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Phyllis is my only joy -- Sir Charles Sedley

(Poem #634) Phyllis is my only joy
 Phyllis is my only joy,
      Faithless as the winds or seas;
 Sometimes coming, sometimes coy,
      Yet she never fails to please;
 If with a frown
 I am cast down,
 Phyllis smiling,
 And beguiling,
 Makes me happier than before.

 Though, alas! too late I find
      Nothing can her fancy fix,
 Yet the moment she is kind
      I forgive her all her tricks;
 Which, though I see,
 I can't get free;
 She deceiving,
 I believing;
 What need lovers wish for more?
-- Sir Charles Sedley
I have no idea how seriously to take today's poem <g>. The ending is a
wonderful piece of irony, but it is a pointed irony that highlights how
perceptively the poem captures the pattern of many a relationship, so that I
have to wonder how much of bitterness the poet's humour was infused with,
and where exactly it falls along the spectrum from light to biting satire.
'Tongue in cheek' is the phrase that springs to mind, but I'd hesitate to
apply it.

Either way, though, I like it - it's a delightful poem, particularly the
last three lines, which have that unmistakable ring of a poet having found
precisely the right words. Quotable to a fault.

  Sedley, Sir Charles, 4th Baronet
  b. March 1639, Aylesford, Kent, Eng.
  d. Aug. 20, 1701, Hampstead, London
  English Restoration poet, dramatist, wit, and courtier.

  Sedley attended the University of Oxford but left without taking a degree.
  He inherited the baronetcy on the death of his elder brother. After the
  Restoration (1660) he was a prominent member of the group of court wits.
  Charles II delighted in his conversation. The dramatists John Dryden and
  Thomas Shadwell were among his friends, and Dryden introduced him into his
  essay Of Dramatick Poesie under the name of Lisideius. Sedley was an
  active supporter of William and Mary at the time of the 1688 revolution.
  In later life he seems to have become a serious legislator. He sat in all
  the parliaments of William III as member for New Romney, and his speeches
  were considered to be thoughtful and sensible.

  Sedley's plays span the period 1668-87; notable among them is Bellamira
  (1687), a racy, amusing rehandling of the theme of the Eunuchus of the
  Roman playwright Terence. Sedley's literary reputation, however, rests on
  his lyrics and verse translations. His best lyrics, such as the well-known
  "Phillis is my only Joy," have grace and charm. His verse translations of
  the eighth ode of Book II of Horace and the fourth Georgic of Virgil have
  been highly praised. The first collected edition of his works was
  published in 1702; a later one, edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto, in two
  volumes, was published in 1928 with a study of the author.

  Sedley's son predeceased him, and the baronetcy became extinct upon
  Sedley's death.

        -- EB

Links and such:

I am reminded of Parker's 'Unfortunate Coincidence':
  [broken link]

Read more of Sedley's poems at the Poets' Corner:
  [broken link]


32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Helen Sachs Helder said...


Today I came upon the words of this poem reading your link, almost
after a lifetime having wondered who had written this one and not
remembering more than the first passage.

As a young child (13) in the second grade of a Dutch High School
(Lyceum) near The Hague, Netherlands, where a very skilled Director led
the school's choir, I sang this song with my other choir mates and
liked it somehow. Unfortunately, I never heard or found the music and
the complete text until today, 60 years later!

I am very glad that someone posted it, because I never forgot the first
part of the song and its melody, but never managed to finish the whole
song. Do you have any idea where to find the music to this? I would
love to purchase the chart.

Though today I am a vocalist specialized in Jazz, I would be very
pleased to finally be able to sing 'Phyllis' again, and if it was only
for my own joy!

Thank you in advance for your reply.

Helen Sachs
Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Anonymous said...

the people who have posted before me say its a song i didnt even know. i was thought in school being in first year by that time that it was a poem. But it is just so easy to remember it is straight foward enough but very humorous and yet conning and faithless as the poet describes the phyllis but i will always cherrish this poem. its my fave.

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