National Centre for Early Music

[Skip navigation]
Navigation Menu

Selected Poems and Recommended Recordings

Choose one of the four selected poems to set to music:


From Love's Labour's Lost
If love make me forsworn, how shall I swear to love?
Ah, never faith could hold, if not to beauty vow'd!
Though to myself forsworn, to thee I'll faithful prove:
Those thoughts to me were oaks, to thee like osiers bow'd.
Study his bias leaves and makes his book thine eyes,
Where all those pleasures live that art would comprehend:
If knowledge be the mark, to know thee shall suffice;
Well learned is that tongue that well can thee commend,
All ignorant that soul that sees thee without wonder;
Which is to me some praise that I thy parts admire:
Thy eye Jove's lightning bears, thy voice his dreadful thunder,
Which not to anger bent, is music and sweet fire.
Celestial as thou art, O, pardon, love, this wrong,
That sings heaven's praise with such an earthly tongue.

Sonnet 147
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

from The World's Wife, published by Pan Macmillan

Where I lived - winter and hard earth. 
I sat in my cold stone room 
choosing tough words, granite, flint,

to break the ice. My broken heart - 
I tried that, but it skimmed, 
flat, over the frozen lake.

She came from a long, long way, 
but I saw her at last, walking, 
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,

in bare feet, bringing all spring's flowers 
to her mother's house. I swear 
the air softened and warmed as she moved,

the blue sky smiling, none too soon, 
with the small shy mouth of a new moon.

Copyright © Carol Ann Duffy, 2010

At first, I looked along the road 
hoping to see him saunter home 
among the olive trees, 
a whistle for the dog 
who mourned him with his warm head on my knees. 
Six months of this 
and then I noticed that whole days had passed 
without my noticing. 
I sorted cloth and scissors, needle, thread, 

thinking to amuse myself, 
but found a lifetime's industry instead. 
I sewed a girl 
under a single star - cross-stitch, silver silk - 
running after childhood's bouncing ball. 
I chose between three greens for the grass; 
a smoky pink, a shadow's grey 
to show a snapdragon gargling a bee. 
I threaded walnut brown for a tree, 

my thimble like an acorn 
pushing up through umber soil. 
Beneath the shade 
I wrapped a maiden in a deep embrace
with heroism's boy 
and lost myself completely
in a wild embroidery of love, lust, loss, lessons learnt;
then watched him sail away
into the loose gold stitching of the sun.

And when the others came to take his place, 
disturb my peace,
I played for time. 
I wore a widow's face, kept my head down, 
did my work by day, at night unpicked it. 
I knew which hour of the dark the moon 
would start to fray, 
I stitched it. 
Grey threads and brown 

pursued my needle's leaping fish 
to form a river that would never reach the sea. 
I tricked it. I was picking out 
the smile of a woman at the centre 
of this world, self-contained, absorbed, content, 
most certainly not waiting, 
when I heard a far-too-late familiar tread outside the door. 
I licked my scarlet thread 
and aimed it surely at the middle of the needle's eye once more.

Copyright © Carol Ann Duffy, 2010

It is recommended that you listen to recordings of Renaissance lute songs such as these:

  • Dowland Lute songs with Mark Padmore, tenor and Elizabeth Kenny, lute. (Hyperion: CDA67648)
  • English Lute songs with Robin Blaze, countertenor and Elizabeth Kenny, lute. (Hyperion: CDH55249)
  • Songs by Willam and Henry Lawes with Robin Blaze, countertenor and Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo. (Hyperion: CDA67589)
  • Andreas Scholl - The Voice 2 (Harmonia Mundi: HMX 2908458/59)
  • Flow my Tears with Iestyn Davies, countertenor, Thomas Dunford, lute and Jonathan Manson, viol. (Wigmore Hall live WHLIVE0074)
  • Sting: Songs from the Labyrinth with Edin Karamazov, lute. Music by John Dowland (Deutsche Grammophon 6025 177 9890 8 CD DDD GH)