Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
Shakespeare's Works
• The Poems
The Phoenix and Turtle

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

The Phoenix and Turtle

Hearts remote yet not asunder,
Distance and no space was seen

Lines 29–30

Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed, in cinders lie.

Lines 53–55

The poem by Shakespeare now known as “The Phoenix and Turtle,” or “The Phoenix and the Turtle," was first printed with no title; it was one of several additional poems in the 1601 publication of a long poem by Robert Chester.

In the classical tradition, the mythical phoenix consumes itself in fire, from the ashes of which another phoenix is born. In Shakespeare's poem, the phoenix is female and the turtle (that is, a turtledove) is male.

The poem has been interpreted in many ways. The phoenix and turtledove may die in a fire that produces a new phoenix—or may not produce offspring. Some see the poem as a celebration of their physical union. Others suggest that the two become one as they approach a Christian heaven, or offer a philosophical reading. Some even link them to historical figures, although such interpretations are no longer widely favored.

In the poem's first part, sometimes called the "session," birds assemble to sing the second part, or “anthem." The anthem celebrates the phoenix and turtle's love and introduces the figure of Reason. Reason composes the final “Threnos” (a dirge), which many find the most beautiful section.

Adapted from the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2004, 2006 Folger Shakespeare Library
Robert Chester. Loves martyr: or, Rosalins complaint. London, 1601


Imagining Shakespeare: The Phoenix and Other Wonders

From the Collection

1601 quarto edition of Chester's Loves Martyr, including The Phoenix and the Turtle

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623