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¶ Certayne notes of Instruction

concerning the making of verse or
ryme in English, written at the request
of Master Edouardo Donati.

SIgnor Edouardo, since promise is debt, and you (by the lawe of friendship) do burden me with a promise that I shoulde lende you instructions towards the making of English verse or ryme, I will assaye to discharge the same, though not so perfectly as I would, yet as readily as I may: and therwithall I pray you consider that Quot homines, tot Sententiæ, especially in Poetrie, wherein (neverthelesse) I dare not challenge any degree, and yet will I at your request adventure to set downe my simple skill in such simple manner as I have used, referring the same hereafter to the correction of the Laureate. And you shall have it in these few poynts followyng.

THe first and most necessarie poynt that ever I founde meete to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine invention. For it is not inough to roll in pleasant woordes, nor yet to thunder in Rym, Ram, Ruff, by letter (quoth my master Chaucer) nor yet to abounde in apt vocables, or epythetes, unlesse the Invention have in it also aliquid salis. By this aliquid salis, I meane some good and fine devise, strewing the quicke capacitie of a writer: and where I say some good and fine invention, I meane that I would have it both fine and good. For many inventions are so superfine, that they are Vix good. And againe many Inventions are good, and yet not finely handled. And for a general forwarning: what Theame soever you do take in hande, if you do handle it but tanquam in oratione perpetua, and never studie for some depth of devise in ye Invention, & some figures also in the handlyng thereof: it will appeare to the skilfull Reader but a tale of a tubbe. To deliver unto you generall examples it were almoste unpossible, sithence the occasions of Inventions are (as it were) infinite: neverthelesse take in worth mine opinion, and perceyve my furder meanyng in these few poynts. If I should undertake to wryte in prayse



of a gentlewoman, I would neither praise hir christal eye, nor hir cherrie lippe, &c. For these things are trita & obvia. But I would either finde some supernaturall cause wherby my penne might walke in the superlative degree, or els I would undertake to aunswere for any imperfection that shee hash, and thereupon rayse the prayse of hir commendacion. Likewise if I should disclose my pretence in love, I would eyther make a straunge discourse of some intollerable passion, or finde occasion to pleade by the example of some historie, or discover my disquiet in shadowes per Allegoriam, or use the covertest meane that I could to avoyde the uncomely customes of common writers. Thus much I adventure to deliver unto you (my freend) upon the rule of Invention, which of all other rules is most to be marked, and hardest to be prescribed in certayne and infallible rules, neverthelesse to conclude therein, I would have you stand most upon the excellencie of your Invention, & sticke not to studie deepely for some fine devise. For that beyng founde, pleasant woordes will follow well inough and fast mough.

2   Your Invention being once devised, take heede that neither pleasure of rime, nor varietie of devise, do carie you from it: for as to use obscure & darke phrases in a pleasant Sonet, is nothing delectable, so to entermingle merie jests in a serious matter is an Indecorum.

3   I will next advise you that you hold the just measure wherwith you begin your verse, I will not denie but this may seeme a preposterous ordre: but bycause I covet rather to satisfie you particularly, than to undertake a generall tradition, I wil not somuch stand upon the manner as the matter of my precepts. I say then, remember to holde the same measure wherwith you begin, whether it be in a verse of sixe syllables, eight, ten, twelve, &c. and though this precept might seeme ridiculous unto you, since every yong scholler can conceive that he ought to continue in tine same measure wherwith he beginneth, yet do I see and read many mens Poems now adayes, whiche beginning with the measure of xii. in the first line, & xiiii. in the second (which is the common kinde of verse) they wil yet (by that time they have passed over a few verses) fal into xiiii. & fourtene, & sic de similibus, the which is either forgetfulnes or carelesnes.


