Thomas Chatterton "Under the Willow Tree" translation

Thomas Chatterton "Under the Willow Tree" translation

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

Song from Ælla: Under the Willow Tree, or, Minstrel's Song
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17 or younger
modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch

O! sing unto my roundelay,
O! drop the briny tear with me,
Dance no more at holy-day,
Like a running river be:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Black his crown as the winter night,
White his flesh as the summer snow
Red his face as the morning light,
Cold he lies in the grave below:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note,
Quick in dance as thought can be,
Deft his tabor, cudgel stout;
O! he lies by the willow-tree!
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Hark! the raven flaps his wing
In the briar'd dell below;
Hark! the death-owl loud doth sing
To the nightmares, as they go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

See! the white moon shines on high;
Whiter is my true-love's shroud:
Whiter than the morning sky,
Whiter than the evening cloud:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Here upon my true-love's grave
Shall the barren flowers be laid;
Not one holy saint to save
All the coldness of a maid:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

With my hands I'll frame the briars
Round his holy corpse to grow:
Elf and fairy, light your fires,
Here my body, stilled, shall go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Come, with acorn-cup and thorn,
Drain my heartès blood away;
Life and all its good I scorn,
Dance by night, or feast by day:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Water witches, crowned with plaits,
Bear me to your lethal tide.
I die; I come; my true love waits.
Thus the damsel spoke, and died.

The song above is, in my opinion, competitive with Shakespeare's songs in his plays, and may be the best of Thomas Chatterton's so-called "Rowley" poems. The fact that Chatterton wrote it in his teens is astounding. It seems rather obvious that this song was written in modern English, then "backdated." One wonders whether Chatterton wrote it in response to Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree." The greenwood tree or evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The "weeping willow" is a symbol of sorrow, and the greatest human sorrow is that of mortality and the separations caused by death. If Chatterton wrote his song as a refutation of Shakespeare's, I think he did a damn good job. But it's a splendid song in its own right.

Keywords/Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, roundelay, minstrel, song, Aella, willow, death, deathbed 

© 2020 Michael R. Burch


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Added on June 1, 2020
Last Updated on June 1, 2020
Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, roundelay, minstrel, song, Aella, willow, death, deathbed