Answering a question by means of such wordplay makes a strong impression of solving some kind of crossword. The kind of wordsubstitution also known – in Dutch anyway – as; ‘cryptogram’, which in turn is Latin for ‘coded message’. And judged by the host of enigmatic details introduced in Part One, it would be no exaggeration to regard the cycle of Three Elizabethan Part Songs as cryptic. Could this be because it was designed as an encoded message in the first place? It would be an interesting explanation for its numerous strange features, but the story that links the songs together, is far too common and easy to spot to be such a message. If there is one, it must be deeper down and it must be something important to justify such an elaborate scheme.
It is no coincidence that this comment on the complete cycle is very similar to the one I made in Part One on the seventh line of Sweet Day. The line that seems to have deeper grounds as the obvious interpretation of foretelling death. The line that is so clearly marked by its grammar, and that deals with music that does not exist. The line, in fact, that in referring to music has its counterparts in both The Willow Song and O Mistress Mine; the refrain and the third line respectively. And when compared, especially this third line looks rather interesting:
That can sing both high and low
Once more we are facing a line that does everything to attract the attention. By grammar to begin with; ‘that’ is referring to the singer. Apart from this alert signal, however, the line might be considered perfect in its place in a song. Yet it could not be spotted in a less fitting environment. The singer has only twelve lines at his disposal to express his ambigious feelings towards his unfaithfull mistress, and he is now wasting seven precious words to tell her something he can demonstrate without the slightest effort, as both the original setting by Thomas Morley (1557 – 1603) and the one by Ralph Vaughan Williams at this very spot prove.
And thus the innocent reader is confronted with yet another reversion; does SD feature some words on music that does not exist, in OMM it is the music that denies some words their reason to be. The average crossword enthousiast by now figures out in no time which way TWS fits into this pattern. But after four centuries there is no need to hurry. So, in order to decipher the message methodically, at first the cycle’s overall structure will be determined. And, funny enough, this structure is a message in itself. The poetry of both SD and TWS is easily summarized in prose, resulting in:
Only the virtuous soul shall live
The soul which is not virtuous shall die
Two contrasting versions of the same object; divine love, the main theme of all Herbert’s poetry, and adult(erous) human love from Othello are making a single statement of two lines, the second one repeating the first by contrast. And this confirms the main conclusion of Part One; Virtue is indeed carefully designed to establish the cycle. SD’s combination with TWS is perfectly resembling the structure of the opening triplet from OMM: two lines of love poetry preceding a single prosaïc statement containing a sharp contrast. And OMM’s summary also sounds familiar:
I care not for virtuous life