The Dark Side of Shakespeare (A Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)
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Posted Sept 2011
Sacvyles Olde Age

(originated c.1567-74, likely updated/revised c.1600)

Modernization-transcription and Notes by W. Ron Hess

(, Article Posted Sept 2011)


            The other known works of Thomas Sackville are well known, and readily available.  For example, his Induction is at:;

his Duke of Buckingham is at:;

and his Gorboduc play co-written with Thomas Norton is at: 

And his only extant sonnet is featured in my webpage Article #11:

Until the late-1980s these were his entire known works (other than letters), with the Induction in particular thought to have been the highest quality English poetry until Spenser, and all of his published works thought to have influenced Shakespeare's works.


            But another poem in manuscript has been found, which academics date to circa 1567-74, whereas for reasons I give below, I date an update/revision to circa 1600.  In a Google search I discovered that there was no text of this manuscript accessible to the general public online.  Its only public source is a very literal (and often difficult to understand) transcript in an article in a "hardcopy" journal available only by subscription.  I purchased permission through the "permissions" feature of Oxford Online Journals, and now publish on my webpage my moderately modernized interpretation of the article's transcription of the text.  Aside from my notes below, the hardcopy article gives valuable information for understanding the text.  My note to Line 1 below addresses the dating.


            From Zim, Rivkah & Parkes, M.B., "'Sacvyles Olde Age': A Newly Discovered Poem by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, Earl of Dorset (c. 1536-1608)," Review of English Studies (New Series), Vol. XL, # 157 (Feb 1989), pp. 1-25 (text is from pp. 15-20); Transcript of an MS found at McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario.



Notes:  Lines 1 & 104: "frances" = Dr. Thomas Francis, Queen's physician, d.1574; in Sept. 1566 he debated at Oxford U. before the Queen, taking a position that medicine can prolong life (see lines 9-12); the article claims this dates origination of the MS to c.1567-74 when Sackville was about 35 years old.

[Yet, I note that lines 57 to 72 say he was white bearded and gray headed, with decay of "lusty life" (= erectile dysfunction), more like a man in his 60s; thus, he may have used his own father's old age as a poetic model; or, more likely, as he'd not likely project lust upon his sainted late father, he updated this poem in the 1590s or later to reflect his own advancing decrepitude and loss of virility -- let's say c.1600, nearing his cousin the Queen's 1603 death].

Line 2: "only" = singular, greatest; "physic" = medicine, cure, treatment.

Line 8: "grief" ("gryffe") = physical pain per O.E.D., as noted in the article fn. 8.

Line 32: "isponne" = spun.

Line 43: "chowghe" = chough, a crow-like or jackdaw bird.

Line 50: "eke" = with great effort (as in "eked out a living").

Line 56: "profe profe" =? proffers or professes prose (the "s" & "f" looked very similar, particularly in handwritten texts, the former lacking only the right half of the cross bar of an "f").

Lines 57 & 190: "sackevile" = the author, Thomas Sackville, b. c.1536 (2nd cousin of Queen Eliz. thru Boleyn lineage); poet-playwright to 1565, occas. emissary abroad 1555-72 and 1586-94; while he was in Venice his father the Lord Treasurer d. 1566; created Baron Buckhurst June 1567, Privy Counselor 1586, Lord Treasurer 1599, Earl of Dorset 1604; d. April 1608.  His poetry masterpiece was c.1554/5 Induction and Buckingham in 1562 Mirrour for Magistrates Pt.1, and he co-wrote 1559 (publ. 1565) Gorboduc, or Ferrux and Porrex, involving overthrow of a King by his sons, a source/inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear.  Assuming that when Gorboduc was  acted at the Inner Temple and then at Ct. in 1559, T.S. may have played a Kingly role, I'm reminded of the 1610 tradition that Shakespeare "would have been a companion for a king -- had he not played some kingly parts in sport."  Yet, other than as a mentor or inspiration, possibly contributing poetry that found its way into the canon, I doubt that T.S. was the Bard.

Line 60: "erst" = earlier, once in the past.

