. By her choice of poems, and by the personal and critical reactions she expresses in her preface, the editor-poet offers insights into her own work as well as providing an accessible and passionate introduction to some of the greatest poets in our literature.

Before giving us the poems she has selected from Walter Ralegh’s large body of work, Ruth gives a brief introduction to the man, his life, his poetry and his relation to Queen Elizabeth. She even includes one of Elizabeth’s own poems.

Ralegh was born around 1553 in Devon and educated at Oxford. He fought under Lord Grey in the colonization of Ireland, where he met the poet Edmund Spenser whom he brought to court in 1598. He sponsored the first colony to Virginia, sat in Parliament, was knighted, and became Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Captain of the Queen’s Guard. Between 1589 and 1591 he led the defence against the Spanish.

In 1592, the Queen discovered his secret marriage and imprisoned him for a time in the Tower. Then she authorized his expedition to ‘Guiana’, now Venezuela, beyond the mouth of the Orinoco River. Ralegh published an account of this journey and resumed as Captain of the Guard.

But in 1603, when James succeeded Elizabeth, Ralegh lost his patents and offices and was again imprisoned in the Tower, where he wrote and published The History of the World. James released him for another Guiana expedition, but this failed. The 1603 death sentence was revived, and Ralegh was executed in 1618.

During this tempestuous life, he wrote some of the most graceful and haunting lyrics of the Elizabethan age.