4   And in your verses remembre to place every worde in his natural Emphasis or sound, that is to say in such wise, and with such length or shortnesse, elevation or depression of sillables, as it is conmonly pronounced or used: to expresse the same we have three maner of accents, gravis, le[v]is, & circumflexa, the whiche I would english thus, the long accent, the short accent, & that whiche is indifferent: the grave accent is marked
by this caracte, / the light accent is noted thus, \ & the circuflexe or indifferent is thus signified ~: the grave accent is drawen out or elevate, and maketh that sillable long wherupon it is placed: the light accent is depressed or snatched up, and maketh that sillable short upon the which it lighteth: the circumflexe accent is indifferent, sometimes short, sometimes long, sometimes depressed & sometimes elevate. For example of th' emphasis or natural sound of words, this word Treasure hath the grave accent upon the first sillable, whereas if it shoulde be written in this sorte, Treasúre, nowe were the second sillable long, & that were cleane contrarie to the comon use wherwith it is pronounced. For furder explanation hereof, note you that commonly now a dayes in english rimes (for I dare not cal them English verses) we use none other order but a foote of two sillables, wherof the first is depressed or made short, & the second is elevate or made long: and that sound or scanning continueth throughout the verse. We have used in times past other kindes of Meeters: as for example this following:

No wight in this world, that wealth can attayne,





















Also our father Chaucer hath used the same libertie in feete and measures that the Latinists do use: and who so ever do peruse and well consider his workes, he shall finde that although his lines are not alwayes of one selfe same number of Syllables, yet beyng redde by one that hath understanding, the longest verse and that wlnich hath most Syllables in it, will fall (to the eare) correspondent unto that whiche hath fewest sillables in it: and like wise that whiche hath in it fewest syllables, shalbe

GG 2


founde yet to consist of woordes that have suche naturall sounde, as may seeme equall in length to a verse which hath many moe sillables of lighter accentes. And surely I can lament that wee are fallen into suche a playne and simple manner of wryting, that there is none other foote used but one: wherby our Poemes may justly be called Rithmes, and cannot by any right challenge the name of a Verse. But since it is so, let us take the forde as we finde it, and lette me set downe unto you suche rules or precepts that even in this playne foote of two syllables you wreste no woorde from his natural and usuall sounde, I do not meane hereby that you may use none other wordes but of twoo sillables, for therein you may use discretion according to occasion of matter: but my meaning is, that all the wordes in your verse be so placed as the first sillable may sound short or be depressed, the second long or elevate, the third shorte, the fourth long, the fifth shorte, &c. For example of my meaning in this point marke these two verses:

I understand your meanyng by your eye.





















In these two verses there seemeth no difference at all, since the one hath the very selfe same woordes that the other hath, and yet the latter verse is neyther true nor pleasant, & the first verse may passe the musters. The fault of the latter verse is that this worde understand is therein so placed as the grave accent falleth upon der, and therby maketh der, in this worde understand to be elevated: which is contrarie to the naturall or usual pronunciation: for we say understand, and not understand.

5   Here by the way I thinke it not amisse to forewarne you that you thrust as few wordes of many sillables into your verse as may be: and hereunto I might alledge many reasons: first the most auncient English wordes are of one sillable, so that the more monasyllables that you use, the truer Englishman you shall seeme, and the lesse you shall smell of the Inkehorne.


Also wordes of many syllables do cloye a verse and make it unpleasant, whereas woordes of one syllable will more easily fall to be shorte or long as occasion requireth, or wilbe adapted to become circumflexe or of an indifferent sounde.

6   I would exhorte you also to beware of rime without reason: my meaning is hereby that your rime leade you not from your firste Invention, for many wryters when they have layed the platforme of their invention, are yet drawen sometimes (by ryme) to forget it or at least to alter it, as when tlney cannot readily finde out a worde whiche maye rime to the first (and yet continue their determinate Invention) they do then eyther botche it up with a worde that will ryme (howe small reason soever it carie with it) or els they alter their first worde and so percase decline or trouble their former Invention: But do you alwayes hold your first determined Invention, and do rather searche the bottome of your braynes for apte wordes, than chaunge good reason for rumbling rime.

