'How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things' by Michael Drayton

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How many paltry foolish painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days,
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.
Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
To have seen thee, their sex's only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,
Still to survive in my immortal song.

Editor 1 Interpretation

How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things: A Deep Dive into Michael Drayton's Poetry

Are you a fan of classical English poetry? Do you enjoy exploring the depths of the human psyche through intricate verse forms and metaphors? Then you must have come across Michael Drayton's "How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things," a sonnet that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire scholars and readers alike. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the meanings and themes of this seminal work and try to unravel the secrets that lie hidden between the lines.

Background and Context

Before we embark on our journey of poetic discovery, let us first set the context in which this poem was written. Michael Drayton was a prominent English poet and playwright of the Elizabethan era, who lived from 1563 to 1631. He was known for his mastery of various poetic forms, including sonnets, odes, and epics, and was highly regarded by his contemporaries and later generations of poets.

"How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" is one of Drayton's most famous sonnets, and was first published in 1605 as part of his collection "Idea: The Shepherd's Garland." The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter and follows the traditional English sonnet form of three quatrains and a couplet. Its title is taken from the first line of the poem, which sets the tone for what is to come.


Let us now take a closer look at the sonnet and try to summarize its main themes and ideas. The poem begins with the speaker asking a rhetorical question, "How many paltry foolish painted things," which he answers himself in the next line, "That now in coaches trouble every street." The speaker is referring to the fashionable ladies of his time, who adorn themselves with makeup and expensive clothes, and ride in carriages through the city, creating a spectacle for all to see.

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues his critique of these women, saying that they are like "glowing tapers" that attract the attention of moths and other insects, who are ultimately consumed and destroyed by their beauty. The women, in turn, are compared to "sparkling jewels" that are coveted by men, but which ultimately bring only sorrow and disappointment.

The third quatrain takes a more philosophical turn, as the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of beauty and the inevitability of death. He compares the women to "morning dew" that is quickly evaporated by the rising sun, and to "fading flowers" that wither and die. He concludes by saying that even though he was once "ensnared" by the beauty of such women, he has now become wiser and knows that true beauty lies in the "virtuous mind" and not in outward appearances.

The couplet, which is the final two lines of the sonnet, serves as a summary and a moral lesson. The speaker says that those who are "enamoured on a painted wall" are like fools who mistake appearances for reality, and that true love and happiness can only be found in a "constant heart" that values inner beauty over outward adornments.


Now that we have a general understanding of the sonnet, let us explore its themes and meanings in more detail. The central theme of the poem is the contrast between outward appearances and inner reality, and the danger of mistaking the former for the latter. The speaker is critical of the fashionable women of his time, who he sees as shallow and vain, and who use their beauty as a means of attracting attention and admiration.

The use of the word "paltry" in the first line is significant, as it suggests that the speaker sees these women as insignificant and of little value. The fact that they "trouble every street" reinforces this idea, as it implies that they are a nuisance and a distraction to others. The speaker's disdain for these women is also evident in his use of metaphors that compare them to insects and jewels, which are both fleeting and ultimately worthless.

The second quatrain, which uses the image of moths being attracted to a flame, serves to underscore the danger of being seduced by outward appearances. The moths, which are traditionally seen as symbols of destruction and death, are lured to their doom by the glowing light of the candle, just as men are entranced by the beauty of these women. The fact that the moths are "consumed" by the flame suggests that the women are also destructive in nature, and that their beauty is ultimately a trap that leads to ruin.

The third quatrain shifts the focus from the women to the nature of beauty itself, and the speaker's realization that it is fleeting and transitory. The use of the metaphors of morning dew and fading flowers emphasizes the idea that beauty is a temporary state, and that it is ultimately destined to wither and die. The speaker's use of the word "ensnared" to describe his past attraction to these women suggests that he sees himself as having been trapped by their beauty, and that he has now learned to value inner beauty over outward charm.

The couplet serves as a cautionary tale and a moral lesson, reminding readers that true love and happiness can only be found in a "constant heart" that values inner beauty over outward adornments. The use of the phrase "enamoured on a painted wall" is particularly effective, as it suggests that those who are seduced by outward appearances are like people who mistake a painting for reality, and that they are ultimately fooling themselves.


