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Short poem

Isabella Whitney (ca. 1540-after 1580)

The Admonition by the Author to all Young Gentlewomen: And to all other Maids being in Love

              1Ye Virgins, ye from Cupid's tents
              2        do bear away the foil,
              3Whose hearts as yet with raging love
              4        most painfully do boil.

              5To you I speak: for you be they
              6        that good advice do lack:
              7Oh, if I could good counsell get,
              8        my tongue should not be slack.

              9But such as I can give, I will
            10        here in few words express,
            11Which, if you do observe, it will
            12        some of your care redress.

            13Beware of fair and painted talk,
            14        beware of flattering tongues:
            15The Mermaids do pretend no good
            16        for all their pleasant songs.

            17Some use the tears of crocodiles,
            18        contrary to their heart:
            19And if they cannot always weep,
            20        they wet their cheeks by art.

            21Ovid, within his Art of Love,
            22        doth teach them this same knack
            23To wet their hand and touch their eyes,
            24        so oft as tears they lack.

            25Why have ye such deceit in store?
            26        have you such crafty wile?
            27Less craft than this, God knows, would soon
            28        us simple souls beguile.

            29And will ye not leave off? but still
            30        delude us in this wise?
            31Sith it is so, we trust we shall
            32        take heed to fained lies.

            33Trust not a man at the first sight
            34        but try him well before:
            35I wish all maids within their breasts
            36        to keep this thing in store.

            37For trial shall declare his truth
            38        and show what he doth think,
            39Whether he be a lover true,
            40        or do intend to shrink.

            41If Scilla had not trust too much
            42        before that she did try,
            43She could not have been clean forsake
            44        when she for help did cry.

            45Or if she had had good advice,
            46        Nisus had lived long:
            47How durst she trust a stranger and
            48        do her dear father wrong.

            49King Nisus had a hair by fate,
            50        which hair, while he did kepe,
            51He never should be overcome,
            52        neither on land nor deep.

            53The stranger that the daughter lou'd
            54        did war against the King
            55And always sought how that he might
            56        them in subjection bring.

            57This Scylla stole away the hair,
            58        for to obtain her will,
            59And gave it to the stranger that
            60        did straight her father kill.

            61Then she, who thought her self most sure
            62        to have her whole desire,
            63Was clean reject and left behind
            64        when he did home retire.

            65Or if such falsehood had been once
            66        unto Oenone known,
            67About the fields of Ida wood,
            68        Paris had walkt alone.

            69Or if Demophoon's deceit
            70        to Phillis had been told,
            71She had not been transformed so,
            72        as Poets tell of old.

            73Hero did try Leander's truth
            74        before that she did trust:
            75Therefore she found him unto her
            76        both constant, true, and just.

            77For he always did swim the sea
            78        when stars in sky did glide
            79Till he was drowned by the way
            80        near hand unto the side.

            81She scrat her face, she tare her hair
            82        (it grieveth me to tell)
            83When she did know the end of him
            84        that she did love so well.

            85But like Leander there be few,
            86        therefore in time take heed
            87And always try before ye trust,
            88        so shall you better speed.

            89The little fish that careless is
            90        within the water clear,
            91How glad is he, when he doth see,
            92        a bait for to appear.

            93He thinks his hap right good to be,
            94        that he the same could spy,
            95And so the simple fool doth trust
            96        too much before he try.

            97O little fish, what hap hadst thou?
            98        to have such spiteful fate,
            99To come into one's cruel hands
          100        out of so happy state?

          101Thou didst suspect no harm when thou
          102        upon the bait didst look:
          103O that thou hadst had Linceus' eyes
          104        for to have seen the hook.

          105Then hadst thou with thy pretty mates
          106        been playing in the streams
          107Whereas sir Phoebus daily doth
          108        shew forth his golden beams.

          109But sith thy fortune is so ill
          110        to end thy life on shore,
          111Of this thy most unhappy end
          112        I mind to speak no more.

          113But of thy fellow's chance that late
          114        such pretty shift did make,
          115That he from fishers' hook did sprit
          116        before he could him take,

          117And now he pries on euery bait,
          118        suspecting still that prick
          119(for to lie hid in every thing)
          120        wherewith the fishers strick,

          121And since the fish that reason lacks
          122        once warnèd doth beware,
          123Why should not we take heed to that
          124        that turneth us to care?

          125And I who was deceived late
          126        by one's unfaithful tears
          127Trust now for to beware, if that
          128        I live this hundreth years.



1] Cupid: Roman god of love, and son of Venus, whose bow and arrows make for the sharp pains of love. tents: probes that keep wounds open.

2] foil: small-sword, fencing weapon (OED "foil" 5).

7] get: produce.

13] painted: flattering.

21] Publius Ovidius Naso (43 B.C.-A.D. 18), Roman poet. "Tears too are useful; with tears you can move iron; let her see, if possible, your moistened cheeks. If tears fail (for they do not always come at need), touch your eyes with a wet hand." See Ovid, The Art of Love, and Other Poems, trans. J. H. Mozley, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heineman, 1969): 59 [I.659-662].

40] shrink: leave off.

41] Scilla: daughter of Nisus, king of Megara, whose purple locks safeguarded his kingdom against defeat. Falling in love with Minos, who was invading her father's lands, she cut off his magic hair and offered it to Minos. When he refused, in contempt, she leapt into the sea to follow his ships and, after her father was changed into a sea-eagle, she became a ciris bird. See Ovid's Metamorphoses, VIII.

64] home: "whom" in the original text.

66] Oenone: a Greek nymph who lived on Mount Ida and fell in love and lived with Paris, Priam's son. Rejected by him for Helen, she in the end denied him knowledge of how to heal himself from a mortal wound. After he died, she committed suicide.

69] Demophoon: the son of Theseus and the lover of Phyllis, daughter of the king of Thrace, Sithon. When Demophoon went away for a long time, she committed suicide and was transformed into a tree. See Ovid's Heroides, II.

73] Hero did try Leander: Hero of Sestos, loved by Leander of Abydos, who would swim nightly across the Hellespont to her. When he drowned, she committed suicide, joining him in the sea. See Ovid's Heroides, XIX.

103] Linceus: also known as Argus, a monster with a hundred eyes.

107] Phoebus: Apollo, the sun god.

Online text copyright © 2003, 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: Isabella Whitney, The Copy of a Letter, lately Written in Meeter, by a Yonge Gentilwoman to her Unconstant Lover (London: Richard Jones, 1567): a5v-a8v.
First publication date: 1567
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/9/3

Form: quatrains
Rhyme: abcb

Other poems by Isabella Whitney