"When I was Fair and Young" is a four-stanza poem in iambic hexameter generally, though not definitively, attributed to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). Though its authorship has not been confirmed, the poem is certainly very much Elizabethan in its theme and tone. The central idea of the piece is shared by many other works of the period: young lovers anxiously contemplating aging and death show up frequently in Shakespeare's sonnets (numbers I, XVIII, and XIX spring to mind as characteristic), and the "moral" (if one can call it that), summarizable as have all the sex you can while you're still young and attractive, is a favourite of the somewhat later poets Marvell ("To his Coy Mistress") and Herrick ("To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"). "When I was Fair and Young" differs from these examples in taking the point of view of the coy mistress heself, and expressing her regret at not reciprocating the eagerness of her numerous and randy suitors. This is an intriguing sentiment for the (so-called) Virgin Queen to express, if indeed the poem is hers.

Here is the poem:


When I was Fair and Young

Elizabeth I

When I was fair and young, and favour graced me,
Of many was I sought, their mistress for to be;
But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore:
    "Go, go, go seek some otherwhere; importune me no more!"

How many weeping eyes I made to pine with woe,
How many sighing hearts, I have no skill to show;
Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore:
    "Go, go, go seek some otherwhere; importune me no more!"

Then spake fair Venus' son, that proud victorious boy,
And said: "Fine dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more:
    'Go, go, go seek some otherwhere; importune me no more!'"

When he had spake these words, such change grew in my breast
That neither night nor day since that, I could take any rest.
Then lo! I did repent that I had said before:
    "Go, go, go seek some otherwhere; importune me no more!"


Near the end of the twentieth century (some 43 years into the reign of Elizabeth II, to be precise), the poem was set to a neo-Elizabethan tune by the composer Daniel Hall as part of the incidental music to the one-act play Salt, by Ana Perusquía. The tune, given below in ABC notation by permission of the composer, is apparently intended to be reminiscent of Renaissance English music (think "Greensleeves"), but its most dramatic phrase, culminating in the B-natural in the second full bar, alludes to a cello sonata by the Italian composer Pietro Boni.

X:1
T:When I was Fair and Young
C:Text: Elizabeth I, Music: D. C. Hall
R: air
Q:1/4=76
M:12/8
L:1/8
K:Cm
C |"Cm"C2 E E2 G ("Gm"G3C2) E |("Cm"C3/2D/)E (DE)C "G"=B,4 z C |
w:When I was fair and young--and fa--vour gra--cèd me, of
"Cm"C2 G G2 B ("Gm"B3C2) D |("Gm"D3/2E/)D C2 B, "Cm"C4 z G |
w:ma-ny was I sought--their mi--stress for to be. But
"Cm"G2 c c2 B "Bb"{G}F4 z G |"Cm"G2 c c2 B c6 |
w:I did scorn them all and an-swer'd them there-fore:
"Cm"c2 c c2 B/G/ "Bb"F2 G (E/C3/2)D |"Cm"E3/2(D/C) "Gm"B,2 D "Cm"C4 z |]
w:Go, go, go seek some oth-er where--im-por-tune--me no more!

I've been tinkering with the abc code to try to make it work properly on the various interpreters out there. The version above has been successfully tested in BarFly http://www.barfly.dial.pipex.com/ and Harmony Assistant http://www.myriad-online.com/, and displays properly aligned chords and lyrics when opened in either. If your abc interpreter doesn't handle lyrics, you can simply delete all lines beginning with w:, and if it doesn't handle chords, delete everything in quotation marks (and the quotation marks themselves).

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