Friday Fun: Away with these self-loving lads (John Dowland)

… and then, of course, there are the times when Dowland took the day off from being depressed and reverted to that other classic of Elizabethan song-writing: innuendo.

I was commenting to a friend this week that Elizabethan love songs come in two general styles, both highly unsuitable for weddings.  The first is your classic woe is me, unrequited, sort of love song.  The other kind take as their model Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress, and generally let it be known that the poet / singer will die – and not in a good way – if the object of his affections refuses to go to bed with him.  (I apologise to anyone who may be shocked by this, but it is so.)  My personal favourite of this genre is Sweet Cupid, Ripen Her Desire, which I see nobody has put on YouTube yet.  I may have to fix that problem, but in the meantime, let me assure you that when Harriet Vane objected to it in Gaudy Night, she wasn’t being needlessly prudish.  It really is filthy.

Which leads me to my other point, which is that if you think you have spotted a dirty joke in an Elizabethan song, you are almost certainly quite right.  And you’ve probably missed three others (hint: rings and shafts go together.  You’ll have to find the others on your own).  Creative gutter-mindedness is practically an art form in this genre.

Here are the lyrics to Dowland’s contribution.  I think they speak for themselves.

Away with these self-loving lads, whom Cupid’s arrow never glads.
Away, poor souls, that sigh and weep, in love of those that lie and sleep.
For Cupid is a meadow God, and forceth none to kiss the rod.

God Cupid’s shaft, like destiny, doth either good or ill decree
Desert is borne out of his bow, reward upon his foot doth go.
What fools are they that have not known that Love likes no laws but his own?

My songs they be of Cynthia’s praise, I wear her rings on holy days,
On every tree I write her name, and every day I read the same:
Where honor Cupid’s rival is, there miracles are seen of his.

If Cynthia crave her ring of me, I blot her name out of the tree.
If doubt do darken things held dear, then welfare nothing once a year;
For many run, but one must win, fools only hedge the Cuckoo in.

The worth that worthiness should move, is love, which is the bow of Love,
And love as well the forester can as can the mighty nobleman:
Sweet Saint,’tis true you worthy be, yet without love naught worth to me.

(as the actress said to the Bishop)

This recording, incidentally, is rather gorgeous.  I don’t think I’ve heard Rogers Covey-Crump sing before, but he has a beautiful voice, and does this song delightful justice – his voice has just the right amount of propriety, but he clearly knows exactly what he is singing, which is always important.  And he enunciates beautifully, which is of course vital if you are singing naughty songs.

I’ve found several lovely recordings by mezzo sopranos (I particularly liked this one, though I predict complaints about the singer’s sense of rhythm), but I do feel that this song needs to be sung by a man – I don’t think a woman can really sing about being cuckolded, for one thing.  (I will leave any other anatomical references as an exercise for the student.)

And I think I’d better stop now before this blog post manages to get into un-work-safe territory.  Though if you work in an English literature department, it’s probably already there…

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0 comments for “Friday Fun: Away with these self-loving lads (John Dowland)

  1. April 21, 2013 at 7:24 am

    *looks up “Sweet Cupid”*
    *startles neighbours by hooting loudly with laughter*

    It’s not exactly subtle, that one. “Twill be too late too get it in”, for instance.

    As for Eng Lit departments, this sort of thing is business as usual for them.

    • April 21, 2013 at 8:50 am

      I sang this at a wedding once. I did point out to the bride what it meant, but she was very sure that nobody listening would hear the lyrics…

      (actually, I enunciate quite well when singing)

  2. April 21, 2013 at 7:28 am

    …and the comment about the corn…

  3. April 21, 2013 at 8:51 am

    How can you say that isn’t subtle? That’s symbolism, that is!

  4. Cale B.T.
    May 30, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Covey-Crump is one of my favourite singers, and I’m glad that you got some enjoyment from this upload. Feel free to browse the rest of my videos on YouTube.

  5. May 30, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you – I may well do that! You have an interestingly eclectic collection.

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