Ben Jonson – Songs from various plays

Today’s selection includes two songs from Cynthia’s Revels and one from Epicene.  “Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount” is a song sun by the nymph Echo, heartbroken after her beloved Narcissus died after gazing for too long at his own reflection and was turned into the flower bearing his name. She asks the spring which was the cause of Narcissus’ death to flow more slowly to keep pace with her mourning. She asks other herbs and flowers to droop down together with her and says she could drop like melting snow on a mountain top, implying she herself is going to dissolve into tears. “Queen and Huntress”, from the same play, was sung by Hesperus (the evening star) addressing Diana, the moon goddess, obviously referring to Queen Elizabeth. Hesperus describes Diana, “Goddess excellently bright” (this line is repeated at the end of every stanza as a refrain) seated on her silver throne and asks the Earth not to eclipse her with its shade. Finally he asks Diana to lay down her bow of pearl and her crystal quiver to give the animals she hunts a moment of respite. “Still to Be Neat” chides in a light-hearted way ladies who spend too much time on perfecting their clothes and make-up. I can only imagine, looking at the portraits of Elizabethan ladies, that putting on all this finery was very time-consuming. If you take so much time to be always dressed to the nines, powdered and perfumed, the implication is, Jonson writes, that without all that you are not as sweet and sound. More simplicity, looser robes and freely-flowing hair, such “sweet neglect” is far more enchanting “than all the adulteries of art”.

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