It was a time when silly bees could speake (John Dowland)

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  • (Posted 2016-11-05)   CPDL #41709:     
Editor: Sabine Cassola (submitted 2016-11-05).   Score information: A4, 2 pages, 72 kB   Copyright: CPDL
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  • CPDL #24113:         
Editor: James Gibb (submitted 2011-08-07).   Score information: A4, 3 pages, 35 kB   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: Includes a keyboard reduction of the a cappella choral score. MusicXML source file is in compressed .mxl format.
  • CPDL #23427:        (Sibelius 5)
Editor: Walker Boyle (submitted 2011-04-24).   Score information: Letter, 3 pages, 74 kB   Copyright: Public Domain
Edition notes: MusicXML source file is in compressed .mxl format.
  • CPDL #16847:       
Editor: Brian Russell (submitted 2008-05-07).   Score information: A4, 27 pages   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: NoteWorthy Composer file may be viewed and printed with NoteWorthy Composer Viewer.
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General Information

Title: It was a time when silly Bees could speake
Composer: John Dowland
Lyricist: Robert Devereux , 2nd Earl of Essex

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SecularMadrigal

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

Published: 1603

Description: No. XVIII from The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires (1603)

External websites:

Original text and translations

English.png English text

It was a time when silly bees could speak,
And in that time I was a silly bee,
Who fed on time until my heart 'gan break,
Yet never found the time would favour me.
Of all the swarm I only did not thrive,
Yet brought I wax and honey to the hive.

Then thus I buzzed when time no sap would give:
Why should this blessed time to me be dry,
Sith by this time the lazy drone doth live,
The wasp, the worm, the gnat, the butterfly?
Mated with grief I kneeled on my knees,
And thus complained unto the king of bees:

My liege, gods grant thy time may never end,
And yet vouchsafe to hear my plaint of time,
Which fruitless flies have found to have a friend,
And I cast down when atomies do climb.
The king replied but thus: Peace, peevish bee,
Thou'rt bound to serve the time, the time not thee.