Friday 30 April 2010

Between Lincoln and Lindsey

When the nyhtegale singes,
The wodes waxen grene,
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes
In Averyl, Y wene ;
Ant love is to myn herte gon
With one spere so kene,
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes
Myn herte deth me tene.

Ich have loved al this yer
That Y may love na more;
Ich have siked moni syk,
Lemmon, for thin ore,
Me nis love neuer the ner,
Ant that me reweth sore;
Suete lemmon, thench on me,
Ich have loved the yore.

Suete lemmon, Y preye thee,
Of love one speche;
Whil Y lyve in world so wyde
Other nulle Y seche.
With thy love, my suete leof,
My blis thou mihtes eche;
A suete cos of thy mouth
Mihte be my leche.

Suete lemmon, Y preye thee
Of a love-bene:
Yef thou me lovest, ase men says,
Lemmon, as I wene,
Ant yef hit thi wille be,
Thou loke that hit be sene;
So muchel Y thenke vpon the
That al y waxe grene.

Bituene Lyncolne ant Lyndeseye,
Norhamptoun ant Lounde,
Ne wot I non so fayr a may,
As y go fore ybounde.
Suete lemmon, Y preye the
Thou lovie me a stounde;
Y wole mone my song
On wham that hit ys on ylong.

Thursday 29 April 2010

I just like this picture

Today has been rather mixed... and this is very calm. It's the coast of Norway, from the ferry, as night was falling.

Monday 26 April 2010

Another wonderful Easter hymn

To another excellent tune, Ave Virgo Virginum:

Words by John of Damascus, translated by J.M. Neale. I think verse 2 is my favourite.

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.

’Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give
Laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts,
Comes its joy to render;
Comes to glad Jerusalem,
Who with true affection
Welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesu’s resurrection.

Neither might the gates of death,
Nor the tomb’s dark portal,
Nor the watchers, nor the seal
Hold Thee as a mortal;
But today amidst the twelve
Thou didst stand, bestowing
That Thy peace which evermore
Passeth human knowing.*

“Alleluia!” now we cry
To our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars
Of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son,
God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again
To the Spirit raising.

(* I feel like there should be commas here - " bestowing that (thing), thy peace, which evermore..." - but I can't find any version of the words punctuated like this. Just me?)

Sunday 25 April 2010

This time last week...

...I was wandering around a Norwegian city in search of a Catholic Church. It was the last day before we embarked on a fairly risky trip home, and I was worrying about it. I was lost and at a loose end, with nothing to do. I'd looked up the location of the church on the internet and found they had an English mass at 6pm, but I knew I wouldn't be able to go to that; and I'd had to miss morning mass too, because of meetings with the people I was with. But I had a big stretch of empty time in the middle of the day, and although I realised I wouldn't be able to go to mass that day, I thought it might be nice to find the church anyway and duck inside for a minute if it was open. I wandered down the road I thought it was on, but couldn't find it (thanks, Google maps!). I wandered down another likely road, but couldn't find it there either. So, since I expected the church to be closed even if I did find it, I wandered off in another direction, intending to take the long way back to where we were staying.

Then I heard church bells. I had been walking in the wrong direction all the time (in my defence, I hadn't slept much - and I was in Norway!). The way I thought would take me home actually took me to the church. And it was open. And there were people going inside. The bells were striking 3pm, and the Polish mass was just about to start.

I don't speak Polish, but then I don't speak Norwegian either, and I could follow the mass in any language! It was such a comfort just to stand at the back and watch and listen. The church hadn't mentioned the 3pm mass on their website at all, and it was only complete chance that I was there at 3pm - it was complete chance that I was in the right area at all. But it wasn't chance, really.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Hearts to Heaven

Tonight at Evensong at Christ Church we sang the wonderful hymn "Alleluia, alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise". It's sung to the storming tune 'Lux eoi' by Arthur Sullivan, and the words are by Christopher Wordsworth (nephew of William), who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1869 to 1885, and whose daughter Elizabeth (I learned tonight) founded the Oxford college Lady Margaret Hall.

Alleluia, alleluia!
Hearts to heaven and voices raise:
sing to God a hymn of gladness,
sing to God a hymn of praise.
He, who on the cross a victim,
for the world's salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of glory,
now is risen from the dead.

