THOMAS CAMPION’S use of biblical motifs and language has been acknowledged by various critics, and particularly by David Lindley, who highlights the influence of the book of Psalms on Campion’s poetry.1 Yet, no scholar, to my knowledge, has ever pointed out the influence of another biblical book on Campion’s work: the Song of Songs, which appears mainly in love poems, intertwining with the Petrarchan and more generally Renaissance tradition of love poetry. This use of the biblical book is not unique to Campion, who, in referring to Solomon’s Song in his love poetry, shared an intertextual practice with other Renaissance poets. The fascinating and ambivalent Song of Songs, simultaneously a scriptural and allegorically interpreted text and a sensual example of love poetry, held a particular appeal for poets; it was used both in accordance with the rules and premises of Petrarchan poetry and as a contrasting element, operating as an opposing force within the Petrarchan code.2 In fact, while the polyvalent nature of the biblical book made it adaptable to various poetic traditions, including the Petrarchan one, the text could also be used—for the very same reason—to negotiate and play with these poetic models and with their aesthetical, philosophical, and religious premises, or to diverge from them altogether. Among the various Song-derived motifs found in Campion’s work, some cannot be considered as the outcome of a specific intertextual relationship with the biblical book. Petrarchan poetry had assimilated some of the topoi originating in the Song of Songs and, by the time Campion wrote, they had become so deeply integrated within the standardized amorous discourse of the period that their biblical roots were no longer necessarily acknowledged. These include the syntactic topos of the ‘descending description’ that, although perhaps originally inherited from Alexandrine poetry, found its source of authority in the biblical book; or the topoi of the amorous wound (Song of Songs 4:9) and of the woman as a flower, especially a lily and rose (Song of Songs 2.1), which enjoyed an extensive fortuna in Petrarchan love poetry. Similarly, the topos of the beloved as the most beautiful among women (Song of Songs 1:7), splendid as the moon and shining like the sun (Song of Songs 6:9), and of her white and red colours (Song of Songs 5:10) became leitmotifs in the Petrarchan tradition. The fact that these topoi are found in Campion’s amorous songs is not, therefore, proof of a direct influence of the Song of Songs. Other images, however, suggest a closer link with the biblical book. Some verses recall specific expressions in the Song of Songs. This is the case of the poem ‘O what unhop’t for sweet supply!’, which describes the bliss of reciprocated love (unusual in Petrarchan poetry, but at the base of the passionate dialogue in the Song of Songs), and concludes with ‘I am hers, and she is mine’ (l. 12),3 reminiscent of Song of Songs 2:16—‘My welbeloued is mine, and I am his’—and Song of Songs 6:2—‘I am my welbeloueds, and my welbeloued is mine’.4 Another image that might be connected with Solomon’s Song is that of the black but beautiful beloved, which we find in Song of Songs 1:4–5: ‘I am blacke, o daughters of Ierusalém, but comelie, as the frutes of Kedár, & as the curtines of Salomón. Regarde ye me not because I am blacke: for the sunne hathe loked upon me’. In ‘I care not for these Ladies’, the poet contrasts the disdainful and artificial ‘Ladies / That must be woode and praide’ (ll. 1–2) with the country maid Amarillis, who is presented as dark but beautiful, a ‘Nutbrowne lasse’ (l. 16) whose authentic ‘beautie is her owne’ (l. 6). Although this reference could also be ascribed to the influence of Theocritus’s Idylls (particularly III and X), it presents several elements that speak in favour of a connection to the biblical topos. Not only does the darkness of this beloved echo that of the biblical Shulamite, but the contrast between her genuine, country beauty, and the fair, elegant ladies recalls the Song of Songs, in which the sophisticated ‘daughters of Ierusalém’ are opposed to the rustic beauty of the dark beloved, ‘who is burned while laboring in the country’.5 Moreover, the sensuality that is associated with this dark beloved, and which distances her from the proud, ideally Petrarchan ladies, is also consistent with the figure of the Song of Songs’ woman, whose darkness appears to be associated with the fact that she has not kept her ‘vine’ (Song of Songs 1:5), a clear symbol for her virginity, and who has a sensual relationship with the male lover. In this context, the reference to the ‘Bower of willows, / Of mosse and leaves’ (ll. 23–24) that constitutes the poet and Amarillis’s love nest, and which stands opposed to the luxurious beds required by the ladies, might be consistent with the Song of Songs’ equally rustic and natural amorous alcove: ‘our bed is greene: The beames of our house are cedars, our