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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Come Again - John Dowland

Come again! sweet love doth now invite
They graces that refrain
To do my 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 the lends me shine
By frowns do cause me pine
And feeds me with delay;
Her smiles, my spring that makes my joy to grow,
Her frowns the Winters of my woe.

Al 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 they wounding dart,
Thou canst not pierce her heart;
For I, that do approve
By sighs and tears more hot than are thy shafts
Did tempt while she for triumph laughs.


In his typical style, Dowland cultivates an air of affected melancholy.  While these lyrics are anonymous, they are inseparable from Dowland's musical setting.  The strophic form of the song and the repeated musical material also calls into relief the contrast between the sweetness of love and the harshness of the lover's rebuke.

Worth noting, in Elizabethan poetry and song, "to die" as used in the first stanza means to reach sexual climax.  "To die" sounds out of line with "to see, to hear, to touch, to kiss" but really, it's the logical conclusion of that progression.  The use of "to die" in the second stanza is much more close to the literal meaning, there meaning that he dies for want of his lover.  He's in "deadly pain and endless misery."  Affected melancholy and grand gestures of suffering (exorbitant weeping, sighs, fainting) were very fashionable in Dowland's time, and were never taken to be too sincere.

The rest of the lyrics are just filled with wonderful imagery.  "Her eyes of fire, her heart of flint is made."  "Her smiles, my springs that makes my joy to grow, Her frowns the Winters of my woe."  These are just gorgeous, and evocative.  We get the sense of a fierce mistress, but one who can also be loving, whose very touch can bring about joy like water welling out of a spring, whose disfavor can send the whole of the world to winter.  Her heart cannot be swayed by tears.  Love cannot wound her with its dart.

This is one of the most popular Elizabethan songs, and is still actively interpreted and performed.  I'll present you with two today.

First, is an unlikely singer, Sting!  He does quite a good job, actually.  He has done a number of interpretations of Dowland, and is doing a great thing by bringing these lovely songs to the greater public which may not otherwise hear them.


Next, a more period accurate performance.  Sadly, I cannot find an Andreas Scholl recording of Come Again.  The last time I discussed Dowland I linked his lovely performance of Flow My Tears.  Still, I have a treat for you, reader, a wonderful and emotive performance by soprano and lute.  Sadly, the first verse is not present.  Still, I hope you enjoy her magnificent interpretation.


Enjoy!  It's a lovely summer's day here in Korea, and despite the melancholy subject matter, this song feels quite summery to me.

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