Mad Bess

by Benjamin Britten

If you would like to use our texts and translations, please click here for more information.


Mad Bess
English source: Anon.

From silent shades and the Elysian groves
Where sad departed spirits mourn their loves,
From crystal streams and from that country where
Jove crowns the fields with flowers all the year,
Poor senseless Bess, clothed in her rags and folly,
Is come to cure her lovesick melancholy.

‘Bright Cynthia kept her revels late
While Mab, the Fairy Queen did dance,
And Oberon did sit in state
When Mars at Venus ran his lance.

‘In yonder cowslip lies my dear,
Entomb’d in liquid gems of dew;
Each day I’ll water it with a tear,
Its fading blossom to renew.

‘For since my love is dead and all my joys are gone,
Poor Bess for his sake
A garland will make,
My music shall be a groan.

‘I’ll lay me down and die within some hollow tree,
The rav’n and cat,
The owl and bat
Shall warble forth my elegy.

‘Did you not see my love as he passed by you?
His two flaming eyes, if he comes nigh you,
They will scorch up your hearts:
‘Ladies, beware ye,
Lest he should dart a glance that may ensnare ye!

‘Hark! Hark!
I hear old Charon bawl,
His boat he will no longer stay,
And furies lash their whips and call:
Come, come away.

‘Poor Bess will return to the place whence she came,
Since the world is so mad she can hope for no cure.
For love’s grown a bubble, a shadow, a name,
Which fools do admire and wise men endure.

‘Cold and hungry am I grown.
Ambrosia will I feed upon,
Drink Nectar still and sing.’

Who is content,
Does all sorrow prevent?
And Bess in her straw,
Whilst free from the law,
In her thoughts is as great as a king.


Benjamin Britten

Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976) was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music,…



Previously performed at:

Help us with a Donation

Enjoying our texts and translations? Help us continue to offer this service to all.

Make a Donation

Select Tickets