“My Lady Greensleeves” – Dante Gabriel Rossetti

AG: And has anybody ever… everybody knows Greensleeves don’t they? Has anybody ever heard all the lyrics of Greensleeves? – They’re here? – Are they in our book here?
Is Greensleeves in this book? – I think so – It’s of the same time and from one of these Miscellanies – A Miscellany from 1584 called “A Handful of Pleasant Delights”, where Greensleeves first was printed. Is it listed in the book? – in our book? (I have it in others).

No, apparently not. Is anybody interested in hearing the entire Greensleeves? – just as a poem – to hear the words? Does that make sense? – We know it as a song
I mean, I know it by heart as a a couple of stanzas but..
I have a couple of different versions –  [compare, for example, the version above by The King’s Singers] – (You can) (see if there’s any difference between them)

“Alas my love you do me wrong,/ To cast me off discourteously/ And I have loved you for long/ Delighting in your company/ Greensleeves was all my joy/Greensleeves was my delight/ Greensleeves was my heart of gold,/ And who but my Lady Greensleeves”

[So, if you read it that way, you get “who but my lady Greensleeves” – who but my lady Greensleeves?]

“I had been ready at your hand/ To grant whatever you would crave,/ I have both wagered life and land,/ Your love and good-will for to have./ I bought three kerchers to thy head/ That were wrought fine and gallantly;/ I kept them both at board and bed/ Which cost my purse well-favour’dly/ I bought thee petticoats of the best,/ The cloth so fine as fine might be:/ I gave thee jewels for thy chest/ And all this cost I spent on thee./ Thy smock of silk both fair and white,/With gold embroidered gorgeously;/ thy petticoat of sendall right;/ And this I bought thee gladly./ Thy girdle of gold so red/ With pearls bedecked sumptuously,/ The like no other lasses had/ And yet you do not love me. /Thy purse and eke thy gay gilt knives,/ Thy pin-case, gallant to the eye;/ No better wore the burgess’ wives/ And yet thou wouldst not love me!/ Thy crimsom stockings all of silk/ With gold all wrought above the knee/ Thy pumps as white as was the milk/ And yet thou wouldst not love me!/ Thy gown was of the grassy green,/ Thy sleeves of satin hanging;/ by which made thee be our harvest queen/ And yet thou woulst not love me!/ Thy garters fringed with the gold/ And silver aglets hanging by/ Which made thee blithe for to behold/ And yet thou wouldst not love me!/ My gayest gelding thee I gave./ To ride wherever liked thee./ No lady ever was so brave;/ And yet thou wouldst not love me!/ My men were clothed all in green,/ And they did ever wait on thee;/ All this was gallant to be seen;/ And yet thou wouldst not love me!/ They set thee up, they took thee down,/ They served thee with humility;/ thy foot might not once touch the ground;/And yet thou wouldst not love me! / For every morning when thou rose/ I sent thee dainties, orderly,/ To cheer thy stomach from all woes;/ And yet thou wouldst not love me! / Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,/ But still thou hadst it readily/, Thy music still to play and sing;/ And yet thou wouldst not love me! /And who did pay for all this gear,/ That thou didst spend when pleased thee?/ –  [Me!] – / Even I that am rejected here/ And thou disdains to love me!/ Well!, I will pray to god on high,/ That thou my constancy mayst see,/ And that, yet once before I die,/Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me!/ Greensleeves, now farewell, Adieu!/. God I pray to prosper thee!/ For I am still thy lover true;./ Come once again and love me!..”

That’s a real…that’s really working at it. And then there’s “Greensleeves was all my joy,/ Greensleeves was my delight;/ Greensleeves was my heart of gold,/ And who but my Lady Greensleeves.”

The quality of the poetry here is terrific, detail by detail, stanza by stanza. No wonder it’s such a.. (I mean) century after century, it’s been a pop hit. So maybe that’s, in some respects, just maybe the one familiar pop song which has been a pop hit over and over again. (Thomas) Campion never came back (except to intellectuals and cognoscenti), but Greensleeves, almost everyone knows (at least, in the ‘Sixties, everyone was into this). It’s amazing. If you want… So, in a sense, it’s an ideal, as a song, it’s an ideal, because it’s perennial, comes back. It seems to survive..

Student: The melody’s so haunting.

AG: The melody is excellent – but the words.. But also there’s something about the “Greensleeves was my.. all my joy” [Allen begins singing] I mean, the words.. fit. The words are suggestive, that “Greensleeves” is something like pastoral and green,echoing in the back of the brain, “Greensleeves”, some archaic archetypal feeling about it. And the faintly?? the feeling – “ do me wrong to love me so discourteously”, “to cast me off discourteously, for I have lov-ed you for long” “And who but my Lady Greensleeves”, “Delighting in your company”…

I don’t suppose we hear it very often the whole thing. So..

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-eight-and-a-half minutes in]

Addenda: Julian BreamRalph Vaughan-WilliamsJimmy Smitha crazy techno version, and…

John Coltrane

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