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John Dowland: Poems and Biography

John Dowland (1563-1626) was an accomplished poet, composer, singer and the greatest lutenist of his day. The lute was the most popular musical instrument of its era, and the precursor of the modern guitar. Today Dowland is best known for melancholy songs such as "Flow My Tears," "Come Again," "Come Heavy Sleep" and "Lachrimae." Dowland's songs and instrumental music have been covered by a number of contemporary musicians and singers, including Sting and Elvis Costello. Most notably, Sting's album Songs from the Labyrinth contains 31 tracks of Dowland compositions. In their introduction to a performance of "In Darkness Let Me Dwell," Edin Karamazov and Sting say the song "stands all alone" without precedent as "one of the best songs in the English language." Sting remarks, "It's the song that pulled us into the Labyrinth." (The lyrics appear immediately after this bio.) You can find modern performances of Dowland's songs and music on YouTube and IMSLP. This page is devoted to his lyrics, as poetry.

Famed throughout Europe as "the English Orpheus" for his artistry and skill, Dowland held a variety of court positions—notably an eight-year stint as lutenist at the Danish court, for which he published four collections of songs and was paid a princely salary. The defining disappointment of Dowland's life was his failure to secure a position at the court of Elizabeth I. His conversion to Catholicism during the course of early studies in France may have been the deciding factor in this loss of opportunity. But writings by his contemporaries leave no doubt about his technical and musical supremacy in the eyes of his fellow-citizens. A sonnet by Richard Barnfield compares the musician Dowland with the poet Edmund Spenser, each as the highest representative of his particular Muse.

Dowland's First Booke of Songes or Ayres of foure partes with Tableture for the Lute (1597) was an instant and precedent-setting success. It went into five printings during Dowland's lifetime, setting off a wave of similar efforts from other major lutenist/composers such as Morley, Pilkington, Johnson, and Danyel—many imitating the format of Dowland's initial offering. In the cover copy of the original edition, Dowland invites purchasers to view the songs as solo, ensemble, or instrumental works. Most of the lyrics are unattributed. Some may be Dowland's own—he was an accomplished wordsmith—and others he selected from among the finest poetry of that poetry-rich age. Composer Peter Warlock, in his study The English Ayre, left an appropriate summary comment on the legacy of Dowland the composer: "He chose for musical setting some of the most perfect lyrics that have ever been written in the English language, yet never did he fail to re-create the full beauty of the poet's thought in music; and though Byrd and others of his contemporaries excelled in larger forms of composition, no one has left us a musical legacy of more intrinsic loveliness than John Dowland."

Parts of this bio were excerpted from an introduction to "My Lord Chamberlain's Consort" by Marci Young.

In Darkness Let Me Dwell

In darkness let me dwell; the ground shall sorrow be,
The roof despair, to bar all cheerful light from me;
The walls of marble black, that moist'ned still shall weep;
My music, hellish jarring sounds, to banish friendly sleep.
Thus, wedded to my woes, and bedded in my tomb,
O let me living die, till death doth come, till death doth come.

My dainties grief shall be, and tears my poisoned wine,
My sighs the air through which my panting heart shall pine,
My robes my mind shall suit exceeding blackest night,
My study shall be tragic thoughts sad fancy to delight,
Pale ghosts and frightful shades shall my acquaintance be:
O thus, my hapless joy, I haste to thee.

If My Complaints Could Passions Move

If my complaints could passions move,
Or make Love see wherein I suffer wrong:
My passions were enough to prove,
That my despairs had govern'd me too long.
O Love, I live and die in thee,
Thy grief in my deep sighs still speaks:
Thy wounds do freshly bleed in me,
My heart for thy unkindness breaks:
Yet thou dost hope, when I despair,
And when I hope, thou mak'st me hope in vain.
Thou say'st thou canst my harms repair,
Yet for redress, thou let'st me still complain.

Can Love be rich, and yet I want?
Is Love my judge, and yet am I condemn'd?
Thou plenty hast, yet me dost scant:
Thou made a God, and yet thy power contemn'd
That I do live, it is thy power:
That I desire it is thy worth:
If Love doth make men's lives too sour,
Let me not love, nor live henceforth.
Die shall my hopes, but not my faith,
That you that of my fall may hearers be
May here despair, which truly saith,
I was more true to Love than Love to me.

