There Is a Garden in Her Face

by Thomas Campion

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Themes and Meanings

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“There Is a Garden in Her Face” is built upon the contrast between artifice and reality. All the Petrarchan elements in the song come from a world that is a construct of the human imagination, a world in which women are meant to be worshiped and, indeed, deserve no less. Campion reinforces this idea with references to his lady’s goddess-like power and even with religious images, referring to his lady’s face as a “heav’nly paradice,” to her eyes as “like Angels,” and to her lips as “sacred.” Men are so in awe of these goddesses or saints that they are willing to adore them without making any demands upon them. The ladies who live in this imaginary world appear to be emotionless; it is only their lovers who burn, freeze, and sometimes die, perhaps of a broken heart, perhaps, as Campion suggests here, destroyed by the lady’s frown.

With the repeated word “buy” and the cry of the cherry-seller, however, the poet catapults the reader into the real world. If someone will eventually “buy” those cherry-red lips, then the lady’s distancing herself is not a matter of saintlike behavior but a commercial calculation. Although the reference to a real cherry-seller is so minimal that one who looks only at Campion’s words might miss its significance, in the musical setting the repetition of “Cherry ripe” and of the single word “ripe,” echoing even the intonation of a street vendor, makes it clear that the vendor’s cry is more than just a useful comparison drawn from the real world, as are the lilies and roses the poet mentions. Like the street vendor, the lady is peddling her wares. Like the cherries, she will be most valuable when she is at her prime, in other words, fully ripe. At that point, she will be sold to the highest bidder. That is the way marriages are made in the real world, and everyone who reads Campion’s words or hears his song is well aware of that fact.

Certainly the poet does not mean to suggest that the lady he praises so highly it not beautiful. However, the reader would recognize that the tribute is somewhat perfunctory and that the metaphors are both conventional and exaggerated. Although Campion is willing to indulge the lady for a time, even to assume the role of a Petrarchan lover, he makes it clear that after an excursion into the world of make-believe, one must return to reality. The reality is that the lady’s behavior is just as artificial as the language in which she is described. Thus “There Is a Garden in Her Face” is essentially an ironic work, in which words and music collaborate to expose a society that pretends to idealism but in actuality is coldly materialistic.

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