Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue's cloak?

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Sidjanga

Senior Member
German;southern tendencies
Hi all,

This is the beginning of a love song written by John Dowland, where the beloved lady doesn't return the poet's love, and I would greatly appreaciate your advice and opinions on how the first line would have to or could be interpreted.

Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue's cloak?
Shall I call her good when she proves unkind?

Are those clear fires which vanish into smoke?
Must I praise the leaves where no fruit I find?


(here is the rest of the song, which has also be reinterpreted by Sting).

This question (about the same song) is related to this thread.


Many thanks. :)
 
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  • Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    "Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue's cloak?"

    Interpretations of poetry are of course very subjective even for a native speaker.
    I tip my hat to anyone who tries to do this in a foreign language.

    OK, my reading is that the poet is wondering if love can make the lady overlook the poet's bad points (wrongs) by concentrating purely on his good points (virtues).
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Dowland is a poet of the 17th Century, and his language and poetic style reflect that.

    In this poem, he is turning a poetic convention on its head. Usually, a poet will praise a woman for being pure and chaste. Here, Dowland is taking the opposite position: he is lusting after this woman, but she is refusing to give in to his physical desire. He is therefore saying that by refusing to give in to his desire to go to bed with him, she is doing something wrong, rather than something virtuous, and that she cannot excuse the wrong she is doing to him by covering it over (in the same way that a naked body would be covered by a cloak) with the claim that she refuses to give in to him in the name of such virtues as chastity and purity.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    Dowland is a poet of the 17th Century, and his language and poetic style reflect that.

    In this poem, he is turning a poetic convention on its head. Usually, a poet will praise a woman for being pure and chaste. Here, Dowland is taking the opposite position: he is lusting after this woman, but she is refusing to give in to his physical desire. He is therefore saying that by refusing to give in to his desire to go to bed with him, she is doing something wrong, rather than something virtuous, and that she cannot excuse the wrong she is doing to him by covering it over (in the same way that a naked body would be covered by a cloak) with the claim that she refuses to give in to him in the name of such virtues as chastity and purity.
    Hi GWB.

    I was trying to keep things simple for a non-native speaker but found your exposition much deeper and erudite than anything I would have attempted.

    But why do you (your source?) mention her wrongs twice when the text clearly refers to my (ie the poet's) wrongs?

    Cheers.

    R.
     

    Sidjanga

    Senior Member
    German;southern tendencies
    Thank you for your sharing your readings. :)

    I would tend to understand it more or less like Redshade's interpretation.

    Cheers,

    S.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    But why do you (your source?)
    My source is myself.:)

    mention her wrongs twice when the text clearly refers to my (ie the poet's) wrongs?
    There is no contradiction here. Suppose, for example, I gave you several presents at Christmas. I could refer to those presents as "my gifts": I put my gifts for Redshade under the tree. However, I could also refer to them as "your gifts": Redshade, all of your gifts were under the tree - did you open them?

    So whose were they: yours, or mine? Clearly, we are using the word "gift" in two ways: something that one gives, or something that one is given. In the same way, "wrongs" can be used two ways: the wrong things that a person does, or the wrong things that are done to a person. Dowland is using the word in the second way, and the person doing the wrongful act that produces the result that is called a "wrong" is the woman.
     
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