Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
—William Shakespeare, Sonnet lxv (1609)
Listen to John Dowland’s ayre “Flow My Tears” from the Second Booke of Songs (1600), the most widely recited song of the Shakespearean era:
Another recommendation: look for Andreas Scholl’s Crystal Tears (Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901993), which may be the finest collection of John Dowland songs ever recorded, with particularly virtuoso renditions of Go crystal tears and (my favorite Dowland song, from the Third Book) Time stands still. The release contains not only a CD with the music but also a DVD in which the works and their recording is discussed.