Come Away, Come Sweet Love

Come away, come sweet love, The golden morning breaks.
All the earth, all the air, Of love and pleasure speaks:
Teach thine arms then to embrace,
And sweet
Lips to kiss
And mix our souls in mutual bliss.
Eyes were made for beauty's grace,
Love's long pain
Procur'd by beauty's rude disdain.

Come away, come sweet love, The golden morning wastes,
While the sun from his sphere, His fiery arrows casts:
Making all the shadows fly,
In the grove,
To entertain the stealth of love.
Thither sweet love let us hie,
In desire,
Wing'd with sweet hopes and heav'nly fire.

Come away, come sweet love, Do not in vain adorn
Beauty's grace, that should rise, Like to the naked morn:
Lilies on the river's side,
And fair
Flow'rs new-blown,
Desire no beauties but their own.
Ornament is nurse of pride,
Love's delight:
Haste then sweet love our wished flight.

My Thoughts Are Wing'd With Hopes

My thoughts are wing'd with hopes, my hopes with love.
Mount Love unto the moon in clearest night
And say, as she doth in the heavens move,
In earth so wanes and waxeth my delight:
And whisper this but softly in her ears,
Hope oft doth hang the head, and Trust shed tears.

And you my thoughts that some mistrust do carry,
If for mistrust my mistress do you blame,
Say though you alter, yet you do not vary,
As she doth change, and yet remain the same:
Distrust doth enter hearts, but not infect,
And love is sweetest season'd with suspect.

If she, for this, with clouds do mask her eyes,
And make the heavens dark with her disdain,
With windy sighs, disperse them in the skies,
Or with thy tears dissolve them into rain;
Thoughts, hopes, and love return to me no more
Till Cynthia shine as she hath done before.

Burst Forth, My Tears

Burst forth my tears, assist my forward grief,
And show what pain imperious Love provokes.
Kind tender lambs, lament Love's scant relief,
And pine, since pensive Care my freedom yokes.
O pine, to see me pine, my tender flocks.

Sad pining Care, that never may have peace,
At Beauty's gate in hope of pity knocks;
But Mercy sleeps while deep Disdains increase,
And Beauty Hope in her fair bosom locks.
O grieve to hear my grief, my tender flocks.

Like to the winds my sighs have winged been;
Yet are my sighs and suits repaid with mocks:
I plead, yet she repineth at my teen.
O ruthless rigour harder than the rocks,
That both the shepherd kills, and his poor flocks.

Unquiet Thoughts

Unquiet thoughts, your civil slaughter stint,
And wrap your wrongs within a pensive heart:
And you: my tongue that makes my mouth a mint,
And stamps my thoughts to coin them words by art,
Be still: for if you ever do the like
I'll cut the string, that makes the hammer strike.

But what can stay my thoughts they may not start,
Or put my tongue in durance for to die?
When as these eyes, the keys of mouth and heart,
Open the lock where all my love doth lie;
I'll seal them up within their lids for ever:
So thoughts, and words, and looks shall die together.

How shall I then gaze on my mistress's eyes?
My thoughts must have some vent: else heart will break.
My tongue would rust as in my mouth it lies,
If eyes and thoughts were free, and that not speak.
Speak then, and tell the passions of desire:
Which turn mine eyes to floods, my thoughts to fire.

Go Crystal Tears

Go crystal tears, like to the morning show'rs,
And sweetly weep into thy lady's breast.
And as the dews revive the drooping flow'rs,
So let your drops of pity be address'd,
To quicken up the thoughts of my desert,
Which sleeps too sound whilst I from her depart.

Haste, restless sighs, and let your burning breath
Dissolve the ice of her indurate heart,
Whose frozen rigour like forgetful Death,
Feels never any touch of my desert:
Yet sighs and tears to her I sacrifice,
Both from a spotless heart and patient eyes.

Think'st Thou Then By Thy Feigning?

Think'st thou then by thy feigning
Sleep, with a proud disdaining,
Or with thy crafty closing
Thy cruel eyes reposing,
To drive me from thy sight,
When sleep yields more delight,
Such harmless beauty gracing.
And while sleep feigned is,
May not I steal a kiss,
Thy quiet arms embracing.

O that my sleep dissembled,
Were to a trance resembled,
Thy cruel eyes deceiving,
Of lively sense bereaving:
Then should my love requite
Thy love's unkind despite,
While fury triumph'd boldly
In beauty's sweet disgrace:
And liv'd in sweet embrace
Of her that lov'd so coldly.

