The Poet Whose Badness Saved His Life
The most important poet in the seventeenth century was George
Wither. Alexander Pope called him "wretched Wither" and Dryden said of his
verse that "if they rhymed and rattled all was well".
In our own time, "The Dictionary of National Biography" notes that his
work "is mainly remarkable for its mass, fluidity and flatness. It usually
lacks any genuine literary quality and often sinks into imbecile doggerel".
High praise, indeed, and it may tempt you to savour a typically
rewarding stanza: It is taken from "I loved a lass" and is concerned with
the higher emotions.
She would me "Honey" call,
She'd -- O she'd kiss me too.
But now alas! She's left me
Falero, lero, loo.
Among other details of his mistress which he chose to immortalize
was her prudent choice of footwear.
The fives did fit her shoe.
In 1639 the great poet's life was endangered after his capture by
the Royalists during the English Civil War. When Sir John Denham, the
Royalist poet, heard of Wither's imminent execution, he went to the King and
begged that his life be spared. When asked his reason, Sir John replied,
"Because that so long as Wither lived, Denham would not be accounted the
worst poet in England."
- -- Stephen Pile, "The Book of Heroic Failures"