Friday, December 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: We have been persuaded...

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ---Antoine de Saint-Exupery (found at NaPlWriMo site)

"A play is a heard thing. I learned, to my wonder, that there is an enormous difference in time between a comma, a semicolon and a period, for example. And that a playwright notates very much the way a composer notates a score." ---Edward Albee (found at The Playwriting Seminars: Storytelling)

Are plays poetry? I say most of them are.

Are speeches poetry? I say the best of them are.

One of my favorite speeches was given in 1588 by Elizabeth I at Tilbury to her troops, who were awaiting an anticipated invasion of the Spanish Armada. It was also part of a high school play I was in, a montage of scenes about the queens of England written by my drama teacher as readers theater. I suddenly recalled it this week when I heard Helen Mirren deliver the spine-tingling lines as Elizabeth I in the HBO miniseries.

She did a much better job than I did, but at the time, I reveled in this speech. Every time I delivered it, I found my heart exploding. Legions of my troops spread out before me. I gave it everything my sixteen-year-old self could, and the age-old words did, indeed, teach me to "long for the endless immensity of the sea," the sea into which poetry launches us.

Deliver these words out loud, as Elizabeth did, if you dare. Then tell me if you think they are poetry.

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety,
to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes,
for fear of treachery;

but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust
my faithful and loving people.

Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God,
I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard
in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects;
and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time,

not for my recreation and disport,
but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle,
to live and die amongst you all;
to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people,
my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman;

but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,
and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe,
should dare to invade the borders of my realm;
to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me,
I myself will take up arms,

I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder
of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns;
and We do assure you in the word of a prince,
they shall be duly paid you.

In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead,
than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject;
not doubting but by your obedience to my general,
by your concord in the camp,

and your valour in the field,
we shall shortly have a famous victory

over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Hear an audio clip of this speech by Anniina Jokinen

Helen Mirren as Elizabeth in HBO's miniseries

Commentary on the political brilliance of this poem/speech (scroll down to #4)

More of Elizabeth I's poetry

Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Miss Rhumphius Effect


  1. It's definitely poetic - it's almost a direct ancestor of Churchill's war speeches.

    Mind you (to lower the tone drastically) I always think of this passage as the Concrete Elephant speech. In the UK we had a historical comedy series called Blackadder, and in it Queen Elizabeth delivers the immortal lines:
    'I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and the stomach of a concrete elephant.'

  2. Ha! Black Adder is hilarious. I'm linking for those who haven't had the pleasure. One of the most-watched episodes in my house (since my husband is a fighter pilot) is Private Plane.

  3. What it it with high school and Queen Elizabeth? Was it just that by the time we got to her, we were sick to death of male rulers and all swooned? I don't know -- but I was obsessed with her, too, and I do love this speech.

    Please tell me you weren't sixteen in that picture... how can you look exactly the same!?

  4. If a speech is a poem depends entirely on the listener, I would think.

    I've always found Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech to be poetic, or at least parts of it.

  5. I do think of many speeches as poetry. I've certainly always viewed the Gettysburg Address this way. Perhaps because it was the first speech I ever memorized and delivered.

  6. I was not obsessed with Elizabeth I, although I knew a lot about her once upon a time. I was obsessed with Mary, Queen of Scots, on account of having Stewart blood in my ancestry somewhere along the line. Allegedly.

    It reads like something from Henry IV, only it was Lizzie's actual words (or so it is reported - I'm not certain that it wasn't massaged by a courtier poet of the day, and there were many of them available to her, I assure you, including Dryer, whose poem I featured today in an interesting bit of happenstance.)

  7. Sara, this is off-topic I know, and for that, I apologize. But I wanted you know that I posted my review of THE SANDBOX, with an eye toward the YA audience. If you or your readers are interested, it's here:

  8. I agree with you that the best speeches are poetry. And Queen Elizabeth I was definitely one with an ear towards poetry.

    Great picture. To be sixteen again. Okay, to be sixteen for a day again. Sigh.

  9. I love that Edward Albee quote. When I did theatre, esp. when I directed, I was always a stickler about memorizing the text exactly as it was written, since -- as Albee said -- there are those differences between commas and semicolons and since it's like notating a score. Great quote.

    Jules, 7-Imp

  10. Sara,

    One thing is for sure: We hear little poetry in speeches made by political figures in the present day. Oh, to hear a little eloquence in our spoken language again!


R-E-S-P-E-C-T (or you will be deleted)

You can receive followup comments to this conversation by checking the "notify me" box below the comment window.