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O Mistress Mine by William Shakespeare

What to pick on the heels of yesterday's poem, "The Lobster Quadrille" by Lewis Carroll? Were it not still under copyright, I'd go with "Bagpipe Music" by Louis MacNeice, a poem that fairly dances across the page and off the tongue. Seeing the words England and France in the poem, I considered going with that old poem by Anonymous:

I see London, I see France
I see (your name)'s underpants.

But that seems an awfully short selection for the day, and I thought perhaps something other than nonsense verse would better suit my mood. I thought "O body swayed to music, o brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?" but, alas, Yeats's "Among School Children" is still under copyright. And thus it was that I looked past the dance to the music, and came to William Shakespeare and one of the songs from Twelfth Night of which I am enamored.

O Mistress Mine
by William Shakespeare
from Twelfth Night, Act I, sc. 3

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty;
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

Discussion and analysis:

The structure of the song is as follows: It is rhymed AABCCB DDEFFE, and it uses a mix of meters. The first two lines of each stanza are in iambic tetrameter (although in the first stanza, there's an extra "feminine" ending resulting in nine syllables in a line that has 4 iambic feet: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM(ta)). The third and sixth lines of each stanza are trochaic trimeter (with an extra stressed syllable at the end of the line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUM), for a total of seven syllables per line. And the fourth and fifth lines of each stanza are in trochaic tetramter (four trochaic feet per line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUMta).

Of course, when I sing this to myself (which is far more often than most of you would guess), I sing the alto part to a choral setting that I cannot find on YouTube. Alas. I can share with you this clip from the 1996 movie version of Twelfth Night, with Sir Ben Kingsley as Feste, which includes a nice performance (interrupted by some dialogue between Viola and Orsino):

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
You might enjoy this link about songs from Shakepeare's plays:


I saw a performance of As You Like It at Stratford, Ontario in 2005, with music by Barenaked Ladies. The play had a modern hippie-like setting in 1969. The music was so good I didn't want the play to ever end. Steven Page said his music was influenced by The Beatles. We bought the CD.
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
I did indeed enjoy that link. Will have to check out the BNL CD for sure!
Apr. 17th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)
Tanita Says:
Och, tasty! Thanks for providing links even though those guys are still under copyright.

I think "I see London, I see France" would have been perfectly... delightful as a poetry selection. However! I like O, Mistress Mine because it reminds me of an earlier poem from this week -- and the concept of "let's get it on, pleasure is now, time is fleeting." An interesting concept to have repeat this week!
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says:
It does have a bit of an echo, doesn't it? I love how the final lines of the first stanza foreshadow the end of the play itself, and how the second stanza is a more direct appeal or instruction to Sir Tobey to seize the day with the maid (or was she the cook?)
Apr. 17th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC)
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter.

I adore that line.

Thanks for the video, too. Somehow, I've missed seeing this version of Twelfth Night. Must get it immediately.
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
Indeed, you must. It's a marvelous adaptation - one of my very favorite Shakespeares on screen, and decidedly my favorite of the "comedies" or "romances".
Apr. 17th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Present mirth hath present laughter....

I LOVE that line!!!
Apr. 17th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Me too!
Apr. 17th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, how funny. I just read the other comments and Sara and I apparently love the same line. How unoriginal of me...
Apr. 17th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
I think it just goes to show that Poetry Princesses tend to like the same sorts of things.
Jan. 6th, 2012 02:09 am (UTC)
Not Act I, but Act II,3
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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