When To Her Lute Corinna Sings

Thomas Campion (ca. 1601) This song was first printed with music by Thomas Campion himself in A Booke of Ayres. It describes the poet's lover, Corinna, singing "to her lute," a phrase that implies that she sings while accompanying herself and that she addresses her lute when she sings. The first stanza asserts that Corin-na's singing is powerful enough to revive the lute's "leaden stringes" (l. 2), punningly referring to the inanimate material of the strings while ascribing to the sing er's voice an enlivening and invigorating influence. This sense of the power of music is extended by the poet's assertion that when Corinna sings of mourning, the "strings do breake" (l. 3) in a sympathetic reaction to the song's gloomy subject matter.

The second stanza makes explicit the implied comparison between lute and poet, who also responds to the emotional expressiveness of Corinna's singing. The poet's heart, for instance, has "strings," just like the lute. There is also a sense of sexual suggestiveness in the second stanza. The "sodaine spring" (l. 10) of the poet's thoughts in response to a song of "pleasure" (l. 9) hints at sexual arousal, as does the assertion that Corinna's "passion" (l. 8) dictates whether the poet will "live or die" (l. 7). This last line puns on the concept of la petit morte, or death as sexual ecstasy. The poem testifies to the power that Corinna has over the poet's feelings by comparing it to music's power over the emotions of its listeners, an effect enhanced by Campion's musical setting of these lyrics.

further reading

Lindley, David. Thomas Campion. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986.

Susan L. Anderson

"WHEN WINDSOR WALLS" Henry Howard, EARL OF SURREY (ca. 1537) The uncertainty of the date for this poem, first published in Tottel's Miscellany in 1557, is mitigated by clues it provides that correspond with incidents in the life of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. Two incidents particularly resonate within the emotional and geographical terrain offered in the poem. The first involves the 1536 death of Surrey's close friend, the duke of Richmond, also known as Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII who had been married to Surrey's sister. The second centers on Surrey's 1537 imprisonment in Windsor Castle for assaulting a powerful courtier in the proximity of Henry VIII. Such an assault threatened punishments: both the confiscation of the 21-year-old's extensive lands and goods, and, since the attack theoretically endangered the king, the loss of Surrey's right hand. While neither punishment transpired, Surrey was eventually beheaded by the king at the age of 30.

Surrey devised the sonnet form that came to be known as the English sonnet. Here, however, instead of offering a poem with three quatrains and final couplet, he retains the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet model that Sir Thomas Wyatt had popularized in England, providing an octave, a volta, and a sestet. Surrey's second major innovation in the history of the sonnet, rather than simply structural, hinges on the subject matter he selects for this poem. Contrary to the poetic displays of Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Wyatt, who generally wrote about unattainable women, Surrey here laments the loss of a man.

The poem itself serves as a meditation on this loss and demonstrates the speaker's wrestling with resultant suicidal impulses. Its first image is that of a "restless" (l. 2) head being held up by a hand—and, by extension, by the walls themselves—that enables the speaker to survey the unfolding of the spring season in a determinedly realistic setting: Blossoms flourish, the grass turns green again, "wedded" (l. 5) birds frolic. The caesura in line 6, the full pause midway through the line, compares this vitality with the speaker's reverie over a former companion—the "jolly woes" and the "hateless short debate" (l. 7) they shared, and the "rakehell [unconsidered] life" (l. 8) that belongs to the ease of love. But with those thoughts comes debilitating nostalgia; with the word Wherewith, the first of line 7, Surrey offers his volta, after which the speaker is overcome by a "heavy charge of care [sorrow] / Heaped in [his] breast" (ll. 9-10), a sorrow that forces itself from him in the form of "smoky sighs" (l. 11) that billow in the air. Such sighs cloud his eyes, distilling tears that, falling, startle into springs beneath him, and the poem concludes with the speaker "half bent" (l. 14).

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