Voices from the 17th Century: ‘Melt earth to sea’



Towards the end of Ben Jonson‘s masque Oberon, the Faery Prince, the title character rides a chariot “which to a loud triumphant Musick began to move forward, drawn by two white Bears, and on either side guarded by three Sylvanes, with one going in front.” The masque, performed on January 1, 1611, at Whitehall Palace in London, must have been an incredible spectacle. As the chariot appears, the following song is performed, the imagery it evoked is unusually beautiful.

Melt earth to sea, sea flow to air
And air fly into fire,
Whilst we in tunes to Arthur´s chair
Bear Oberon´s desire;
Than which there can be nothing higher,
Save JAMES, to whom it flies:
But he the wonder is of tongues, of ears, of eyes.
Who hath not heard, who hath not seen,
Who hath not sung his Name?
The Soul, that hath not, hath not been;
But is the very same
With buried Sloth, and knows not Fame,
Which doth him best comprise:
For he the wonder is of Tongues, of Ears, of Eyes.

READ: The Masque of Oberon online.

LISTEN: Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Oberon (reconstruction), Musicians of the Globe

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