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Observations placeholder

John Dowland - What if I Never Speede



Type of Spiritual Experience


John Dowland (1563 – buried 20 February 1626) was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep" (the basis of Benjamin Britten's 1963 composition for guitar solo, Nocturnal after John Dowland), "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

A description of the experience


John Dowland - What If I Never Speed (The Consort of Musicke)

Dr Linda Phyllis Austern – No Pill’s gonna cure my ill [from Musical Healing in Cultural contexts]

English court composer John Dowland's dark hypnotic songs of sorrow and his lachrymose instrumental music have recently been reconnected to the early modern cult of melancholy.

In such brief pieces as ‘What if I Never Speede' from his Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires (1503), Dowland instead imitates the particularly manly passion of deliberate unrequited love, in which, since the heyday of amour courtois, the careful, controlled and indefinite postponement of longed-for consummation served to ennoble the male sufferer's soul by maintaining it in a state of ecstasy beyond vulgar appeasement.

It is no steadily doleful dump, but includes glimpses of light and hope amidst its darker moments. The dark text of despair, sorrow, and wish for solace is fragmented into minute phrases, treated to alternation between upward flashes of steady brightness and mercurial retreat to lower registers, alternating hope and despair, control and lingering desire. As the narrator addresses his beloved, the steady duple pulse becomes displaced through syncopation, the most graphic musical means to indicate indefinite temporal postponement, psychic displacement, and disruption of the steady rhythms of the human interior faculties.

The source of the experience

Musician other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Unrequited love