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Introduction to the poem

Shakespeare’s poem now known as “The Phoenix and Turtle” (or as “The Phoenix and the Turtle”) appears to be his only occasional poem. It was first printed without any title as one of a handful of additional poems in Robert Chester’s 1601 Loves Martyr or, Rosalins Complaint. Allegorically shadowing the truth of Loue, in the constant Fate of the Phoenix and Turtle. At the end of Chester’s long poem we find Shakespeare’s contribution above his name, “William Shake-speare”; included with it, besides some anonymous pieces, are poems by three other contemporary dramatists and poets: John Marston, George Chapman, and Ben Jonson. These poems are collected after a title page that reads “Hereafter Follow Diverse Poeticall Essaies on the former Subiect; viz: the Turtle and Phoenix. Done by the best and chiefest of our moderne writers, with their names subscribed to their particular workes: neuer before extant. And (now first) consecrated by them all generally, to the loue and merite of the true-noble Knight, Sir Iohn Salisburie.”

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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 Phoenix and Turtle” in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to “The Phoenix and Turtle.” Find more in our digital image collection

Illustration depicting turtledoves, eagles, owls, swans, and other birds. From An entire body of philosophy ... By Antoine Le Grand. 1694.
Title page of Poems / vvritten by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. 1640.
A Phoenix. From Partheneia sacra. By Henry Hawkins. 1633.
A turtledove sitting atop a salt cellar. From Minerua Britanna. By Henry Peacham. 1612.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

The Phoenix and Turtle

Learn more about Shakespeare, his poem, and its history.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

About Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and Turtle
An introduction to the themes and interpretations of the poem

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the poem and our editors’ approach to this edition

Further Reading
Suggestions from our experts on where to learn more

Teaching “The Phoenix and Turtle”

Early printed text

The Phoenix and Turtle (1601)