rafters are of firre’ (Song of Songs 1:15–16)—or, in the Bishops’ version: ‘Our bed is dect with flowres the seelinges of our house are of Cedar tree, and our crosse ioyntes of Cipresse’. Moreover, the ‘fruit and flowers’ (l. 12) that Amarillis gives the poet are reminiscent of the many fruits and flowers that the Song’s beloved offers to her lover. As in Campion’s poetry, the offer of these flowers and fruits contribute to the sensual atmosphere of the text: they often become a symbol of the beloved’s sensual body, a fruitful and flower-full garden for the lover to feed on, represented as a ‘garden of nuttes’ (Song of Songs 6:10), perhaps related to Campion’s ‘nutbrown lasse’. Finally, the fact that Amarillis is fed with ‘milk and honey’ cannot but remind us of the ‘honie and milke’ found under the Shulamite’s tongue (Song of Songs 4:11). A different utilization of the topos of the black lover is found in the song that, in A Booke of Aires (1601), directly follows the one analysed above: ‘Followe thy faire sunne, unhappy shaddowe’. In this song, an unhappy lover (most likely the poet himself) is incited to follow a fair sun (clearly, a beautiful and ‘divine’ beloved), of whom he is a poor shadow. What is of interest here is not only the fact that this lover is once again characterized as black and, as such, opposed to the beloved’s brightness—‘Though thou be blacke as night, / And she made all of light, / Yet follow thy fair sunne’ (ll. 2–4)—but also the explanation the poet gives for this blackness and the suggestion of a possible change from blackness to brightness: Follow those pure beames whose beautie burneth, That so have scorched thee, As thou still blacke must bee, Til her kind beames thy black to brightnes turneth. (ll. 9–12) Not only is the reference to the lover’s blackness as generated by the sun’s action reminiscent of the Song of Songs—‘Regarde ye me not because I am blacke: for the sunne hathe loked upon me’ (Song 1:5)—but the promised metamorphosis from blackness to brightness is consistent with the widespread exegetical interpretation of this biblical passage, which envisaged the black lover’s change from blackness to brightness through the intervention of the beloved’s divine beams. This process, which some exegetes referred to as dealbatio, was a crucial motif in the biblical book’s exegesis, tracing back to Origen himself, who commented thus on Song of Songs 1:4–5: this same person who is now called black is mentioned towards the end of this Song as coming up, having been made white, and leaning on her Nephew [her beloved, Christ]. … then she will be made white and fair; and, when all her blackness has been cast away, she will shine with the enveloping radiance of the true Light.6 The image found in Campion’s poems appears, therefore, to bear echoes not only of the Song of Songs but also of its exegetical interpretation, suggesting a knowledge of and interest towards the biblical text. The last set of Song-related images that play a part in Campion’s poetry are those linked to the representation of love as connected with Spring and the natural elements—‘For beholde, winter is past: the raine is changed, and is gone away. The flowers appeare in the earth: … The figtree hath brought foorth her yong figges: and the vines with their small grapes haue cast a sauour’ (Song of Songs 2:10–13)—and particularly the depiction of the beloved as a beautiful garden rich with flowers and fruits: A garden well locked is my sister, my spouse: a garden well locked, and a sealed well. The fruites that are planted in thee, are lyke a very paradise of pomegranates with sweete fruites, as Camphire, Nardus & Saffron, Calamus, Sinamom, with all sweete smellyng trees, Myrre, Aloes, and all the best spyces. A well of gardens, a well of liuing waters which runne downe from Libanus. Up thou north winde, come thou south winde and blowe vpon my garden, that the smell therof may be caryed on euery side (Song of Songs 12–16, Bishops’). In ‘Where shee her sacred bowre adornes’, a poem dense with ‘divine imagery’,7 the beautiful body of the beloved is metaphorically described as a delightful spring garden, in evident accordance with the Song of Songs’ language. She is an Edenic garden where ‘Her Sunne-like beauty shines so fayre, / Her Spring can never fade’ (ll. 5–6), where ‘groves and medowes swell with flowres’ (l. 3), ‘her roses’ (l. 17) spring and the boughs of ‘her trees … shall blossome’ (ll. 19–20); a garden rich with ‘mellow fruit’ (l. 19), in which ‘Rivers clearly flow’ (l. 2) and ‘the winds all gently blow’ (l. 4). This representation of the beloved, which includes so many elements found in the biblical garden/woman, appears to be derived from the Song of Songs. In fact, if the description of this Edenic garden might also call to mind the classical tradition of the locus amoenus, it was only in the Song of Songs that the delightful interior of the closed garden was identified with the woman herself, her