The French regard English as the language of shopkeepers, which, according to them, is in no way fit for verse but the great English poets have proven them wrong. English has a vast and rich repertoire of some of the best verse ever written in any language. Keeping its inherent flaws in mind as it truly is a mundane language of the dry world of trade and commerce, English verse is a great achievement in itself.
Below are three poetic gems of English verse, from Chaucer to Shakespeare (c. 1340-1616).
Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1340-1400) — The Clerk of Qxford, one of the pilgrims to Canterbury whom like the rest of the characters Chaucer pictures in words a poor scholar from Oxford from his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes thus, “Of study took he most care and most heed./Nought one word spake he more than was need,” a great and fitting description of a student of such standard that any language may it be Persian, Arabic or even French, would be proud to have among its literary verse ensemble.
It is a fact, though, that love and the beloved are central to any work of verse in any language and the English language is no exception. English sonnets are perhaps the best examples of the study of the instinct to love and the pains, trials, tribulations and the pangs of being beloved in return. Sonnet has its origin in Italy, but Edmund Spencer and William Shakespeare have made sonnet medium of pure English verse form by giving it a peculiarly English touch and flavor.
Edmund Spencer (c.1552-1599 ) from Amoretti. Sonnet LXXV: To His Love (ii), writes his beloved’s name “upon the strand” but the cruel tide washes it away. The tide mocks the poet, “Vain man said she, that doest in vain assay/ A mortal thing so to immortalize,” but the steadfast lover persists knowing full well that the elements are stacked up against him. He is sure that one day his love will triumph and replies, thus, “Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise/ To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:/Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue,/ Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is famous for his plays mostly composed in blank verse but his poetry epitomized in his sonnets is second to none. Sonnet CXVI: Love and Time: “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/Within his bending sickle’s compass come;” and Shakespeare concludes the sonnet, thus, “If this be error, and upon me proved,/I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
The above examples give a fair idea of how a language in the hands of master craftsmen, poets to be precise, can mold and transform a dry language of daily commercial dealings and communication into something truly and utterly sublime, and otherworldly.
English verse is world heritage that needs be saved and transmitted for the benefit of future generations to enjoy and learn valuable lessons from. This, in conclusion, is a short tribute to English verse from Chaucer to Shakespeare (c. 1340-1616).
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada