Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Oh, For a Bowl of Fat Canary - John Lyly

Oh, for a bowl of fat Canary,
Rich Palermo, sparkling Sherry,
Some nectar else, from Juno's dairy;
Oh, these draughts would make us merry!

Oh, for a wench (I deal in faces,
And in other daintier things);
Tickled am I with her embraces,
Fine dancing in such fairy rings.

Oh, for a plump fat leg of mutton,
Veal, lamb, capon, pig, and coney;
None is happy but a glutton,
None an ass but who want money.

Wines indeed and girls are good,
But brave victuals feast the blood;
For wenches, wine, and lusty cheer,
Jove would leap down to surfeit here.

As a starting note, Canary here does not mean the birds.  It refers to a type of sack (an old term for a fortified white wine) that came from the Canary Islands.  So fear not, John Lyly doesn't want to munch on a bowl of fat little songbirds (though that wouldn't really shock me), he just wants to get drunk on strong wine.

The whole poem is about excess and indulgence.  Wine, women, food.  Those are the things glorified here, to such an extent that Jove himself would consider it excessive.  It's hard not be charmed a bit by the naked enthusiasm Lyly has for these things, though.  It reads like a list of great fun friends will have, particularly in the food list.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me a tad hungry.

The poem is simple minded, mildly humorous, and celebrates the robust spirit of good cheer.  While it does endorse gluttony, we're hardly strangers to that ourselves today.  I feel like Lyly would rather like the wide selection of wines available pretty much everywhere wine is sold nowadays.

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