Greville's Buxton poem

This is, as far as I know, the only short Greville poem not contained within Geoffrey Bullough's Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville (1939). For a discussion of the manuscripts and commentary, see Matthew Steggle, "Greville's Buxton poem: a text and commentary", Sidney Journal 20 (2002): 55-68.

Update: In his recent, and magisterial, edition of The Complete Poems and Plays of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1552-1628), 2 vols (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2008), G. A. Wilkes prints this poem as an Appendix under the title "A tale I once did hear a trewe man tell". His commentary on it is independent of my work, but reaches many of the same broad conclusions about manuscripts, date, and contemporary reference. He also opens up several new lines of enquiry, especially on Greville's links to Matthew Arundel. Ultimately, though, Wilkes concludes that the poem is probably not by Greville, partly on the grounds of its lack of literary quality, and partly because there is little contemporary allusion to him as the author - although this seems somewhat harsh, given that by Wilkes's own reckoning there are two contemporary ascriptions to Greville, written in Greville's lifetime by people who knew him, and none to anyone else. I'm sure debate about this is likely to continue.

In passing, Wilkes makes one, brilliant, point which has forced a change in the modernized text offered below. This is line 37, which previous texts, including my own, had interpreted as "Safely she thus did from the siren lie", and struggled to make literal sense of - an allusion to sirens seemed appropriate, but the precise sense was elusive. As Wilkes points out, though, the word is "serein", a supposedly unhealthy fall of rain in the evening, an uncommon word used by Greville in this sense in the draft of Mustapha. I love this discovery, because this line suddenly jumps into focus as a sarcastic, bathetic joke in line with the tone of the rest of the poem: "At least she was protected from the rain (because there was a man lying on top of her)".

The text of the poem follows.

A Tale put in verse by Mr. Greville
The parties that were authors of the true report were [the] Master of the Rolls that now is and his Lady to Sir M.A.

A tale I once did hear a true man tell,
So true as in his thoughts he knew no shame,
That, whilst he sought his health at Buxton's well
(A well that for the virtue carries fame)
In evening's walk he saw amid the fields
This pleasant fruit among the rest it yields:

A woman laid flat backward on the ground,
An[d], womanlike, her face bent to the skies
(Her thoughts as high or higher must be bound,
For all light things by nature upward rise ) 10
With arms abroad, as careless what befell,
So it were new, for change doth please them well.

Not long she thus in wandering muses lay,
Musing how Heaven moves and wears out time,
How one day comes while others pass away,
And how they Age begot that lived in prime,
What nothing is, on what the Earth is bound,
With such conceits as are in women found,

But that a man that saw this female creature
Lie there amazed with waking dream possessed, 20
Free of those minds that love the Heaven's feature
And for that love neglect the body's rest,
Lies him along between her and the skies
That upward she sees nothing but his eyes.

As new awake, yet in her fancy strong,
She upward moves as though she fain would fly
From this base earth to live the stars among.
But that his downward working doth deny.
And when she can of neither side escape,
She clips him fast and would have this a rape. 30

A rape, because she never gave consent,
Unless you make consent in lying still,
But not so still but he might feel she meant
To have him end the sooner by her will,
Lest lookers on, of whom she stood in awe,
Should find them there, and force them to the law.

Safely she thus did from the serein lie,
And lay like those that force not off their load,
Whenas these friends of mine came passing by,
Delighted with the air they found abroad 40
Till at this sight they both did take offence,
And without bidding straight departed thence.

His wife, whose mind hath ever hated ill,
And by this chance thus saw the shame of both,
Studies to sharp and move her husband's will,
Because to punish there she saw him loth,
That that their fault might be reproved
As for the world's example it behoved.

My friend commands these couple to appear,
Whom he so coupled found in unfit place, 50
And asked him by what law he used her there,
Who straightway pleaded marriage in the case.
But marriage, men know, hath time and leisure
In night and chamber locked to take their pleasure.

He therefore wills him to confess a truth,
For secretness doth show a love of ill,
And Evil hath no better bond of youth
Than by her shame which makes us keep her still,
For Shame is hers, and whoso likes to leave her,
Confession shows her naked and doth bereave her. 60

The poor man asketh mercy, and confesseth
The sum of all as you have heard it told,
And to the woman he his speech addresseth,
Swearing her humble lying made him bold;
He never saw nor knew her till that day,
And would have been full glad she had said nay.

The woman, loth to speak as women be,
And, when they speak, too gentle to say nay,
For this time swore she knew no man but he,
And him because he would not go his way, 70
And would have cried for help when we were there,
But that she was afraid lest we should hear.

Thus modesty, wherewith their sex abounds,
Persuaded much to make her fault the less.
And upon him the greater pain redounds,
Because he triumphs on her humbleness.
She could no lower go, than to the ground,
And at the lowest on her he was found.

Thus both sides heard the fault was not denied.
They both confessed the act of generation. 80
And by their answers plainly it was tried
They had no law to warrant copulation,
But such as Nature leaveth to the beasts,
Whose law and life in sense delighting rests.

Thus marriage was disclaimed on every side.
The fact appears as lawless as the place.
Yet to the law of beasts my friends them tied,
To have, think, know no thought of greater grace,
Than that their brutish lust they do obey
And love or leave as lust do wear away. 90