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Today's post is short, but hopefully sweet as well. At least I believe the poem is sweet, in a slightly melancholy way.

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall
by Sir Edward Dyer

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
The fly her spleen, the little spark his heat:
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
And bees have stings, although they be not great;
  Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
  And love is love, in beggars and in kings.

Where waters smoothest run, there deepest are the fords,
The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is found in fewest words,
The turtles do not sing, and yet they love;
  True hearts have ears and eyes, no tongues to speak;
  They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.

Edward Dyer was a courtier poet during the time of Elizabeth I. He was a contemporary of some poets I've mentioned in past posts, including his friend, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, and more. He is believed to have been a Rosicrucian based on his study of alchemy. (One of the leading Rosicrucians of the day was Francis Bacon.) Dyer's best-known poem is "My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is. You can read that poem at Bartleby.com or elsewhere online.

For my part, I prefer "The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall." There is a musical setting of this poem by John Dowland, which can be found on Sting's album, "Songs from the Labyrinth", recorded with lutenist Edin Karamazov. Once you get used to the notion of Sting singing Elizabethan songs accompanied by a lute, it's quite lovely (even if his diction is a bit blurry from time to time). You can listen to short bits of it at Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon.com, or at the Deutschegrammphon site for the album.

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like this one. You're right. There is a sweetness to it. Lots said in a little space. Thanks!
Dec. 14th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
I really loved its sweetness, even more so than the more famous of his works. And if you get to hear the Dowland setting of it, it's glorious.
Dec. 14th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
TadMack says:
You know, I have that Sting album on my list of "to check out" -- and boy, after listening to just that little bit (and seeing that gorgeous lute!!! Wow!) I am now dying to hear the rest of this poem set to music. (And you're right -- from the pieces I heard, his diction is a bit fuzzy, but the lute playing ... is gorgeous.)

What an unusual poem. I smile at the idea of turtles in love. The Elizabethan viewpoint of nature is always so unexpected. Poetry about fleas, and now turtles and fly spleen. I love it!
Dec. 14th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: TadMack says:
I checked it out when it first came out, but wasn't wowed until I saw the video on PBS. And then I had to get it.
Dec. 14th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
I love your Poetry Fridays! I'm a big fan of prose, but from the small doses I get each friday, you may be creating a new addict. =)
Dec. 14th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
Poetic phrasing is kind of like boiled-down prose.
Dec. 14th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
I like this selection. In fact, I linked to your post today.

I gave the Sting lute album as a gift to my dad a couple years ago, but have not listened to it myself--I'll go check out the links.
Dec. 15th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. I really think it's loverly. "Come Again" is one of my faves from the album, as is this one.
Dec. 14th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
I didn't know this one, but I love it. So many potent images, one after the other.

And your comment about courtier poets "tweaking" Elizabeth's speeches (on my blog) was so interesting, because I wondered the same myself. How would we ever know?
Dec. 15th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
We wouldn't know, of course. But it was the age of Marlowe and Bacon and Shakespeare and Raleigh, to say nothing of many, many more playwrights, all of whom may have been as good or better than old Will, but their plays have been lost. And really, her words sound so like the speech that Henry V gives before the Battle of Agincourt in Act IV, sc. iii of Shakespeare's play. Here's a bit of it:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Dec. 15th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
This poem is a good reminder about the value of the littlest things in life.

Mary Lee
A Year of Reading
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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