Should then my love aspiring,
Forbidden joys desiring,
So far exceed the duty
That virtue owes to beauty?
No Love seek not thy bliss,
Beyond a simple kiss:
For such deceits are harmless,
Yet kiss a thousand-fold.
For kisses may be bold
When lovely sleep is armless.

Dear, If You Change

Dear, if you change, I'll never choose again.
Sweet, if you shrink, I'll never think of love.
Fair, if you fail, I'll judge all beauty vain.
Wise, if too weak, more wits I'll never prove.
Dear, Sweet, Fair, Wise, change, shrink, nor be not weak:
And, on my faith, my faith shall never break.

Earth with her flow'rs shall sooner heaven adorn,
Heav'n her bright stars through earth's dim globe shall move,
Fire heat shall lose, and frosts of flames be born,
Air made to shine as black as hell shall prove:
Earth, Heaven, Fire, Air, the world transform'd shall view,
Ere I prove false to faith, or strange to you.

Come Again: Sweet Love Doth Now Invite

Come again:
Sweet love doth now invite,
Thy graces that refrain,
To do me due delight,
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die,
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

Come again
That I may cease to mourn,
Through thy unkind disdain:
For now left and forlorn,
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die,
In deadly pain and endless misery.

All the day
The sun that lends me shine,
By frowns do cause me pine.
And feeds me with delay,
Her smiles my springs, that makes my joy to grow,
Her frowns the Winters of my woe:

All the night
My sleeps are full of dreams,
My eyes are full of streams.
My heart takes no delight,
To see the fruits and joys that some do find,
And mark the storms are me assign'd.

Out alas,
My faith is ever true,
Yet will she never rue,
Nor yield me any grace:
Her eyes of fire, her heart of flint is made,
Whom tears, nor truth may once invade.

Gentle Love
Draw forth thy wounding dart,
Thou canst not pierce her heart,
For I that to approve,
By sighs and tears more hot than are thy shafts,
Did tempt while she for triumph laughs.

Now, O Now, I Needs Must Part

Now, O now, I needs must part,
Parting though I absent mourn.
Absence can no joy impart:
Joy once fled cannot return.
While I live I needs must love,
Love lives not when Hope is gone.
Now at last Despair doth prove,
Love divided loveth none.

Sad despair doth drive me hence,
This despair unkindness sends.
If that parting be offence,
It is she which then offends.

Dear, when I am from thee gone,
Gone are all my joys at once.
I loved thee and thee alone,
In whose love I joyed once.
And although your sight I leave,
Sight wherein my joys do lie,
Till that death do sense bereave,
Never shall affection die.

Sad Despair

Dear, if I do not return,
Love and I shall die together.
For my absence never mourn,
Whom you might have joyed ever:
Part we must though now I die,
Die I do to part with you.
Him Despair doth cause to lie,
Who both liv'd and dieth true.

Sad despair.

Sleep, Wayward Thoughts

Sleep, wayward thoughts, and rest you with my love:
Let not my Love be with my love diseas'd.
Touch not, proud hands, lest you her anger move,
But pine you with my longings long displeas'd.
Thus, while she sleeps, I sorrow for her sake:
So sleeps my Love, and yet my love doth wake.

But O, the fury of my restless fear!
The hidden anguish of my flesh desires!
The glories and the beauties that appear,
Between her brows, near Cupid's closed fires,
Thus while she sleeps, moves sighing for her sake:
So sleeps my Love, and yet my love doth wake.

My love doth rage, and yet my Love doth rest:
Fear in my love, and yet my Love secure:
Peace in my Love, and yet my love oppress'd:
Impatient, yet of perfect temperature.
Sleep, dainty Love, while I sigh for thy sake:
So sleeps my Love, and yet my love doth wake.

All Ye, Whom Love Or Fortune

All ye, whom Love or Fortune hath betray'd;
All ye, that dream of bliss but live in grief;
All ye, whose hopes are evermore delay'd;
All ye, whose sighs or sickness wants relief;
Lend ears and tears to me, most hapless man,
That sings my sorrows like the dying swan.

Care that consumes the heart with inward pain,
Pain that presents sad care in outward view,
Both tyrant-like enforce me to complain;
But still in vain: for none my plaints will rue.
Tears, sighs and ceaseless cries alone I spend:
My woe wants comfort, and my sorrow end.

