The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

X. Michael Drayton

§ 7. Endimion and Phœbe

After the first edition of the sonnets, Drayton’s next publication was Endimion and Phœbe, entered at Stationers’ Hall in April, 1595, and, presumably, published in the same year. This is one of the most beautiful and interesting of Drayton’s poems. In it the sweetness and simplicity of pastoral are exalted by the touch of the heroic; and the occasional display of philosophy and quaint learning, astronomical, medical and what not, though it sometimes brings the poetry perilously near to doggerel, is not without its historical interest or its charm. At the close of the poem, Drayton commends it, humbly, to three other poets, Spenser (Collin), Daniel (Musaeus) and Lodge (Goldey). The influence of the first two is plain in the poem, but a stronger influence still is that of Marlowe, whose Hero and Leander (published in 1598) Drayton must have seen in manuscript. Endimion and Phœbe has not the passion of Marlowe’s work; or of Venus and Adonis, which, no doubt, Drayton had also seen. His are cool, moonlight loves; but the exquisite delicacy of rather fantastic ornament, combined with a freshness of atmosphere in the narrative and descriptive passages, shows a lighter touch and a suppler mind than anything the poet had yet produced. The poem recalls irresistibly some Italian painting of the renascence, where nymphs and satyrs occupy a quiet, spacious and purely decorative world. Endimion and Phœbe has its claims, moreover, on the side of poetical craftsmanship. However he may stumble in his “learned nines and threes” (as Lodge called his description of the celestial orders), in his narrative, Drayton’s movement is swift and graceful. The poem is written in rimed decasyllabic couplets, which, at their best, are not echoes of Marlowe, Spenser or Daniel, but Drayton’s own, with a distinctive cadence, and not a little of that ease which he was by time and labour to acquire.

The couplets avoid both the wearisome, epigrammatic certainty of pause which this form acquired in the eighteenth century, and the straggling looseness with which it has been used since. Without jerkiness or shapelessness, they flow as brightly and smoothly along as any of the streams of Latmus.

For some reason, Drayton never reissued Endimion and Phœbe. Years later, he returned to the idea, and incorporated parts of his beautiful early poem in an uninteresting work, The Man in the Moone, 1606, which has a body of crabbed learning with a head and tail of satire.