English poet. He wrote historical poems, including England's Heroical Epistles (1597), and graceful pastorals and sonnets, including the sonnet sequence Love's Idea. His longest poetical work was the topographical survey of Great Britain, Poly-Olbion (1612–22), in 30 books.
Drayton was born in Hartshill, Warwickshire. He became a page in a wealthy household and went to London in 1590. His volume of poems The Harmony of the Church (1591), containing metrical versions of scripture passages, was destroyed by order of the archbishop of Canterbury. His first pastorals include Idea, the Shepherd's Garland (1593) and his first sonnets Idea's Mirror, Amours in Quatorzains (1594). Between 1597 and 1602 he undertook theatrical hackwork for Philip Henslowe and among his associates were Thomas Dekker and Anthony Munday (1560–1633) and, somewhat later, John Webster and Thomas Middleton.
Drayton's historical poems began with the Legends of the historical figures Piers Gaveston (1593), Matilda (1594), and Robert, Duke of Normandy, (1596). In the heroic poem Mortimeriados (1596) his theme was the political troubles of Edward II's reign. This, his first poem of length and importance, appeared as The Barons' War in the revised edition of 1603. The inequalities and harshness of style disappear in England's Heroical Epistles, historical poems written on the model of the Roman poet Ovid's Heroides and containing some of his very finest lines. Equally national in spirit is his ‘Ballad of Agincourt’, first published with his odes in Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1606). ‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ also appeared in this volume.
Drayton described the ponderous Poly-Olbion, begun in 1598, as a ‘Herculean toil’, for in it he undertook a ‘chorographical description’, in alexandrine couplets, of everything of antiquarian and topographical interest throughout Great Britain. In contrast, he was able to produce poetry of grace and charm, such as Nymphidia (1627), a mock-heroic fairy poem; the pastorals The Shepherd's Sirena and The Quest of Cynthia, love idylls; and the sonnet, ‘Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part’. Among his last poems were The Muses' Elizium (1630) and a few Divine Poems on Old Testament themes.
Selected Poetry of Michael Drayton (1563–1631)
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