The beauty of poetry lies in its ability to evoke different meanings and interpretations depending on the reader's perspective and experience. Let us now explore some of the possible interpretations of "How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" and what it might mean for us today.

One possible interpretation of the sonnet is that it is a critique of the shallow and materialistic values of society, and a call to value inner beauty and character over outward appearances. The speaker's disdain for the fashionable women of his time can be seen as a rejection of the superficial values that they represent, and a reminder that true happiness and fulfillment come from within.

Another possible interpretation is that the sonnet is a meditation on the nature of beauty and its relationship to mortality. The use of the metaphors of morning dew and fading flowers suggests that beauty is a fleeting and transitory state, and that it is ultimately destined to wither and die. This can be seen as a reminder that all things in life are temporary, and that we should cherish and appreciate them while we can.

A third interpretation is that the sonnet is a warning against the dangers of being seduced by appearances and mistaking them for reality. The comparison of the women to moths and jewels suggests that their beauty is a trap that leads to destruction and disappointment, and that true love and happiness can only be found in a "constant heart" that values inner beauty and character.


In conclusion, "How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" is a timeless and thought-provoking sonnet that continues to inspire readers and scholars alike. Its themes of the contrast between outward appearances and inner reality, the fleeting nature of beauty, and the importance of valuing inner beauty over outward appearances are as relevant today as they were when the poem was first written. Whether we see it as a critique of materialistic values, a meditation on mortality, or a warning against the dangers of being seduced by appearances, the sonnet reminds us to look beyond the surface and to value what is truly important in life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things: A Masterpiece of Michael Drayton

Poetry has always been a medium of expressing emotions, thoughts, and ideas in a creative and artistic way. It has the power to move people, to inspire them, and to make them feel alive. One such masterpiece of poetry is "How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" by Michael Drayton. This poem is a perfect example of how a poet can use words to create a vivid image in the reader's mind and convey a powerful message.

Michael Drayton was an English poet and playwright who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and was considered one of the greatest poets of his time. Drayton's poetry was known for its lyrical quality, its use of vivid imagery, and its ability to convey complex emotions and ideas.

"How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" is a sonnet, which is a type of poem that consists of 14 lines. It follows the traditional structure of a sonnet, which consists of three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final couplet (two-line stanza). The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which means that the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines.

The poem begins with the line "How many paltry foolish painted things," which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The word "paltry" means insignificant or worthless, and the word "foolish" implies that these things are not only worthless but also foolish or silly. The phrase "painted things" suggests that these things are artificial or fake, as if they have been painted to look like something they are not.

In the first quatrain, the poet lists some of these "paltry foolish painted things." He mentions "idols," which are objects of worship that are often made of wood or stone and are believed to have supernatural powers. He also mentions "glory," which is the admiration and praise that people give to others for their achievements or qualities. The poet suggests that these things are not worth pursuing because they are not real or genuine.

In the second quatrain, the poet contrasts these "painted things" with the natural beauty of the world. He mentions "roses," which are a symbol of beauty and love, and "lilies," which are a symbol of purity and innocence. The poet suggests that these natural things are far more valuable and meaningful than the artificial things mentioned in the first quatrain.

In the third quatrain, the poet takes a more philosophical approach and suggests that everything in the world is temporary and fleeting. He mentions "beauty," "youth," and "love," which are all things that people value and desire but that are ultimately transitory. The poet suggests that we should not become too attached to these things because they will inevitably fade away.

The final couplet of the poem sums up the poet's message. He writes, "All this the world well knows yet none knows well, / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell." The first line suggests that people are aware of the transitory nature of the world but do not fully understand it. The second line suggests that people are often drawn to things that are ultimately harmful or destructive, like the "paltry foolish painted things" mentioned earlier in the poem. The word "heaven" in this context refers to the natural world and the things that are truly valuable and meaningful, while the word "hell" refers to the artificial and superficial things that people often pursue.

In conclusion, "How Many Paltry Foolish Painted Things" is a masterpiece of poetry that uses vivid imagery and a powerful message to convey the poet's philosophy of life. Michael Drayton's use of language and structure creates a powerful and memorable poem that continues to resonate with readers today. This poem is a reminder that the things we often value and pursue in life are often superficial and transitory, and that we should focus on the natural beauty and meaning that surrounds us.

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