Saturday, 17 May 2014

A Regina Caeli


The Marian antiphon for the Easter season (which we are still in for a little while longer) is the Regina Caeli, so here's a medieval carol which takes that text as its starting-point. It comes from the fifteenth-century carol-collection of the Canterbury friar James Ryman. I posted another Regina Caeli from that collection last year, and the two have a lot in common: both take a fairly free attitude towards the Latin antiphon, borrowing just the first two lines, 'Queen of heaven, rejoice, for he whom you were merited to bear...' and inverting them to form a macaronic refrain, weaving them through the poem. 

The text comes from here.

1. O emperesse, the emperoure,
Quem meruisti portare,
Of heven and erthe hath made the floure:
Regina celi, letare.

2. O quene of grace, the king of blisse,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath made thy sete next vnto his:
Regina celi, letare.

3. O princesse pure, the prince of peas,
Quem meruisti portare,
Euer thy ioye he doth encreas:
Regina celi, letare.

4. O lady fre, the lorde of alle,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath made man free, þat was moost thralle:
Regina celi, letare.

5. O swete moder, thy son Ihesus,
Quem meruisti portare,
He rose ayene, that died for vs:
Regina celi, letare.

6. O mayden myelde, thy son so dere,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath crowned the in blis so clere:
Regina celi, letare.

7. O spowse of Criest, oure sauyoure,
Quem meruisti portare,
Heven and erthe the doth honoure:
Regina celi, letare.

8. O Marie, of thy sonne aske this,
Quem meruisti portare,
That we may dwelle with hym and his:
Regina celi, letare.


Here's a translation:

1. O empress, the emperor,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Of heaven and earth hath made thee the flower:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

2. O queen of grace, the king of bliss,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath made thy seat next unto his:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

3. O princess pure, the prince of peace,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Ever thy joy he doth increase:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

4. O lady free, the lord of all,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath made man free, who was most in thrall:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

5. O sweet mother, thy son Jesus,
Whom you were merited to bear,
He rose again, who died for us:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

6. O maiden mild, thy son so dear,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath crowned thee in bliss so clear:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

7. O spouse of Christ, our Saviour,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Heaven and earth do thee honour:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

8. O Mary, of thy son ask this,
Whom you were merited to bear,
That we may dwell with him and his:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

This is a finely-balanced poem, elegantly constructed. Each of the first five verses presents us with a pair of evenly-matched titles: emperor and empress, king and queen, prince and princess, lord and lady, mother and son. Notice how perfectly the Latin and English lines fit together: every first line offers a title for Christ to which the relative pronoun of the refrain, quem, can refer, and in every verse the first three lines provide a reason for the fourth line's imperative, lætare. And you hardly notice how well it works, because the effect is so lovely.

No comments: