The text is from a collection of poems in ‘The Phoenix Nest,’ which has been extracted from the book ‘The poem of Sir Walter Ralegh.’ The Early Modern English poem is fourteen lines long and is quintessentially a self-pitiful venture to remind the poet himself of his lifetime’s dashed reputation and respect as a result of his profound mistake. The poet, Sir Walter Raleigh, became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth the First after conveying, on a number of occasions, his abhorrence towards the Catholic Church but also due to his exceptional services to the state. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth had Walter thrown into prison after acknowledging his love affair with one of her Maids of Honour, Bessie Throckmorton. During this period of humility, Walter wrote the poem ‘Farewell to the Court’ in 1593, which is in essence an unforgettable embittered poem that insinuated the Court did not aid him is his dilemma, although he had unquestionably devoted his lifetime in working for the Court. On a less subtle basis, the poem is concerning the poet’s despair, his contemplation on the wrongs committed and his hopes for fortune to come sooner than later.
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Sir Walter Raleigh was born at Hayes Barton, which is near the village of East Budleigh, Devon, England. Language scholars claim that the poet retained his strong Devonshire accent, although he came into contact with numerous regional accents all over England, including the prominent accents of London. However, apparently the poet’s accent was not discriminated in London. Furthermore, before the fifteenth century, when English had been standardized thanks to the Black Death (where the economy experienced a significant drop in population-size) and to Caxton (who introduced printing in 1476), there were several regional standard varieties of English. However, by the fifteenth century, the London regional standard was recognised as the only standard in England due to urbanisation and excessive economic growth in London.
According to Smith (1999:128) ‘v’ and ‘u’ were used interchangeably in a word to represent both a vowel and a consonant. Therefore, ‘v’ was generally used in initial position, for example, ‘vnknowne’ (line 6) whereas ‘u’ was generally used in all other positions, for example, ‘truthles’ (line 1). However, there are evidences in the text that explicitly indicate inconsistencies in the orthography and the fact that the poet does not conform to the written spelling conventions. In the poem, ‘v’ is utilized in all positions of a word, for example, the non-initial position in the word ‘covrt’ (title) and the initial position in the word ‘vnknowne’ (line 6) whereas ‘u’ is utilized in all non-initial positions of a word, for example, the vowel occurs in the second syllable of ‘returne’ (line 2) and in the first syllable of ‘loue’ (line 3). Furthermore, according to Smith (1999:128), the final ‘-y’ (in present day English) was orthographically represented by ‘-ie,’ for example, ‘staie’ (line 12). However, there are obvious evidences in the text that similarly signify inconsistencies in the orthography and the fact that the poet does not implement the written conventions. In the poem, the final ‘-y’ is unsystematically transcribed in various ways, such as: ‘-ye’ (e.g. ‘ioyes’ (line 1)), ‘-y’ (e.g. ‘my’ (line 1) and ‘onely’ (line 4)), ‘-ie’ (e.g. ‘daies’ (line 2), ‘fancie’ (line 3), ‘staies’ (line 4) and ‘waies’ (line 6)) and ‘-ey’ (e.g. ‘countrey’ (line 9)). Nevertheless, the discrepancies in the orthography may have transpired as a result of several reasons, such as: variation in regional dialectal (which would explain why there are numerous forms representing the final ‘-y’), written errors made by the scribe (which would explain the form ‘-y’ being mostly represented by ‘-ie’), later modifications made by the editor in order to enable contemporary readers to comprehend the poem (which would explain why the word ‘expired’ (line 1) is not spelt in its Early Modern English original form ‘expir’d’) or, a more straightforward reason would be, the poet felt exercising his own hybrid written conventions were more appropriate (which would explain the use of both regional and standard forms to represent one morpheme/syllable) than implementing the standard spelling system, particularly for a personal poem. Hence, although London English had become the standard variety in England, the latter justification would suggest individual writers had the propensity not to exploit the standard orthography during this early period when Standard English was yet considered not authoritative enough to cause national change in the spelling system.
Smith (1999:130) alleges that, with respect to Early Modern English (EModE) pronunciation, although there were accentual variations in England, there was a fairly close correlation between a written letter and a spoken sound segment. However, there are evidences in the text that contradict this theory. For example, the vowels in the words ‘life’ (line 7) and ‘sweete’ (line 11) are orthographically realized as ‘i’ and ‘e,’ respectively. By contrast, the vowels are phonemically realized as /€‰/ and /i:/, respectively. These examples clearly prove that in Early Modern English there was no direct correlation between orthography and phonology, particularly in this poem if not generally in the 16th century. This notion is further reinforced by the fact that Middle English had undergone major transformations in the fifteenth century (Strang 1970:165-172), whereby the language experienced the Great Vowel Shift, the inclusion of new phonemes (such as: /-/ and /Ž/) and the obsoleteness of various phonemes (such as /˜/). Hence, due to the fact that the poem is not phonemically transcribed, one cannot distinguish whether or not the poet’s accent had any linguistic effect on the poem.