Now the iron bars are broken,
Christ from death to life is born,
glorious life, and life immortal,
on this holy Easter morn.
Christ has triumphed, and we conquer
by his mighty enterprise:
we with him to life eternal
by his resurrection rise.

Christ is risen, Christ, the first fruits
of the holy harvest field,
which will all its full abundance
at his second coming yield:
then the golden ears of harvest
will their heads before him wave,
ripened by his glorious sunshine
from the furrows of the grave.

Christ is risen, we are risen!
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
rain and dew and gleams of glory
from the brightness of thy face;
that we, with our hearts in heaven,
here on earth may fruitful be,
and by angel hands be gathered,
and be ever, Lord, with thee.

Alleluia, alleluia!
Glory be to God on high;
Alleluia! to the Savior
who has gained the victory;
Alleluia! to the Spirit,
fount of love and sanctity:
Alleluia, alleluia!
to the Triune Majesty.

More home thoughts

I'm very happy to be back in Oxford - an Oxford full of cheerful faces, and church bells, and blossom and spring flowers. Tonight the streets are crowded by people in black tie, headed to a ball; it's bliss to see again formal hall in the evening light, a quiet chapel at noon...

So, another poem about home - and I must admit I prefer this one to Robert Browning's version of the same sentiment (despite the casual anti-Semitism!). Rupert Brooke is just adorable when vehement. It brings out a motherly feeling in me - I like to imagine that if I knew him in real life, I'd always be ruffling his hair and saying "Oh Rupert, you silly boy!"

Anyway, this poem is mostly remembered for its last line, but the rest of it is great:

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester
(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow...
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe...
'Du lieber Gott!'
Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten's not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad's reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:...
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester...
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by...
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean...
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird's drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England's the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there's none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton's full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you'd not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I'm told)...

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain?... oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Thursday 22 April 2010


Finally back in Oxford, a week after we should have been, via Denmark, Germany and Holland, after a three-day journey involving 25 hours on ferries, 12 hours driving on scary foreign motorways, and various incomprehensible little trains and busses. I think this demonstrates an almost superhuman commitment to Old Norse studies. And this was the view from my window when I finally woke up this morning:

Home Thoughts, from Abroad
Robert Browning

O, to be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Sunday 18 April 2010

Still in Norway..

... but heading for Denmark. I spend all my time reading about Danes and Denmark but I've never been there, so I have a superstituous hope that the country will be kind to me. I'm spending three years researching how Norse traditions from Denmark and Norway influenced medieval English literature, so they owe me a bit of good luck. Fingers crossed I will be back in Oxford by Thursday. I miss it!

Friday 16 April 2010

I finally get it

I now finally understand why Norse saints are so often especially honoured for helping people with safe journeys across the North Sea. I'm stuck in Norway, unable to get home thanks to Iceland (the country Old Norse scholars are most fond of!), and St Magnus' ability to produce calm weather is looking pretty handy right now.

Monday 5 April 2010

Rise, heart

George Herbert

Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long :
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied ;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way ;
I got me boughs off many a tree :
But thou wast up by break of day,
And broughtst thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and the East perfume ;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse :
There is but one, and that one ever.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Langland's Passion, IV: Easter Morning

Manye hundred of aungeles harpeden and songen,
"Culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro.'
Thanne pipede Pees of poesie a note:
"Clarior est solito post maxima nebula phebus;
Post inimicicias clarior est et amor.
"After sharpest shoures," quod Pees, "moost shene is the sonne;
Is no weder warmer than after watry cloudes;
Ne no love levere; ne lever frendes
Than after werre and wo, whan love and pees ben maistres.
Was nevere werre in this world, ne wikkednesse so kene,
That Love, and hym liste, to laughyng ne broughte,
And Pees, thorugh pacience, alle perils stoppede."
"Trewes!' quod Truthe; " thow tellest us sooth, by Jesus!
Clippe we in covenaunt, and ech of us kisse oother."
"And lete no peple," quod Pees, "parceyve that we chidde;
For inpossible is no thyng to Hym that is almyghty.'
"Thow seist sooth,' seide Rightwisnesse, and reverentliche hire kiste,
Pees, and Pees hire, per secula seculorum.
Misericordia et Veritas obviaverunt sibi, justicia et Pax osculate sunt.
Truthe trumpede tho and song Te Deum laudamus,
And thanne lutede Love in a loud note,
"Ecce quam bonum et quam iocundum &c.
Til the day dawed thise damyseles carolden,
That men rongen to the resurexion - and right with that I wakede,
And called Kytte my wif and Calote my doghter:
"Ariseth and reverenceth Goddes resurexion,
And crepeth to the cros on knees, and kisseth it for a juwel!
For Goddes blik body it bar for eure body,
And it afereth the fend - for swich is the myghte,
May no grisly goost glide there it shadweth!"

