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