A Review of the Elizabethan Poem "Weep You No More Sad Fountains"

Updated on May 11, 2016
Danaida Fountain of Peterhof
Danaida Fountain of Peterhof | Source

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains is a melancholy English ballad from the Elizabethan era. The poem has an interesting structure of rhythm and rhyme set in a falling pattern creating a somber yet soothing lyrical work of literature. The metaphors used provide images of melting snow and flowing fountains while comforting the sorrow of the poet’s intended readers. Because this poem has unknown origins readers must assume what the poet’s intentions were when writing this lovely ballad.

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains”

By Anonymous


Weep you no more, sad fountains;

What need you flow so fast?

Look how the snowy mountains

Heaven’s sun doth gently waste.

But my sun’s heavenly eyes

View not your weeping,

That now lie sleeping

Softly, now softly lies

Sleeping.


Sleep is a reconciling,

A rest that peace begets.

Doth not the sun rise smiling

When fair at even he sets?

Rest you then, rest, sad eyes,

Melt not in weeping

While she lies sleeping

Softly, now softly lies

Sleeping.

Angel with Lute:  Vittore Carpaccio's "Presentation of Jesus in the Temple" 1510
Angel with Lute: Vittore Carpaccio's "Presentation of Jesus in the Temple" 1510 | Source

History

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” is an Elizabethan poem of unknown origin. Some believe that this poem originated as a ballad performed by lutenists in 17th century English courts.

Credit for this poem is given to John Dowland who was appointed as one of the king’s lute players in 1612 (Naxos Digital Services Ltd., 2012). Dowland was a popular composer at this time providing musical verse presenting melancholy lyrics fashionable in this era (Naxos Digital Services Ltd., 2012).

Love, religion, and death were popular themes for poetry in the early renaissance. “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains is an Elizabethan song that would have been performed in English court. During this period all Elizabethans attended church which accounts for the high prevalence of religious songs and hymns (Alchin, 2012). It is interesting that this early Renaissance poem has regained popularity again in modern music during the 20th century.

Kate Winslet sang “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” in the movie Sense and Sensibility and musical icon Sting recorded his version of the poem in his 2006 album Songs from the Labyrinth (Kyle of the Sea, 2009). See below for a rendition of this performance.

Meaning

Because the author is unknown for this poem readers must make assumptions on meaning by considering historical aspects along with format and pattern. The poem was written most likely as a form of musical lyric during the Elizabethan era possibly to be performed at court. The audience would be well-to-do people as well as villagers. The poem’s title refers to fountains. During the early renaissance fountains were often seen in gardens of the rich. All other fountains were used only for practical uses such as bathing and washing, and these practical fountains were run by gravity (Oracle Think Quest, n.d.). Combining “sad” with “fountains” presents the idea of tears. Melancholy songs were often sung during court in Elizabethan times so readers may deduce that “Sad Fountains” may refer to crying people of well-to-do culture.

First Stanza

The author says “weep you no more, sad fountains” asking the listener to stop crying (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 1). The poem goes on to ask “what need you flow so fast?” (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 2). This line presents that the person, or people, are crying very hard and are most likely very sad. The author uses the metaphor of melting snow and the sun to present how melting snow flows slowly. This metaphor provides a view of life that sadness comes and goes with time, but the person, or people, the author is addressing is experiencing more than average sadness. Religious themes were popular in early renaissance poetry, so “my sun’s heavenly eyes view not your weeping” may be a metaphysical reference to God not recognizing the sad person’s despair (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 5). “Sleeping” is used repeatedly at the end of this stanza and the end of the poem. Sleeping may refer to death, therefore the person crying may be saddened by death.

Second Stanza

The second stanza opens with “sleep is a reconciling, a rest that peace begets” (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 10 & 11). If readers take apart these two lines, sleep may be tied to death. Reconciling can mean coming to terms with or accepting. Accepting sleep may be a metaphor for accepting death. Begets means to produce. A sleep that produces peace could be a reference to Bible psalm 4:8 “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for you, Lord, only make me dwell in safety” (Bilblos, 2004). The author goes on to refer to the sun welcoming the day even though the sun knows that day will end and night will come eventually. These lines present the perspective that life goes on despite loss of loved ones, and that mortality is inevitable. The poem ends with the author providing comfort to the sad one “rest you then, rest, sad eyes, melt not in your weeping” (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 14 & 15. The 16th line gives useful information on why the listener is crying “while she lies sleeping” (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 16). Referring to “she” gives the information that the person who has died is female. Although this is not very helpful, readers can assume that the person, or people, is grieving for an unknown female character. The ending of the poem is the repeated line “Softly, now softly lies sleeping” (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 17 & 18).

