Treasure Island

Sir Walter Raleigh

(1552 - 1618 / Devon / England)

Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh poet

Sir Walter Raleigh was an English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England.

Raleigh was born to a Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. Little is known for certain of his early life, though he spent some time in Ireland, in Killua Castle, Clonmellon, County Westmeath, taking part in the suppression of rebellions and participating in a massacre at Smerwick. Later he became a landlord of properties confiscated from the Irish rebels. He rose rapidly in Queen Elizabeth I's favour, being knighted in 1585. He was involved in the early English colonisation of Virginia under a royal patent. In 1591 he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen's permission for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset.

In 1594 Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of "El Dorado". After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for allegedly being involved in the Main Plot against King James I, who was not favourably disposed toward him. In 1616 he was released in order to conduct a second expedition in search of El Dorado. This was unsuccessful and men under his command ransacked a Spanish outpost. He returned to England and, to appease the Spanish, was arrested and executed in 1618.

Raleigh's poetry is written in the relatively straightforward, unornamented mode known as the plain style. C. S. Lewis considered Raleigh one of the era's "silver poets", a group of writers who resisted the Italian Renaissance influence of dense classical reference and elaborate poetic devices.

In poems such as "What is Our Life" and "The Lie", Raleigh expresses a contemptus mundi (contempt of the world) attitude more characteristic of the Middle Ages than of the dawning era of humanistic optimism. But, his lesser-known long poem "The Ocean to Cynthia" combines this vein with the more elaborate conceits associated with his contemporaries Edmund Spenser and John Donne, expressing a melancholy sense of history.

A minor poem of Raleigh's captures the atmosphere of the court at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. His response to Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" was "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd". "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" was written in 1592, while Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to The Shepherd" was written four years later. Both were written in the style of traditional pastoral poetry. They follow the same structure of six four-line stanzas employing a rhyme scheme of AABB.

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The Lie

Go, soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
And shines like rotten wood;

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