Lines 86-92 (and 202-215): Sackville displayed his erudition (and the quality of his private library), listing some classic works printed by Wm. Caxton (d. 1492) among the earliest printed in England: "Troylus" = Chaucer's "Troylus & Cresside" rendition, a source for Shakespeare's play; "the knight's story," "reaver's rhyme," "the miller's tale," & "Chaunteclere" (the crow or cock vs. the fox "Renalt")  = 4 of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; "Surrey" = Earl of Surrey (d. 1547, uncle of the 17th Earl of Oxford), whose private sonnets and translations of Virgil's poetry emerged a decade after his execution by Henry VIII; "Aeneas" & "fall of Troy" = Caxton's c.1475 transl. of the French Court romance "Recueil des Histoires de Troye," the first printed English book; "Wyatt's psalms" = Sir Th. Wyatt Sr.'s transl. from the Greek; Sackville was one of about 7 noble poets who privately met c.1554/5 to scope out Mirrour for Magistrates (Pt. 2 publ. 1559, Pt. 1 1562), mostly friends of Surrey and Wyatt.  The two had introduced blank verse and the "Shakespearean" sonnet form into English (in that form is T.S.'s sole extant sonnet, of c.1560/1).

Line 121: "Codrus" = trad. the last King of Athens, who sacrificed himself to fulfill prophecy & thwart conquest by the Dorians in the 11th cent. BCE.

Lines 122-124: "Crassus" = the rich politician who joined Pompey & Caesar in the 1st Triumvirate, then died while leading an inept campaign vs. Parthia.

Line 127: "Circe's poisons" = the potions whereby Circe the sorceress turned the crew of Odysseus into swine, and then restored them to men again.

Line 128: "rod of mercury renew" = the caduceus rod with entwined snakes, in legend a curative for illness, carried by the god Mercury, patron of Physicians.  This may be a double entendre, since hollow rods filled with liquid mercury or gold were used in alchemy, as in feigned creation of the "philosopher's stone."

Lines 129-130: "Jove... nectar wine" = Jupiter/Zeus and ambrosia, the drink served by his cup-bearer, that gives the gods their immortality and power.

Lines 132-133: " Chiron... gyges ring" = Chiron was an intelligent centaur of great medical knowledge, a tutor to youthful Achilles, Ajax, and other heroes who went to the Trojan War; Gyges was a real King of Lycia, but in myth he had a ring of invisibility which he used to spy on a Queen in her bedroom (sans the ring, similar to "Iachimo's" spying in Shakespeare's "Cymbeline").

Lines 135-137: "Sibilla with her grisly sop... dreadful Cerberus she cast the golden hours": Hercules was obliged to retrieve Cerberus, the 3-headed dog of Hades, for which task he went to the Sybil of the Eleusinian mysteries to learn what "sop" to use to get into Hades; in some versions it was 3 honey cakes, but the dog supposedly had a taste only for meat (a more "grisly sop").

Line 164: "welke" = welcome?

Line 174: "pight" = fixed, settled.


                        Sacvyles olde age

frances that art the Jewell and renown

the only flower of physic in our days

to him that does require a skill profound

or faithfulness respects or deep care ways

whom envy [that] herself that all things would deface           [5]

of force is forced to yield the chiefest praise

to thee all sorts of sickness gives place

and at thy will the grief thereof allays

old age alone that hateful huge disease

no medicine may withstand nor cure the pain                     [10]

no art may once renew the passed days

of fresh green years to run the race again

So creeps it on us wholly unawares

and dries the juice wherewith the leaf does stay

dulls the mind and with a thousand cares                        [15]

piecemeal the sweet of life it does decay

beauty it reaves and with the comely shape

that part of man where memory does rest

of all our strength it sucks up the sap

and quiets the lively heat within our breast                    [20]

feebles [the] our force and breaks the vital breath

and with the body reaves blood and all

saddens the mind and lastly to the death

hales forth our course to hasten our end withal //

This change works age and of our youth so green                 [25]

leaves us naught else but only name and blast

as in marble tombs engraved is seen

the vain titles that sound of glory past

    O envious fates and grudging at mans bliss

which on the running spindle of our life                        [30]

the courser thread so slowly whirled is

well near isponne and ready to the knife

and lusty youth so soon to roll away

that ere we know what jewell we enjoy

man from himself is turned another way                          [35]

to drop in woe that lived even now in joy

yea ere we can perceive we live and be

and of our youth feel what a sweat we have

broken and done we now should think we die

in lingering life with one foot in the grave                    [40]

