Flow, my tears

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"Flow, my tears" is a lute song (specifically, an "ayre") by the accomplished lutenist and composer John Dowland (1563–1626). Originally composed as an instrumental under the name "Lachrimae pavane" in 1596, it is Dowland's most famous ayre,[1] and became his signature song, literally as well as metaphorically: he would occasionally sign his name "Jo. Dolandi de Lachrimae".[citation needed]


Like others of Dowland's lute songs, the piece's musical form and style are based on a dance, in this case the pavan. It was first published in The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres of 2, 4 and 5 parts (London, 1600). The song begins with a falling tear motif, starting on an A and descending to an E by step on the text "Flow, my tears". This may have been borrowed from an Orlande de Lassus motet or Luca Marenzio madrigal (this type of motif was common in Elizabethan music to signify grief), in addition to other borrowings in the piece.[2] Anthony Boden calls the song "probably the most widely known English song of the early 17th century."[3]


There have been many instrumental versions of this song, most entitled "Lachrimae" (or "Lachrymae", literally "tears"). In this case the instrumental version was written first, as "Lachrimae pavane" in 1596, and lyrics were later added.[1] It is believed that the text was written specifically for the music, and may have been written by Dowland himself.[4] "Lachrimae" exists in over 100 manuscripts and printings in different arrangements for ensemble and solo.[2][failed verification] The "Lachrimae" tend to be much more abstract than other music based on dance forms of the time, and do not completely follow the structure of the standard pavan in terms of length of phrases; they are also more contrapuntal.[2][failed verification]

Instrumental versions by Dowland include "Lachrimae" for lute, "Galliard to Lachrimae" for lute and "Lachrimae antiquae" (1604) for consort. Dowland also published Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares (London, 1604), a collection of consort music which included a cycle of seven "Lachrimae" pavans based on the falling tear motif. Thomas Morley set the "Lachrimae Pauin" for the six instruments of a "broken consort" in his First Booke of Consort Lessons (London, 1599).

Other composers have written pieces based on the work, including Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck,[5] Thomas Tomkins,[6] and Tobias Hume's "What Greater Griefe",[citation needed] while John Danyel's "Eyes, look no more" pays clear homage to the piece,[7] as does John Bennet's "Weep, o mine eyes".[8] In the 20th century, American composer and conductor Victoria Bond wrote "Old New Borrowed Blues (Variations on Flow my Tears)".[9] Benjamin Britten quotes the incipit of "Flow, my tears" in his Lachrymae for viola, a set of variations on Dowland's ayre "If my complaints could passions move". In 2006, the British electronic music group Banco de Gaia produced a vocoded version called "Flow my Dreams, the Android Wept".[10]


Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.

In other media[edit]

Lines 8–10 are quoted in the Philip K. Dick novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.


  • Boden, Anthony. Thomas Tomkins: The Last Elizabethan. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Aldershot, England, 2005. ISBN 0-7546-5118-5
  • Sam di Bonaventura, Barbara Jepson, and Adrienne Fried Block. "Victoria Bond", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed October 28, 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • David Brown. "John Bennet (i)", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed November 5, 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • David Greer. "Air (2)", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed October 28, 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Christopher Hogwood. Preface to Dowland: Keyboard music. Edition HH, Bicester, England, 2005. Accessed December 16, 2007. HH website.
  • Peter Holman. Dowland, Lachrimae (1604). Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-58829-4
  • Peter Holman with Paul O'Dette. "John Dowland", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed October 28, 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Timothy Roberts. For the home keyboardist, review of Hogwood, Dowland: Keyboard music. Early Music, May 2006, p. 311–313. Oxford journals.
  • David Scott and David Greer. "John Danyel", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed October 28, 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • The Oxford History of English Music: Volume 1: From the Beginnings to c.1715 ed. John Caldwell. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991. ISBN 0-19-816129-8.
  • "Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600)" Facsimile edition of the original manuscript by John Dowland M2DOW


  1. ^ a b Greer
  2. ^ a b c Holman, pg.40–42
  3. ^ Boden, p. 322
  4. ^ Caldwell, p. 429, note
  5. ^ Roberts
  6. ^ Boden, p. 323
  7. ^ Scott
  8. ^ Brown
  9. ^ Bonaventura, Jepson, and Block.
  10. ^ Banco de Gaia – Farewell Ferengistan CD – review on swapacd.com

External links[edit]