Saturday 3 April 2010

Langland's Passion, III: Holy Saturday

Between Good Friday and Easter morning, there is silence. Not in Piers Plowman, though: as soon as the Crucifixion is over, Will becomes witness to a debate about what exactly has just happened. Inspired by Psalm 85 ("Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other"), these four personages appear as four women, sisters, who argue about whether Christ's death is really enough to pay the price of Adam's sin.

I drow me in that derknesse to descendit ad inferna,
And there I saugh soothly, secundum scripturas,
Out of the west coste, a wenche, as me thoughte,
Cam walkynge in the wey; to helleward she loked.
Mercy highte that mayde, a meke thyng with alle,
A ful benigne burde, and buxom of speche.
Hir suster, as it semed, cam softely walkynge
Evene out of the est, and westward she lokede,
A ful comely creature and a clene, Truthe she highte;
For the vertue that hire folwede, afered was she nevere.
Whan thise maydenes mette, Mercy and Truthe,
Either asked oother of this grete wonder,
Of the dyn and of the derknesse, and how the day rowed,
And which a light and a leme lay bifore helle.
"Ich have ferly of this fare, in feith," seide Truthe,
"And am wendynge to wite what this wonder meneth."
"Have no merveille', quod Mercy, "murhte it bitokneth.
A maiden that highte Marie, and moder withouten felyng
Of any kynde creature, conceyved thorugh speche
And grace of the Holy Goost; weex greet with childe;
Withouten wem into this world she broghte hym;
And that my tale be trewe, I take God to witnesse.
Sith this barn was ybore ben thritti wynter passed,
Which deide and deeth tholed this day aboute mydday,
And that is cause of this clips that closeth now the sonne,
In menynge that man shal fro merknesse be drawe
The while this light and this leme shal Lucifer ablende.
For patriarkes and prophetes han preched herof often
That man shal man save thorugh a maydenes helpe,
And that was tynt thorugh tree, tree shal it wynne,
And that Deeth down broughte, deeth shal releve."

Truth disagrees:

"That thow tellest; quod Truthe, "is but a tale of waltrot!
For Adam and Eve and Abraham with othere
Patriarkes and prophetes that in peyne liggen,
Leve thow nevere that yon light hem alofte brynge,
Ne have hem out of helle - hold thi tonge, Mercy!
It is but trufle that thow tellest - I, Truthe, woot the sothe.
For that is ones in helle, out cometh it nevere;
Job the prophete patriark repreveth thi sawes:
Quia in inferno nulla est redempcio."
Thanne Mercy ful myldely mouthed thise wordes:
"Thorugh experience," quod heo, "I hope thei shul be saved.
For venym fordooth venym - and that I preve by reson.
For of alle venymes foulest is the scorpion;
May no medicyne amende the place ther he styngeth,
Til he be deed and do therto--the yvel he destruyeth,
The firste venymouste, thorugh vertu of hymselve.
So shal this deeth fordo--I dar my lif legge--
Al that deeth dide first thorugh the develes entisyng;
And right as thorugh gilours gile bigiled was man,
So shal grace that al bigan make a good ende
And bigile the gilour - and that is good sleighte:
Ars ut artem falleret."