physical attributes turned into trees, flowers, and fruits.8 Similarly, in the song ‘There is a Garden in her face’, the beloved’s visage is presented as a garden ‘Where Roses and white Lillies grow; / A heav’nly paradice is that place, / Wherein all pleasant fruits doe flow’ (ll. 2–4). Once again, not only is the topos itself derived from the Song of Songs, but the specific imagery through which this garden is described is consistent with the biblical one. The roses and lilies were Solomonic before becoming part of the Petrarchan tradition—‘I am the rose of the fielde, and the lilie of the valleys (Song of Songs 2:1)—while the ‘pleasant fruits’ recall the biblical ones, which close the passage dedicated to the woman as garden: ‘let my welbeloued come to his garden, and eate his pleasant fruite’ (Song of Songs 4: 16). Finally, the reference to the woman/garden as a ‘paradice’ is also derived from the Song of Songs, where the beloved/garden was defined as ‘a very paradise of pomegranates with sweete fruites’ (Song of Songs 4:13, Bishops’). The Song-derived image thus opens Campion’s poem, integrating with the Petrarchan language and high style and contributing to the creation of the divine image of the beloved. At the same time, the poet appears to playfully undercut the Petrarchan language according to which the biblical image was expressed, inserting a refrain (perhaps inspired by a song by Thomas Morley9) resounding with down-to-earth commercialism: ‘There Cherries grow, which none may buy / Till Cherry ripe themselves doe cry’ (ll. 5–6). Finally, the song ‘And would you see my Mistris face?’10 features the same image of the beloved’s visage as a ‘flowrie garden place’ (l. 2), a ‘Meadow yet unshorne, / whome thousand flowers do adorne’ (ll. 7–8), ‘The spring that winter’s harts renu’th’ (l. 19). Here, the Song-derived image is fully incorporated within the (here unchallenged) Petrarchan and Neoplatonic celebration of the lady’s divine beauty, contributing to the characterization of the perfect, archetypal ‘Idea’ (l. 11) celebrated in this poem. To conclude: the biblical Song of Songs exercised a recognizable influence on Thomas Campion’s work. Specific expressions and topoi, such as those of the black but comely beloved and of the woman as a magnificent garden, are used by the poet to enrich his amorous language, establishing an ambivalent relationship with the Petrarchan tradition. While in some cases the Song-related elements integrate seamlessly within the Petrarchan and Neoplatonic poetic paradigm (‘Followe thy faire sunne, unhappy shaddowe’, ‘Where shee her sacred bowre adornes’, ‘And would you see my Mistris face?’), in other instances these images, in accordance with the lively and sensual tone of some of Campion’s songs, appear to be used as part of a discourse aimed at challenging this code. In particular, the Song of Songs contributes to the mise en question of the Petrarchan paradigm either by supplying expressions apt to celebrate the bliss of mutual passion (‘O what unhop’t for sweet supply!’), by contributing to the praise of an unconventional dark country maid, whose complexion and sensual behaviour distances her from the refined fair ladies of the Petrarchan tradition (‘I care not for these Ladies’), or by offering a basis for a sudden reversal of the sublime image of the unattainable Petrarchan beloved (‘There is a Garden in her face’). Footnotes 1 D. Lindley, Thomas Campion (Leiden 1986), 18–19, 30–5, 133. 2 Among the poets who make significant use of the biblical Song of Songs, we can mention Edmund Spenser, Richard Barnfield, William Shakespeare, Edward Herbert of Cherbury, and Thomas Carew. 3 T. Campion, The Works of Thomas Campion, ed. Walter R. Davies (New York, 1967). 4 When not otherwise indicated, I will refer to the Geneva version of the Bible. 5 T. Longman III, Song of Songs (Gran Rapids-Cambridge, 2001), 96. See also G. Barbiero, Cantico dei Cantici (Milano, 2004), 68–70; G. Ravasi, Il Cantico dei Cantici (Bologna, 1992), 168–75. 6 Origen, The Song of Songs: Commentary and Homilies, ed. R. P. Lawson (New York, 1956), 107. The part concerning the Bride’s ‘having been made white’ was found by Origen in the Greek LXX translation of the text, which translated ‘from the desert’ with ‘leleukanthismenê’ (made white). 7 E. Lowbury, T. Salter, and A. Young, Thomas Campion: Poet, Composer, Physician (London, 1970), 121. 8 Cf. D’Arco S. Avalle, Ai luoghi di delizia pieni: Saggio sulla lirica del XIII secolo (Milan-Naples, 1977), 107–11. 9 The reference is to song xvi of Morley’s Booke of Balletts to Five Voyces (1595). 10 Though the author of this song, contained in the volume Ayres That Were Sung and Played at Brougham Castle (1618), is in fact unknown, its attribution to Campion is supported by many evidences. Cf. Walter R. Davies (ed.), The Works of Thomas Campion, 447–8. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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