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Flow, my Tears

(John Dowland)

This is one of the best known songs by the sixteenth century English musician and composer John Dowland (1562 - 1626). He held a position with the English ambassador in Paris, was invited at the royal courts in Wolfenbüttel and Cassel, travelled through Italy, served as a lutenist at the court of Christian IV of Denmark and finally took a position as a lutenist at the English court.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge granted him bachelorships in music.

Although Dowland composed lots of lute pieces, he is better known for his songs. Many of these songs or "ayres" have two versions, one for solo voice and lute and one for a four voice ensemble, where the first voice has the melody and the remaining voices provide the harmonies of the lute accompaniment.

His greatest song compositions are characterised by a lute part that is often more than an accompaniment, it is possible to perform these pieces as a lute solo.

Dowlands music was steeped in Elizabethan melancholy. Titles like Sorrow sorrow stay, In darkness let me dwell and Flow my teares clearly show this. The same applies to lute pieces like Semper Dowland semper dolens (Always Dowland, always sad), Lachrymae or seven teares (a collection of seven pavanes) and the Melancholy Galliard.

Below you’ll find the text of the song which is a clear example of Elizabethean melancholy.

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their lost fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.