This is the longest of the five Mystical Songs, lasting about six minutes -- a slightly longer timing than that of No. 1, "Easter." But where the latter song is both grandiose and serene, this one is subdued and ethereal in manner, containing hints of some of the exotic moods that would appear in certain later large works such as the Serenade to Music (1938) and the Symphony No. 8 (1953 - 1955; rev 1956). Also, its muted string accompaniment augurs much of the atmosphere of the Pastoral Symphony, No. 3 of 1921.
The text, as with the other songs in the collection, is from George Herbert (1593 - 1633). Much of the poem depicts a dialogue between the poet and Love, and Vaughan Williams sets it brilliantly throughout. Again, this song falls into the composer's Romantic vein, especially as heard in his then-recent Sea Symphony (Symphony No. 1; 1903 - 1909; rev. 1923). While some of the other songs in this set can be performed effectively without the optional chorus, this one needs it because the beautiful ending is eviscerated without it. Here, the chorus sings wordlessly with a soaring "ah" to the melody from the chant O sacrum convivium, while the soloist intones the words "'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'/So I did sit and eat." In many ways, this is the finest of the five Mystical Songs and is a genuine masterpiece.