A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare.

It's been years since I read Shakespeare's poetry so I'm pleased to make a return with A Lover's Complaint, a poem probably written by William Shakespeare (more on that later) and first published in 1609.

The poem begins,
From off a hill whose concave womb reworded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain.
From here the unnamed narrator goes on to describe a distressed young woman whose lover has been false: she sits by the river throwing jewels and trinkets into the water:
A thousand favours from a maund she drew
Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,
Which one by one she in a river threw,
Upon whose weeping margent she was set;
Like usury, applying wet to wet,
Or monarch's hands that let not bounty fall
Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.
An old shepherd joins her and she tells him her story, how she came to fall in love with a handsome young man whose various talents and good looks made him desired by all,
That he did in the general bosom reign
Of young, of old; and sexes both enchanted,
To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain
In personal duty, following where he haunted:
Consents bewitch'd, ere he desire, have granted;
And dialogued for him what he would say,
Ask'd their own wills, and made their wills obey.
She too is seduced by him and his false promises despite her reason warning her against him ("Though Reason weep, and cry, 'It is thy last.'"). He gives her the jewels he himself was given by lovers,
'Lo, all these trophies of affections hot,
Of pensived and subdued desires the tender,
Nature hath charged me that I hoard them not,
But yield them up where I myself must render,
That is, to you, my origin and ender;
For these, of force, must your oblations be,
Since I their altar, you enpatron me.
She goes on to tell the shepherd, "'O father, what a hell of witchcraft lies / In the small orb of one particular tear!'" The poem ends (without the shepherd replying),
'O, that infected moisture of his eye,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow'd,
O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow'd,
O, all that borrow'd motion seeming owed,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray'd,
And new pervert a reconciled maid!'
A Lover's Complaint is a vivid and beautiful poem, Shakespeare's descriptions of the jewels, the "paled pearls and rubies red as blood", the "beautiful and hard" diamond, and the "heaven-hued sapphire" along with the hints of witchcraft and the regret and betrayal make this a very memorable poem. There's a feel of Spenser in it, the random encounter with a distressed maiden who bears her soul (though this poem does not have the distinctive Spenserian stanza, this poem is written in the rhyme royal). It isn't entirely agreed that William Shakespeare wrote this poem: some believe that A Lover's Complaint was written by a follower of Spenser drawing attention to similarities to Spenser's Prothalamion (1596),
There, in a Meadow, by the Rivers side,
A Flocke of Nymphes I chanced to espy,
All louely Daughters of the Flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks all loose untyde,
As each had been a Bryde,
And each one had a little wicker basket,
Made of fine twigs entrayled curiously,
In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket:
And with fine Fingers, cropt full feateously
The tender stalkes on hye.
Of every sort, which in that Meadow grew,
They gathered some; the Violet pallid blew,
The little Dazie, that at euening closes,
The virgin Lillie, and the Primrose trew,
With store of vermeil Roses,
To decke their Bridegromes posies,
Against the Brydale day, which was not long:
Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song.
Others suggest that Shakespeare did in fact write A Lover's Complaint in an attempt to emulate Spenser. I'm afraid that I'm not much of a Shakespeare scholar and can't give an educated opinion. All I would say is, very hesitantly, I'm not so sure it is by him. Whatever the case, though, I did love it. For those who want to read it, it can be read in full here.

And that was my 27th title for the Deal Me In Challenge (how strange to be in the second half of this challenge, the first half flew by!). Next week - The Attack on the Mill by Émile Zola.


  1. Ha! When I read it, I questioned whether it was by him too. But I don't have much experience with his poetry, so my opinion is completely uneducated. Apparently the first stanza is very similar to the first stanza of The Rape of Lucrece.

    1. Yes I read that somewhere too. It's on one of my lists so I'll get to it this year - I'll have to compare the two then :)

  2. I have that edition of the Sonnets, and also enjoyed The Lover's Complaint (though not as much as the sonnets!) I also thought the style was different from Shakespeare's usual one, but if he was trying to imitate Spenser I guess it is very difficult to determine authorship.

    1. I haven't read the Sonnets in such a long time... I'll have to get to them at some point soon :) And yes, must be difficult to determine authorship but, my unscholarly feelings are, even keeping in mind the Spenser influence, this is not Shakespeare. But I could be wrong, I have an open mind to the theories!

  3. attribution is peculiar. i (and others , i'm sure) have wondered about "the phoenix and the turtle", a, to me, totally undecipherable work... i've never read "complaint" tx for the intro...

    1. The Phoenix and the Turtle is another one on my list for this year! Quite looking forward to it :)


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