The HyperTexts

Thomas Campion (1567-1620)

with an introduction by Jeffrey Woodward

Thomas Campion, born Feb. 12, 1567 in London and orphaned in his teens, entered Cambridge in 1581 but left without a degree. Although he was admitted to Gray’s Inn to study law in 1586, no evidence that he ever advanced to the bar has come to light. Years later, in 1605, Campion graduated from the University of Caen (France), after some years of residence on the continent, with an M.D., and soon thereafter left to practice medicine in London.

His first public literary effort came in the form of five pseudonymous songs that appeared in an early unauthorized edition of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella in 1591.

The years 1591-1592 discovered Campion on the continent as a gentleman-soldier in the company of Essex’s intervention in Normandy in defense of Henry IV against the Catholic League.

Campion, as poet and composer, collaborated with the lutenist Philip Rosseter to issue A Book of Ayresin 1601. In the opening sentences of “A Preface to the Reader,” he issued, for all practical purposes, a manifesto defining that view of the lyric which he pursued consistently throughout his career: “What epigrams are in poetry, the same are airs in music, then in their chief perfection when they are short … Many rests in music were invented either for necessity of the fugue or granted as a harmonic license in songs of many parts: but in airs I find no use they have, unless it be to make a vulgar and trivial modulation seem to the ignorant strange, and to the judicial tedious.” With his compositional practice and emphasis upon songs for lute and solo voice as against songs for many voices, Campion joined forces with such seminal figures as Dowland and Rosseter in revolutionizing the music of his day.

His Observations in the Art of English Poesie followed in the next year as a final serious attempt, in line with previous efforts by Thomas Drant, Sir Philip Sidney, Gabriel Harvey, Richard Stanyhurst and Abraham Fraunce, to reform English poetic practice by adopting classical quantitative meters. This treatise drew a critical refutation from Samuel Daniel in A Defense of Ryme (1603) and later a rebuke from Benjamin Jonson.

1615 saw Campion implicated in the infamous Sir Thomas Overbury affair, perhaps due to his long friendship with one of the principles in the case, Sir Thomas Monson, but, upon examination, the poet was cleared of complicity in the murder.

Other collections of Campion’s songs appeared: Two Books of Ayres in 1613 and The Third and Fourth Books of Ayres in 1617. Editions of his Latin poems and epigrams were published in 1595 and 1619 while a musical treatise, A New Way of Making Four Parts in Counterpoint, appeared in 1614. Campion was in sufficient favor to receive patronage to write masques for the Royal Court on at least three occasions.

Campion’s poetry demonstrates a progression from the elaborate stanzas, metrical experiments and exuberant diction of a youthful apprenticeship under the influence of Sir Philip Sidney to a gradual resolution and simplification in his mature work which favors greater brevity, tighter exposition and a sober restraint in phrasing. Many of Campion’s late lyrics are made of two strophes and adopt the form of logic. The first stanza, in such compositions, commonly states the proposition or argument, and the second stanza offers its resolution. However, this surface simplicity of the late work cannot mask the masterful cadences and turns of their author’s mastery of his art.

Campion died in London on March 1, 1620, reportedly a victim of the plague.

Modern Editions of the Poems

Davis, Walter R., ed. The Works of Thomas Campion. NY: Doubleday, 1967.
Simic, Charles, ed. Essential Campion. NY: Ecco Press, 1988.

Recordings of the Songs

Campion: English Ayres. Scotland: Linn Records, 2001. Performed by Nigel North and Michael Chance.

Thomas Campion: Lute Songs. US: Naxos, 1999. Performed by Stephen Rickards and Dorothy Linnell.

N.B. – The texts that follow, while compiled with reference to the Davis edition, silently modernize the spelling and dismiss archaisms, such as thee and thou or doth or dost. Orthographic practices peculiar to the period, such as the use of u for v or an elongated f for s and the replacement of an omitted vowel with an apostrophe to indicate either elision or the absence of an inflected form, were similarly sacrificed. Exceptions to these editorial emendations are limited predominately to terminal positions where such changes would obliterate the rhyme. The purpose of such liberties with Campion’s text is not to deform his art but to render it more accessible to the general modern reader. One further liberty was taken with Campion’s untitled lyrics: initial lines or parts of initial lines were employed as titles to aid in the visual presentation. -- J.W.

