From courtly love to tough luck love, the topics for English poetry changed with the times. English poetry evolved from the Elizabethans' idea of courtly love to the Cavaliers' philosophy of love, which was, if a woman doesn't love you there is always another. Thrown into this mix of poems were another variety called metaphysical poems which also, along with the Cavalier poems, contradicted the beliefs of the courtly love poets.
The first of England's significant poetic eras began in 1485 and lasted to 1625 and like most poetry its themes were based around love. The type of love portrayed in this poetry was courtly love, this being a type of love in which the man was overwhelmed by love for a woman. In these writings the authors usually wrote about woe due to the women they were trying to court not showing interest in them. Innocence can be found in these poems (at least compared to the Cavaliers) and usually the material was, in a way, censored This period in English literature was led by artist such as Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney. A prime example of courtly love poetry can be found in one of Sir Philip Sidney's poems, "Sonnet 31." In this poem, Sidney writes about how the moon looks like it is in love because of it's supposed depressed state and he confesses he is in the same state. This is shown in lines 5 - 8 which say, "Sure, if that long-with-love acquainted eyes can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case. I read that in thy looks, thy languished grace, to me, that feel the like, that state decries."
After the Era of Courtly Love came the Cavalier poets. The Cavalier poets, like the Courtly love poets, wrote about love. This is were the similarity ends. While the love professed by the courtly love poets was sweet and innocent, the Cavaliers wrote about intense physical affairs. When the courtly love poets wrote about a depression due to love, the Cavalier poets wrote that if a lack of love is present, a replacement could easily be found. Of these poets there were two standouts: Sir John Suckling and Richard Lovelace. A classic showing of Cavalier literature can be found in Sir John Suckling's "Song." Through the poem Suckling tells another fellow about the fickleness of courtly love and at the end says "If of herself she will not love, nothing can make her: the devil take her!"
With the Cavaliers' poetry came another form: metaphysical poetry. Like the Cavalier's works, it too differed from the poems of courtly love. Metaphysical poems are poems that compare a thing with something dissimilar that normally would not be compared. In these poems, the wit of the authors often comes forth. These poems differed from courtly love poem because in the difference of content. Courtly love poems would never include the topics discussed in metaphysical poem, such as how religion was depicted in a sexual manner. Another way in which metaphysical poems differed from courtly love poems is that there was no distress over a women, in fact they often tried to lead women into encounters which basically implies the woman is already won. They also differed from the Cavaliers' poetry because the metaphysical poets showed more intelligence in their writings while the Cavaliers were straight forward with their ideas. Two of the most profound metaphysical poets were John Donne and Andrew Marvell. John Donne often used religious issues, pairing them with sexual experiences and imprisonment. An example of metaphysical conceit can easily be found in John Donne's writings, especially "Holy Sonnet 14."In this poem, Donne writes "Divorce me, untie, or break the knot again; take me to You, imprison me...." This shows metaphysical conceit when Donne says to God "divorce" me and "imprison me" because divorce is frowned upon and to walk with God was thought to be freedom.
Though all three types of poetry discussed are different, each one was significant to the development of British literature. Not only are these poems significant to British literature, but they are important to American literature. With out these poems, pathways for other poetry would not exist, therefore, the poetry afterwards would most likely not exist.