Friday, November 17, 2017

George Peele's A Farewell to Arms

photo © Mark Butkus 2011

His golden locks Time hath to silver turn'd;
         O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd,
         But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;
         And, lovers' sonnets turn'd to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
         And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
         He'll teach his swains this carol for a song,—
'Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
         Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.'
Goddess, allow this aged man his right
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.


— George Peele


Yes, Ernest Hemingway's popular tale of an ambulance driver in first World War Italy owes its title to George Peele's (1556-1596) 16th century poem. Best known in his time as a dramatist, Peele occasionally dabbled in poetry. Polyhymnia, his blank verse description of the retirement of the queens' champion, Sir Henry Lee on the 17th of November, concludes with, A Farewell to Arms. The poem is also quoted by William Makepeace Thackeray in the seventy-sixth chapter of The Newcomes (1855).

Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms was published in September 1929 with a first edition print-run of approximately 31,000 copies. The success of A Farewell to Arms made Hemingway financially independent.