Sir John Suckling

Biographical Information


Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) is most famous for his prominence as a 17th century Cavalier poet. Born in Middlesex, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge but never took a degree, leaving in 1626. His father died the same year; he had been a Comptroller — a financial officer — for King James I, and for that reason, upon his death, Suckling inherited several large estates and plenty of money. Just eighteen at this time, he entered into a military career and was knighted three years later. Upon his return from the military, he grew quite the reputation as a party-goer and a gamer. It is rumored that he invented the game Cribbage. After a brief first-go at writing in 1637, he re-entered the military life, forming a well-dressed Calvary to aid King Charles I in 1639 and found himself sitting in Parliament the following year. After a scandal involving rescuing the Earl of Strafford from the Tower of London, Suckling fled to France where he was found dead a few months later. The exact cause of his death is unknown, but save for one wild theory about a servant hiding a razor blade in his boot, it is accepted that he died from ingesting poison either intentionally or unintentionally. While he had some of his work published in 1637, the majority of his works were published posthumously in a collection titled Fragmenta Aurea.

Literary Works

"For the most part, there is little reason to doubt Suckling's assertions about the essential relationship between the way he lived and the way he wrote; most of his poetry might very well have been composed quickly and effortlessly. Certainly the persona of most of the verse is casually at play in the world he has made up. But behind this mask of studied indifference, a disturbing seriousness and even pathos pervades some of the poetry. No less a commentator than George Saintsbury has noticed this seriousness. After stating that 'everything with Suckling turns to a ripple of merriment…,' Saintsbury adds, almost as an afterthought, 'there are poems, and good ones, of his which might pass muster as serious, but one always suspects that they are not.'" Michael H. Markel

"Against Fruition": provides an eloquent argument against the culmination of any relationship, whether that result in marriage, children or otherwise. In this poem, Suckling argues in favor of experiencing all life has to offer. He argues that to experience many pleasures, specifically those of women, is much better than reaching the high-point of a relationship only to grow tired of it: "What relishes? even kisses lose their taste" (12). He then continues to conclude that: "'Tis expectation makes a blessing dear; / Heaven were not heaven, if we knew what it were" (23-4).

"Song (Why so pale and wan, fond lover?)": is the quintessential poem for all those who doubt the reality of Courtly Love. Rejecting all aspect of petrarchanism Suckling poses the argument: if doing your best can't get her, what makes you think doing nothing will?

"Sonnet II": is a playful take on many poems written to Cupid. Suckling regards him almost as a friend, calling him a "kind boy" and stating that he needs nothing but "love in love"(8) to enjoy himself while courting. Suckling acknowledges that it is his eye which assigns beauty to things, and may change what he assigns beauty to, which is why all he needs from cupid is his love of love. While called a 'sonnet' this poem does not follow the traditional sonnet form of 14 lines.


1, Jokinen, Anniina. "The Life of Sir John Suckling." Luminarium. 27 Mar 2003. [20 Apr 2011]. <>
2. Markel, Michael H."John Suckling's Semi-Serious Love Poetry" Essays in Literature, Vol. IV, No. 2, Fall, 1977, pp. 152-58
3. Suckling, John in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
4. Image:
5. Poems from: <>.

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