To a ladye

Music: Michael Buck. Words: William Dunbar
performance time approx 2m 15s
Range S: c' – f'' / A: g – a'♭ / T: e♭ – e'♭ / B: c – c'
Price code: B
Complexity: *

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A lover describes the hopelessness of his situation. As well as being rejected by his lady of choice, the leaves of the rue plant (a traditional, if bitter, remedy) have all been killed off by the cold March winds.

In Michael Buck's strophic setting, nearly every cadence lingers briefly on a major chord before shifting into the minor, and the harmonies are somewhat bare and thin. Even in his unhappiness, however, the rejected lover appreciates both his lady, and the garden flowers, and his beloved rue. As a rather intimate piece, the song is particularly suitable for smaller ensembles.

The makar (poet) William Dunbar (c.1459 &mdash 1513 or later) served at the court of King James IV of Scotland.

Transcription and pronunciation guide included.


Sweit rois of vertew and of gentilnes,
delytsum lyllie of everie lustynes,
richest in bontie and in bewtie cleir,
and everie vertew that is held most deir,
except onlie that ye ar mercyles.

In to your garthe this day I did persew,
Thair saw I flowris that fresche wer of hew;
Baith quhyte and reid moist lusty wer to seyne,
And halsum herbis upone stalkis grene;
Yit leif nor flour fynd could I nane of rew.

I dout that Merche, with his caild blastis keyne,
Hes slane this gentill herbe that I of mene,
Quhois petewous deithe dois to my hart sic pane
That I wald mak to plant his rute agane,
So confortand his levis unto me bene.

William Dunbar

Rough transcription into English:

Sweet rose of virtue and gentleness,
Delightful and most fair lily,
Richest in bounty and in clear beauty,
And in every esteemed virtue,
Except only that you are merciless.

I went into your garden today,
I saw flowers in fresh colours;
Both white and red were most pretty to behold,
And healthy herbs on green stalks;
But I could find neither leaf nor flower of the rue plant.

I think that the cold winds of March
Have killed this gentle herb that I sing of,
Whose piteous death gives my heart such pain
That I intend to plant its root again,
So comforting its leaves have been to me.

Canasg editors

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