('art is deceived by art', as in the Good Friday hymn Pange lingua)

"Now suffre we!' seide Truthe, " I se, as me thynketh,
Out of the nyppe of the north, noght ful fer hennes,
Rightwisnesse corne rennynge; reste we the while,
For heo woot moore than we - heo was er we bothe."
"That is sooth,' seide Mercy, "and I se here by sowthe
Where cometh Pees pleyinge, in pacience yclothed.
Love hath coveited hire longe--leve I noon oother
But Love sente hire som lettre, what this light bymeneth
That overhoveth helle thus; she us shal telle."
Whan Pees in pacience yclothed approched ner hem tweyne,
Rightwisnesse hire reverenced for hir riche clothyng,
And preide Pees to telle hire to whit place she wolde
And in hire gaye garnements whom she grete thoughte?
"My wil is to wende," quod she, "and welcome hem alle
That many day myghte I noght se for merknesse of synne,
Adam and Eve and othere mo in helle,
Moyses and many mo; Mercy shul synge,
And I shal daunce therto--do thow so, suster!
For Jesus justede wel, joye bigynneth dawe:
Ah vesperum demorabitur fletus, et ad matutinum leticia.
Love, that is my lemman, swiche lettres me sente
That Mercy, my suster, and I mankynde sholde save,
And that God hath forgyven and graunted me, Pees, and Mercy
To be mannes meynpernour for everemoore after.
Lo, here the patente!" quod Pees, "In pace in idipsum,
And that this dede shal dure, dormiam et requiescam."

('In peace, in true peace I shall sleep and rest'). Righteousness doesn't believe this optimistic view, and energetically (!) reminds Peace that justice demands payment for the sins of mankind:

"What, ravestow?" quod Rightwisnesse, "or thow art righty dronke?
Levestow that yond light unlouke myghte helle
And save mannes soule? Suster, wene it nevere!
At the bigynnyng God gaf the doom hymselve -
That Adam and Eve and alle that hem suwede
Sholden deye downrighte, and dwelle in peyne after
If that thei touchede a tree and of the fruyt eten.
Adam afterward, ayeins his defence,
Freet of that fruyt, and forsook, as it were,
The love of Oure Lord and his loore bothe
And folwede that the fend taughte and his felawes wille
Ayeins reson - I, Rightwisnesse, recorde thus with Truthe
That hir peyne be perpetuel and no preiere hem helpe.
Forthi lat hem chewe as thei chosen, and chide we noght, sustres,
For it is botelees bale, the byte that thei eten."
"And I shal preie,' quod Pees, "hir peyne moot have ende,
And wo into wele mowe wenden at the laste."

Peace argues that in the end this sorrow will turn to good, because one could not understand joy without first knowing pain:

For hadde thei wist of no wo, wele hadde thei noght knowen;
For no wight woot what wele is, that nevere wo suffrede...
So it shal fare by this folk: hir folie and hir synne
Shal lere hem what langour is, and lisse withouten ende.
Woot no wight what werre is ther that pees regneth,
Ne what is witterly wele til ""weylawey'' hym teche."

Another character appears, Book (so, 'Bible'), and cites some of the scriptural reasons for believing Christ to be God. He ends his speech by saying that Christ has descended into hell. Suddenly this scene comes to life in a dialogue between Christ and Satan outside the gates of hell:

"Lo! helle myghte nat holde, but opnede tho God tholede,
And leet out Symondes sones to seen hym hange on roode.
And now shal Lucifer leve it, though hyrn looth thynke.
For Gigas the geaunt with a gyn engyned
To breke and to bete adoun that ben ayeins Jesus.
And I, Book, wole be brent, but Jesus rise to lyve
In alle myghtes of man, and his moder gladie,
And conforte al his kyn and out of care brynge,
And al the Jewene joye unjoynen and unlouken;
And but thei reverencen his roode and his resurexion,
And bileve on a newe lawe, be lost, lif and soule!"
"Suffre we!" seide Truthe, "I here and see bothe
A spirit speketh to helle and biddeth unspere the yates:
"Attolite portas.''
A vois loude in that light to Lucifer crieth,
"Prynces of this place, unpynneth and unlouketh!
For here cometh with crowne that kyng is of glorie."

