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oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. Sessions, William A. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
-. Henry Howard The Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life.
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"MY SWEETEST LESBIA" Thomas Campion (1601) Published as the first ayre in Thomas Campion's A Booke of Ayres, for which he composed the music as well as the lyrics, this is a translation of Catullus's famous poem Vivamus, mea Lesbia. It develops the original's carpe diem (seize the day) theme into an assertion of the triumph of love over death. The first stanza endeavors to persuade Lesbia to give in to the poet's sexual advances by highlighting the comparative shortness and insignificance of human existence. This is emphasized by the comparison of the "little light" of human life (l. 5) with the rising and setting of "heav'ns great lampes"—the sun and stars (l. 3). The caesura in line 3 also gives a sense of finality and importance to the command "Let us not way [weigh] them."
The second stanza develops the argument further by questioning the principle of militaristic honor, exposing it as a shortsighted "wast" of life. In contrast, the poet playfully invokes the metaphorical "wars" of love, an image that is also sexually suggestive in its proposal that only an "alar'me . . . from the campe of love" should disturb "peaceful sleepes" (ll. 9-10).
The third stanza continues this opposition to traditional heroism, imagining the poet's own funeral as a time of celebration and affirmation, rather than mourning and misery. The reference to "timely death" (l. 13) suggests that the poet accepts the inevitability of death, and that fate must be allowed to take its course. This continues the idea that the poet will not hasten death by rushing into battle, like the "fooles" described in the second stanza.
The final couplet of each stanza forms a refrain of the light/night image, which echoes the sense of rising and falling in the original image in the first stanza. This and the oxymoronic "happie tombe" contribute to the poignancy of the poem's bittersweet conclusion, where the poet asks Lesbia to "crowne with love my ever-dur-ing night."
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