    The wild swift hart can lengthen forth his race

so many years in life and lustiness

the chattering chowghe can leave so long a space

and nothing faded of his youthfulness

unhappy man no sooner hath he passed                           [45]

twice twenty years and that in heaps of grief

but carcass-like old age approaches fast

wasting the lust that should sustain the life //

and not alone the body's lustiness

but of the mind the force eke he assays                        [50]

dulling the swift immortal liveliness

as pearl and prince of philosophy says

but why allege I such authority

the doleful sight that daily does ensue

age that is come and youth that now does die                   [55]

profe profe alas has made it all too true

lo me how late this sackevile did you see

flowering in youth so gladsome and so green

now changed an other man and now not he

that erst appeared when youthfulness was seen                  [60]

now feels he the burden of his years

and now his course he bends an other way

now fails his strength now drops all his cheers

his chin is white now all his locks are gray

    O brittle world o short and false delight                  [65]

o tender youth sweet years too soon that pass

o happy times of life how soon how light

have ye been [past] lost o me where is alas

my fresh green years where are my youthful days

with stealing steps how have ye crept apart                     [70]

how are ye fled ohey oho how decays

the lusty life that does so soon depart //

    So fleet away the swift and running streams

and so the cloud does fly before the wind

in secret night so pass away the dreams                        [75]

that leaven naught but wretched cares behind

So fades the rose that purple red has died

the lusty green so withers it away

so i alas while i in cradle bide

in tender childhood while i sport and play                     [80]

while learning i [a] desire while i apply

the Latin tongue and while i read the Greek

while I delight to learn Astronomy

for sweet knowledge while i search and seek

In muses while i pass away the time                            [85]

of Troylus the double woe to hear

the knight's story and of the reaver's rhyme

the miller's tale and eke of Chaunteclere

in Surrey's verse while fixed is my Joy

his Englished Virgil for to read and weigh                     [90]

of Just Aeneas and the fall of Troy

and Wyatt's psalms while that i sing and say

in court amid the heavenly ladies bright

to feed mine eyes while I sometime desire

and with the stroke that reaves me of my sight                 [95]

while sparkling In my breast I feel the fire

in love Sowhile while [sic] I do serve and sue

in woe and plaint of my renewing Sore //

And of my [stated] chance the hard estate bereave

my true service that [shall] she esteme no more                [100]

sweet friends while I embrace and to my love

Some lusty ditty while i do Indict

within my study while I muse and move

to the fraunces while I these verses write

age creaps on when suddenly I feel                             [105]

my strength my lust my life and all bereft

that wonder thinks me in so short while

to work such change what space or time was left

the tissue purple and the diamond

vain Jewells and the far-fetched things of fame                [110]

how touches man with washed and [de] tender hand

and with what care lord does he keep the same

and golden years more worthy than any gold

more rich than pearl more pure than precious stone

a Jewell of more force a thousand fold                         [115]

then all that in the world we compete upon

In wretched toys is spent and o alas

fruitless is suffered to depart in vain

lo purple yet when it does wear and pass

as fresh with new may be restored again                        [120]

and Codrus though he pined upon the grass

to Crassus wealth may trust yet to attain

yea Irus through thou be that crassus was

yet mayest thou hope Crassus to wax again //

but lusty years when they be once forlorn                      [125]

when fled and gone is youth so fresh and new

them neither Circe's poisons may restore

nor yet the rod of mercury renew

not Jove him self though he would nourish thee

with nectar wine of heavenly gods above                        [130]

not all the herbs that in the world be

Though Chiron would on thee there virtue prove

not gyges ring may give thee once a hope

aye to enjoy [to] thy lusty youth for past

nor yet Sibilla with her grisly sop                            [135]

