The fruits of war: The voice of the soldier in Gascoigne, Rich, and Churchyard
Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18
The poem succinctly dramatizes the complex mixture of authority and abjection that, I shall argue, characterizes the soldier’s voice in a number of writings of this period. The writer is the loser in the competition for a kiss, but within the poem he speaks as the older and wiser man, telling the victor: ‘But my good friend let thus thy youth be spent’ (l.27). Experience of ‘real’ war, as opposed to the gallant display of the tiltyard, gives him authority, but it also contaminates him with the unchivalrous behaviour of those who participate in war: ‘faythlesse friends . . . No feare of lawes. . . robbe and reave, and steale without regard.’ On the other hand, the peaceful life that the writer advises the victor to follow is described in terms which have a pejorative edge to them: ‘High Jove (perdie) may send that thou doest seeke,/ And heape up poundes within thy quiet gate’(ll.19-20). Gascoigne’s imagery echoes the vividly contemptuous terms used by Sir Thomas Wyatt to describe the veniality of the self-server in his third satire, a poem Gascoigne undoubtedly knew very well: ‘Feed thyself fat and heap up pound by pound’. The easy life of the young winner, with his vanities and inexperience, is presented as comfortable but limited, ‘rowe not past thy reach’ (l.31), while the writer speaks with authority and experience, but is a loser, tainted by the ‘cutthrote life’(l.17) that, he tells us, is the life of the soldier.