Long have I lov’d this bonny Lasse

Since it is Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and love is in the air (or, anyway, its commercial exploitation is), and as last week I semi-promised something relatively sweet and tasteful, here is a love poem from the sixteenth century. It is written in a dramatic dialogue, a mode that is unusual these days, but was fairly common in the sixteenth century, from the silk-weaver, playwright and ballad writer, Thomas Deloney. As might be expected from a man who makes silk, his poem is smooth, comforting and sensual…


Long have I lov’d this bonny Lasse


Man:             Long have I lov’d this bonny Lasse,

                             yet durst not shew the same.

Woman:         Therein you prov’d yourself an Asse,

Man:             I was the more to blame.

                   Yet still I will remain to thee,

                             Trang dilly do, trang dilly,

                             Thy friend and lover secretly

Woman:                   Thou art my owne sweet bully.


Man:             But when shall I enjoy thee,

                   Delight of thy faire love?

Woman:                   Even when thou seest that fortune doth

                   All maner lets remove.

Man:             O, I will fold thee in my armes,

                             Trang dilly do, trang dilly,

                             And keep thee so from sodaine harmes.

Woman:                   Thou art my own sweet bully.


Woman:                   My husband he is gone from home,

                   You know it very well.

Man:             But when will he returne againe?

Woman:                   In troth I cannot tell

                   If long he keep him out of sight,

                             Trang dilly do, trang dilly,

                             Be sure thou shalt have thy delight.

Man:             Thou art my bonny lassy.


Thomas Deloney


From the Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, Sel. David Norbrook,Ed. H.R. Woodhousen


[Bully = sweetheart; Lets = obstacles; Even most likely pronounced as one syllable: e’en]


Sweet and tasteful, as I promised, but not exactly innocent. The rub comes at the end when we realise that these two lovers, whose natural, affectionate speech has cheered us, are conducting an extra-marital affair. Read a second time, the opening lines are bittersweet: the man did not dare to show his love, and in this, his lover tells him, proved himself an ‘Asse’. By the time he declared his love, that is, the object of his affections had already married. The moral of the story here is, hey, you had better not hide your love away.

But there is more that is sweet here than bitter, with the language affectionate and unaffected. When we think of English love poetry of the 16th and 17th Centuries, we will often think of the complex, sometimes tortuous metaphors of Shakespeare and Donne, the intricate imagery of Spenser, or the wry courtly poetry of the Cavaliers, but Deloney’s English reads much more, one can be sure, as it was spoken by most Englishmen and women of the period. With John Taylor and later John Cleveland, he gives us a taste of the speech and wit of the man on the street, or in his lover’s bed, in Renaissance England. The women, evidently, were witty enough too – in contrast to the traditions of courtly poetry, where the woman is an oft-silent object of the poet’s affection’s, Deloney’s woman expresses her love quite as lustily as the man.

What with the ‘Bonny’s and ‘Lasse’s readers could think for a moment that they are reading a poem from Scotland or the North. In fact, Deloney was from Norwich and lived most of his life in London. So it seems that fine adjective ‘Bonny’ was current even in the south of England back then. The affectionate unself-conscious phrases that the lovers use towards each other – bonny lass, sweet bully, fold thee in my armes – make this an enjoyable poem for Valentine’s Day, one your sweetheart can understand without reaching for a dictionary or checking classical references – which can be very time-consuming when their spouse is due back any time soon.



Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “Long have I lov’d this bonny Lasse

  1. And love will find a way…
    Enjoyed this very much….
    Happy St. Valentine’s, and trang dilly do, trang dilly to you!

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