Pentheas Dying Song John Ford

(ca. 1629) The Renaissance dramatist John Ford included "Penthea's Dying Song" in his tragedy The Broken Heart. As befits the death the song heralds, the poem remains sad, but it does not specifically mourn the loss of Penthea. Rather it is used to focus on death in a more general way. Ford employs repetition in phrases intended as song lyrics, beginning, oh no more, no more, too late

Sighs are spent: the burning tapers of a life as chaste as fate,

Pure as are unwritten papers.

Ford advances the imagery of life ended, not employing the term death or dead until his seventh line. Instead he adopts the figurative language (figure of speech) of metaphor in traditional references to death, seen in the phrases "too late / sighs are spent" and the image of the taper burning, its wax melting into a pile like pale flesh. Life is compared to fate, both deemed chaste, suggesting that one's fate remains unsullied by human desire; it is what it is. Ford's use of the end-stopped line forces his singer(s) to move directly into the next, which is interrupted by a caesura, the colon causing a near full stop, emphasizing the alliteration in the s sounds of sighs and spent. After the pause performers move into another end-stopped line, and Ford uses consonance and assonance to achieve the necessary musical tone. The fourth line emphasizes the pure nature of death as well as life, as Ford compares the lost life to papers never written, noting they also remain pure in their lack of creation. He may reflect on his own artistic bent by referencing writing. Ford extends his conceit of flame as life when in the fifth line he notes that all is "burnt out" in death, "no heat, no light / Now remains," and " 'tis ever night." One also associates sleep, another metaphor for death, with the night.

As Ford begins the final six lines of his brief song, he mourns the death of love, with no human directly referenced. Instead he repeats the term love in various forms five times, building momentum:

Love is dead; let lovers' eyes, Locked in endless dreams, Th' extremes of all extremes, Ope no more, for now Love dies.

Now Love dies—implying

Love's martyrs must be ever, ever dying.

Ford subverts the tender image of lovers' eyes locked in passion to note they lock in the endless dream that is death, and he skillfully extends his use of sleep further as a metaphor for death. He closes with additional repetition of terms for emphasis.

Sweet and poignant, "Penthea's Dying Song" expresses no fear of death of the one dying. Rather it stresses the double loss in death when a great love is involved. Passion dies along with the flesh, regardless of its intensity. The play reveals multiple broken hearts. one belongs to Penthea, who is forced into marriage with a man she does not love and driven to distraction by her husband's jealousy, which leads him to accuse her of incest with her brother. She stoically rejects her original lover's attentions and then starves herself. As other of Ford's characters do, she controls a passion through her uncompromising focus on her own destruction. For Ford that refusal to yield to fate, even at the risk of death, defined heroism. Penthea visits her brother's love, Calantha, the subject of another song, "Calantha's Dirge," and urges Calantha to love her brother, then dies, the martyr to love referenced in the final line of "Penthea's Dying Song."

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