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Short poem

William Browne (ca. 1590-by 1645)

Britannia's Pastorals


      1.643     Now as an angler melancholy standing
      1.644Upon a green bank yielding room for landing,
      1.645A wriggling yellow worm thrust on his hook,
      1.646Now in the midst he throws, then in a nook:
      1.647Here pulls his line, there throws it in again,
      1.648Mendeth his cork and bait, but all in vain,
      1.649He long stands viewing of the curled stream;
      1.650At last a hungry pike, or well-grown bream
      1.651Snatch at the worm, and hasting fast away,
      1.652He knowing it a fish of stubborn sway,
      1.653Pulls up his rod, but soft, as having skill,
      1.654Wherewith the hook fast holds the fish's gill;
      1.655Then all his line he freely yieldeth him,
      1.656Whilst furiously all up and down doth swim
      1.657Th' insnared fish, here on the top doth scud,
      1.658There underneath the banks, then in the mud,
      1.659And with his frantic fits so scares the shoal,
      1.660That each one takes his hide, or starting hole:
      1.661By this the pike, clean wearied, underneath
      1.662A willow lies, and pants (if fishes breathe)
      1.663Wherewith the angler gently pulls him to him,
      1.664And lest his haste might happen to undo him,
      1.665Lays down his rod, then takes his line in hand,
      1.666And by degrees getting the fish to land,
      1.667Walks to another pool: at length is winner
      1.668Of such a dish as serves him for his dinner:
      1.669So when the climber half the way had got,
      1.670Musing he stood, and busily 'gan plot
      1.671How (since the mount did always steeper tend)
      1.672He might with steps secure his journey end.
      1.673At last (as wand'ring boys to gather nuts)
      1.674A hooked pole he from a hazel cuts;
      1.675Now throws it here, then there to take some hold,
      1.676But bootless and in vain, the rocky mould
      1.677Admits no cranny where his hazel hook
      1.678Might promise him a step, till in a nook
      1.679Somewhat above his reach he hath espied
      1.680A little oak, and having often tried
      1.681To catch a bough with standing on his toe,
      1.682Or leaping up, yet not prevailing so,
      1.683He rolls a stone towards the little tree,
      1.684Then gets upon it, fastens warily
      1.685His pole unto a bough, and at his drawing
      1.686The early-rising crow with clam'rous cawing,
      1.687Leaving the green bough, flies about the rock,
      1.688Whilst twenty twenty couples to him flock:
      1.689And now within his reach the thin leaves wave,
      1.690With one hand only then he holds his stave,
      1.691And with the other grasping first the leaves,
      1.692A pretty bough he in his fist receives;
      1.693Then to his girdle making fast the hook,
      1.694His other hand another bough hath took;
      1.695His first, a third, and that, another gives,
      1.696To bring him to the place where his root lives.
      1.697Then, as a nimble squirrel from the wood,
      1.698Ranging the hedges for his filberd-food,
      1.699Sits peartly on a bough his brown nuts cracking,
      1.700And from the shell the sweet white kernel taking,
      1.701Till with their crooks and bags a sort of boys,
      1.702To share with him, come with so great a noise,
      1.703That he is forc'd to leave a nut nigh broke,
      1.704And for his life leap to a neighbour oak,
      1.705Thence to a beech, thence to a row of ashes;
      1.706Whilst through the quagmires, and red water plashes,
      1.707The boys run dabbling thorough thick and thin;
      1.708One tears his hose, another breaks his shin,
      1.709This, torn and tatter'd, hath with much ado
      1.710Got by the briars; and that hath lost his shoe;
      1.711This drops his band; that headlong falls for haste;
      1.712Another cries behind for being last;
      1.713With sticks and stones, and many a sounding holloa,
      1.714The little fool, with no small sport, they follow,
      1.715Whilst he, from tree to tree, from spray to spray,
      1.716Gets to the wood, and hides him in his dray:
      1.717Such shift made Riot ere he could get up,
      1.718And so from bough to bough he won the top,
      1.719Though hindrances, for ever coming there,
      1.720Were often thrust upon him by Despair.


1.643] A narrative poem in three books in many ways reminiscent of Spenser. Book I was first published in 1613, Book II in 1616, and Book III not until 1852. The story of the shepherdess Marina is intended to give the poem unity, but, as in the Faerie Queene, there are many almost independent episodes. Before the present selection a monster, allegorically named Riot, has cruelly slain and devoured a shepherdess's pet deer, from whose mangled remains arises a beautiful maiden, Aletheia (Truth). Stricken with remorse, Riot undertakes to climb a steep mountain in order to reach the house of Metanoia (Repentance). This passage describes his painful ascent.

1.652] sway: power, strength.

1.660] starting-hole: the hole in which a hunted animal takes refuge.

1.696] the place where his root lives: the place where the little oak is rooted (the pronoun "its" was not then in general use).

1.699] peartly: briskly.

1.701] sort: band, company.

1.706] water plashes: puddles.

1.716] dray: nest.

1.720] Before climbing, Riot had been tempted to take an easier path, leading to the abode of Despair, who incites men to suicide.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Browne, Britannia's Pastorals (London: Thomas Snodham for George Norton, [1613?]-1616). stc Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: 1613
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.302; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/13

Form: couplets

Other poems by William Browne