My Sweetest Lesbia

My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
And, though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them: heaven’s great lamps do dive
Into their west, and straight again revive,
But, soon as once set is our little light,
Then must we sleep one ever-during night.

If all would lead their lives in love like me,
Then bloody swords and armor should not be,
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
Unless alarm came from the camp of love:
But fools do live, and waste their little light,
And seek with pain their ever-during night.

When timely death my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends,
But let all lovers rich in triumph come,
And with sweet pastimes grace my happy tomb;
And Lesbia close up you my little light,
And crown with love my ever-during night.

I care not for these ladies

I care not for these ladies
That must be wooed and prayed
Give me kind Amaryllis
The wanton country maid,
Nature Art disdaineth,
Her beauty is her own:
          Her when we court and kiss,
          She cries, 'Forsooth, let go!'
          But when we come where comfort is,
          She never will say no.

If I love Amaryllis,
She brings me fruit and flowers,
But if we love these ladies,
We must bring golden showers;
Give them gold that sell love,
Give me the nut-brown lass,
          Who when we court and kiss,
          She cries, 'Forsooth, let go!'
          But when we come where comfort is
          She never will say no.

These ladies must have pillows
And beds by strangers wrought;
Give me a bower of willows,
Of moss and leaves unbought,
And fresh Amaryllis,
With milk and honey fed,
          Who when we court and kiss,
          She cries, 'Forsooth, let go!'
          But when we come where comfort is
          She never will say no.

When to her lute Corrina sings

When to her lute Corrina sings,
Her voice revives the leaden strings
And does in highest notes appear
As any challenged echo clear;
But when she does of mourning speak,
Even with her sighs the strings do break.

And as her lute does live or die,
Led by her passion, so must I,
For when of pleasure she does sing,
My thoughts enjoy a sudden spring,
But if she does of sorrow speak,
Even from my heart the strings do break.

The cypress curtain of the night

The cypress curtain of the night is spread
And over all a silent dew is cast.
The weaker cares by sleep are conquered;
But I alone, with hideous grief aghast,
In spite of Morpheus’ charms, a watch do keep
Over mine eyes, to banish careless sleep.

Yet oft my trembling eyes through faintness close,
And then the map of hell before me stands,
Which ghosts do see, and I am one of those
Ordained to pine in sorrows endless bands,
Since from my wretched soul all hopes are reft
And now no cause of life to me is left.

Grief, seize my soul, for that will still endure
When my crazed body is consumed and gone,
Bear it to your black den, there keep it sure,
Where you ten thousand souls do tear upon.
Yet all do not afford such food to thee
As this poor one, the worser part of me.

Hark, all you ladies

Hark, all you ladies that do sleep:
    The fairy queen Proserpina
Bids you awake and pity them that weep.
    You may do in the dark
What the day does forbid ;
    Fear not the dogs that bark,
        Night will have all hid.

But if you let your lovers moan,
    The fairy queen Proserpina
Will send abroad her fairies every one,
    That shall pinch black and blue
Your white hands and fair arms
    That did not kindly rue
        Your paramours harms.

In myrtle arbors on the downs,
    The fairy queen Proserpina,
This night by moonshine leading merry rounds,
    Holds a watch with sweet love,
Down the dale, up the hill;
    No plaints or groans may move
        Their holy vigil.

All you that will hold watch with love,
    The fairy queen Proserpina
Will make you fairer than Diana’s dove
    Roses red, lilies white,
And the clear damask hue,
    Shall on your cheeks alight
        Love will adorn you.

All you that love, or loved before,
    The fairy queen Proserpina
Bids you increase that loving humor more:
    They that yet have not fed
On delight amorous,
    She vows that they shall lead
        Apes in Avernus.

