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Analysis of the Poem 'Since There's No Help' by Michael Drayton

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Michael Drayton

Michael Drayton

Michael Drayton

'Since There's No Help' (Sonnet 61) is Michael Drayton's most famous poem, included in the book Idea's Mirror (Mirrour) of 1594 and again in Poems of 1619.

A prolific author, Drayton was a well-known poet of the time and a regular in Queen Elizabeth's court at a time when England was fast becoming the world's powerhouse.

When she died in 1603 Drayton's days as a courtier were numbered because her successor, James 1st, was not a supporter of his writing. But he continued to publish both prose and poetry and, whilst never a top league player, he gained a reputation for precision and clever reasoning in his work.

Writing sonnets was the thing to do if you were a poet in the late Elizabethan period. Many were at it, including John Donne, Samuel Daniel, Philip Sidney and above them all, William Shakespeare, the upstart-crow, the master.

Drayton must have read the work of his contemporaries, and they his. Over time his style developed and alongside his pastoral and historical work the sonnets took their place.

A Summary of Sonnet 61

Sonnet 61 is considered his best. The language is plain and restrained for the most in the first eight lines, the emotion nicely controlled by a sense of resigned contentment and cordiality.

Yet, what also comes through is the speaker's uncertainty—he can part amicably from his lover knowing he has given his all, but will he be 100% satisfied? Isn't there just a hint of desperation about the whole break-up? Will the love they shared and expressed make a last-minute comeback—courtesy of his lover?

The idea that the speaker can easily give up on a lost love and save his heartbreak is questionable. A simple goodbye kiss is never, ever that straightforward—ask any thwarted lover. There are always complications and consequences, and some confusion to follow.

With heavy use of personification towards the end, this traditional English sonnet (3 quatrains plus couplet) could have been inspired by a real person Michael Drayton knew—a certain Anne Goodere (or Goodyere, now modern Goodyear), eldest daughter of his benefactor Sir Henry Goodere, in whose household Michael Drayton was brought up, being from a poor background.

According to some commentators, she embodies the 'Idea' and all the sonnets are directly or indirectly created for and around her. Others claim there is no plain evidence to support this suggestion, which is true, while some think the sonnets a literary exercise only, a poet experimenting with form and imaginative content.

As with Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady' the truth may lie somewhere between both. What remains is a body of work that has lasted centuries, with one sonnet, 61, rising above the rest.

Since There's No Help (Sonnet 61)

Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes—
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might’st him yet recover!

Analysis of the Sonnet

Drayton's Sonnet 61 is just one part of a long sequence of sonnets inspired by actual persons, or Muse, but has over time gathered momentum as a stand-alone creation.

In short, the first eight lines describe the ending of a love affair, that final kiss and exchange before an amicable parting, never to cross paths again. The final six lines use personification in an attempt to alter the situation at the last moment, and revivify love.

In other words, the speaker is initially adamant that nothing more is available, from him for sure, which could restore their former loving relationship. Love is dead, long live Love!

  • The first quatrain is all about the speaker, the I, the me—he is happy to part cleanly because it will bring a sense of freedom.
  • The second quatrain reinforces this idea of a permanent severance and focuses on the two of them, our, we—they should forget what they had, they should deny they ever had a relationship and that they're completely over each other.
  • The third quatrain rests on the personification of Love as it fades away—gone is the passion, gone is the faith, the innocence that love brings.
  • The final couplet brings change and a sudden turnabout. The speaker urges the lover to revive the Love, bring him back to life.

This is some drastic message. After all the certainty of the first eight lines, with a clean break almost happily achieved, the speaker then desperately, it seems, wants to reverse this.

Literary/Poetic Devices in Drayton's Sonnet 61

Alliteration

When two or more words are close together and start with the same consonant. For example:

That thus....more of me...when we meet at any time again...Love's latest...pulse failing, Passion...by his bed...have given him...

Assonance

When two or more words are close together in a line and have similar sounding vowels. For example:

hands for ever, cancel...when we meet...Be it not seen...at the last gasp...bed of death...have given him...

Caesura

When a pause occurs midway through a line, through use of punctuation (or rarely, naturally). For example:

When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;

Enjambment

When a line runs on into the next without punctuation, bringing momentum and maintaining sense:

Be it not seen in either of our brows

That we one jot of former love retain.

Personification

When an object or idea or noun is given human attributes. For example:

When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,

Metre

This is a traditional iambic pentameter sonnet, with most lines rising at the end. However, there are seven lines that break with this familiar metre and bring changes for the reader as the stress pattern alters.

Since there’s / no help, / come let / us kiss / and part.
Nay, I / have done, / you get / no more / of me;
And I / am glad, / yea glad / with all / my heart,
That thus / so clean / ly I / myself / can free.
Shake hands / for ev / er, can / cel all / our vows,
And when / we meet / at an / y time / again,
Be it / not seen / in eith / er of / our brows
That we / one jot / of form / er love / retain.
Now at / the last / gasp of / Love’s lat / est breath,
When, his / pulse fail / ing, Pass / ion speech / less lies;
When Faith / is kneel / ing by / his bed / of death,
And Inn / ocence / is clos / ing up / his eyes—
Now, if / thou wouldst, / when all / have giv / en him / over,
From death / to life / thou might'st / him yet / recover!

Drayton's finest has a basic iambic pentameter beat—seven of the lines being pure iambic pentameter, that is, each with five feet splitting up ten syllables in a neat familiar manner.

So, lines 1,3,4,6,8,11 and 12 follow the classic daDUM pattern. For example, line 8:

That we one jot of former love retain.

Interestingly, seven lines do not follow the pure iambic—a balancing act by Drayton perhaps—and break away from the conventional.

Trochee and spondee and pyrrhic enter the metrical stage, forcing the pace in some lines, quietening the mood in others.

As far as I can gather, the first twelve lines are all pentameters (each has five feet and ten syllables) but the final couplet is the exception, with line thirteen a hexameter (six feet, 12 syllables) and line fourteen with an extra beat (11 syllables), that final word recover being an amphibrach, the middle syllable stressed.

The couplet endings are both what used to be called feminine, unstressed, and fall away.

© 2020 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Surya on June 01, 2020:

One of favourites

Ivana Divac from Serbia on March 23, 2020:

Very informative, well-written, and spot-on. This is a useful article. Thank you for sharing!

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on March 23, 2020:

Impeccable work as always Andrew. The Elizabethan poets are truly inspiring. Thanks for your insight, much appreciated.

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