The full title of George Gascoigne’s 1573 collection of courtly poetry is A Hundredth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partly (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention out of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe pleasaunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers.
Originally published anonymously and presented as an anthology of courtly poems by different authors, the book was was republished—with some changes—two years later as The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire.
One poem, “And If I Did, What Then?” —another great title— is presented as a quarrel between Gascoigne and a lover who has been unfaithful. “So what? Why are you so upset?” she asks him in the first verse, telling him that it’s selfish to want to be the only man to fish in the sea of her affections. “All right,” he retorts. “I’ll just sit here and laugh as the other men’s fishing boats are shipwrecked on shore like mine.” The exchange is courtly and witty—and refreshingly modern in its language:
And If I Did, What Then?
“And if I did, what then?
Are you aggriev’d therefore?
The sea hath fish for every man,
And what would you have more?”
Thus did my mistress once,
Amaze my mind with doubt;
And popp’d a question for the nonce
To beat my brains about.
Whereto I thus replied:
“Each fisherman can wish
That all the seas at every tide
Were his alone to fish.
“And so did I (in vain)
But since it may not be,
Let such fish there as find the gain,
And leave the loss for me.
“And with such luck and loss
I will content myself,
Till tides of turning time may toss
Such fishers on the shelf.
“And when they stick on sands,
That every man may see,
Then will I laugh and clap my hands,
As they do now at me.”
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