Now Winter Nights Enlarge


Now Winter Nights Enlarge
by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
    This number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
    Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
    And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-tuned words amaze
    With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights 
    Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights 
    Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
    With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
    Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well:
    Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
    Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
    And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys
    They shorten tedious nights.


According to the biography on Luminarium.org, Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was skilled in law, certain medicines, poetry, writing masques, and even composing music (1); a marvel of a man to say the least. While many of his “poems” are written as such, a lot of them are more often than not a blend of songwriting with poetic form. The result is a piece that relies more on the musical qualities of words, rather than their descriptive forms. While it involves vague images, those images within the piece are meant to be in relation to a musical background.

This can leave distaste with many readers, as his poems appear simplistic and devoid of any emotional imagery. However, one must know that many of these poems such as “Now Winter Nights Enlarge” are written to be accompaniments to music and vice versa. Music will make his imagery much more praiseworthy and his poems will serve as excellent lyrics to a number of musical pieces.

Think of reading a song from start to finish and see how little the words mean without music playing. There should be a lack of emotional power that comes from listening to the words being sung while an instrument seals the creative gaps. Campion’s poetical work is ultimately the same and thus should be analyzed and viewed as more of a hybrid piece, rather than poetry by itself. One of Campion’s many pieces written in this style is “Now Winter Nights Enlarge.”

In the first few lines, Campion expands on his title: “Now winter nights enlarge/ The number of their hours; / And clouds their storms discharge / Upon the airy towers” (1-4). With the wintry season rolling in, Campion details how winter literally “enlarges” with the changes that take place: the nights increase in hour, and the clouds become large enough to envelop even the highest buildings in view, possibly even the “airy towers” of heaven.

In the next few lines, Campion calls for celebrating and good times in this weather: “Let now the chimneys blaze / And cups o’erflow with wine, / Let well-turned words amaze / With harmony divine.” (5-8). Patrons should not regard winter as a cold and bitter holiday, but instead, as a reason to warm up to the fireplace, spend time together, and enjoy each other’s company in divine peace.

The following lines continue this theme that winter is to be enjoyed: “Now yellow waxen lights / Shall wait on honey love / While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights / Sleep’s leaden spells remove” (9-12). Love shall blossom, and entertainment will be enjoyed by all. Winter is thus a wonderful holiday, but unfortunately sleep removes the greatness with a “leaden spell” because it not only ends the day, but it also takes merry makers one more day away from winter and towards spring.

The lines that follow continue Campion’s discourse on winter: “This time doth well dispense / with lovers’ long discourse; / Much speech hath some defense, / Thought beauty no remorse” (13-16). Time fades quickly in winter, sped up by the “leaden sleep” in the previous lines, and especially when lovers are at length speaking. Although speech has “defense” or merit, beauty has no excuse and is just as deadly during the winter months as it is during the other seasons.

As Campion comes to an end in his discussion of winter, he mentions how: “All do not all things well; / Some measures comely tread, / Some knotted riddles tell, / Some poems smoothly read.” (17-20). Campion explains how despite some “things” doing well, others do not. Only “some” riddles tell and only “some” poems read well, a message perhaps implying that not everything is improved by winter.

Campion ends his piece with the final lines: “The summer hath his joys, / And winter his delights; / Though love and all his pleasures are but toys, / They shorten tedious nights” (21-24). Reminiscent of Campion’s previous discussions of beauty and lovers, these lines take a new turn. Despite all of the beauty of winter and the enjoyment that comes from merrymaking over the fire, Campion calls these mere “toys” of winter. This could be due to the fact that winter is but a season, and thus the effects that come from it are not permanent pleasures but only temporaries, to be replaced by the other seasons. They are not completely pointless however, because as Campion states: “They shorten tedious nights.”

Overall, this piece is simply about enjoying winter and all of what it brings. It is a quick and efficient tour of a winter night, mentioning lovers and emphasizing lengthy discussion “With harmony divine” (8). Unfortunately, it is truly only a brief glance, and its lack of vast and descriptive imagery can be irritable for a lot of readers (myself included). Ultimately though, the musical quality is there, and if read on a cold wintry night with some classical music playing, this piece could truly come alive.

Sent from my iPad

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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