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Poem of the week: Gulling Sonnet VI by Sir John Davies

Subtlety of expression and mischievous humour are the twin hallmarks of Davies' ironic evocation of a wardrobe for Cupid

This week, in the sixth of a series of what he termed Gulling Sonnets, an eminent Elizabethan poet-lawyer lays out an allegorical wardrobe for Cupid. Sir John Davies dedicated the playful series "to his good friend Anthony Cooke", expressing his hope that "some rich, rash gull" would admire the poems and set himself up for further pleasurable mockery. The probable date of composition was 1594, the same year in which Davies embarked on a far more ambitious work, Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing. He may have written the sonnet series as light relief an in-joke between young-men-about-the-Middle-Temple but it shares something of the imaginative vigour and lucidity of the longer poem.

The Gulling Sonnets have a variety of rhyme schemes. The sixth is particularly tightly woven for an English sonnet, rhyming ABAB ABAB CDC DCC. "Slight" in line 11 becomes "fleet" in some versions, promoting a fuller C-rhyme. "Garters of vain-glory, gay and fleet" is certainly convincing: the fleetness implies that the garters, though flashy, are of poor quality, as evanescent as the glory of the world and also, perhaps, quickly slipped off when the occasion arises. But "slight" is favoured by the authoritative 1973 edition of Davies's poems, edited by Robert Krueger, and seems the safer bet.

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