SUMMARY OF “SO CRUEL PRISON” BY HENRY HOWARD-EARL OF SURREY
The Earl of Surrey was a talented young man, however, caught up unluckily in the politics of his time. He was arrested more than once in a very short period of his life. The final time, in order to break the power of the Howard family, a rival falsely accused him of treason and Henry Howard was executed at the age of thirty. The masterpiece, “So Cruel Prison How Could Betide”, written by Surrey was composed when Surrey was in prison. It got great popularity and strengthened the position of Surrey as a sonneteer.
The poem under discussion narrates very beautifully to us the past experiences of Howard and the company he enjoyed.
“With a king’s son my childish
Years did pass—–.”
He also mentions the places he visited whom he knew and loved.
“The large green courts, where
We were wont to hove,
With eyes cast up into the
Maiden’s tower, ——–.”
Next, he shows his dejection over the remembrance of these things. He believes that these things have lost their original flavour and turned sour because of the change in his circumstances.
“With each sweet place returns
A taste full sour———-.”
Howard also recalls the women in their brightly coloured clothes, the dances and “long trails of great delight.” He remembers playing a game and losing sight of the ball because he had seen one he had loved and tried to impress her.
“Have miss’d the ball and got sight of our dame,
To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above—–.”
Actually, it was the time when friends participated “sword play”, “the drinking”, “silver drops (of) mead” and playing games “of nimbleness and strength” where their limbs had yet to grow i.e. they were still young. There was the company of ladies, time in the wild forest, riding in the hunt and pursuing deer (hart).
“With cry of hounds and merry blasts between
Where we did chase the fearful hart a force.”
He recalls, in general, the good fortune he has enjoyed, the trust of his friends, the foolish talk, friendships and careful promises.
“The wanton talk, the divers change of play
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just.”
At this point, the tone of the poem pivots, changing dramatically. The joy of these memories fades in face of the reality of his present bitter situation. The blood drains from his face, tears course down his cheeks and his sighs are sobs. “And with this thought the blood forsakes the face—.” In prison, he wishes for emancipation. He finds little relief.
“Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew
To banish the less, I find my chief relief.”
The end of the poem is steeped in grief, expressing the pain over the loss of his friends and the wonderful days he spent with his friends. The theme of the poem is very obvious. “Good friends and good times can be lost at any time. So appreciate them while you can.”
In so far as the images of the poem are concerned, Howard very beautifully and skillfully draws these images which describe the past and the days that brought Henry Howard a great deal of pleasure.
To sum up, we fully agree with the remarks of an author of History of English Literature, Hippolyte who writes that the poem expresses Howard’s enormous sense of loss over the passing of friends who died young. Howard would soon join them. “Surrey records his griefs, regretting his beloved Wyatt, his friend Clere, and his companion in the young Duke of Richmond, all died in their prime. Alone, a prisoner at Windsor, he recalls happy days they have passed together.” (Words: 611)