Thomas Campion


A real treat: countertenor Alfred Deller sings Campion’s “It fell on a summer’s day”

Thomas Campion died on this date in 1620 (born 1567).

From The Educated Imagination:

Here’s a poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare, Thomas Campion:

When thou must home to shades of underground,
And there arriv’d, a new admired guest,
The beauteous spirits do engirt thee round,
White Iope, blithe Helen, and the rest,
To hear the stories of thy finish’d love
From that smooth tongue whose music hell can move;

Then wilt thou speak of banqueting delights,
Of masques and revels which sweet youth did make,
Of tourneys and great challenges of knights,
And all these triumphs for thy beauty’s sake:
When thou hast told these honours done to thee,
Then tell, O tell, how thou didst murder me

This is written in the convention that poets of that age used for love poetry: the poet is always in love with some obdurate and unresponsive mistress, whose neglect of the lover may even cause his madness and death.  It’s pure invention, and it’s a complete waste of time trying to find out about the women in Campion’s life — there can’t possibly be any real experience behind it. Campion was himself a poet and a critic, and a composer who set his poems to his own musical settings. He was also a professional man who started out in law but switched over to medicine, and served for some time in the army. In other words, he was a busy man, who didn’t have much time for getting himself murdered cruel mistresses. The poem uses religious language, but not a religionthat Campion could ever have believed in. At the same time it’s a superbly lovely poem; it’s perfection itself, and if you think that a convention poem can only be just a literary exercise, and that you could write a better poem out of real experience, I’d be doubtful of your success. (CW 21, 451)

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One thought on “Thomas Campion

  1. Harold Rennie

    As a direct result of reading this blog, I did some research and learned the difference between Thomas Campion the poet and St. Edmund Campion, the Jesuit after whom Campion College (Regina) is named. Je me coucherai moins stupide ce soir. Thanks.


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