1 O Happy dames, that may embrace 2 The frute of your delight, 3 Help to bewaile the wofull case, 4 And eke the heauy plight 5 Of me, that wonted to reioyce 6 The fortune of my pleasant choyce: 7 Good Ladies, helpIn this line, it seems the narrator is inviting her friends to sing with her. Interestingly, in A.S.G. Edward’s assesment of the manuscript circulation of Surrey’s poems, he claims that “more than half of the manuscripts that contain versions of his poems consist of musical settings” (289). to fillIn the Devonshire manuscript of this poem, transcribed by Mary Fitzroy, the Earl of Surrey’s sister, the spelling of many words diverge from the generally accepted conventions of the time. ‘Fill’ appears as ‘ffelle’ (Baron 314). Raymond Southall rightly asserts that this idiosyncratic spelling “obscures the sense”, but the spelling encourages speculation that the Earl of Surrey may have, in fact, intended such ambiguity (Southall 317). ‘Ffelle’ could be interpreted as ‘feel’ or ‘fill’ by the reader. Whereas ‘fill’ would appear to fit best given the context of the entire line--inviting others to ‘fill one’s voice’ would appear to invite both singing and a lending of fortitude from the addressed, ‘feeling’ ones ‘moorning’--translated ‘mourning’--would invite empathy. my moorningIt would seem that the term ‘moorning’ is a pun on the term ‘mooring’. A sea vessel is referred to as being ‘moored’ when it is fastened to the shore. Part of the plight of the narrator is that she is stuck on shore while her lover is at sea. Lending weight to this argument is the fact that the spelling of ‘mourn’ in this line is inconsistent with the rest of the poem. In lines 26 and 29 of the 1965 Revised Harvard edition, the vowels ‘ou’ are used instead of ‘oo’. voyce. 8 In ship, freightIn Mary Fitzroy’s transcript of the poem, the word ‘ffrawghte’ is used here (Baron 314). The modern day translation appearing within the context of nautical terminology is rightly rendered ‘freight’. There is evidence, however, that even before the mid-sixteenth century, the term ‘fraught’ (spelled ‘ffrawghte’ by Fitzroy) was sometimes used in the same sense as it is in modern day English; it was another term for ‘burden’ (“Freight”). A sixteenth century reader would have likely noticed the wordplay. with rememberance 9 Of thoughts, and pleasures past, 10 He sailes that hath in gouernance 11 My life, while it wil last: 12 With scalding sighes"Scalding" is a rarely-used adjective denoting that something is "of the sea" ("Scalding"). The scalding sighes here are sea winds that are gentle as sighs, useless for sailing., for lack of gale, 13 FurderingThis odd spelling of "furthering" seems to be based on the archaic letter "ð" (eth), which is pronounced like the "th" in "they" and resembles a "d." eth his hope, that is his sail 14 Toward me, the swete port of his auail. 15 Alas, how oft in dreames I se 16 Those eyes, that were my food, 17 Which somtime so delited me, 18 That yet they do me good. 19 Wherwith I wake with his returne, 20 Whose absent flame did make me burne. 21 But when I find the lacke, Lord how I mourne? 22 When other louers in armes acrosse, 23 Reioyce their chiefe delight: 24 Drowned in teares to mourne my losse, 25 I stand the bitter night, 26 In my window, where I may see, 27 Before the windes how the cloudes flee. 28 Lo, what a mariner loue hath made me. 29 And in grene waves when the salt floodThe Oxford English Dictionary says that the word ‘green’, when used to describe the sea, refers specifically to “the sea near the shore.” The stanza preceding sees the narrator “drowned in teares” when she sees “before the windes how the cloudes flee” (24, 25). One would assume that when she is bemoaning the absence of her lover while looking out the window, she would be looking towards the ocean. If this is the case, the fleeing clouds would seem to be moving further offshore. Although the effect of the wind on tides may be marginal when compared to the moon’s effect on tides, an offshore wind would generally lower the tidal level. When the narrator says that “the salt flood/doth rise, by rage of winde,” than, she is most likely referring to the welling up of tears and emotion that takes hold of her when she notices the wind picking up. Her tears provide the flood that she says she drowns in. This is consistent with the fanciful bad scenarios that she describes as assailing her mind in lines 31 and 32. 