The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“My Sweetest Lesbia” is a song composed of three stanzas, each six lines long, rhymed aabbcc. It is the first of Thomas Campion’s twenty-one songs in a collection shared equally with lutenist Philip Rosseter. Other songbooks of Campion’s era (those by John Dowland, for example) present arrangements for four-part singing, but Campion and Rosseter require a solo voice and a simple accompaniment in their works: a “naked ayre without guide, or prop, or color but his own.” As the first song in a group that primarily examines kinds of love (unrequited, bawdy) and contrasts high and low society, strict and loose morals, and age and youth, “My Sweetest Lesbia” stands as an overview, an entryway, an opening statement.

The first stanza is a translation and condensation of the Roman poet Catullus’s poem 5 (Vivamus, me Lesbia, atque amemus). Addressing Lesbia, which is the nom à clef of Catullus’s “beloved,” Campion’s singer makes a proposition that they “live and love,” even though wiser people may censure them. (The name, incidentally, does not have any particular lesbian sexual implications.) The reason the singer offers is metaphorical: Sun and moon may set and quickly revive, but as soon as the much weaker light of love sets, he and his lover will sleep “one ever-during night.”

Stanza 2 diverges from the Catullus poem. The subject is warfare, and the point of view shifts from the embracing...

(The entire section is 410 words.)