When you must home

When you must home to shades of under ground,
And there arrived, a new admired guest,
The beauteous spirits do engirt you round,
White Iope, blithe Helen, and the rest,
To hear the stories of your finished love
From that smooth tongue whose music hell can move:

Then will you speak of banqueting delights,
Of masques and revels which sweet youth did make,
Of tourneys and great challenges of knights,
And all these triumphs for your beauty’s sake:
When you have told these honors done to thee,
Then tell, O tell, how you did murder me.

Vain men, whose follies

Vain men, whose follies make a God of Love,
Whose blindness beauty does immortal deem;
Praise not what you desire, but what you prove,
Count those things good that are, not those that seem:
I cannot call her true that's false to me,
Nor make of women more then women be.

How fair an entrance breaks the way to love!
How rich of golden hope and gay delight!
What heart cannot a modest beauty move?
Who, seeing clear day once, will dream of night?
She seemed a saint, that broke her faith with me,
But proved a woman as all other be.

So bitter is their sweet, that true content
Unhappy men in them may never find:
Ah, but without them, none;  both must consent,
Else uncouth are the joys of either kind.
Let us then praise their good, forget their ill:
Men must be men, and women women still.

Kind are her answers

Kind are her answers,
    But her performance keeps no day;
Breaks time, as dancers
    From their own music when they stray:
    All her free favors
And smooth words wing my hopes in vain.
O did ever voice so sweet but only fain?
    Can true love yield such delay,
    Converting joy to pain?

Lost is our freedom
    When we submit to women so:
Why do we need them,
    When in their best they work our woe?
    There is no wisdom
Can alter ends by Fate prefixed.
O why is the good of man with evil mixed?
    Never were days yet called two,
    But one night went betwixt.

Now winter nights enlarge

Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
    Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
    And cups overflow with wine,
Let well-tuned words amaze
    With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
    Shall wait on honey Love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights,
    Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time does well dispense
    With lovers long discourse;
Much speech has some defense,
    Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well:
    Some measures comely tread;
Some knotted riddles tell;
    Some poems smoothly read.
The summer has his joys
    And Winter his delights;
Though Love and all his pleasures are but toys,
    They shorten tedious nights.

Veil, love, mine eyes

Veil, love, mine eyes: O hide from me
The plagues that charge the curious mind:
If beauty private will not be,
Suffice it yet that she proves kind.
    Who can usurp heaven’s light alone?
    Stars were not made to shine on one.

Griefs past a cure fools try to heal,
That greater harms on less inflict;
The pure offend by too much zeal;
Affection should not be too strict.
    He that a true embrace will find,
    To beauty’s faults must still be blind.

Love me or not

Love me or not, love her I must or die;
Leave me or not, follow her needs must I.
O that her grace would my wished comforts give.
How rich in her, how happy should I live.

All my desire, all my delight should be
Her to enjoy, her to unite to me:
Envy should cease, her would I love alone:
Who loves by looks, is seldom true to one.

Could I enchant, and that it lawful were,
Her would I charm softly that none should hear.
But love enforced rarely yields firm content;
So would I love that neither should repent.

Since she, even, she for whom I lived

Since she, even she, for whom I lived,
     Sweet she by fate from me is torn,
Why am not I of sense deprived,
     Forgetting I was ever born?
            Why should I languish, hating light?
            Better to sleep an endless night.

Be it either true or aptly feigned
     That some of Lethe’s water write,
It is their best medicine that are pained
     All thought to lose of past delight.
            O would my anguish vanish so!
            Happy are they that neither know.

I must complain

I must complain, yet do enjoy my love;
She is too fair, too rich in lovely parts:
Thence is my grief, for Nature, while she strove
With all her graces and divinest arts
    To form her too too beautiful of hue,
    She had no leisure left to make her true.

Should I, aggrieved, then wish she were less fair?
That were repugnant to mine own desires:
She is admired, new lovers still repair;
That kindles daily love’s forgetful fires.
    Rest, jealous thoughts, and thus resolve at last,
    She has more beauty than becomes the chaste.

The HyperTexts