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I | Source

Queen Elizabeth I

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” may have provided a view into sadness of the royal family. The poem can be traced back to Elizabethan times and was known to have been part of John Dowland’s Third Book of Songs or Airs in 1603 (Ferguson et. al., 1995). Queen Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603 marking the end of the Tudor power (The Royal Household, n.d.). Although the poem is dated 1603, Queen Elizabeth I was in failing health for a while prior to dying of blood poisoning in 1603 (Alchin, 2012). It is possible that “she lies sleeping” refers to Queen Elizabeth I (Ferguson et. al., 1995, p. 120, 16). The “sad fountains” may represent the many aristocrats who mourned her death. The references to the sun rising again may be hope for the future. Unfortunately, since the poem has never been traced to a single author it is unsure what the author’s true intent was when writing “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains.”

Form

Weep You No More, Sad Fountains is an Elizabethan ballad. Although the composition is structured there are variations in the format. The first three lines are dactylic trimeter. Stress is placed on the first syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, and each of the first three lines had three feet. The next two lines are trochaic tetrameter. Although this grouping of two lines has more feet than the first two lines, the lines are shorter and there is a falling meter offered by this rhythm. The result of this falling pattern provides a somber or soothing tone to the poem (Ferguson, et. al., 1995). This falling pattern continues as the next two lines shorten. Each is written in trochaic trimeter. The writer completes the stanza with two more lines. The first starts with a single word “softly” followed by a medial caesura. This pause allows readers, or listeners, to absorb the word and idea behind the word. Three words follow the pause, and the last line is a single word “sleeping.” This single word presents the end of the falling pattern and provides the word with a measure of importance. The next stanza repeats the format of the first.

Rhythm and Rhyme

The falling pattern and meter of “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” provide a somber rhythm to the poem. Although the poem is only two stanzas the repeated falling pattern and meter make a distinct impression and create a moving ballad. Rhyme is introduced as a means of creating a traditional Elizabethan musical quality to the poem. End rhyme is repeated through the poem. Although most of the rhymes are perfect rhymes, such as “fountains” and “mountains,” there are a few other different types of rhymes. “Fast” and “waste” represent a pararhyme with repeating end consonant pattern. The words “reconciling” and “smiling” offer an eye rhyme with endings spelled alike (Ferguson, et. al., 1995). Another rhyme is “beget” and “he sets” which follows the feminine rhyming pattern of matching rhyming syllables even though the first is one word “beget” and the second is two words “he sets.” This short poem offers a lyrical pattern of rhythm and rhyme to create a soothing yet somber example of Elizabethan poetry.


Source

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” offers readers a sad story written in a format that provides soothing comfort with falling pattern, repeating rhyme, and lovely descriptive metaphor. Although the poem has no known author the piece is considered to have origins in Elizabethan times and was part of John Dowland’s repertoire when performing for English royalty in court. From these historical facts readers may deduce the meaning of the poem. Regardless if the poem is about the death of some nameless girl or the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the words provide a musical litany of words still enjoyed in modern times.

References

Alchin, L. (2012). Death of Queen Elizabeth I. Retrieved from http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/death-of-queen-elizabeth-i.htm

Alchin, L. (2012). Elizabethan music. Retrieved from http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-music.htm

Bilblos. (2004). Psalm 4:8 American King James version. Retrieved from http://bible.cc/psalms/4-8.htm

Ferguson, M., Salter, M.J., & Stallworthy, J. (1995). The Norton anthology of poetry. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kyle of the Sea. (2009 February 15). Weep you no more for musical comparisons. Retrieved from http://kisforkyle.blogspot.com/2009/02/weep-you-no-more-for-musical.html

Murphy, N.R. (2010 September 18). Weep no more sad fountains. Retrieved from http://www.maths.tcd.ie/~niallm/fountains.pdf

Naxos Digital Services Ltd. (2012). John Dowland. Retrieved from http://www.naxos.com/person/John_Dowland/26007.htm

Oracle Think Quest. (n.d.). Fountains throughout history. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/01008/history.htm

The Royal Household. (n.d.). English monarchs. Retrieved from http://www.royal.gov.uk/HistoryoftheMonarchy/KingsandQueensofEngland/KingsandQueensofEngland.aspx

(1995). Weep you no more, sad fountains. The Norton anthology of poetry. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Laila geologist from Morocco 

      7 months ago

      I feel myself attached to this poem even thought I don't read too much poetry, thanks for the background it make it more dearest.

    • profile image

      Kuba 

      10 months ago

      An excellent review, and great insight into the historical context. I'll only add that there's yet another interesting musical setting of this text made by the contemporary band Qntal (it's titled "Sleeping", and it can be found on their album "Translucida") - for those interested to hear non-traditional approach. What I, a non-native speaker of English, always liked about the poem was how "eyes", as a homophone of "ice", is employed in the poem, and how this homophony lends additional shimmering to the metaphorical imagery contained in the text.

