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A Farewell to Arms
A Poem by George Peele (1556-1596) 
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary
Theme
Who Was the Knight?
End Rhyme
Meter
Text of the Poem and Notes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Peele's Biography
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2010
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Type of Work and Publication Year

......."A Farewell to Arms" is a lyric poem written for the retirement ceremony in 1590 of Queen Elizabeth I's champion knight. It pledges undying loyalty to the queen (1533-1603). Peele had also written a play, The Arraignment of Paris (1584), that complimented the queen.

Summary

.......The time has come for an aging knight to retire from the field of battle. His once-golden hair is now gray, and the strength of his youth is gone. But his readiness to serve the queen dutifully and lovingly remains strong. So he will leave the queen's court, put away his helmet and, instead of writing love poems, compose prayers that he will say on his knees in his cottage.
.......To pass the time in his humble dwelling he will teach the country boys a song of praise about their queen.

Theme

.......The theme of the poem is the aging soldier's valediction, which states: Though he is too old now to serve on the field of battle, he will continue to serve his queen (Elizabeth I) as her "beadsman"—that is, he will pray for her.

Who Was the Soldier?

.......Peele wrote the poem on the occasion of the retirement in 1590 of Sir Henry Lee (1533-1611) as Queen Elizabeth's champion knight, who performed in jousts before the queen each year on the November 17 anniversary of Elizabeth's accession (1558) to the English throne. Lee continued to serve the queen as Master of the Royal Armouries, a position to which he was appointed in 1580. It is said that Peele's poem was sung to the queen during Lee's final jousting tournament on November 17, 1590.

End Rhyme

.......In each stanza, the first line rhymes with the third, the second with the fourth, and the fifth with the sixth. All the lines in the poem end with masculine rhyme (consisting of single syllables) except lines 2 and 4 (ceasing, increasing), which end with feminine rhyme. 

His golden locks Time hath to silver turn'd
  O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd,.........(spurn'd, turn'd: masculine rhyme)
  But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing:........(ceasing, -creasing: feminine rhyme)
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green...................(seen, green: masculine rhyme)
Meter

.......Peele wrote the poem in iambic pentameter. A line of iambic pentameter has five pairs of syllables, or five feet. Each foot consists of an iamb (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). Because there are five iambs—or five iambic feet—in each line, the metric format is called iambic pentameter. (The prefix ''pent'' means ''five.'')
.......The first three lines of the second stanza demonstrate the metric pattern.

.....1................2...................3.................4...............5
His HEL..|..met NOW..|..shall MAKE..|..a HIVE..|..for BEES

......1.................2...................3................4................5
And, LOV..|..ers' SON..|..nets TURN'D..|..to HO..|..ly PSALMS

.....1...............2..................3.................4..................5
A MAN-..|..at-ARMS..|..must NOW..|..serve ON..|..his KNEES

Lines 2 and 4 each have an extra syllable, for a total of 11 syllables.

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Text of the Poem

His golden locks Time hath to silver turn'd; 
  O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing! 
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd, 
  But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing: 
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green. 

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees; 
  And, lovers' sonnets turn'd to holy psalms, 
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees, 
  And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms:1
But though from court to cottage he depart, 
His Saint2 is sure of his unspotted heart. 

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,3
  He'll teach his swains4 this carol for a song,— 
'Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
  Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.' 
Goddess,5 allow this agèd man his right 
To be your beadsman6 now that was your knight. 

Notes

1....Age his alms: Alms for his old age.
2....Saint: Queen Elizabeth I.
3....cell: A room in his cottage.
4....swains: Country fellows.
5....Goddess: Queen Elizabeth I.
6....Beadsman: One who prays; one who uses rosary beads to pray.
 

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Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.

Alliteration

Time hath to silver turn'd
O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing
His helmet now shall make a hive for bees
sonnets turn'd to holy psalms
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees
court to cottage 
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart
saddest sits in homely cell
Metaphor
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading
Comparison of beauty, strength, and youth to flowers
Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Write a short essay explaining the duties of a knight who was an English monarch's champion.
  • Write a short poem commemorating a special occasion. 
  • Write an essay that uses as its thesis the meaning of line 6: Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.
  • What does the poem have in common with the speech given by a valedictorian at a college or high-school graduation ceremony?
  • Line 8 mentions sonnets and psalms. What is a sonnet? What is a psalm?

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