Wilt Thou, Unkind, Thus Reave Me?

Wilt thou unkind thus reave me
Of my heart, of my heart, and so leave me?
Farewell: Farewell,
But yet or e'er I part (O cruel)
Kiss me sweet, sweet my jewel.

Hope by disdain grows cheerless,
Fear doth love, love doth fear, beauty peerless.
Farewell: Farewell,
But yet or e'er I part (O cruel)
Kiss me sweet, sweet my jewel.

If no delays can move thee,
Life shall die, death shall live still to love thee.
Farewell: Farewell,
But yet or e'er I part (O cruel)
Kiss me sweet, sweet my jewel.

Yet be thou mindful ever,
Heat from fire, fire from heat none can sever.
Farewell: Farewell,
But yet or e'er I part (O cruel)
Kiss me sweet, sweet my jewel.

True love cannot be changed,
Though delight from desert be estranged.
Farewell: Farewell,
But yet or e'er I part (O cruel)
Kiss me sweet, sweet my jewel.

Rest Awhile You Cruel Cares

Rest awhile you cruel cares,
Be not more severe than love.
Beauty kills and beauty spares,
And sweet smiles sad sighs remove:
Laura, fair queen of my delight,
Come grant me love in love's despite,
And if I fail ever to honour thee,
Let this heavenly light I see,
Be as dark as hell to me.

If I speak, my words want weight,
Am I mute, my heart doth break,
If I sigh, she fears deceit,
Sorrow then for me must speak:
Cruel, unkind, with favour view
The wound that first was made by you:
And if my torments ever feigned be,
Let this heavenly light I see,
Be as dark as hell to me.

Never hour of pleasing rest
Shall revive my dying ghost,
Till my soul hath repossess'd
The sweet hope which love hath lost:
Laura redeem the soul that dies,
By fury of thy murdering eyes:
And if it ever prove unkind to thee,
Let this heavenly light I see,
Be as dark as hell to me.

Awake, Sweet Love, Thou Art Return'd

Awake, sweet love, thou art return'd:
My heart, which long in absence mourn'd,
Lives now in perfect joy.
Let love, which never absent dies,
Now live for ever in her eyes,
Whence came my first annoy.
Only herself hath seemed fair:
She only I could love,
She only drave me to despair,
When she unkind did prove.
Despair did make me wish to die;
That I my joys might end:
She only, which did make me fly,
My state may now amend.

If she esteem thee now aught worth,
She will not grieve thy love henceforth,
Which so despair hath prov'd.
Despair hath proved now in me,
That love will not unconstant be,
Though long in vain I lov'd.
If she at last reward thy love,
And all thy harms repair,
Thy happiness will sweeter prove,
Rais'd up from deep despair.
And if that now thou welcome be,
When thou with her dost meet,
She all this while but play'd with thee,
To make thy joys more sweet.

His Golden Locks

His golden locks Time hath to silver turn'd.
O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth 'gainst Time and Age hath ever spurn'd.
But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing.
Beauty, strength, youth are flow'rs but fading seen:
Duty, faith, love are roots and ever green.
His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lover's sonnets turn to holy psalms:
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers which are Age's alms:
But though from Court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He'll teach his swains this carol for a song,
Blest be the hearts that wish my Sovereign well,
Curst be the soul that think her any wrong.
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your bedesman now that was your knight.

Come, Heavy Sleep

Come, heavy Sleep the image of true Death;
And close up these my weary weeping eyes:
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow's sigh-swoll'n cries:
Come and possess my tired thought-worn soul,
That living dies, till thou on me be stole.

Come shadow of my end, and shape of rest,
Allied to Death, child to his black-fac'd Night:
Come thou and charm these rebels in my breast,
Whose waking fancies do my mind affright.
O come sweet Sleep; come or I die for ever:
Come ere my last sleep comes, or come never.

Away With These Self-Loving Lads

Away with these self-loving lads,
Whom Cupid's arrow never glads.
Away poor souls, that sigh and weep,
In love of them 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 born 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 holidays,
On every tree I write her name,
And every day I read the same:
Where Honour, 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 well fare 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 for'ster can
As can the mighty nobleman:
Sweet saint, 'tis true you worthy be,
Yet without love naught worth to me.

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