Thomas Campion, born
Feb. 12, 1567, London - died March 1, 1620
composer, musical and literary theorist, physician, and
one of the outstanding songwriters of the brilliant
English lutenist school of the late 16th and early 17th
centuries. His lyric poetry reflects his musical
abilities in its subtle mastery of rhythmic and melodic
After attending the
University of Cambridge (1581–84), Campion studied
law in London, but he was never called to the bar.
Little is known of him until 1606, by which time he
had received a degree in medicine from the
University of Caen, France. He practiced medicine
from 1606 until his death.
Campion’s first publication was five sets of verses
appearing anonymously in the pirated 1591 edition of
Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. In 1595 his
Poemata (Latin epigrams) appeared, followed in 1601
by A Booke of Ayres (written with Philip Rosseter),
of which much of the musical accompaniment and
verses were Campion’s. He wrote a masque in 1607 and
three more in 1613, in which year his Two
Bookes of Ayres probably appeared. The Third
and Fourth Booke of Ayres came out in 1617, probably
followed by a treatise (undated) on counterpoint.
Campion’s lyric poetry and songs for lute
accompaniment are undoubtedly his works of most
lasting interest. Though his theories on music are
slight, he thought naturally in the modern key
system, with major and minor modes, rather than in
the old modal system. Campion stated his theories on
rhyme in Observations in the Art of English Poesie
(1602). In this work he attacked the use of rhymed,
accentual metres, insisting instead that timing and
sound duration are the fundamental element in verse
structure. Campion asserted that in English verse
the larger units of line and stanza provide the
temporal stability within which feet and syllables
may be varied.
With the exception of his
classic lyric Rose-cheekt Lawra, Come, Campion usually did
not put his advocacy of quantitative, unrhymed verse into
practice. His originality as a lyric poet lies rather in his
treatment of the conventional Elizabethan subject matter.
Rather than using visual imagery to describe static
pictures, he expresses the delights of the natural world in
terms of sound, music, movement, or change. This approach
and Campion’s flowing but irregular verbal rhythms give
freshness to hackneyed subjects and seem also to suggest an
immediate personal experience of even the commonest
feelings. The Selected Songs, edited by W.H. Auden, was
published in 1972.
A Booke of Ayres
My sweetest Lesbia,
let vs liue and loue,
And though the sager sort our deedes reproue,
Let vs not way them : heau'ns great lampes doe diue
Into their west, and straight againe reuiue,
But soone as once set is our little light,
Then must we sleepe one euer-during night.
If all would lead
their liues in loue like mee,
Then bloudie swords and armour should not be,
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleepes should moue,
Vnles alar'me came from the campe of loue :
But fooles do liue, and wast their little light,
And seeke with paine their euer-during night.
When timely death
my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vext with mourning friends,
But let all louers rich in triumph come,
And with sweet pastimes grace my happie tombe;
And Lesbia close vp thou my little light,
And crown with loue my euer-during night.
Followe thy faire
sunne, vnhappy shadowe,
Though thou be blacke as night,
And she made all of light,
Yet follow thy faire sun, vnhappie shadowe.
Follow her whose light thy light depriueth,
Though here thou liu'st disgrac't,
And she in heauen is plac't,
Yet follow her whose light the world reuiueth.
Follow those pure
beames whose beautie burneth,
That so haue scorched thee,
As thou still blacke must bee,
Til her kind beames thy black to brightnes turneth.
Follow her while
yet her glorie shineth :
There comes a luckles night,
That will dim all her light ;
And this the black vnhappie shade deuineth.
Follow still since
so thy fates ordained ;
The Sunne must haue his shade,
Till both at once doe fade,
The Sun still proud, the shadow still disdained.
A performance of
Thomas Campion's sacred partsong "Never
weather-beaten sail", sung by the Merbecke Choir of
Southwark Cathedral on 1 December 2012.
weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore.
Never tired pilgrim's limbs affected slumber more,
Than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to
Ever blooming are the joys of Heaven's high
Cold age deafs not there our ears nor vapour dims
Glory there the sun outshines whose beams the
blessed only see:
O come quickly, glorious Lord, and raise my sprite