What if a day?

This anonymous Elizabethan piece is often attributed to Thomas Campion, which was what first drew me to it. Further research, however, informed me that the lyrics predate Campion’s birth, and while the tune that appears in An Hour’s Recreation in Music (Thomas Alison, 1606) may have been composed by Campion, there is no real evidence to support this. The words and music are beautiful, nonetheless, and represented a new level of challenge for me as a lutenist.

I first performed it at King’s & Queen’s Bardic Champions in 2018 (with difficulty), and have since refined it and recorded it. (The recording is on Efenwealt Wystle’s 2018 Pennsic New Music Sampler CD, and may be included on the upcoming Hold the Door Open.)

What if a day?

Anonymous (from Richard Alison’s An howres recreation in musicke apt for instrumentes and voyces, 1606)

What if a day, or a month, or a year,
Crown thy delights with a thousand sweet contentings?
A thousand sweet contentings.
Cannot a chance of a night or an hour
Crosse thy desires with as many sad tormentings?
As many sad tormentings.

Fortune, honor, beauty, youth
Are but blossoms dying;
Wanton pleasure, doting love,
Are but shadows flying.

All our joys are but toys,
Idle thoughts deceiving;
None have power of an hour
In their lives bereaving.

Earth’s but a point to the world, and a man
Is but a point to the Earth’s compared center:
The Earth’s compared center.
Shall then a point of a point be so vain
As to triumph in a silly point’s adventure?
A silly point’s adventure.

All is hazard that we have;
There is nothing biding;
Days of pleasure are like streams
Through fair meadows gliding.

Weal and woe, time doth go,
Time is ever turning:
Secret fates guide our states,
Both in mirth and mourning.


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