Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes - Thomas Campion

Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air,
Thrice sit thou mute in this enchanted chair,
Then thrice three times tie up this true love's knot,
And murmur soft "She will, or she will not."

   Go burn these pois'nous weeds in yon blue fire,
These screech-owl's feathers and this prickling briar,
This cypress gathered at a dead man's grave,
That all my fears and cares an end may have.

   Then come, you fairies! dance with me a round;
Melt her heart with your melodious sound.
In vain are all the charms I can devise:
She hath an art to break them with her eyes.

"In vain are all the charms I can devise."  That's the key here.  No matter what Campion's narrator does, no ritual can make his love object love him.  I get the sense that he is so nervous in approaching this woman that he seeks to fortify himself, to somehow make himself immune to her gaze, but alas, those charms?  "She hath an art to break them with her eyes."

The superstitious love charms that make up the bulk of the poem are silly, and I imagine they were just as silly in Campion's time as they are today.  I'm struck by the similarity to our modern, "She loves me, she loves me not" a love stricken youth might murmur as plucking flower petals.  Even though deep down, that little voice in our heads tells us that these charms and tricks are useless, we hope anyways, reassured and comforted by ritual.  And as usual, all the confidence of a flower saying "She loves me" disappears at the first sight of her eyes.

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