Epilogue ‘If what parts, can so remaine’

  • James P. Bednarz
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


There are 232 Shakespeare First Folios, but only two original copies of Love’s Martyr with ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’. If this volume had vanished along with Love’s Labour’s Won and Cardenio, we would still possess the core works for which Shakespeare is popularly revered today How essential or expendable then is this short poem to the Shakespeare canon? While there will always be some who, never having read it, would never miss it and others who, having read it, stand outside its charmed circle, immune to its strange music and dismissive of its literary value, from the end of the nineteenth century it has regularly elicited admiration as one of the most beautiful and mysterious poems ever written. With its iconic vision, startling ideas, complex structure and haunting rhythms, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ will undoubtedly continue to astonish inquisitive readers as Shakespeare’s ‘most notable exercise’ in ‘lyric wonder’.1 Its oracular fantasy provides one of the most profound experiences poetry can yield, with a lightness of touch and intellectual playfulness that make it even more compelling. For some it is a paean of hope and for others an epitaph for truth and beauty. Conjoined, these constantly recurring interpretations prove the extent to which it withholds solutions. Its chief function is to pose basic questions about the extent to which it is possible for us to realize our highest ideals and the extent to which our rituals of remembrance — such as poetry — can ameliorate or at least make comprehensible a shared human dilemma.


Modern Poetry Chief Function Short Poem Literary Metaphor Iconic Vision 
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    James Biester, Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in English Renaissance Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 150, n35.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Howard Felperin, ‘Keats and Shakespeare: Two New Sources’, ELN 2 (1965): 105–9, explicitly points out Keats’s imitation.Google Scholar
  3. James L. O’Rourke, Keats’s Odes and Contemporary Criticism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), 85, concurs that ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ ‘clearly informs the final conjunction of beauty and truth in Keats’s funeral urn’. He calls attention to lines 53–5 and 64, concerning “Beautie, Truth, and Raritie’ and ‘Truth and Beautie’. It is therefore odd to read Thomas Dilworth’s claim in ‘Keats’s Shakespeare’, TLS, 22 April 2011: 15, that ‘this relationship has not been noted in print’.Google Scholar
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    James Joyce, Ulysses (New York: Random House, 1961), 424:3–6.Google Scholar
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    Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (New York: Macmillan, 1942), anchors the chronology of his New Critical tradition with ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, ‘The Canonization’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’.Google Scholar
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    See also Warren Carrier, ‘Commonplace Costumes and Essential Gaudiness, Wallace Stevens’ “Emperor of Ice-Cream”’, College Literature 1 (1974): 230–5, for a more ironic rejoinder to Shakespeare’s poem.Google Scholar
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    I. A. Richards, Poetries: Their Media and Technology (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), 58;Google Scholar
  16. Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 4.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© James P. Bednarz 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James P. Bednarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Long Island UniversityUSA

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