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Have You Seen But a White Lily Grow by Anonymous (time of James I)

Text by Ben Johnson (15721637)


(text published in 1649 in Underwoods)
This song comes from number IV in A Celebration of Charis in Ten
Pieces, featured in the collection Underwoods. This poetic celebration was
published after Jonsons death in 1637, but it is known for being one of
Jonsons most enchanting and extensive works. The text of this song comes
from the third stanza of Her Triumph, which seemed to be a favorite to
audiences of the time. Jonson is best known for his piece To Celia (written
in 1616), which many know today as the 18th century Victorian song Drink to
Me Only With Thine Eyes. The composer of this rendition is unknown, but it
is interesting to note that the original version reads, Have you seen the
bright lily grow. Despite its long history the song remains timeless, as
proved by Sting, who covered the song on the 2006 album Songs from the
Labyrinth.
In addition to being a prolific English poet, Ben Jonson was also a
playwright, literary critic, and actor of the Jacobean and Caroline eras. He
worked for the Admirals Men at the Rose in the late 16th century, but found
more success as a writer than an actor. His first and perhaps well-known
play, Every Man in His Humour, featured William Shakespeare in the cast. He
faced much controversy in his life through provocative work and
imprisonment, but he is still considered the first writer to earn the title of
poet laureate.