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Thomas Chatterton translation: Under the Willow Tree

Song from Aella: Under the Willow Tree, or, Minstrel's Song by Thomas Chatterton, age 17 or younger modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch MYNSTRELLES SONGE ("MINSTREL'S SONG") O! sing unto my roundelay, O! drop the briny tear with me, Dance no more at holy-day, Like a running river be: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Black his crown as the winter night, White his skin as the summer snow Red his face as the morning light, Cold he lies in the grave below: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note, Quick in dance as thought can be, Deft his tabor, cudgel stout; O! he lies by the willow-tree! My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Hark! the raven flaps his wing In the briar'd dell below; Hark! the death-owl loudly sings To the nightmares, as they go: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. See! the white moon shines on high; Whiter is my true-love's shroud: Whiter than the morning sky, Whiter than the evening cloud: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Here upon my true-love's grave Shall the barren flowers be laid; Not one holy saint to save All the coolness of a maid: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. With my hands I'll frame the briars Round his holy corpse to grow: Elf and fairy, light your fires, Here my body, stilled, shall go: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Come, with acorn-cup and thorn, Drain my heart's red blood away; Life and all its good I scorn, Dance by night, or feast by day: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow-tree. Water witches, crowned with plaits, Bear me to your lethal tide. I die; I come; my true love waits. Thus the damsel spoke, and died. The song above is, in my opinion, competitive with Shakespeare's songs in his plays, and may be the best of Thomas Chatterton's Rowley poems. It seems rather obvious that this song was written in modern English, then "backdated." One wonders whether Chatterton wrote it in response to Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree." The greenwood tree or evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The "weeping willow" is a symbol of sorrow, and the greatest human sorrow is that of mortality and the separations caused by death. If Chatterton wrote his song as a refutation of Shakespeare's, I think he did a damn good job. But it's a splendid song in its own right. William Blake is often considered to be the first English Romantic. Blake is the elder of the so-called “big six” of Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. I would add the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, making it a big seven. However, I believe Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats actually nominated an earlier poet as the first of their tribe: Thomas Chatterton. Unfortunately, Chatterton committed suicide in his teens, after being accused of literary fraud. What he did as a boy was astounding. Keywords/Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Romanticism, rhyme, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, roundelay, minstrel, song, songs, Aella, willow, tree, trees, love, lover, death, bed, bedtime, dance

Copyright © | Year Posted 2020




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