that to the dreadful Cerberus she cast

the golden hours so fast away they fled

alas and bid fare well for evermore

ne plaint ne sighs ne teres ne no regret

may gain return or once [there] course restore                 [140]

the restless sun when he has run his race

and to west down rolled him In his [ch] wane

out of the east with new and cheerful face

bright to the world he shows him self again

the wandering moon when quenched is her light                  [145]

through presence [of her] brightness of her brother's sphere

amid the skies approaching once the night

in former shape as [sh] fresh she does appear //

winter when he is worn and waxen old

to youth again returns with lusty green                       [150]

and after flaking snow and frozen cold

Sweet spring and flowers the swallow brings in

but our summer as soon as it is past

and of our age the cruel winter com

when his stern wrath has with his blustering blast             [155]

blown Down our flowers of lust and rent our bloom

as soon as been our temples overspread

with flakes of hoar [frost] as white as any snow

when that the warmth and lively blood is dead

frozen with cold and come is winter's woe                    [160]

then gone is hope . and then may nevermore

man see the spring of his youth's flowers again

no summer may his parched green restore

but welke and were continually in pain

til death alone our sweet and doleful foe                    [165]

rider of smart increases of our sore

with dreadful stroke give end unto our woe

and slay the corpse that lived in death before

these things when we behold and in this state

both lust and life fore-wasted when we see                   [170]

then wax we wise and then alas too late

our days misspent and weep and wail we

then drop the tears out of our withered eyes

and then In plaint is all our pleasure pight  //

Then loath we in our heart the wasted time                   [175]

of pleasant youth that once we held so light

our sugared sweet that did so late abound

with bitter[est] taste is turned into gall

each thought of youth gives then so deep a wound

as if the heart were thrilled there withal                   [180]

lo then in vain the flower of youth misspent

each hour there of not well implied we wail

then then [sic] with sighs bemoan we and lament

so rare a Jewell enjoyed without avail

but now alas what space of life remains                      [185]

what years are left that I may recompence

my follies past with fruit of present pains

my Idle youth with aged diligence

wrestling now hast thou rested overmuch

now sleep no more what Sackevile now awake                   [190]

with might and main while that thy power is [such]

to fruitful use do now thy self betake

while that thou may and while as yet thou rest

but in the porch of sad and woeful age

while yet thy hoar[frost] is green and not increased         [195]

and while the lust yet doth not wholly assuage

    O pleasant time o youth and youthful toys

disport and mirth farewell for ever more

o false delights o vain and worldly Joys //

unto the world again I you restore                          [200]

O trifles past adieu I ye forsake

my guide my master o Chaucer alas farewell

thy tales and the two others I betake

to read with mirth whom it delights well

Thou troylus my rhymes guide and steer                      [205]

my pen's lodestar and my master's same

my days pleasure and my nights fair

farewell alas for I give up the same

farewell Surrey jewell of english verse

mirrour of making and of poetrie                            [210]

thy lofty rhymes up to the heavens pierce

write in the skies to the world's eye

crowned is thy honor with eternity

thou sittest highest in the house of fame

thee and thy golden verses honor I                          [215]

and on my knee fall when i hear thy name

but oh farewell my youth is so fordone

that lusty rhymes agree not with my eld

my life it has another race to run

and eke my pen another [way] works to wield                 [220]

    O mighty love here yield I up to thee

the heart and hand that served thee so long

the lusty pen that wanted for to be

the sweet complaint of [woeful] lovers [woeful] wrong //

ladies of court farewell and court withal                  [225]

the pleasant shining [shine] of your beauties light

the glistering palace and the golden halls

vain wretched pomp doth me no more delight

Away pleasures away pastime and play

flattering delights depart I yee reject                    [230]

unto the heavenly king that lives for aye

my self and all hence forth will I direct

my pen shall paint his honor and [his] praise

and with my mouth further will I spread [his] Fame

and when this wretched earthly mass decays                  [235]

my Soul in bliss shall magnify his name



The Dark Side of Shakespeare (a Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)