This choir used poetry to reflect the lives of modern refugees – and it’s seriously moving

21 June 2019, 11:46 | Updated: 22 June 2019, 09:47

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Watch this powerful video in which Stile Antico sing Dowland’s enduring ‘Flow, my tears’, but with new words spoken by refugees.

The early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico is using one of choral music’s most beautiful creations, John Dowland’s ‘Flow, my tears’ (Lachrimae Pavans), to give a voice to those who aren’t often heard.

With the help of poet Peter Oswald, and inspired by Dowland’s original lyrics for the first pavan, ‘Flow my tears’, they have added texts to the remaining movements, reflecting the words of modern refugees.

The original text, which sang of exile in Elizabethan England, has been replaced with modern texts collected from real refugees’ experiences.

“Stile Antico asked me to provide some new lyrics for Dowland’s Lachrimae,” says poet Peter Oswald. “I was to use the words of refugees, and follow as precisely as possible the rhythms of Dowland’s existing lyric. This I have done as best I can in modern language.”

Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavans are a collection of instrumental music consisting of seven pavans, composed in the 16th century for Anne of Denmark.

“In two of the lyrics I have interwoven Dowland’s words with the contemporary words, first in alternate verses then in alternate lines, so there is a progression out of Dowland,” says Oswald.

“Occasionally I have changed the rhyme scheme, out of forgetfulness, but I reckoned this would not affect the connection with the music. I was more concerned with trying to replicate the weight and measure of syllables. I have followed as faithfully as I can the music of Dowland’s words.”

The performance is all part of the choir’s UK-wide tour of Songs of Longing and Exile, based around the idea of exile in Elizabethan England.

Read all the new lyrics below.

Lacrimae antiquae novae

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

I, at home, wrote to expose,
Being a journalist, the fate,
The torture and the street hangings of those
Who spoke against the state.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joy have deprived.

Now I cannot write – if I try to,
Ice makes my brain shrink.
And I will tell you why, because the rope, the endless rope
Still breaks necks, for all my ink. Hark!

You shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light.
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world’s despite.

Lacrimae Coactae

Now, good friends, wisdom for free!
In this old countrya man said to me,
there is no need to crawl –
Give me cash, bang on the nail,
and I will get you work
in England where no adventure can fail,
and I said, say no more.

Never should good luck be believed!
He left me alone,
and hours that posed as years I waited there, for his return
from just being relieved.

Far from home and no one around me
That I knew at all,
I might as well have been at sea or on some mountain,
Not in that bright entrance hall.

Well! Good people did assist me, burned,
back to these homesteads.
Sadly, madly, not a pound earned
And my shirt made of shreds.