The Squire of Low Degree

This poem is a classic example of a chivalric romance from the Medieval era. A man aspires to become worthy of the object of the princess he loves, however, what sets this apart from a child’s bedtime story is the social, emotional, and personal obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. As is common with Medieval romances, the white knight figure must prove himself, but what modern audiences often fail to recognize, is not that the protagonist must prove their Wirth in order to deserve love, what they are actually being asked to do, is to begin a journey of self-discovery and personal development. The narrative style dictates, that the protagonist must change in some way either. From a modern perspective, it may seem as if this plot is superficial and that it is wrong for a man to have to prove himself rather than being loved for who he is, but that is not the medieval perspective as the goal of the heroic journey is not to gain affection, but conversely to discover oneself in the process of encountering strange and challenging things.

Another aspect of this poem that is hard to overlook is the presence of the natural world in the poem. The poet goes on and on about the garden that the squire retires to when he is feeling sad about his position and inability to be with his love. In this way, nature is treated as a respite. However, it is not just a garden, it is an escape from the pressures of society. The garden is a place where each bird, whether a “swalowe”, “larke”, or “sparowe”, contributes to the ambiance (bird song) and each tree, whether a “cyresse”, “sykamoure”, or “fygge-tre”, contributes to the visual beauty of the overall atmosphere (Copeland). If we compare this garden to the outside world we see how in nature, but not in the strict hierarchical society of medieval England, each creature under the sun has something valuable to contribute, even if they are not the same and equal.
something to contribute. This then represents the theme that runs throughout the poem that a virtuous person, despite a lack of funds or noble status, can achieve their goals. The story then becomes less about deserving good things, but that chivalric actions and mindsets will win out over villainy (even when that villain is richer and has a higher position in society).

“The Squire of Low Degree.” Edited by Eric Cooper and William Copeland, Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester, 2005,

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Meaghan Mullins

Yo soy un Junior en Dickinson. Yo soy a Virginia. Me gusta animales y fútbol.

2 thoughts on “The Squire of Low Degree”

  1. Meaghan, great post! I am not familiar with this poem but know a bit about the trope; it was interesting to hear about how the squire’s quest is often misconstrued as for romance but often for the self. I liked hearing about the scene of the poem in the garden; I wonder what this moment of rest in nature offered the squire in terms of perhaps a sense of peace or growth. It was fascinating that this scene might be a statement on the absence of hierarchy in nature, which would make sense in a world in which money and titles, especially one like “squire” determined one’s worth. Although cliche, it really reminded me of the saying about the hero’s journey- that the moral or lesson is not about what the protagonist earns at the end but what he finds out about himself along the way. I wonder what the emphasis on the individual means during this time period, as so many of these tales have to do with one single hero’s journey rather than a team or partners, etc (do any such stories exist during the time not centered on a single man’s journey?).

  2. I love the passage that you’ve zeroed in on here; it’s so interesting to compare a hero’s journey with nature. I think this presents a really nice balance as you’ve mentioned since the protagonist has to prove themselves worthy, but nature doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. It simply exists. It’s interesting that you separate nature from rigid hierarchical systems in human society because, while it may be less overt, nature does have a type of predatory hierarchy, in which creatures are always at the mercy of something bigger/stronger. I think it could be interesting to think about this in comparison to the human world.

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