The Lyrics of Henry VIII/A robyn gentyl robyn, Cornish (Wyatt)
|← Wherto shuld I expresse||Whilles lyue or breth is in my brest →|
A robyn gentyl robyn
tel me how thy lemman doth
and thow shal know of myne
my lady is vnkynde I wis
alac why is she so 5
she louyth another better than me
and yet she will say no
I can not thynk such doubylnes
for I fynd women trew
In faith my lady lovith me well 10
she will change for no new
“A robyn gentyl robyn” is a stylized debate on the constancy of female love, with the praise of women’s constancy in love being that of the robin (ll. 8–11). For a similar situation, see Thomas Feylde’s Cotrauerse Bytwene a Louer and a Iaye. Alterations to this debate, and the sentiments presented within, are found in Wyatt’s later handlings of the lyric (as noted below in the section dealing with Substantive Variants).
- 2 lemman Paramour, lover, loved one of the opposite sex (MED 1).
- 4 vnkynde Not treating him with kindness; alternatively, not keeping with the law of “kind,” or nature. For a telling view of the applications of this word, roughly contemporary to the lyrics of H, see its use in l. 20 of Wyatt’s “They flee from me” (LDev ff. 69v–70v; LEge f. 26v; Tottel’s Miscellany E4r) as handled by Tottel, who alters the more ambigous and potentially ironic “kindly” to read “vnkyndly.” wis know, think.
- 11 she will change for no new Cf. “Iff I had wytt for to endyght” (H 24.11).
The first stanza, the burden, is through-set for three voices; the second voice for the first stanza runs directly from the first voice, with no large initial or division of any kind. As well, the second stanza runs in the same manner from the third voice of the first; the second and third stanzas appear in only one voice. “A robyn gentyl robyn” is likely based on a popular song, perhaps a tune well known in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries (Stevens M&P 111, 405). Wyatt’s poem is conjectured to be a later handling of this lyric song (see Stevens M&P 111 and 405, Ringler MS TM84 and TM 85, Robbins Index & Suppl. 13.8, as well as other Wyatt scholarship). This conjecture is discussed, with a facsimile, in Mumford’s “Musical Settings to the Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt.” Should the date of H be post–1522, however, it is not improbable that Wyatt, then at court and participating in court festivities, could have written the text set by Cornish. The lyric also appears as one of the songs in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, 4.2.72–79 (f. ll. 2057–64), interspersed as dialogue between Feste and Malvolio. Feste’s recanting of the lyric is as follows, separated from Malvoio’s interjections:
Hey Robin, iolly Robin, tell me how thy Lady / does.
My Lady is vnkind, perdie.
Alas why is she so?
She loues another.
See also Gooch and Thatcher’s Shakespeare Music Catalogue numbers 16,697, 16,965, 17,217, and 17,679–86.
“A robyn gentyl robyn” is indexed in Robbins Index & Suppl. 13.8, Boffey, and Ringler MS TM84. It is reprinted in Foxwell 1.106, Padelford 10, Tillyard 90, Flügel Anglia 272, 241–42, Flügel Neuengl 23, Reese 770, Stevens M&P 111, 405, and Stevens MCH8 38–39; see also the citation to Gooch and Thatcher, above.
H1,2,3 (ff. 53v–54r, ll. 1–3 H2,3), LDev(1) (f. 22v, ll. 1–7), LDev(2) (f. 24r), LEge (f. 37v).
- 1 A] Hey LDev(1), LDev(2); gentyl] Ioly LDev(2), / Ioly LEge
- 2 tel me how] substitute gentyl H2; lemman] lady LDev(1), LDev(2)
- 4 I wis] perdye LDev(1), perdy LDev(2), perde LEge
- 5 alac] a llas LDev(1), alas LDev(2)
- 6 me] I LDev(1), LDev(2)
- 8 can not thynk] fynd no LDev(2), fynde no LEge The heading Response appears above this stanza in LEge
- 9 for I] I LEge
- 10 In faith] omit LDev(2), LEge; well] dowtles LDev(2), LEge
- 11 she] and LDev(2), LEge
- 11 ff. Both LDev(2) and LEge contain additional verses, with ll. 12–15 having correspondence, they are as follows:
Those art happy yf ytt doth last
bot I say as I fynd
that wommens lou ys but ablast
and tornyth as the wynd
Yf that be trew yett as thou sayst
that wommen turn their hart
then spek better of them thou mayst
Iy hop to hau thy partt LDev(2)
Thou art happy while that doeth last
but I say as I fynde
that womens love is but a blast
and tornith like the wynde
Suche folke shall take no harme by love
that can abide their torn
but I alas can no way prove
in love but lake and morn
But if thou will avoyde thy harme
lerne this lessen of me
at other fieres thy self to warme
and let them warme with the LEge