5 Listening - 'Greensleeves' (p. 149)

 
Sit in pairs or threes and see how many songs you can think of (pop songs, folk songs, any songs) that are about the sorrows of love. Put them in two groups – songs sung by women and songs sung by men. Are there any differences between them?

 
“Greensleeves” is perhaps the most famous love song in the English language. It dates from the 16th century, and the language belongs to a bygone age. The theme, however, is one that never goes out of fashion – the pain of unrequited love. The poet showers his beloved with expensive gifts and loving attention and she rewards him with a cold shoulder.
 
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There has been a lot of speculation about the origin of the song. One theory is that was written by Henry VIII, the famous English king who married six times. According to this theory, the Lady Greensleeves of the song is none other than the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. It is an intriguing idea. At the time Henry would still have been married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. We can imagine the amorous king coming on strong, and Ann playing hard to get, knowing that she had everything to play for. Bearing in mind what this relationship to Anne Boleyn led to – Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the birth of the future Elizabeth I, and later the execution of Anne Boleyn on charges of adultery ... Well, the apparently harmless love song takes on historic significance!
 
Alas my love, you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously:
And I have loved you well and long
Delighting in your company.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was my delight.
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my Lady Greensleeves.
 
I have been ready at your hand
To grant whatever you would crave.
I have both wagered life and land
Your love and goodwill for to have.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy etc.
 
I bought thee petticoats of the best
The cloth so fine as it might be:
I gave thee jewels for thy chest,
And all this cost I spent on thee.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy etc.
 
My gayest gelding I thee gave
To ride wherever pleaséd thee.
No lady ever was so brave
And yet thou would not love me.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy etc.
 
My men were clothéd all in green
And they did ever wait on thee:
All this was gallant to be seen,
And yet thou would not love me.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy etc.
 
Greensleeves, now fare thee well, adieu!
God I pray to prosper thee:
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me.
 
Greensleeves was all my joy etc.
 
 

Activities

 
1 Understanding the song
Vocabulary changes over time, in English as in all languages. Some of the words in the song are no longer used in modern English (“thee” “thou” = “you”, “thy” = “your”). Some are still used, but often with a different meaning. The word “gay” often means “homosexual” in modern English, but in the 16th century it simply meant “light-hearted”. “Brave” could mean “splendid” as well “courageous”.
 
Sit in pairs and read the poem aloud. After every verse, paraphrase (rewrite) the text in modern English.
 
2 Talking
What impression do you get of the relationship between the poet and Lady Greensleeves? Who is in charge, and why? Could the song be describing a modern romantic relationship?
 
3 Writing
a) You are the poet of “Greensleeves”. Write a letter to an “agony column” explaining your situation and asking for advice.
 
b) You are the writer of an “agony column” in a newspaper, and you have received a letter from the poet of “Greensleeves”. Write a reply suggesting what he should do.