Collegium Vocale Bydgoszcz – Fine Knacks For Ladies. Fine Knacks Composed By – John Dowland. 2, Now 6, Lady Hunsdon’s Almain. Composed. Fine Knacks, Painted Things: John Dowland and Michael Drayton Along with his quick-footed, somewhat foppish capering for the lady. Sting, too, has recorded this and other Dowland compositions (in What the “fine knacks” symbolise may be best left to the imagination, though.
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This week’s poem is by the greatest poet of all time. I was reminded of its existence by an essay by Clive Wilmer, published in the latest issue of that excellent poetry journal, PN Review”Thom Gunn, Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry”.
Fine knacks for ladies, for 4… | Details | AllMusic
Gunn’s street-peddler is an unambiguous figure, though the escape he’s selling “into whichever self you choose”, via “keys, lids, acid and speed”, may be illusory. The blend of street-idiom and metrical strictness is attractive, though the poem is certainly not among Gunn’s profoundest work, and is rather less verbally interesting than Anon’s.
You can read “Street Song” here. The comparison set me singing as well as thinking, though it’s a very long time indeed since I belonged to the school madrigal choir, and performed John Dowland’s wonderful setting of “Fine Knacks Wilmer mentions the recording by the counter-tenor Alfred Deller, which anyone who has ever heard Deller sing can easily imagine. Sting, too, has recorded this and other Dowland compositions in “Songs from the Labyrinth”as have many other modern performers.
What interests me now is that little mystery of the author. My old Norton Anthology describes the poem as “an anonymous peddler’s song”.
The poem certainly disguises itself as such a song, and possibly incorporates actual street cries, but it is clearly the work of a professional wordsmith, brilliantly skilled in the arts of double entendre and court flattery. Could it have been written by Dowland himself? Or what about his near-contemporary, the gifted lyricist Thomas Campion? The peddler-lover calls out his wares, admitting their worthlessness but at the same time proclaiming that, because “the heart is true,” they are extremely valuable.
No doubt this was why it was thought an appropriate song for convent grammar-school girls. What the “fine knacks” symbolise may be best left to the imagination, though they could of course be poems, or nice phrases, or merely as the speaker would have us believe his heart’s candid affections. But the metaphors are intricate: There is a lovely pun in stanza three. The “divers toys fitting a country fair” are accessories appropriate not only to a country market but also to a country beauty.
The image of the turtle-doves twinned in the speaker’s heart also suggests more than one meaning. But, assuming the twin doves represent both the lovers themselves and the beloved’s breasts, why are they described as “court’s brood”? I wonder if Anon means to alert us to “The Song of Solomon”: Perhaps that is the “courtly” connection – which is therefore also “heavenly” again, in both senses.
And what of those “removes” in the last line? Do they merely refer to lovers’ separations? One commentator believes the removal of clothing is implied, the idea being that it is best for the lover’s peace of mind not to imagine such things.
It’s perfectly feasible that, once more, mischievous Anon intends a pun. If you know Dowland’s sprightly, graceful melody, it’s very hard to hear the autonomous music of the verses. Dowland subtly alters the vowel quantities and phrasing, and adds to each stanza a further repetition of its envoi. The poem doesn’t have the same spring in its step when merely read.
But does “Fine Knacks Unlike many song-lyrics, I think it exerts enchantments of its own. Perhaps only those who haven’t heard the musical setting can really judge. All opinions, musically informed or not, are welcome. As indeed would be the outing of the gallant pin-and-pun-peddler, Anon.
Fine knacks for ladies, cheap, choice, brave and new! Good pennyworths – but money cannot prove. I keep a fair but for the fair to view. A beggar laady be liberal of love. Though all my wares be trash, the heart is true, The heart is true.
Poem of the week: Fine Knacks for Ladies
Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again; My trifles come as treasures from my mind. It is a precious jewel to be plain. Sometimes in shell the orient’st pearl knwcks find. Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain. Of me a grain. Within this pack pins, points, laces and gloves, And divers toys fitting a country fair; But in my heart, where duty serves and loves, Turtles and twins, court’s brood, a heavenly pair. Happy the heart that thinks of no removes!
Fine Knacks for Ladies Fine knacks for ladies, cheap, choice, brave and new! Topics Poetry Books blog. Order by newest oldest recommendations.
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