Michael Drayton was an Elizabethan poet who mostly wrote sonnets in England as part of a rather up-and-down career and whose legacy has mostly languished in obscurity since his death in 1631. Drayton’s most famous cycle was titled Idea’s Mirror and contains a sonnet now known as “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.”
For those not in the know, an Elizabethan sonnet is made up of three quatrains—four-line stanzas—and a final couplet.
The first quatrain of this particular Drayton sonnet is as follows:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
The poet is describing a break-up, an end to something. We are not right for each other, and at this moment of things ending, I am relieved to be free of having to be with you, the poet says.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Let’s just end it all here, tear the band-aid off, he says. And in the future, when we come together, there’s no need to pretend to be friends or like we still have feelings for each other. Let’s make this a clean break. The poet is almost too brazen in his words here. Like he’s overcompensating for something. Like he is still in love, but he’s too afraid to admit it, because in some ways it seems like he doesn’t always get as much out of this relationship as he puts into it.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes—
The third quatrain here begins setting up the sonnet’s volta. The volta—or the turn—in an Elizabethan sonnet comes immediately before those final two lines, where the poet makes some kind of dramatic shift in thinking from the previous 12 lines. Drayton’s turn comes with the couplet, but by the ninth line he is already hedging his bets. Love is dying, Faith is dying, Innocence is dying—all of this was present in our relationship but it feels like it no longer is. And then, the turn:
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might’st him yet recover!
But! If you want me back, say, in September 2022, I’ll be right there, defibrillating that Love, heimliching that Faith, and rushing that Innocence on a gurney through the ER doors. Guess what? You’ve got a hold on me that I just can’t shake, something that keeps on drawing me back even though in the darkest of times I’d rather act like there’s nothing there. We are nothing now, and I may act like that makes me happy, but deep down, when you come calling, I’ll come following back, and I will always hold out hope deep down inside me that we can be great together.