A Song

 Overview

If you’re a soppy romantic (which you should be as you’re too young to know the frustrations and tedious elements on relationships) this is the poem for you. Carew showers his girl with the most over the top praise possible.

Ask me no more where Jove bestows,
When June is past, the fading rose;
For in your beauty’s orient deep
These flowers , as in their causes, sleep.

Ask me no more whither do stray
The golden atoms of the day;
For in pure love heaven did prepare
Those powders to enrich your hair.

Ask me no more whither doth haste
The nightingale when May is past;
For in your sweet-dividing throat
She winters, and keeps warm her note.

Ask me no more where those stars light,
That downwards fall in dead of night;
For in your eyes they sit, and there
Fixéd become, as in their sphere.

Ask me no more if east or west
The phoenix builds her spicy nest;
For unto you at last she flies,
And in your fragrant bosom dies.

Thomas Carew (1595-1640)

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Carew was another of our Cavalier poets, so someone who was a bit free with love and enjoyed the idea of romantic love, which is clearly reflected in this poem. He had a bit of a bumbling and unsuccessful life until he managed to gain a position working in the court of Charles I. He is said to have made his mark here by saving Charles’ Queen from the King’s wrath as he extinguished a candle as he led the King to bed so that he would not notice another courtier fondling the Queen! Scandal!

During his time at court he was friends with some of the other poets in this collection, Ben Jonson and Sir John Suckling. However, his personal life is pretty obscure. The only, fairly sad, thing we know about his death is that apparently he died regretting he’d not lived life with more ‘severity and exactness’ – in other words he’d not made the most of it.

 Themes

Love, romance and nature. This whole poem is a tribute to the beauty and brilliance of one mystery lady, which uses the most transcendent beauty of the natural world to flatter his subject.

Content

This is quite simple really because every stanza is basically saying the same thing: you’re bloody beautiful!

Each stanza begins with the phrase ‘ask me no more’ which indicate that he has found the answer to the questions he – sort of – poses. First of all we have the question of what Jove – the top Roman god – does with the rose as summer ends and the answer is that he contains its beauty within Carew’s girl.

The next one is thoroughly beautiful and I wish I’d thought of this as a description of someone’s beauty. When he talks about ‘golden atoms’ don’t think he’s getting all scientific on us, he’s talking about those times you see a ray of light shining in a room that is otherwise a bit dull and you see those tiny particles of dust illuminated within it that seem to dance with a mind of their own (I’ve tried to illustrate this with the feature image at the top). These have been stored in his lover’s hair, which we’ll have to assume is a shimmering blond. Notice the connection between these atoms and ‘heaven’, which also means that his comparison has connotations that this girl is like an angel or through her beauty somehow divine. (if you’re boring or struggling to explain this you could always just equate these ‘golden atoms’ to sunlight, but that’d be lame in comparison to my interpretation).

Now we move onto her voice. The nightingale’s song is considered to be particularly beautiful as it is one of a very limited number of birds that sing at night and thus its song can actually be listened to. Traditionally the singing nightingale was thought to be the female calling to the male and thus the nightingale is a common association with a desirable woman, but we know now that it is in fact the blokes who do the singing. Anyway, in May the nightingale migrates from England for warmer climes, but in the poem Carew suggests that the nightingale hides its song in his love’s voice and character.

In the fourth stanza he associates shooting stars (meteorites burning up in the earth’s atmosphere), which shine brightly and shimmer as they descend with the sparkle in her eye. When he says ‘fixéd become, as in there sphere’ he simple means that these stars become a permanent presence in her eyes as they were previously in the night sky (ignore the fact that shooting stars are not actually stars, your common sense is getting in the way of romance!).

Finally he says that the phoenix (mythical bird that builds its nest and then burns itself before being reborn) would choose her ‘fragrant bosom’ as the perfect place to build its nest. This suggests she smells pretty good as the phoenix was supposed to use spices to build its nest, but also suggests the warmth and comfort of being in this ladies presence as a nest is a home, somewhere you feel completely at ease.

Language and techniques

I’ve explained most of it above, albeit without specific quotations. I’ll mention the overall ideas that are important to talk about rather than explain everything over again.

So the first thing we’ve got here is the most hyperbolic comparison or analogy (to use the proper poetic terminology) possible between his love and the most spectacular aspects of nature. Two of these elements of nature are seasonal and thus disappear for large swaths of the year in England, but the poet claims they reside with his love during this absence:

– Roses fade as summer draws to a close and thus ‘the fading rose’ ‘sleep[s]’ in her beauty. We associate roses with beauty, but also with both romantic love (red roses) and purity (white roses) so be prepared to explain how this comparison could be doubly complimentary.

– As England’s seasonal temperatures vary considerably there are many species that leave the country at certain points. However, the nightingale ‘keeps warm her note’ during this absence in the throat of our love – the word ‘winters’ simple mean where you spend winter – almost like a pleasant, comfortable place to hibernate. ‘Sweet-dividing’ means something like sweet singing, but is meant to refer to the lyrical beauty he hears in her voice as you do with someone you really fancy (before you’ve figured out they’re just as imperfect as everyone else).

I think I’ve explained the other comparisons pretty well above, but just tie your ideas to the specific quotations when you write about the poem.

You should also mention the repetition of ‘Ask me no more’ at the beginning of each stanza. The fact we are being banned from asking him means that the definitive answer has been found and there are no more questions about where these beautiful natural things disappear to. This is high praise indeed for the girl as he is presenting these hyperbolic comparisons as if they are an indisputable fact, not just for him, but for anyone. The repetition emphasises his certainty of her perfection.

Structure

Well, this is a very simple structure with five stanzas of four lines following a pattern of two rhyming couplets within each or an AABB rhyme scheme if you prefer.

Why is this significant? Look back at the title; it’s called ‘A Song’ and its meant to have a sing song feel to it as it is meant to be a sweet singing of his praises directly to the girl he loves. The perfection of the rhyme scheme reflects the perfection of his love (no half rhymes or torture rhymes in this poem!).

Another thing to notice is the pauses in lines 3-4 in almost every stanza as opposed to the enjambment in lines 1-2 in almost every stanza. The impact of this is that after the question is raised (through saying that it can no longer be asked about) we slow down when we contemplate how each comparison reflects an aspect of this girl’s beauty.

Tone

It’s a extremely loved-up, melodious poem that should flow easily from the tongue and represent the sickly-sweet romantic love flowing through Carew’s vains.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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