There is a significant number of words in the poem, approximately 25%, that are not Old English in origin but instead derive from various languages, such as: Germanic (e.g. ‘dream’), Old French (e.g. ‘joy’), Latin (e.g. ‘expire’), Greek (e.g. ‘fantasy’), French (e.g. ‘retrieve’) and Old Norse (e.g. ‘wail’). Although sixteenth century England experienced a dramatic increase in the number of loan words (more than any previous century) particularly from French, the percentage of non-Old English lexical items used in the poem is, nonetheless, extremely high. However, the use of what was classified as inkhorn terms (the pompous terminology of the over-learned) was probably used subconsciously if not intentionally by the poet in order to convey his retaliation towards the state, for unjustly imprisoning him in the Tower of London, by subtly advocating the encouragement of foreign influence. Conversely, the latter notion can be bypassed by the fact that a large number of words in the poem, approximately 75%, were Old English in origin. Furthermore, although the poet was not a purist (a writer who attempted to replace loans words with Old English poly-morpheme equivalents, for example, ‘unthroughfaresom’ was used by purists as a substitute to ‘impenetrable’), the poet uses the Old English word ‘loue’ (line 3) rather than the Neo-Latin alternative ‘druery.’ Nevertheless, one may argue that the Neo-Latin term was not exploited in the poem because, by the 16th century, it was considered somewhat archaic. Hence, linguists argue that the vocabulary generally exploited by writers were predominantly Old English, except in the rare occasions where purist (such as Edmund Spenser) attempted to use all Old English based words whereas neologisers (such as Sir Walter Raleigh, but only in a short period of time) attempted to use as many loan words as possible (Smith 1999:153-4 & Strang 1970:184).
With respect to syntax, according to Smith (1999:142) Early Modern English is very similar to present-day English because it follows the same word order pattern (subject-verb-object), for example, ‘the sorrow onely staies’ (line 4) – incidentally there is no object because the word ‘stay’ is an intransitive verb. Furthermore, the pronouns ‘whose/whom’ can be used as a relative pronoun by occurring in initial position, which was a distinct feature since late Middle English, for example, ‘whose sommer well nie don’ (line 11) and ‘whom care forewarnes’ (line 13). However, although SVO was the unmarked word order in the 16th century, there are instances in the poem where a clause may be missing a grammatical function (i.e. the subject), for example, the clause ‘to haste me hence’ (line 14) only consists of the non-finite verb followed by the object, which indicates development from Middle English to early 16th century. Nevertheless, the word order SVO is maintained and such peculiarity was typically found in poetry (due to stylistic reasons) rather than prose. With respect to morphology, the morphological system of Middle English has been largely preserved in Early Modern English (Smith 1999:134-141), such as: the plural marker ‘-s’ on nouns (e.g. ‘dreames’ (line 1), ‘ioyes’ (line 1), etc.) and the predicate agreeing with its subject both in person and number (e.g. there is number agreement in ‘Like truthles dreames, so are my ioyes expired’ (line 1)). However, the most idiosyncratic morphological feature in the 16th century is that an apostrophe is never used to indicate the genitive case, for example, in the phrase ‘my life in fortunes hand’ (line 7) there is no apostrophe after the last vowel in the word ‘fortunes,’ which would be present in present-day English. Nevertheless, apart from the excessive growth of compounding (e.g. ‘forewarnes’ (line 13)), the poem has more or less preserved the morphological and syntactic properties of Middle English.
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The poet repeatedly emphasizes the refrain ‘Of all which past, the sorow onely staies’ (line 4) in order to convey he is pessimistic and depressed by the fact that time passes by and the only thought that crosses his mind is the idea of eternal loneliness and sorrow. Furthermore, the poet does not in any way imply he apologizes for his mistake but instead insinuates he has been ‘misled.’ This implicit meaning may account for the use of the rhyming scheme ABAB, which differentiates the rhyming couplet A and B – in other words, the rhyming scheme is used as a metaphor to suggest that the poet and his lover, Bessie Throckmorton, are probably never meant to be together.
The poem ‘Farewell to the Court’ by Sir Walter Raleigh illustrates the fact that, by the sixteenth century (i.e. Early Modern English), the orthographic and phonological systems of Middle English underwent major transformations, so much so that the correlation that existed between the two linguistic features had deteriorated significantly. Furthermore, during this period where the London English regional variety was recognised as the only official standard in England, the standard was not authoritative enough to initiate national change among writers (including Sir Walter Raleigh), although Caxton introduced spelling norms with his mass printing. Conversely, as the language acknowledged one official standard (rather than several regional standards), the basic syntactic and morphological properties of Middle English (which are implemented the poem) were sustained throughout Early Modern English to present-day English. Hence, the language of the poem explicitly depicts the fact that Early Modern English was linguistically extremely similar but not homogenous to present-day English (orthographically, phonologically, morphologically and syntactically).
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