Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled:
Then happy I, that love and am beloved,
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
The poet reflects on the vagaries of fortune, and how those who enjoy high estate and public favour are at the mercy of the power of princes. Even the most famous warriors and leaders can suddenly fall into disfavour, especially if fortune turns against them, for then all their former victories are forgotten, and spiteful oblivion erases their name from the roll of honour.
But, says the poet, my condition is much more blessed, for I live in the heart of my beloved, and I cannot be moved from that seat, nor he from me.
One of the interests of this sonnet is that the mention of the warrior famoused for fight in l.9 might be linked to a historical person, such as Sir Francis Drake d.1596, the Earl of Essex (beheaded 1601), Sir Walter Raleigh, (in disgrace c. 1602), the Earl of Southampton (imprisoned in 1601 for his part in the Essex rebellion). But as there are so many potential candidates, the greater probability is that it is a general reference based on stories from North’s Plutarch, or from Homer, where the mythical thousand victories might be more plausible.