prelude to part 2

A short introduction to the second part of this article.

One of the most outstanding features of the human mind, is its strange incapability to accept – or even to recognize – the most obvious facts. That is to say: inconvenient obvious facts. Such an ostrich like attitude is in general no help to improve knowledge. But this appears not always to be a disadvantage. As demonstrated in the case of that lecture, back in the sixties, on a seventeenth century painting. The renowned expert vividly explained to his audience a rather famous picture of a young lady in every detail, the use of symbols included. Yet he managed to give no clue whatsoever on the motives of an attractive girl to offer the beholder a plate overcrowded with oysters, while moving backwards into her bedroom with an inviting expression on her face.

At least he had achieved that his audience did admire this masterpiece.

As a rule, however, it is to a disastrous effect when experts submerge their heads in sand. Take for instance all those admiring comments on the short Elizabethan love song ‘O Mistress Mine’ (Also known as ‘Carpe Diem’). The author being William Shakespeare himself is apparently all it takes to leave a dramatic collapse of quality – taking place in only twelve lines – unmentioned. There is in fact as little poetry in the final triplet as there is clothing on an emperor in a certain tale by Andersen. Yet, the title of OMM should be written in capitals. Its final chord might sound a little disappointing at first, but for those willing to accept this, there is a host of hidden extra’s in this song. Turning it into a box where sweets compacted lie.

The courage to bring Shakespeare down to one’s own level, is of course only to be found in another genius: in 1913 it was the Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) who linked ‘O Mistress Mine’ to two other poems, in which the collapse of quality is much easier to admit.

The first part of this triplet, titled ‘An impossible combination’, demonstrated in which way this set of three independent poems by different authors establishes a single story about reduced virtue. Reason to regard this cycle, so to speak, as a singularity. And as modern physics learns; a singularity is a spot where a large quantity of matter is concentrated in little space. From the amount of information stored in following 33 lines, and its reluctancy to reveal itself, one might conclude the authors of this Three-Part Elizabethan Song were way ahead of their time.

Sweet Day (ca. 1625)

Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
——-For thou must die.

Sweet spring! full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My music shows ye have your closes,
——-And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like seasoned timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
——-Then chiefly lives.


The Willow Song   (1603/4)

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
——-Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
——-Sing, willow, willow, willow:
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;
——-Sing, willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones;
——-Sing, willow, willow, willow:
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.



O mistress mine! where are you roaming?
O! stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
—–That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
—–Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ‘t is not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
—–What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty,
—–Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

go to chapter 1