Friday, October 11, 2013

Mathews retells Dowland (with permutations)

 In my post for 6 September 2013 I presented Oulipian Harry Mathews' poem "Multiple Choice" -- a poem whose alternative story lines might be represented by a tree diagram.  That poem was but one of 29 variations (or "Exercises in Style") by Harry Mathews as he retold again and again a tale first offered by lute-player and composer John Dowland (1563-1626), a musician whose work still finds audience today.   Here is Dowland's tale, from which Matthews created 29 alternative versions.  (See "Trial Impressions" in Armenian Papers, Poems 1954-1984 (Princeton University Press, 1987, out of print) and in A Mid-Season Sky:  Poems 1953-1991 (Carcanet, 1992).) 

Deare, if you change, Ile never chuse againe

       from John Dowland's First (or Second) Book of Ayres

Deare, if you change, Ile never chuse againe,
Sweeet, if you shrinke, Ile never think of love,
Fayre, if you fail, Ile judge all beauty vaine,
Wise, if too weake, my wits Ile never prove.
     Deare, sweete, fayre, wise, change, shrinke nor be not weake,
     And on my faith, my faith shall never breake.

Earth with her flowers shall sooner heaven adorn,
Heaven her bright stars through earths dim globe shall move,
Fire heat shall lose, and frosts of flame be borne,
Ayre made to shine as blacke as hell shall prove.
     Earth, heaven, fire, ayre, the world transformed shall view,
     E're I prove false to faith, or strange to you.

A version of this poem with modern spellings is available at, as "Dear, if you change, I'll never choose again."

The September 6  poem, "Multiple Choice" is Part XIII of "Trial Impressions" (Matthews' 12th variation of Dowland's work).  Part XV, "Equivoque" is also a poem to be read in more than one order.  Seeing sixteen line-segments, we may read them in eight horizontal pairs, one pair after the other, or we may read the left column of segments top-to-bottom, and then the right column.  Two permutation of the lines -- and, thus, two poems in one.


I'd just as soon lose my mind   if  your  desire turns elsewhere
If your fondness for me lasts   my dream of love might come true,
I'd abandon all female charms   if  you say  I'm past caring for,
As long as I stay dear to you   my deepest wish  will be granted.
One could seed one's petunias   in distant regions  of the skies,
Among humdrum city flowerbeds   the stars could make their way--
Igniting ice is likelier than   separating, whatever the pretext,
Our remaining snugly together   alone  can keep  my world intact.

Here, in my posting of 17 November 2010, is a bit of an introduction to the Oulipo and the constraint-based writing which this group as popularized.  For a long list of Oulipian procedures, follow this link.

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