Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most insistent images in the song deal with light and dark. Day and night lengthen into life and death. The “little light” of human beings seems frail, weak, and no match for the “great lamps” of heaven, but if that light is used lovingly, it can be enough to make mortality something to celebrate, rather than something to mourn. By implication, the “sager sort” who disapprove of lovemaking, the lovers’ “deeds,” ally themselves with the military “fools” who “waste their little light.” Those kinds of worldliness deprive men and women of the illumination that might make living worthwhile.

The poem is a declaration of carpe diem, “seize the day,” a common theme of this period. It takes the rhetorical form of a lover’s plea and belongs with the “amorous songs” Campion mentions in his preface. Acting against the passage of time, the warring of nations, and mortality itself, lovers can at least avoid wasting their lives and their light. The modesty is audacious. Love is sufficient in itself to offset the enormities of the world. This love is one that is earthly and enduring, one that makes even the prospect of death almost cheerful, a “triumph.” In other words, people love because death looms, but that love makes death an occasion for revelry. Love, the song says, makes living worthwhile.

To what extent is the song really a love poem in the usual sense? Does the reader imagine that the “you” of...

(The entire section is 489 words.)