7   To help you a little with ryme (which is also a plaine yong schollers lesson) worke thus, when you have set downe your first verse, take the last worde thereof and coumpt over all the wordes of the selfe same sounde by order of the Alphabete: As for example, the laste woorde of your firste line is care, to ryme therwith you have bare, clare, dare, fare, gare, hare, and share, mare, snare, rare, stare, & ware, &c. Of all these take that which best may serve your purpose, carying reason with rime: and if none of them will serve so, then alter the laste worde of your former verse, but yet do not willingly alter the meanyng of your invention.

8   You may use the same Figures or Tropes in verse which are used in prose, and in my judgement they serve more aptly, and have greater grace in verse than they have in prose: but yet therein remembre this old adage, Ne quid nimis, as many wryters which do not know the use of any other figure than that whiche is expressed in repeticion of sundrie wordes beginning all with one letter, the whiche (beyng modestly used) lendeth good grace to a verse: but they do so hunte a letter to death, that they make it Crambé, and Crambe his positum mors est: therfore Ne quid nimis.

9   Also asmuche as may be, eschew straunge words, or obsoleta & inusitata, unlesse the Theame do give just occasion:


marie in some places a straunge worde doth drawe attentive reading, but yet I woulde have you therein to use discretion.

10   And asmuch as you may, frame your stile to perspicuity and to be sensible: for the haughty obscure verse doth not much delight, and the verse that is to easie is like a tale of a rosted horse: but let your Poeme be such as may both delight and draw attentive readyng, and therewithal may deliver such matter as be worth the marking.

11   You shall do very well to use your verse after thenglishe phrase, and not after the maner of other languages: The Latinists do commonly set the adjective after the Substantive: As for example Femina pulchra, ædes altæ, &c. but if we should say in English a woman fayre, a house high, &c. it would have but small grace: for we say a good man, and not a man good, &c. And yet I will not altogether forbidde it you, for in some places, it may be borne, but not so hardly as some use it which wryte thus:

Now let us go to Temple ours,
I will go visit mother myne &c.

Surely I smile at the simplicitie of such devisers which might aswell have sayde it in playne Englishe phrase, and yet have better pleased all eares, than they satisfie their owne fancies by suche superfinesse. Therefore even as I have advised you to place all wordes in their naturall or most common and usuall pronunciation, so would I wishe you to frame all sentences in their mother phrase and proper Idióma, and yet sometimes (as I have sayd before) the contrarie may be borne, but that is rather where rime enforceth, or per licentiam Poëticam, than it is otherwise lawfull or commendable.

12   This poeticall licence is a shrewde fellow, and covereth many faults in a verse, it maketh wordes longer, shorter, of mo sillables, of fewer, newer, older, truer, falser, and to conclude it turkeneth all things at pleasure, for example, ydone for done, adowne for downe, orecome for overcome, tane for taken, power for powre, heaven for heavn, thewes for good partes or good qualities, and a numbre of other whiche were but tedious and needelesse to rehearse, since your owne judgement and readyng will soone make you espie such advauntages.

13   There are also certayne pauses or restes in a verse


whiche may be called Ceasures, whereof I woulde be lothe to stande long, since it is at discretion of the wryter, and they have bene first devised (as should seeme) by the Musicians: but yet thus much I will adventure to wryte, that in mine opinion in a verse of eight sillables, the pause will stand best in the middest, in a verse of tenne it will best be placed at the ende of the first foure sillables: in a verse of twelve, in the midst, in verses of twelve, in the firste and fouretene in the seconde, wee place the pause commonly in the midst of the first, and at the ende of the first eight sillables in the second. In Rithme royall, it is at the wryters discretion, and forceth not where the pause be untill the ende of the line.

