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“As that is of the water, watery; so this is of the earth, earthy….”

October 5, 2009

Title page, "The White Devil"

Funeral dirge for Marcello, sung by his mother:

Call for the robin redbreast, and the wren,
Since o’er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the fieldmouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robb’d) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that’s foe to men,
For with his nails he’ll dig them up again.”

John Webster, The White Devil

“I never saw anything like this Dirge, except the ditty which reminds Fredinand of his drowned father in the Tempest. As that is of the water, watery; so this is of the earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness of feeling, which seems to resolve itself into the elements which it contemplates.” Charles Lamb, in his note on this dirge in Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets.

Following is the funeral dirge from The Tempest:

George Romney, painting depicting the shipwreck scene in "The Tempest" (1.i)

George Romney, painting of the shipwreck scene in "The Tempest" (1.i)

Full fathom five thy Father lies,
Of his bones are Coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a Sea-change
Into something rich, & strange:
Sea-Nymphs hourly ring his knell.

N.B.: Readers will doubtless recall that T.S. Eliot borrows from both of these dirges in The Waste Land. He seems to have derived all his knowledge of Elizabethan & Jacobean drama (exclusive of Shakespeare) from Lamb’s Specimens. For a link to a recording of Eliot reading The Waste Land, click here. For a link to Lamb’s Specimens, click on the first mention of the book above.


Charles Lamb

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