Thomas Campion – “Now winter nights enlarge”, “There is a garden in her face”, “Fain would I wed”

“Now winter nights” is a rather charming poem about the pleasures one can derive from long winter nights. As a person who wants to creep under covers in late October and not to get out of bed until April, I appreciate reminding me about the solaces of this season – drinking wine (yes!), singing (ermm….), partying (not so much…) and making love (I’ll stay discreet on this topic). Some people dance, some people tell riddles, some read poems.  Anything to shorten these tedious nights.

This is unfortunately only the recording of the first stanza.

“There is a garden in her face” is a poem in the tradition of blazon poems, where all the individual features of the lover’s face are examined separately and compared to various things. The centrepiece of this garden are the lover’s lips, compared to cherries. The refrain, repeated in each stanza emphasizes that nobody can touch these “sacred cherries” until the beloved herself will call “Cherry ripe!”, the traditional call of London fruit-sellers. I don’t think the woman here is a country girl like Amaryllis, come to sell her fruit in town – the comparisons Campion uses are far too elegant (her teeth like orient pearls, her eyes like angels etc.) It’s more about the veiled invitation to come and taste her fruit. I think it’s the first poem in a long time in which the woman is the one explicitly issuing an invitation, instead of framing rape as seduction, as it happens too often in older literature.  I could not find a recording of this poem I liked, so I’ll leave it there.

“Fain would I wed” is an interesting song on many counts: Campion employs here an unusually long line of fourteen syllables and he impersonates a flighty young girl who does not know her own mind. She would like to marry a young man who could comfort both her body and mind when she is sad. She makes a general remark that “maids are full of longing thoughts that bring a bloodless sickness”. Campion was a doctor so he knew what he was writing about – in this respect, the idea that unfulfilled sexual urges lead to some kind of anaemia that is best cured by marriage. I thought it was a Victorian idea, but apparently it’s much older. The girl has had many admirers but she cannot love any of them for more than a day. In the last stanza she fantasizes about fleeing to a convent, but then she remembers she wants to have children.

I like this recording because of its fast tempo, which reflects well the character of the song and the maid who is the speaker. There are also other, much slower recordings which do not convey the mood of this song as well, I think. I guess Campion did not mark the tempo in his notation, so it’s left open to the interpretation of the musicians.

 

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