14   And here bycause I have named Rithme royall, I will tell you also mine opinion aswell of that as of the names which other rymes have commonly borne heretofore. Rythme royall is a verse of tenne sillables, and seven such verses make a staffe, whereof the first and thirde lines do aunswer (acrosse) in like terminations and rime, the second, fourth, and fifth, do likewise answere eche other in terminations, and the two last do combine and shut up the Sentence: this hath bene called Rithme royall, & surely it is a royall kinde of verse, serving best for grave discourses. There is also another kinde called Ballade, and thereof are sundrie sortes: for a man may write ballade in a staffe of sixe lines, every line conteyning eighte or sixe sillables, whereof the firste and third, second and fourth do rime acrosse, and the fifth and sixth do rime togither in conclusion. You may write also your ballad of tenne sillables rimyng as before is declared, but these two were wont to be most commonly used in ballade, which propre name was (I thinke) derived of this worde in Italian Ballare, whiche signifieth to daunce. And in deed those kinds of rimes serve beste for daunces or light matters. Then have you also a rondlette, the which doth alwayes end with one self same foote or repeticion, and was thereof (in my judgement) called a rondelet. This may consist of such measure as best liketh the wryter, then have you Sonnets, some thinke that all Poemes (being short) may be called Sonets, as in deede it is a diminutive worde derived of Sonare, but yet I can beste allowe to call those Sonets whiche are of fouretene lynes, every line conteyning tenne syllables. The firste twelve do ryme in staves of foure lines by


crosse meetre, and the last twoo ryming togither do conclude the whole. There are Dyzaynes, & Syxaines which are of ten lines, and of sixe lines, commonly used by the French, which some English writers do also terme by the name of Sonettes. Then is there an old kinde of Rithme called Verlayes, derived (as I have redde) of this worde Verd whiche betokeneth Greene, and Laye which betokeneth a Song, as if you would say greene Songes: but I muste tell you by the way, that I never redde any verse which I saw by aucthoritie called Verlay, but one, and that was a long discourse in verses of tenne sillables, whereof the foure first did ryme acrosse, and the fifth did aunswere to the firste and thirde, breaking off there, and so going on to another termination. Of this I could shewe example of imitation in mine own verses written to ye right honorable ye Lord Grey of Wilton upon my journey into Holland, &c. There are also certaine Poemes devised of tenne syllables, whereof the first aunswereth in termination with the fourth, and the second and thirde answere eche other: these are more used by other nations than by us, neyther can I tell readily what name to give them. And the commonest sort of verse which we use now adayes (viz. the long verse of twelve and fourtene sillables) I know not certainly howe to name it, unlesse I should say that it doth consist of Poulters measure, which giveth xii. for one dozen and xiiii. for another. But let this suffise (if it be not to much) for the sundrie sortes of verses which we use now adayes.

15   In all these sortes of verses when soever you undertake to write, avoyde prolixitie and tediousnesse, & ever as neare as you can, do finish the sentence and meaning at the end of every staffe where you wright staves, & at the end of every two lines where you write by cooples or poulters measure: for I see many writers which draw their sentences in length, & make an ende at latter Lammas: for commonly before they end, the Reader hath forgotten where he begon. But do you (if you wil follow my advise) eschue prolixitie and knit up your sentences as compendiously as you may, since brevitie (so that it be not drowned in obscuritie) is most commendable.

16   I had forgotten a notable kinde of ryme, called ryding rime, and that is suche as our Mayster and Father Chaucer used in his Canterburie tales, and in divers other delectable


and light enterprises: but though it come to my remembrance somewhat out of order, it shall not yet come altogether out of time, for I will nowe tell you a conceipt whiche I had before forgotten to wryte: you may see (by the way) that I horde a preposterous order in my traditions, but as I sayde before I wryte moved by good wil, and not to shewe my skill. Then to returne too my matter, as this riding rime serveth most aptly to wryte a merie tale, so Rythme royall is fittest for a grave discourse. Ballades are beste of matters of love, and rondlettes moste apt for the beating or handlylng of an adage or common proverbe: Sonets serve as well in matters of love as of discourse: Dizaymes and Sixames for shorte Fantazies: Verlayes for an effectuall proposition, although by the name you might otherwise judge of Verlayes, and the long verse of twelve and fouretene sillables, although it be now adayes used in all Theames, yet in my judgement it would serve best for Psalmes and Himpnes.

I woulde stande longer in these traditions, were it not that I doubt mine owne ignoraunce, but as I sayde before, I know that I write to my freende, and affying my selfe thereupon, I make an ende.