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Saturday morning quotes 8.47: Noses & Roses

July 30, 2022

Astute readers will notice that today’s post marks Saturday morning quote 8.47, yet our blog series has been running for more than 12 years. There are two reasons: 1) We occasionally write on topics not relevant to the general outline of our Saturday morning quotes series and are thus not numbered, and 2) due to innumerable pesky interruptions and the overall fraying at the edges of the world in general and civilization in particular, this past year’s worth of quotes has actually taken nearly two years. But we soldier on.

We return to a subject that we covered some ten years ago in an earlier post; an odd and obscure bit of dedicatory poetry written by John Dowland and published in the 1598 book, Canzonets to fowre voyces by Giles Farnaby (c.1563 –1640). We won’t repeat the entire text of our earlier post, but to summarize, Farnaby was a joiner and a musician, and any lutenist knows the importance of having a good working relationship with someone who can patch their instrument up when it goes wrong, which it will. Others who contributed dedicatory poems to Farnaby’s book include Richard Allison and Anthony Holborne, both lutenists and composers of some repute.

Farnaby was known as an instrumental composer, and his keyboard fantasias, dances and character pieces are strewn about the famous Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Farnaby’s vocal work resides in the lighter madrigalian vein, and while he set a few worthwhile texts, most of his canzonets set poetry with erotic fluffy floral-pastoral themes. Edmund Fellowes drew attention to Farnaby’s many compositional faults in The English Madrigal Composers (Oxford, 1921, 2/1948/R), claiming  that Farnaby wrote more consecutive fifths than any other madrigal composer (p. 235). Indeed, Dowland’s poem in a roundabout way pokes fun at Farnaby’s cadential treatments. Richard Marlow, in his New Grove article on Farnaby wrote, “The music gathers rhythmic momentum, frequently over a pedal point, when approaching the final cadence of the repeated second section.” Perhaps Dowland, a consummate setter of words and stylistically forward-looking song composer, was not impressed with the humdrum pedal-point idea, particularly if overused.

The dedicatory poem:

M. Io. Dowland to the Author

Only thou fit (without all further gloses)
Crouned to be with euerlasting Roses,
With Roses and with Lillies,
And with Daffadoundillies,
But thy songs sweeter are (saue in their closes)
Then are Lillies and Roses:
Like his that taught the woods sound Amaryllis,
GOLDINGS; you that have too, too dainty NOSES,
Auaunt, go feede you them elswhere on ROSES.

Neither Diana Poulton, Dowland’s biographer, nor the late Edward Doughtie could find a deeper meaning in this odd and limping verse. Mrs. Poulton went so far as to attempt to discover a meaning for “Goldings” and rather missed the mark. Goldings capitalized surely refers to Arthur Golding (c. 1536 – 1605) and his book The. xv. Bookes of P. Ovidus Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis, translated oute of Latin into Englysh meeter, by Arthur Golding Gentleman, A worke very pleasaunt and delectable (1567). This famous text was surely the inspiration for song texts, and anyone with a circa 1570 grammar school education would have been familiar with the work.

Searching for more current research into cryptic Elizabethan texts, one cannot help but stumble upon the work of Alexander Waugh, self-described “English eccentric, businessman and writer…author of six books, including The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War and the General Editor of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh.” After watching Waugh deftly dissect some of the printed work of fascinating mystic, John Dee, we contacted him to see whether he might shed some light on Dowland’s odd little poem. Alexander kindly responded with the following remarks:

“The first three lines I think allude to Virgil’s Eclogue X in which Phyllis is a highly prized maiden who is inspired by the sound of the very best music, to make garlands of roses for Gallus who says:

‘Arcadians only know how to sing. How softly then would my bones repose, if in other days your pipes should tell my love! And oh that I had been one of you, the shepherd of a flock of yours, or the dresser of your ripened grapes! Surely, my darling, whether it were Phyllis or Amyntas … my darling would be lying at my side among the willows, and under the creeping vine above – Phyllis plucking me flowers for a garland…'”

“So in this sense Dowland, as a musician is giving the highest possible praise to his musical peer Farnaby. He then goes on to say that Farnaby’s songs are sweeter even than the garland of lilies and roses Phyllis might make – as sweet as Virgil’s poesy whose lines taught the woods to echo Amaryllis (see Eclogue 1 where Virgil takes the pastoral name ‘Tityrus’). I find ‘(save in their closes)’ an odd aside. Is he saying that Farnaby is not very good at composing cadences, or merely that all sweetness is gone when Farnaby’s pieces finish? There could be a double meaning here.”

“The last couplet is I think what causes the difficulty. You are surely right that ‘GOLDINGS’ alludes to Arthur Golding and his famous translation of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ (probably done with the help of the young Earl of Oxford his pupil). The connection to Ovid is underscored by the word ‘NOSES’ – he was called Publius Ovidius Naso. ‘GOLDINGS’ here I think means those who prefer Ovid ‘s more erotic love poetry over Virgil’s pastoral eclogues, It is the ‘GOLDINGS’ who are addressed in the last two lines (note the change from ‘thou’ to ‘you’) and are told that if their Ovidian noses are too ‘dainty’ for Farnaby’s art they must go off and sniff ‘roses’ (which are less sweet than Farnaby’s and Virgil’s lines). Both words ‘dainty’ and ‘roses’ had erotic connotations.”

The picture we have of Dowland today is that of a talented musician and composer who used his gifts to attain some level of prominence among the fickle elites. But he never quite got what he wished for, and thus lumped through life as a deeply unhappy grumbletonian, walking the streets with a sandwich-board sign reading, Semper Douland, semper dolens. In fact, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” Dowland embraced his role as a purveyor of fashionable melancholy but he was indeed playing a role. If nothing else, the frivolous dedicatory poem reveals that 1) Dowland had musical friends in high places, 2) he possessed a little learning, 3) he had a sense of humor and 4) he was perhaps not the best poet.

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One Comment
  1. David Hill permalink

    This is a wonderful post! Yes, Dowland really is not the best poet, if he is, indeed, the author of many of those texts to his songs, as seems highly likely (even more so, noting the style of this poem). Translating all those song texts was often painful (and a joy!) Some of his poems are so difficult to unpack, it is as if (as here) needy, nerdy Dowland is trying to convince the reader or hearer of his immense intellect via the sheer difficulty of unravelling meaning in his texts. Most other Elizabethan/Jacobean poems are often relatively straightforward to comprehend, as Shakespeare (usually!) is, but with JD one often has to be aware of quite a bit of Golding’s Ovid, Mythology, Philosophy and other material to be able to approach his meanings, before one can apply it to the point of the poem, as can be seen with the ‘night’s black bird’ reference in “Flow my teares’. He’s a needy show-off. Yet we love him. I must get around to reading the whole of Golding’s Ovid. I’m sure there is more JD insight to be found therein!

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