Adeu, O desie of delyt


Adeu, O desie of delyt;

Adeu, most plesand and perfyt;

Adeu, and haif gude nicht…

Alexander Montgomerie (c.1550–1598) & Andro Blackhall (1535/6–1609)


Andro Blackhall was one of many younger colleagues of Robert Carver, the composer of sacred polyphony in the sixteenth century. Blackhall, and his contemporaries, were trained prior to the events of the Reformation, circa 1560, which makes the tensions surrounding his practice post-Reformation considerably interesting. The dissolution of the monasteries saw many monastic composers and musicians forced into alternative disciplines and practices. Blackhall became a minister in parishes around Edinburgh such as Liberton and Cranstoun and continued to write music “over the difficult period of transition from the faith and musical culture of the old order to that of the new.”[1] The post-Reformation kirk maintained that the congregation should and would sing the Psalms, contrary to their silent participation through Catholic services where the music was in the hands of professional musicians, like Blackhall, so his musical output was diverted to setting of the Psalms and several canticles.

But there had been a revival of court culture with James VI adult reign. Blackhall was closely connected to the Royal court as evidenced in the musical tributes to King James VI; for example, Psalm 101 was “giffin in propyne to the king”. This connection introduced him to Alexander Montgomerie, the ‘maister poet’ of King James VI’s court. Blackhall, who had a unique musical training within this courtly circle (having been trained under the Catholic church) was asked to provide a new setting to the known dance song ‘the banks of the Helicon’ with words written by Montgomerie to create ‘Adeu, O desie of delyt’. Montgomerie’s longest work ‘The Cherrie and the Slae’ (1584) was also sung to the tune of ‘the banks of Helicon’.

Of course, Mount Helicon has numerous classical associations and the words, found in the Maitland quarto, mentions the muses, Mount Parnassus and “fontaine Caballein”, a fountain which ‘imparts poetic inspiration.’[2] There are possible connotations of Scotland as bucolic paradise with natural talent and beauty; words flowing, outpouring.

It might be referring to Mount Helicon, but as the title refers to the ‘banks of the Helicon’ it may be conjectured that it is a reference to the river Helicon. This river is closely connected to the myth of Orpheus. His sorrowful wanderings after the loss of Eurydice took him near the city of Dion, where the followers of Dionysus, the Meanads, heard him singing and, overcome with desire, ripped him to pieces in an orgiastic fury. Orpheus’s musical power was so great that nature itself was unwilling to allow itself to be associated with his death, so the river Helicon sank when the Meanads tried to wash his blood from their limbs. [3]

The commonplace classical allusions might run slightly deeper – referring to a geographical area significant to Orpheus, who is almost always referred to because of his musical prowess, creates conscious reference to the power of song and music.

In the new setting, ‘Adeu O desie of delyt’ is another song of parting sharing aspects of thematic material with ‘the banks of the Helicon’. For example, recurring images of the animals in the natural world:

Lyke as the lysard does indeid
Leiv by the manis face
Thy beutie lykwyse suld me feid
If we had tyme and space


As doth the turtle [dove] for her maik
Love to my lyfis end

The ‘lizard’ is given life by the warmth of the sun and so too will the speaker be given life by the “beutie” of the object of his admiration. The ‘turtle-dove’ only has one love, and is forever faithful. [4] With the Petrarchan admirations of physical “beutie ” the poet combines Renaissance themes with familiar medieval images, straddling the eras in a manner familiar to contemporary Scottish listeners and readers.

Montgomerie skillfully entwines the rhythmic structure to the melody with cascading vowels in the rhyme-words in the third part of each stanza with words such as “weeping” with “sleeping”; “embracing” with “lacing” and “blissing” with “kissing”.

As a secular love lyric, ‘Adeu, O desie of delyt’ is a simple yet joyful work where the text intermingles perfectly with a buoyant tune; changing the unhappiness of parting to the jubilant anticipation in reconciliation.

[1] Helena Mennie Shire, ‘Musicians and Poets at the Court of James VI’, Song Dance and Poetry of the Court of Scotland Under King James VI (Cambridge University Press, [1969] 2010), pp. 67-116, 71.

[2] OED, ‘Caballine’, adj. 1.

[3] ‘Orpheus’, The Oxford classical dictionary, eds. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth (Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 257.

[4] Ann Payne,  Medieval Beasts (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1990), p. 201.