Thomas Hoccleve Poems

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Thomas Hoccleve
Thomas Occleve (or Hoccleve) (c. 1368 1426), English poet, was born probably in 1368/9, for, writing in 1421/2 he says he was fifty-three years old. Portrait of Chaucer from Occleve's Regiment of Princes (1412)Like his more voluminous and better known contemporary John Lydgate, he has an historical importance to English literature. Their work, rarely considered to rise above mediocrity by scholars before the 1970s, is now thought to provide a wealth of insight into the literate culture of London during the Lancastrian regime. They represented for the 15th century the literature of their time, keeping alive the innovations to vernacular poetics originally made by their "maister" Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom Hoccleve (known interchangeably as Occleve) pays an affectionate tribute in no fewer than three passages throughout his De Regimine Principum - a vernacular poem which survives in as many copies as some of the most popular works of literature at the time (including but not limited to Langland's Piers Plowman and some sections of Chaucer's own Canterbury Tales.) What is known of Hoccleve's life is gathered mainly from his works and from the records of the turn-of-the-15th Century English bureaucracy. At eighteen or nineteen he obtained a clerkship in the Privy Seal Office, which he retained on and off, in spite of much grumbling, for about thirty-five years. He had hoped for a benefice, but none came; and in 1399 he received instead a small annuity, which was not always paid as regularly as he would have wished. "The Letter to Cupid," his first poem to which we can affix a date, was translated from L'Epistre au Dieu d'Amours of Christine de Pisan in 1402, evidently as a sort of antidote to the moral of Troilus and Criseyde, to some manuscripts of which we find it attached. "La Male Regie," one of his most fluid and lively poems, written about 1406, gives some interesting glimpses of the "misrule" of his youth. About 1410 he settled down to married life, and the composition of moral and religious poems. His longest work, The Regement of Princes or De Regimine Principum, written for Henry V of England shortly before his accession, is an elaborate homily on the virtues and vices, adapted from Aegidius de Colonna's work of the same name, from the supposititious epistle of Aristotle, known as the Secreta secretorum, and the work of Jacques de Cessoles (fl. 1300) englished later by Caxton as The Game and Playe of Chesse. Its incipit is a proem encompasing about a third of the whole, containing some further reminiscences of London tavern and club life, in the form of dialogue between the poet and a beggar. In this work, Hoccleve coined the word "magutavent". On the accession of Henry V Hoccleve turned his muse to the service of orthodoxy and the Church, and one of his poems is a remonstrance addressed to Oldcastle, calling upon him to "rise up, a manly knight, out of the slough of heresy." Then a long illness was followed for a time, as he tells us, by insanity. His "Dialog with a Friend," written after his recovery, gives a pathetic picture of the poor poet, now fifty-three, with sight and mind impaired, but with hopes still left of writing a tale he owes his good patron, Humphrey of Gloucester, and of translating a small Latin treatise, Scite Mori, before he dies. His hopes were fulfilled in his moralized tales of Jereslau's Wife and of Jonathas, both from the Gesta Romanorum, which, with his 'Learn to die', belong to his old age. After finally retiring from his privy seal clerkship, he was granted in 1424 sustenance for life in the priory of Southwick, Hampshire, on which, with his former annuity, he appears to have lived till about the middle of the century. "A Balade to my gracious Lord of Yorke" probably dates from 1448 or later. The main interest for us in Occleve's poems is that they are characteristic of his time. His hymns to the Virgin, balades to patrons, complaints to the king and the kings treasurer, versified homilies and moral tales, with warnings to heretics like Oldcastle, are illustrative of the blight that had fallen upon poetry on the death of Chaucer. The nearest approach to the realistic touch of his master is to be found in Occleve's Male Regle. Compared to Lydgate and his humorous 'London Lackpenny', these pictures of 15th-century London are quite a bit more serious and ruminating about a civil-servant's place in an unstable Lancastrian bureaucracy. Yet Occleve had the negative virtue of knowing the limits of his powers. He seems to say what he means simply, and does not affect what he seems not to feel. As a metrist Occleve takes on a posture that he is modest of his powers. He confesses that "Fader Chaucer fayn wolde han me taught, But I was dul and learned lite or naught"; and it is true that the scansion of his verses seems occasionally to require, in French fashion, an accent on an unstressed syllable. Yet his seven-line (or rime royale) and eight-line stanzas, to which he limited himself, are perhaps more frequently reminiscent of Chaucer's rhythm than are those of Lydgate. Prof. David Lawton's ELH article from 1987 entitled Dullness in the Fifteenth Century is the seminal piece of scholarship on this self-effacing posture typical of the 15th century. A poem, Ad beatam Virginem, generally known as the Mother of God, and once attributed to Chaucer, is copied among Occleve's works in manuscript Phillipps 8151 (Cheltenham), and may thus be regarded as his work. Occleve found an admirer in the 17th century in William Browne, who included his Jonathas in the Shepheard's Pipe (1614). Browne added a eulogy of the old poet, whose works he intended to publish in their entirety (Works, ed. WC Hazlitt, 1869, ii. f96-198). In 1796 George Mason printed Six Poems by Thomas Hoccleve never before printed ...; De Regimine Principum was printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1860, and by the Early English Text Society in 1897. See Frederick James Furnivall's introduction to Hoccleve's Works; I. The Minor Poems, in the Phillipps manuscript 8131, and the Durham manuscript III. p (Early English Text Society, 1892).

daily trials by a sensitive man
 
 
Oh, there are times
When all this fret and tumult that we hear
Do seem more stale than to ... [read poem]
the chambered nautilus
 
 
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main, --
The ventu... [read poem]
the last leaf
 
 
I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones re... [read poem]
sex without love
 
 
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over... [read poem]
contentment
 
 
"Man wants but little here below"

Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a h... [read poem]
the living temple
 
 
Not in the world of light alone,
Where God has built his blazing throne,
Nor yet alone in ... [read poem]
old ironsides
 
 
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced... [read poem]
the two streams
 
 
Behold the rocky wall
That down its sloping sides
Pours the swift rain-drops, blending, ... [read poem]
the regiment of princes
 
 
"O, maister deere, and fadir reverent!
Mi maister Chaucer, flour of eloquence,... [read poem]
the deacon's masterpiece or, the wonderful "one-hoss shay": a logical story
 
 
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran... [read poem]
the flâneur
 
 
I love all sights of earth and skies,
From flowers that glow to stars that shine;
The come... [read poem]
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