Category Archives: Poetry

Biography Poetry Thames

John Taylor – Water Poet

Today’s post is about the little-known poet John Taylor, who worked as a ferryman in London, rowing people back and forth across the Thames to the theatres on Bankside.

Taylor was born in Gloucester in 1578, and in the early 1590s he moved to London and became apprenticed to a waterman in Southwark. As well as ferrying passengers across the Thames, a vital service since there was only one bridge in London at this time, the Watermen’s Company also supplied men for the navy in times of war. In 1596, Taylor took part in Essex’s expedition to Cadiz. He also may have been at Ostend during the siege of 1601-4. He completed his apprenticeship in 1597, and in 1612 he married. The identity of his wife is uncertain, but she may have been known as Abigail Miles. The couple settled on Bankside in London and lived there until 1643. In 1605, Taylor was appointed Bottleman at the Tower of London. The job essentially involved Taylor rowing out to the incoming ships transporting wine, and demanding two large bottles as payment due to the Lieutenant of the Tower.

Taylor’s natural wit and polite manner, as well as his charming personality, meant he stood out from the rough men working the Thames. He often conversed with the courtiers he ferried back and forth, and in 1613, Viscount Haddington recommended Taylor become one of the King’s Watermen; a liveried group which served the crown on ceremonial business. Taylor also became spokesman for the Watermen’s Company on official business, and in 1614 he pressed a suit to the King on their behalf, protesting against the building of new theatres north of the river. To relocate the theatres would be a serious blow to the Watermen’s trade, since they relied on the huge numbers of visitors crossing the river to the Globe and other theatres on Bankside for their trade. Despite support from Francis Bacon, the King ignored the Watermen’s protestations.

Taylor’s strong links with the Bankside theatres meant he was in continual contact with playwrights, poets and actors. As a result he developed a love of books and writing. In 1612, he published his first collection of poetry, The Sculler.


To the whole kennell of AntiChrists hounds, Priests, friers, monks, and Iesuits, mastiffs, mongrells, Islands, Spanniells, blood-hounds, bobtailetike, or foysting-hound: the Sculler sends greeting.

Curse, exorcize, with beads, with booke, & bell
Poluted shauelings: rage and doe your worst:
Use conjurations till your bellies burst,
With many a Nigromanticke mumbling spell,
I feare you not, nor all your friends that fell
With Lucifer: ye damned dogs that durst
Devise that thundring treason most accurst,
Whose like before was never hatchd in hell:
Halfe men, halfe devils, who never dreamd of good,
To you from faire and sweetly sliding Thames,
A popomasticke Sculler war proclaimes,
As to the suckers of imperiall blood.
An Anti-Jesuit Sculler with his pen,
Defies your Babell Beast, and all his den.

In The Sculler, Taylor makes various derisive comments about his fellow writers, including Thomas Coryate, famous for his Crudities published in 1609. This led to a bitter pamphlet war. In 1614, he became involved in another conflict, this time with William Fennor. The two arranged a contest at the Hope theatre, but Fennor failed to turn up, and the packed house all but rioted against Taylor in their disappointment. In addition to personal verse, Taylor also wrote commendatory poetry on public events, such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1613. He counted many of the well-known writers of the time among his friends, including Samuel Daniel, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood, and Samuel Rowlands.

Despite this illustrious company, Taylor failed to achieve recognition as a poet. He embarked on several voyages, which he documented in print, and continued to work as a Waterman. In 1625, he was one of the royal wherrymen to escort the new queen, Henrietta Maria, to Oxford to escape the plague. However, with the disintegration of Charles I’s rule, Taylor became something of a political commentator. He wrote a series of polemical pamphlets defending the episcopal church and satirising the radicals; these pamphlets

were designed to boost morale rather than convince the uncommitted, and the tone was jaunty and confident. Taylor was more concerned to establish appropriate images for the king and his enemies than plunge into the details of the issues at stake, largely beyond him and many of his readers. He presented the king’s war as a defensive struggle, with Charles a good protestant upholding the established church and his traditional prerogatives against hypocritical and aggressive parliamentary enemies.

Taylor’s last years were spent in poverty. With no royal court, and the Watermen’s Company in the hands of his enemies, he turned his hand to inn keeping, and by 1647, he was running the Crown alehouse near Covent Garden. He continued to supplement his income with published poetry, and made several further trips which he documented in print. However failing health finally overcame him in 1653, and he was buried on 5th December in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields.

Taylor was never afforded serious recognition as a poet, but his flair for literary entrepreneurship ensured he was a much more prosperous writer than many of his contemporaries, and he enjoyed a successful literary career which spanned over fifty years.

Source: Bernard Capp, DNB.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Love Poetry

To his coy love

This week’s poem is from Michael Drayton (1563 -1631).

To his coy love (1619)

I pray thee, leave, love me no more,
Call home the heart you gave me!
I but in vain that saint adore
That can but will not save me.
These poor half-kisses kill me quite—
Was ever man thus servèd?
Amidst an ocean of delight
For pleasure to be starvèd?

Show me no more those snowy breasts
With azure riverets branchèd,
Where, whilst mine eye with plenty feasts,
Yet is my thirst not stanchèd;
O Tantalus, thy pains ne’er tell!
By me thou art prevented:
‘Tis nothing to be plagued in Hell,
But thus in Heaven tormented.

Clip me no more in those dear arms,
Nor thy life’s comfort call me,
O these are but too powerful charms,
And do but more enthral me!
But see how patient I am grown
In all this coil about thee:
Come, nice thing, let my heart alone,
I cannot live without thee!

Michael Drayton


The Extasie

The Extasie – John Donne (1572-1631)

WHERE, like a pillow on a bed,
A Pregnant banke swel’d up, to rest
The violets reclining head,
Sat we two, one anothers best.

Our hands were firmely cimented
With a fast balme, which thence did spring,
Our eye-beames twisted, and did thred
Our eyes, upon one double string;

So to’entergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the meanes to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As ‘twixt two equall Armies, Fate
Suspends uncertaine victorie,
Our soules, (which to advance their state,
Were gone out,) hung ‘twixt her, and mee.

And whil’st our soules negotiate there,
Wee like sepulchrall statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And wee said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refin’d,
That he soules language understood,
And by good love were growen all minde,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soule spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take,
And part farre purer then he came.

This Extasie doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love,
Wee see by this, it was not sexe,
Wee see, we saw not what did move:

But as all severall soules containe
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love, these mixt soules, doth mixe againe,
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poore, and scant,)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love, with one another so
Interinanimates two soules,
That abler soule, which thence doth flow,
Defects of lonelinesse controules.

Wee then, who are this new soule, know,
Of what we are compos’d, and made,
For, th’Atomies of which we grow,
Are soules, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so farre
Our bodies why doe wee forbeare?
They are ours, though they are not wee, Wee are
The intelligences, they the spheare.

We owe them thankes, because they thus,
Did us, to us, at first convay,
Yeelded their forces, sense, to us,
Nor are drosse to us, but allay.

On man heavens influence workes not so,
But that it first imprints the ayre,
Soe soule into the soule may flow,
Though it to body first repaire.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like soules as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtile knot, which makes us man:

So must pure lovers soules descend
T’affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great Prince in prison lies.

To’our bodies turne wee then, that so
Weake men on love reveal’d may looke;
Loves mysteries in soules doe grow,
But yet the body is his booke.

And if some lover, such as wee,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still marke us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone



One day I wrote her name


Amoretti Sonnet LXXV


One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

but came the waves and washed it away:
agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
but came the tyde, and made my paynes his prey.
Vayne man, sayd she, that doest in vaine assay,
a mortall thing so to immortalize;
for I myself shall lyke to this decay,
And eek my name bee wyped out lykewise.
Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise
to dye in dust, but you shall live by fame:
my verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
and in the heavens wryte your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
our love shall live, and later life renew.
Edmund Spenser


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