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My Sweetest Lesbia(1601)

Thomas Campion

My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
MeterMy sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
MeterAnd though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them. Heaven’s great lamps do dive
MeterLet us not weigh them. Heaven’s great lamps do dive

Note on line 3: Getting this line to scan requires treating “Heaven’s” as a monosyllable (as in the poetically elided “Heav’n” so dear to hymn writers). Ordinarily 4B4V dislikes elision, but we have Campion’s warrant for it here in the superfluous “do” he inserted before the final syllable. Remove that “do,” and the revised line will scan quite nicely with a disyllabic “Heaven’s” and an iamb-spondee pair for the last two feet. That effect was fully available to the poet, but evidently it’s not what he wanted.

Into their west, and straight again revive,
MeterInto their west, and straight again revive,
But soon as once set is our little light,
MeterBut soon as once set is our little light,

Note on line 5: A hard line to scan, and deliberately so it seems. Rewrite it by transposing the words in the 3rd foot to read “is set,” and all will come out smoothly iambic. In this carpe-diem poem, however, Campion seems to have wanted to jump-stop the clock of the individual mortal life, so as to jump-start the compensatory flow of eros. This rhythmic nudge to the metrical system then gets reinforced by stressed contrast between “our” puny energies and those of the celestial bodies from line 3. If you hit that stress hard enough you may even override our rule about the stressing of adjectives, and let “little” scurry in under the metrical radar as a couple of slacks. The word will get its own back with subsequent iterations of the refrain in stanzas to come.

Then must we sleep one ever-during night.
MeterThen must we sleep one ever-during night.

If all would lead their lives in love like me,
MeterIf all would lead their lives in love like me,
Then bloody swords and armor should not be;
MeterThen bloody swords and armor should not be;
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
MeterNo drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
Unless alarm came from the camp of love.
MeterUnless alarm came from the camp of love.
But fools do live and waste their little light,
MeterBut fools do live and waste their little light,
And seek with pain their ever-during night.
MeterAnd seek with pain their ever-during night.

When timely death my life and fortune ends,
MeterWhen timely death my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends,
MeterLet not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends,
But let all lovers, rich in triumph, come
MeterBut let all lovers, rich in triumph, come
And with sweet pastimes grace my happy tomb;
MeterAnd with sweet pastimes grace my happy tomb;
And Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
MeterAnd Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
And crown with love my ever-during night.
MeterAnd crown with love my ever-during night.

Rhyme
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