I. W. To her Unconstant Lover

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): a2r-a5v.
2        yet now the truth I hear,
3Which you (ere now) might me have told --
4        what need you nay to swear?
5You know I always wisht you well,
6        so will I during life:
8        God send you a good wife.
9And this (where so you shall become)
10        full boldly may you boast:
11That once you had as true a love,
12        as dwelt in any coast.
15And yet it is not so far past
16        but might again be won.
17If you so would, yea, and not change
18        so long as life would last,
19But if that needs you marry must?
20        then farewell -- hope is past.
21And if you cannot be content
22        to lead a single life?
23(Although the same right quiet be)
24        then take me to your wife.
25So shall the promises be kept
26        that you so firmly made:
27Now choose whether ye will be true,
29Whose trade if that you long shall use,
30        it shall your kindred stain:
31Example take by many a one
32        whose falsehood now is plain.
35Causing the Queen by his untruth
36        with sword her heart to cleave.
38        his faithful love forsake,
39Stealing away within the night,
40        before she did awake.
42        two ladies did begile.
43I muse how he durst shew his face,
44        to them that knew his wile.
45For when he by Medea's art
46        had got the Fleece of Gold
47And also had of her that time,
49He took his ship and fled away
50        regarding not the vows
51That he did make so faithfully
52        unto his loving spouse.
53How durst he trust the surging seas
54        knowing himself forsworn?
55Why did he scape safe to the land
56        before the ship was torn?
59Then might he boldly pass the waves
62        been manifest before,
63They would have rent the ship as soon
64        as he had gone from shore.
65Now may you hear how falseness is
66        made manifest in time:
67Although they that commit the same
68        think it a venial crime.
69For they, for their unfaithfulness,
70        did get perpetual fame:
71Fame? wherefore did I term it so?
72        I should have called it shame.
73Let Theseus be, let Jason pass,
75That brought destruction unto Troy
76        all through the Grecian rape,
78        if not you may compare
79With any of these persons that
80        aboue expressed are.
81But if I can not please your mind
83Wed whom you list, I am content,
85It shall suffice me, simple soul,
86        of thee to be forsaken:
87And it may chance, although not yet,
88        you wish you had me taken.
89But rather than you should have cause
90        to wish this through your wife,
91I wish to her, ere you her have,
92        no more but love of life.
93For she that shall so happy be,
94        of thee to be elect,
95I wish her virtues to be such,
96        she need not be suspect.
97I rather wish her Helen's face
100        the which did never fade.
105Perchance ye will think this thing rare
106        in one woman to find:
107Save Helen's beauty, all the rest
109These words I do not speak, thinking
110        from thy new love to turn thee:
111Thou know'st by proof what I deserve --
112        I need not to inform thee.
113But let that pass: would God I had
115Then either thy ill chance or mine
116        my foresight might prevent.
117But all in vain for this I seek;
118        wishes may not attain it.
119Therefore may hap to me what shall,
121Wherefore I pray God be my guide
122        and also thee defend,
123No worser than I wish my self,
124        until thy life shall end.
125Which life, I pray God, may again
127And after that your soul may rest
128        amongst the heavenly crew.
131With as much rest and quietness
133And when you shall this letter have,
134        let it be kept in store,
135For she that sent the same hath sworn
136        as yet to send no more.
137And now farewell, for why at large
138        my mind is here exprest,
139The which you may perceive if that


1] close: secret. Back to Line
7] sith: since. Back to Line
13] quailled: failed. Back to Line
14] begon: taken off. Back to Line
28] Sinon: Greek secret agent who betrayed Troy in the Trojan War. Back to Line
33] Aeneas: son of Priam who escaped the ruin of Troy and founded of Rome in Virgil's Aeneid Back to Line
34] Dido: queen of Carthage, seduced and then abandoned by Aeneus. Back to Line
37] Theseus, who killed the Minotaur and took away King Minos' daughter Ariadne, whom he left behind at Naxos. Back to Line
41] Jason, who got the Golden Fleece with the aid of Medea, whom he then left to marry Glaucë (Creusa), later killed by Medea in revenge. Back to Line
48] wold: would. I.e., Jason had his "will" of her. Back to Line
57] Greek Aeolus: god of the winds. Back to Line
58] Neptune: Greek god of the oceans. Back to Line
60] slee: slay. Back to Line
61] flasehed: falsehood. Back to Line
74] Paris: son of Priam, king of Troy, and seducer of Menelaus' wife Helen, whom Paris took away to Troy and to recover whom the Greeks successfully fought the Trojan war. Back to Line
77] Troilus: son of Priam, who died faithful to the love of Greek Criseid, who betrayed his love for Diomede. This is the subject of Chaucer's love epic, Troilus and Criseyde. Back to Line
82] wants: deficiencies. Back to Line
84] refuse: rubbish. Back to Line
98] Helen's trade: seductress. Back to Line
99] Penelope: wife of Odysseus who remained faithful to him through his wanderings in Homer's Odyssey, despite the persistent suitors who laid siege to her for her wealth. Back to Line
101] Lucres: Lucretia, a Roman lady who killed herself to protect her chastity. Back to Line
102] Thisbie: beloved of Pyramus who committed suicide, believing him dead. Back to Line
103] Peto: the Greenwich friar William Peto who opposed Henry VIII's divorce of Catherine of Aragon. Back to Line
104] ruth: a pity. Back to Line
108] Isabella means that, although no beauty, she has the faithfulness and virtue of Lucres and Thisbie. Back to Line
114] Cassandra: daughter of Priam, king of Troy, and a clairvoyant who prophesied the fall of Troy. Back to Line
120] refrain: check, prevent. Back to Line
126] Nestor: a Greek king well-known for his great age and wisdom. Back to Line
129] Xerxes: rich king of Persia, defeater of the Greeks at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Back to Line
130] Cressus: wealthy king of Lydia. Back to Line
132] mould: earth. Back to Line
140] the rest: perhaps the other poems in the published book. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: