William Lawes’ quintessential song of the 17th century, Gather ye rosebuds, performed on original instruments by the Early Music ensemble Voices of Music. 4K UHD video from the Great Poets concert, January, 2015.
English poets laureate from Chaucer to Jonson relied on imagery and even lines of text from classical sources. The early court poets, before the title “laureate” became a salaried post, were paid in wine and known as “versifactors,” i.e., makers of verses. One of the most popular of the classical lines for the English poets poets was the epigram of Ausonius “Collige virgo rosas,” known today as “Carpe Diem,” or “seize the day.” The phrase was closely tied to the idea of Vanitas in the 16th and 17th centuries, in which works of art, music and literature featured a theme that all of human existence would eventually grow old and turn to dust. Ausonius’ lines read as follows:
Collige virgo rosas dum flos novus et nova pubes,
et memor esto aevum sic properare tuum.
Gather, Oh virgin, the roses while you and the flowers are new
And remember that your own life will thus hasten away
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying.
When Robert Herrick published these lines in 1648, Ausonius’ lines were already familiar, well-worn words, but Herrick’s setting took on a life of its own, just as Robin William’s soliloquy on the same text did in the movie Dead Poets Society.
Herrick’s genius lay not in the erudite explication of Ausonius’s epigram, his genius was to turn it into a pop song—his translation uses the rough rhyme and meter of a ballad, like the traditional song Barbara Allen, and the song quickly became one of the most copied, admired and imitated works of the 17th century. The music survives in both duple and triple meter versions, and we perform both versions here as a pavan and galliard pair.
Voices of Music
Hanneke van Proosdij & David Tayler
Anna Dennis, soprano
Carla Moore, baroque violin
Elisabeth Reed, viola da gamba
David Tayler, baroque guitar
Hanneke van Proosdij, harpsichord
Visit us on the web at www.voicesofmusic.org