There Is a Garden in Her Face

by Thomas Campion

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The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

Thomas Campion’s song “There Is a Garden in Her Face” consists of three stanzas in the same metrical pattern. The poet compliments a lady on her beauty in the most extravagant terms. However, he feels it necessary to warn her suitors, himself included, that the lady will not permit anyone to approach her more closely until she indicates that she is ready for him to do so. At first reading, the poem appears to be no more than another elaborate tribute of the sort that Elizabethan and Jacobean courtiers and courtly poets were expected to produce. However, the lines in which suitors are warned away suggest that the reason the lady is so unapproachable is not that she is innocent or overly virtuous; it is simply that she is holding out for the highest price. Thus, while ostensibly praising the lady, the poet is actually exposing her and, by extension, the society that has produced her.

In the first stanza of the poem, the lady’s face is called a “garden” filled with flowers, specifically, white “Lillies” and red “Roses,” a conventional description of the white skin and pink cheeks found so frequently among English girls. The poet also mentions “pleasant fruits” and specifically “Cherries.” When in the second stanza he goes on to say that the cherries “enclose” two rows of pearls, obviously he is describing the lady’s red lips and her white teeth. The first stanza ended with a caution: “none may buy” those cherries unless the lady signals her permission. At the end of the second stanza, the warning is even more specific: even men of the highest rank must respect the lady’s wishes.

In the third stanza, the lady’s features are again described in flattering terms: her “Eyes” resemble “Angels,” and her well-shaped eyebrows are like “bended bowes.” However, the emphasis here is not on the beauty of those features but on their roles in keeping trespassers away from her lips. The eyes, then, are not just angelically beautiful; they also function as guardian angels. The brows are not just lovely; they are well-armed and poised to attack. If someone attempts to touch those lips, the eyebrows can “kill” an intruder with “piercing frownes.” The final line of the song is the same as that with which the two previous stanzas ended. Again readers are reminded that no one may “buy” the lady’s cherry-red lips “Till Cherry ripe themselves doe cry.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

It is important to remember that Campion thought of “There Is a Garden in Her Face” as a composite work, which like his other songs aimed at a fusion of poetry and music. Campion’s words had been circulating for at least a decade before the fourth volume of “Ayres” appeared in 1617; they had even been set to music and published by others. However, because Campion thought of each of his songs as an integrated whole, he waited to publish “There Is a Garden in Her Face” until he had composed his own musical setting for it. Any analysis of the song, therefore, must take into account both Campion’s words and his music.

The poem has a simple, regular structure. It is made up of three six-line tetrameter stanzas, each of which begins with four lines that rhyme alternatively and concludes with a couplet. The first lines of these couplets differ from each other in fairly significant ways, but the second line, with which each stanza ends, is in every case the same.

In the music that he composed for his poem, Campion pointed out the importance of the couplet by inserting a double bar before it, indicating that it is a refrain. However, the first line of the refrain, which varies from stanza to stanza, proceeds at a very slow pace. By contrast, the metrical pattern breaks up in the second line, proceeding in irregular snatches. Moreover, the line “Till Cherry ripe themselves doe cry” is expanded considerably, now becoming, “Till Cherry ripe, till Cherry ripe, till Cherry ripe, Cherry ripe, ripe, ripe, Cherry ripe, Cherry ripe themselves doe cry.” It has been pointed out that whenever “Cherry ripe” appears in the song, the musical notes reproduce the cries of London street vendors.

However, there is nothing particularly original about Campion’s metaphors themselves. They are simply Petrarchan conceits, extravagant comparisons in the tradition established by the Italian poet Petrarch and still flourishing in the Elizabethan period. Many of Campion’s contemporaries described their ladies’ complexions in terms of lilies and roses, and it was not unusual to think of their lips as cherries; indeed, that metaphor was especially apt, since ripe fruit almost asks to be brought to one’s mouth. It has even been suggested that Campion borrowed this metaphor from a song by Thomas Morley, number 16 in the First Booke of Balletts to Five Voyces (1594), in which the lover observes that cherries are subject to decay and therefore should be tasted at once.

Petrarchan tradition also dictates the gender clichés in “There Is A Garden in Her Face.” The lady is perfection itself. She is superlatively beautiful, worthy of being worshiped by all the men around her. She is also as powerful as a goddess, capable of dealing a death blow with a mere frown of displeasure, and, like a goddess, completely in command of her passions, fully in control of her future. By contrast, the Petrarchan lover presents himself as totally submissive to his lady, totally dependent upon her for his own happiness. He can only admire her, praise her, and await her pleasure. However, though Campion’s persona assumes the manner and the mannerisms of a conventional Petrarchan lover, expressing himself in conventional Petrarchan conceits, the words and music of the refrain suggest a very different meaning.

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