One of Finch's dozens of songs, this work uses typical pastoral names such as Sylvia and Miranda to paint a clever dialectic between the merits of music and beauty, a common theme in seventeenth-century love poetry.
Musical settings for some of Finch's songs have survived, showing how musical performance was frequently a part of the reader's, or listener's, experience. Ten years after Finch's death, "A Song" was reprinted in The Musical Miscellany; being a collection of choice songs. . . . (London, 1730, vol. 4, pp. 170-71), where it participated in the fashion for printed music that allowed singers and musicians to perform songs at private gatherings or public recitals. In The Musical Miscellany Finch's song is printed with instructions that it be sung to a tune attached to the preceding poem (p. 169). That tune's structure is strophic; that is, every four-line stanza is sung to a repetition of the melody.
Finch's contemporaries were familiar with iconographical examples of the relationship between love and music, as seen in George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635, Book 2, p. 82; digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; located at the Open Library, a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, which has been funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation) show image. The power of words to melt the listener's soul is rendered in Francis Quarles's Emblems(London, 1696, Book 5, p. 264; the digitized image, from the copy at the Rare book & Special Collections Library of the Library of the University of Illinois, is located at the Open Library, a project of the non-profit Internet Archive) show image. Finch's poem also recalls the songs, mirroring the plots, included in many contemporary plays.
Dates and Sources
The composition date for this poem is unknown although internal evidence suggests it may have been written during or after the revolution, that is, in late 1688 or 1689. The latest possible date of composition is c. 1696, based on its first printing in Miscellanea Sacra (1696). Surviving copies of the poem appear in these sources known to have been supervised by either Anne Finch or her husband Heneage Finch: the octavo MS "Poems on Several Subjects Written by Ardelia" (Northamptonshire Record Office, call number FH 283); the folio MS "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia" (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number Nb3); and Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (London, 1713). The copy-text used here is "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." The transcription follows these conventions: i/j and u/v are altered to reflect modern use, superscript letters and numbers are lowered, and abbreviations no longer current are expanded.
Substantive variants, including those that could affect pronunciation, are listed below from the only other sources of the poem known to be supervised by Finch and her husband, Heneage: the octavo MS “Poems on Several Subjects Written by Ardelia” (NR283) and Finch’s 1713 print volume Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, with the 1714 copy Poems on Several Occasions (HH14), call number HEW 12.11.2 at the Houghton Library, used to collate variants.
2 Preceeds] Proceeds NR283, HH14