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Now Winter Nights Enlarge -- Thomas Campion

(Poem #565) 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 o'erflow 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 doth well dispense
 With lovers' long discourse;
 Much speech hath some defence,
 Though beauty no remorse.
 All do not all things well;
 Some measures comely tread,
 Some knotted riddles tell,
 Some poems smoothly read.
 The summer hath his joys
 And winter his delights;
 Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
 They shorten tedious nights.
-- Thomas Campion
Campion's poems have to be appreciated from close quarters; take a step
away, and they lose much of their magic. The reasons are plain enough -
the poems are short on particularity; their range of subject matter is
narrow; the emotions they depict are too conventional, too _ordinary_...

... and yet the poems themselves are far from ordinary. On the contrary,
they're possessed of a peculiar sort of enchantment, a delicate,
ethereal sort of perfection, and one that's especially notable when set
beside the towering but decidedly uneven verse of, say, a Marlowe or a

The key to resolving this particular paradox is to realize that
Campion's poems aren't poems at all: they're songs. Campion was "one of
the outstanding songwriters of the brilliant English lutenist school of
the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His lyric poetry reflects his
musical abilities in its subtle mastery of rhythmic and melodic
structure" [1]. Campion's words appeal to 'the auditory imagination'
[2]; they do not depend on visual imagery or effects, hence their
apparent lack of detail, their irritating vagueness. The empty spaces
are to be filled with music; the phrases [3] gain depth and meaning from
the aural background.


[1] EB; more from EB in the Assessment section below.
[2] the phrase is due to Campion's editor, the critic W. R. Davies.
[3] Do I _have_ to say it? Pun fully intended <grin>.

[Links] is an excellent Campion
companion [4]; it includes a biography, essays and analyses, his
(more-or-less) complete Poetickal Workes, and (an added bonus) MIDI
files of several of his songs.

[4] <grin> Say _that_ as quickly as you can!


        b. Feb. 12, 1567, London
        d. March 1, 1620, London

also spelled Campian, English poet, composer, musical and literary
theorist, physician, and one of the outstanding songwriters of the
brilliant English lutenist school of the late 16th and early 17th
centuries. His lyric poetry reflects his musical abilities in its subtle
mastery of rhythmic and melodic structure.

After attending the University of Cambridge (1581-84) Campion studied
law in London, but he was never called to the bar. Little is known of
him until 1606, by which time he had become a doctor. Possibly he
studied medicine in France or Holland. He practiced medicine from 1606
until his death.

Campion's first publication was five sets of verses appearing
anonymously in the pirated 1591 edition of Sidney's Astrophel and
Stella. In 1595 his Poemata (Latin epigrams) appeared, followed in 1601
by A Booke of Ayres (written with Philip Rosseter), of which much of the
musical accompaniment and verses were Campion's. He wrote a masque in
1607 and three more in 1613, in which year his Two Bookes of Ayres
probably appeared. The Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres came out in 1617,
probably followed by a treatise (undated) on counterpoint.

        -- EB


Campion's lyric poetry and songs for lute accompaniment are undoubtedly
his works of most lasting interest. His music (always for "ayres," not
madrigals) is delicate, singable, and expressive. Though his theories on
music are slight, he thought naturally in the modern key system, with
major and minor modes, rather than in the old modal system. Campion
stated his theories on rhyme in Observations in the Art of English
Poesie (1602). In this work he attacked the use of rhymed, accentual
metres, insisting instead that timing and sound duration are the
fundamental element in verse structure. Campion asserted that in English
verse the larger units of line and stanza provide the temporal stability
within which feet and syllables may be varied.

With the exception of his classic lyric Rose-cheekt Lawra, Come, Campion
usually did not put his advocacy of quantitative, unrhymed verse into
practice. His originality as a lyric poet lies rather in his treatment
of the conventional Elizabethan subject matter. Rather than using visual
imagery to describe static pictures, he expresses the delights of the
natural world in terms of sound, music, movement, or change. This
approach and Campion's flowing but irregular verbal rhythms give
freshness to hackneyed subjects and seem also to suggest an immediate
personal experience of even the commonest feelings. The Selected Songs,
edited by W.H. Auden, was published in 1972

        -- EB


Recently I bought a CD titled 'Shakespearean Songs', recorded by the
Alfred Deller  Consort. Most magical. (For those of you who haven't
heard of Alfred Deller, he's a contratenor who specialized in medieval
music, specifically, lute pieces from the Elizabethan and Jacobean age.
Very celebrated, and justly so. The August 1998 issue of Gramophone has
an excellent survey of his career). Deller has recorded some of
Campion's songs as well; I must try to get hold of them.

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