Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air,
Thrice sit thou mute in this enchanted chair,
Then thrice three times tie up this true love's knot,
And murmur soft "She will, or she will not."
Go burn these pois'nous weeds in yon blue fire,
These screech-owl's feathers and this prickling briar,
This cypress gathered at a dead man's grave,
That all my fears and cares an end may have.
Then come, you fairies! dance with me a round;
Melt her hard heart with your melodious sound.
In vain are all the charms I can devise:
She hath an art to break them with her eyes.
In case you're wondering, I don't think this is a great poem. It's a conventional love poem from around 1600, relatively slight compared to most of the poems we've had in this series. But it's very well done. And by "conventional" I mean that it isn't a straight-from-the-heart cry of the sort that came in with the Romantics (more or less), but that it's in the courtly love tradition which involved certain conventions in the lover's words to or about the "mistress" with whom the song or poem is concerned. There's a certain detachment involved.
The reason I'm posting it is that Campion (1567-1620) was an accomplished poet-musician whose poems work equally well on the page or with their tunes. I regard him as some kind of ideal in that way.
I usually get a little impatient when someone says that the lyrics of this or that contemporary songwriter can stand alone as poetry. I'm not sure I've ever seen one of which that is really true. I love Dylan's work (a lot of it anyway), but I don't think he should have gotten the Nobel prize for literature. This is not a disparagement of his best work, or anyone else's--and there are a good many songwriters around now who are doing better work than Dylan has done since his early peak. I would in fact be willing to sacrifice some non-essential body part to have written some of their songs. Many of them are so good precisely because the lyrics are brilliant. But they're song lyrics, dependent on their musical settings for a great deal of their power, most of which they lose when read in isolation.
Here is "Thrice Tosse..." sung to the tune Campion wrote for it.
See what I mean? It's as good a song as it is a poem.
I'm actually not entirely sure precisely what the charms in the first two stanzas are supposed to do. The first suggests fortune-telling, the second...I don't know...it sounds like suicide, but maybe something to bend her will to his? I guess it would have been obvious to people of his time.
By the way I have not seen anything to indicate that Thomas Campion was related to Edmund Campion, S.J. Here's his Wikipedia entry.
I promise this is not an attempt to turn 52 Poems into a music series.
--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.