    • profile image

      Supun Viraj 

      12 months ago

      "But my sun's heavenly eyes view not your weeping. That now lies sleeping"

      But my lover (my sun's) cannot see your (personification of his own eyes) crying...

    • profile image

      supun viraj 

      12 months ago

      According to my review, this poem talks about that the poet himself soothe himself. The poet write the poem separating him from his mind and body.....

      "Weep you no more sad fountains what need you flow so fast..Look how the snowy mountains heaven's sun doth gently waste"

      He himself tell his eyes that it is no use of crying on death because it is a nature or an inevitable part of life...He further says that even the sun melts the snowy mountains but they stand unshaken. It provides courage....

      "But my sun’s heavenly eyes

      View not your weeping,

      That now lie sleeping

      Softly, now softly lies

      Sleeping."

      This part further says that the uselessness of weeping on his lover because the lover is already dead and crying or sadness never undo what has already be done....(It does not refer to God)

      The second stanza also strengthen the idea of accepting everything( Challenges, death, disease, likes & dislikes, satisfaction as well as dissatisfaction) happen in life because the life is a mix of all...

      Just like the sun is every time smiling whether it is morning or evening because the sun has to experience both...It is inevitable...

      The poem teaches us the accepting the reality without being sentimental...

    • profile image

      Mark Vellacott 

      17 months ago

      "so “my sun’s heavenly eyes view not your weeping” may be a metaphysical reference to God not recognizing the sad person’s despair "

      Surely this is just daft because "my sun’s heavenly eyes" are what "now lies sleeping" - obviously because they are dead - or did God die in the early 1600s?

    • profile image

      chris gardiner 

      21 months ago

      Thank you very interesting. I came across this poem via folk singer Josienne Clarke. I recommend her's and Ben Walker's version of the song

    • profile image

      Wing 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for your analysis of the poem. Would you happen to know who wrote the music for the poem setting in the movie "Sense and Sensibility"? There are many music settings for this poem such as those by Dowland and Quilter but the one in the movie is not one of them.

    • NancySnyder profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Snyder 

      2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Hello Robert, thank you for your comment. I don't know how I made such an obvious mistake. Thank you for pointing it out. I have made the necessary corrections.

      I believe that the Hundred Years War between England and France started in 1337 and ended with the French victory over England at Castillon in 1453. This all would have taken place before the first of the Tudors ever came to power, beginning with Henry VII in 1485. Despite the French victory, the English held power in the region of Calais until 1558, the year that Elizabeth I was born.

      So although it would have been a sad time in English history, the Hundred Years War did not take place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Despite the fact that the war had ended, it did still create tension between the two countries and was considered a terrible loss to the crown.

    • Robert Levine profile image

      Robert Levine 

      2 years ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

      Nice analysis of the ballad. But the Hundred Years' War ended about a century and a half before Queen Elizabeth I's death: http://www.history.com/topics/hundred-years-war

    • profile image

      Surabhi Kaura 

      2 years ago

      Interesting read. Loved the poem and its analysis.

    • Rabadi profile image

      2 years ago from New York

      Interesting poem and background! Love history, keep up the great hubs you now have a new follower :)

    • NancySnyder profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Snyder 

      3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Hi Ange, thank you so much for your comments. I glad you liked it. It is a sad, yet serene poem. I really like it. I also enjoy knowing the background of works that I enjoy, it helps me to connect with the piece. Happy hubbing!

    • AngeShearer profile image

      Angie Shearer 

      3 years ago from Whangarei, Northland

      Well researched piece lots of information soft and serene yet sad almost...thank you it touched me

    • AngeShearer profile image

      Angie Shearer 

      3 years ago from Whangarei, Northland

      Nicely written very interesting. ..loved the facts too well done very informative

    • NancySnyder profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Snyder 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you Garimaa!

    • Garimaa profile image

      Garima Bista 

      4 years ago from Kathmandu,Nepal

      It's really very interesting, keep writing.

    • NancySnyder profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Snyder 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks Earl! I really like the musical quality of this poem. It is sad yet somehow hopeful. If you haven't checked out the link to Sting singing the poem you have to, it is just beautiful!

    • Earl Noah Bernsby profile image

      Earl Noah Bernsby 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Very interesting and well-researched! A pleasure to read.

    • wisdom25 profile image

      Maurice Wisdom Bishop 

      5 years ago from San Tan Valley

      I love the poem as well as the interpretation. I remember reading this poem when I was in 9th grade. lol. Much Love and Respect

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