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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

HARMONIE DIVINE Stephen Ratcliffe, Campion: On Song (Routledge) £9.50

We have misunderstood Thomas Campion for over three hundred years, says Stephen Ratcliffe, and we are better for it. Eliot and Auden-to mention only two-found in Campion a lyric grace that they attributed to his unique combination of poetry and music. But Ratcliffe insists that few modern readers have heard Campion's music, and we wouldn't understand it if we did. This is just as well, because our ignorance of the music enhances our appreciation of Campion's words. What characterizes those words, says Ratcliffe, is a 'multiplicity of relationships among parts and patterns whose simultaneous likeness and unlikeness pull them simultaneously together and apart'. The name he gives to these relationships is rhyme.

One can snap at only a few of the juicier pieces of bait offered by this slender, intelligent, and provocative book. Can the whole project of historical understanding be dismissed so airily? And yet historicism has defenders enough. A knowledge of Campion's music will deepen his value to someone already charmed, but no plucking of lutes or puffing of sackbuts will redeem the lesser verse which stuffs Elizabethan songbooks. As Campion himself remarks in a preface, Si placet hac cantes, hac quoque lege legas. Campion does delight on the page and in anthologies, with his simplicity of diction and precision of aural effects:


Now winter nights enlarge
  The number of their houres,
And clouds their stormes discharge
  Upon the ayrie towres;
Let now the chimneys blaze
...


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