30 Doth rise, by rage of windeThe Oxford English Dictionary says that the word ‘green’, when used to describe the sea, refers specifically to “the sea near the shore.” The stanza preceding sees the narrator “drowned in teares” when she sees “before the windes how the cloudes flee” (24, 25). One would assume that when she is bemoaning the absence of her lover while looking out the window, she would be looking towards the ocean. If this is the case, the fleeing clouds would seem to be moving further offshore. Although the effect of the wind on tides may be marginal when compared to the moon’s effect on tides, an offshore wind would generally lower the tidal level. When the narrator says that “the salt flood/doth rise, by rage of winde,” than, she is most likely referring to the welling up of tears and emotion that takes hold of her when she notices the wind picking up. Her tears provide the flood that she says she drowns in. This is consistent with the fanciful bad scenarios that she describes as assailing her mind in lines 31 and 32.: 31 A thousand fansies in that mood 32 Assayle my restlesse mind. 33 Alas, now drencheth my swete foNarrators in Chaucer’s poetry used the term “swete fo” to address a mistress. The Middle English Compendium cites an example taken from “The Miller’s Tale”, in a collection of Chaucer’s works edited by L.D. Benson. A similar term, “swete foo”, appears in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Crisyede”. This poem appears in The Text of the Canterbury Tales, edited by J.M. Manly and E. Rickert., 34 That with the spoyle of my hart did go, 35 And left me but (alas) why did he so? 36 And when the seas waxe calme againe, 37 To chase fro me annoye. 38 My doutfull hope doth cause me plaineUsed in this context, "plaine" means "lament" or "cry" - it shares a common root with the more familiar word "plaintive" ("Plain," "Plaintive"). This phrase as a whole could be rendered "makes me cry with sadness.": 39 So dreade cuts of my ioye. 40 Thus is my wealth mingled with wo, 41 And of ech thought a dout doth growe, 42 Now he comes, will he come? alas, no no.
In Tottel's Miscellany, one collection in which this poem was published, a poem called "Complaint of a diyng louer refused vpon his ladies iniust mistaking of his writyng" appears here. The second poem titled "Complaint of the Absence [...]" follows it, pages after the end of the first one. In the Devonshire Manuscript, another early printing, the first poem ("O Happy Dames") appears alone (Siemens et al.).
1 Good Ladies, ye that haue your pleasures in exile, 2 Step in your foote, come take a place, & moorne with me a while 3 And such as by their lordes do set but little price, 4 Let them sit still: it skilles them not what chance come on theIn the original text, this "the" was spelled with a medieval letter called a thorn, which was pronounced like "th" and by the 16th century looked like a "y." It was combined with an "e" as a way of abbreviating "the," like this: Thorn dice. 5 But ye whom loue hath bound by ordre of desire 6 To loue your lords, whose good desertes none other wold require: 7 Come ye yet ones again, and set your foote by mine, 8 Whose wofull plight and sorrowes great no tong may wel define. 9 My loue and lord, alas, in whom consistes my wealth, 10 Hath fortune sent to passe the seas in hazarde of his health. 11 Whome I was wont tembrace with well contented minde 12 Is now amidde the foming floods at pleasure of the winde. 13 Where God well him preserue, and sone him home me send. 14 Without which hope, my life (alas) wer shortly at an end. 15 Whose absence yet, although my hope doth tell me plaine, 16 With short returne he comes anon, yet ceasith not my payne. 17 The fearfull dreames I haue, oft times do greue me so: 18 That when I wake, I lye in doute, where they be true, or no. 19 Sometime the roring seas (me semes) do grow so hye: 20 That my dere Lord (ay me alas) me thinkes I se him die. 21 Another time the same doth tell me: he is cumne: 22 And playeng, where I shall him find with his faire little sonne. 23 So forth I go apace to se that leefsom sight. 24 And with a kisse, me think, I say: welcome my lord, my knight: 25 Welcome my swete, alas, the stay of my welfare. 26 Thy presence bringeth forth a truce atwixt me, & my care. 27 Then liuely doth he loke, and salueth me againe, 28 And saith: my dere, how is it now, that you haue all thys paine? 29 Wherwith the heauy cares: that heapt are in my brest, 30 Breake forth, and me dischargen clene of all my huge vnrest. 31 But when I me awake, and finde it but a dreme, 32 The anguishe of my former wo beginneth more extreme: 33 And me tormenteth so, that vnneath may I finde 34 Sum hidden place, wherein to slake the gnawing of my mind. 35 Thus euery way you se, with absence how I burn: 36 And for my wound no cure I find, but hope of good return. 37 Saue whan I think, by sowre how swete is felt the more: 38 It doth abate som of my paines, that I abode before. 39 And then vnto my self I say: when we shal meete. 40 But litle while shall seme this paine, the ioy shal be so sweete. 41 Ye windes, I you coniure in chiefest of your rage, 42 That ye my lord me safely sende, my sorowes to asswage: 43 And that I may not long abide in this excesse. 44 Do your good will, to cure a wight, that liueth in distresse.