HENRY HOWARD AS A SONNETEER OR HENRY HOWARD’S CONTRIBUTION TO ENGLISH POETRY
Wyatt and Surrey were the “Pioneers and Fathers of Modern English poetry.” Under Henry viii, these two were inspired by “Humanism” which brought a great revolution in poetry. The poetry of their age was also marked with the influence of Italian Renaissance. Both these court poets took the charge of rebuilding poetry on new lines and it was in Italy that they found both models and stimulus. However, their efforts of bringing new changes in poetry ceased because of their premature demises. Surrey as a poet brought great changes in English poetry. In collaboration with each other, he also followed Petrarch as a model for his poetry. However, his great achievement as a poet in English literature is his modification of sonnet which was produced by Wyatt. He started writing the sonnets from where Wyatt had left because of his premature death. Let’s discuss Surrey as a writer of sonnets and his contribution to the development of Sonnet in England.
First major quality of Surrey was that he, like Wyatt was also follower of Petrarchan verse style. He, like Wyatt also translated some of his sonnets. However, when the critics have minute observation of these sonnets, they find that Surrey’s technique in all these translated sonnets is awkward. Actually, they have no relation with the real thought patterns of a sonnet. All the poems are related to love in which he is trying to make experiments with the verse technique. However, one thing is worth mentioning and that is he displays his skill and satisfactory and polished interplay of form and subject matter in later poems which have no concern with sexual display of love at all.
Second major quality of Wyatt as a sonneteer is that Surrey, like Wyatt was deeply influenced by Wyatt’s experiments on sonnet. He took the charge and tried his level best to modify sonnet form left incomplete by Wyatt. To do so, he uses language which is more modern than Wyatt’s. He avoids using obscure and ambiguous language to give clear expression of his thoughts. In this way, he created more effective poetry in technical sense than those of Wyatt. He was much better than Wyatt in the field of rhyme scheme because his rhyme was more “Smooth” and “Easier” than Wyatt. He modified it and made it a three quatrain poem having rhyme scheme which was later followed by Shakespeare in his poems and has been going on since then. It is a great achievement for a poet like Surrey to be a role model for a poet and genius like Shakespeare who is one of the greatest poets that English literature has ever produced.
Third major quality of Surrey as a sonneteer is that he completely ignored the “Lady Love” as a theme of his poetry and was concerned with his personal thoughts. In this way, we can say that he gave personal touches to his poetry. However, in his sonnets he presented before us his entirely imaginative love for Geraldine, or Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald. His special note is about “Love for Nature”, and with happy effect he mingled descriptions of nature with his love paints. He also began using his personal experiences in public life. As a critic remarks: “Public life with its daily contacts between man and man in political, military and literary activity was Surrey’s true field.” He applied satire, apt enology and aphorism. “Assyrian King”, is the best poem which may be included in the group belonging to this category. In this poem, he attacks Henry viii.
Fourth major quality of Surrey as a sonneteer is that he found flexibility in English and proved with his genius that English could also be used as a medium to compose master-pieces in courtly love poetry. As a critic remarks: “He was the first to give the sonnet its purely English form.” We can say that in doing so, he completed the task initiated by Wyatt. Lever has summed up the poetic achievements in the following words: “Surrey had learned to develop a medium whose chief merits were simplicity, elegance, concision, and all-pervading lucidity.”
Fifth major quality of Surrey as a sonneteer is his ‘use of Petrarchan conceits’ in his sonnets. He uses “Conceit of antithesis”, a figure of speech having strong contrasting words, ideas, clauses and sentences and satirical allusions. The sonnet “Alas, So All Thins Now Do Hold Their Price” is one of the best examples of “Conceits of Antithesis” in poetry. In so far as satirical allusions are concerned, his sonnet “Sardanapalus” contains satirical allusion to a contemporary personage. However, regardless of all the other aspects, this poem is a master-piece for its absolute value; its dignified swing and its structural force.
“Thassyrian king in peace, with foule desire,
And filthy lustes, that staynd his regall hart,
Sixth major quality of Surrey is his ‘use of natural imagery.’ It contains sprightliness in it as compared to Wyatt. In a poem, “The Long Love That in My Thought Doth Harbour”, he fully exploits the image of love as a chivalric “Lord”, who has captured the poet’s hear like a fort, is “Clad in arms”, and shows cowardice in fleeing from the beloved. In another poem, “Complaint of a Lover Rebuked”, imagery has been carried out convincingly by Surrey. Love is personified as a knight defeated in war and the lover is given the role of his assistant, a loyal slave determined to share the fate of his lord.
Seventh major quality of Surrey as a sonneteer is that we have observed that Surrey used the sonnet form also as a vehicle for elegy and for satire. The mode which voices nostalgia and alienation was particularly suited to an aristocrat. Furthermore, the elegy requires those very qualities-concision, restraint, ellipsis-that were best suited to Surrey’s abilities. That’s why, Surrey is often admired for his ability of using elegies.
In so far as his diction is concerned, it is natural just like Wyatt uses it. He generally explores the words through syntactical relationships. He used this device from a deep concern with the locational relationship of words to their grammatical agents.
No doubt, there is one area where we find him less energetic and inactive as compared to Wyatt and that area is the lack of originality of Wyatt’s creative touches. He is more polish than Wyatt and more successful in fitting the accent to the normal accent of the word in spoken language.
To sum up the discussion, we can say without any hesitation and fear of contradiction that Surrey was an accomplished versifier whose interest in cultural movements of his time, aristocratic idealism of mind, quickness of wit and his technical curiosity about his craft enabled him to write poetry of grace and eloquence and to write a poetry of grace and eloquence in the first half of the sixteenth century was a great historic achievement and one which had great influence on the subsequent course of English poetry. (Words: 1161)