Satan and Lucifer, somehow conceived as two different people, fear this will be the end of their power, although Lucifer argues that all souls are rightly his property since Adam's transgression:

Thanne sikede Sathan, and seide to helle,
"Swich a light, ayeins oure leve, Lazar it fette;
Care and combraunce is comen to us alle!
If this kyng come in, mankynde wole he fecche,
And lede it ther Lazar is, and lightliche me bynde.
Patriarkes and prophetes han parled herof longe -
That swich a lord and a light shal lede hem alle hennes."
"Listneth!" quod Lucifer, "for I this lord knowe;
Bothe this lord and this light, is longe ago I knew hym.
May no deeth this lord dere, ne no develes queyntise,
And where he wole, is his wey - ac ware hym of the perils!
If he reve me of my right, he robbeth me by maistrie;
For by right and by reson the renkes that ben here
Body and soule beth myne, bothe goode and ille.
For hymself seide, that sire is of hevene,
That if Adam ete the appul, alle sholde deye,
And dwelle in deol with us develes - this thretynge he made.
And sithen he that Soothnesse is seide thise wordes,
And I sithen iseised sevene thousand wynter,
I leeve that lawe nyl noght lete hym the leeste."

Satan responds that since they tempted Eve dishonestly, they have no true claim to these souls (and another devil weighs in):

"That is sooth," seide Satan, "but I me soore drede;
For thow gete hem with gile, and his gardyn breke,
And in semblaunce of a serpent sete on the appultre,
And eggedest hem to ete, Eve by hirselve,
And toldest hire a tale - of treson were the wordes;
And so thou haddest hem out and hider at the laste.
It is noght graithly geten, ther gile is the roote!"
"For God wol noght be bigiled," quod Gobelyn, "ne byjaped.
We have no trewe title to hem, for thorugh treson were thei dampned."
"Certes, I drede me," quod the Devel, "lest Truthe wol hem fecche.
Thise thritty wynter, as I wene, he wente aboute and preched.
I have assailled hym with synne, and som tyme I asked
Wheither he were God or Goddes sone - he gaf me short answere;
And thus hath he trolled forth thise two and thritty wynter.
And whan I seigh it was so, slepynge I wente
To warne Pilates wif what done man was Jesus;
For Jewes hateden hym and han doon hym to dethe.
I wolde have lengthed his lif - for I leved, if he deide,
That his soule wolde suffre no synne in his sighte;
For the body, while it on bones yede, aboute was evere
To save men from synne if hemself wolde.
And now I se wher a soule cometh silynge hiderward
With glorie and with gret light - God it is, I woot wel!
I rede we fle," quod he, "faste alle hennes!
For us were bettre noght be than biden his sighte
For thi lesynges, Lucifer, lost is al oure praye.
First thorugh the we fellen fro hevene so heighe;
For we leved thi lesynges, we lopen out alle with thee;
And now for thi laste lesynge, ylorn we have Adam,
And al oure lordshipe, I leve, a londe and a watre:
Nunc Princeps huius mundi eicietur foras."

('Now the Prince of this world will be driven out', John 12:31)

Eft the light bad unlouke, and Lucifer answerde,
"Quis est iste?
What lord artow?" quod Lucifer. The light soone seide,
Rex glorie,
The lord of myght and of mayn and alle manere vertues -
Dominus virtutum.
Dukes of this dymme place, anoon undo thise yates,
That Crist may come in, the Kynges sone of Hevene!"
And with that breeth helle brak, with Belialles barres -
For any wye or warde, wide open the yates.
Patriarkes and prophetes, populus in tenebris,
Songen Seint Johanes song, "Ecce Agnus Dei."
Lucifer loke ne myghte, so light hym ablente.
And tho that Oure Lord lovede, into his light he laughte,
And seide to Sathan, "Lo! here my soule to amendes
For alle synfulle soules, to save tho that ben worthi.
Myne thei ben and of me - I may the bet hem cleyme.
Although reson recorde, and right of myselve,
That if thei ete the appul, alle sholde deye,
I bihighte hem noght here helle for evere.
For the dede that thei dide, thi deceite it made;
With gile thow hem gete, ageyn alle reson.
For in my paleis, Paradis, in persone of an addre,
Falsliche thow fettest there thyng that I lovede.
"Thus ylik a lusard with a lady visage,
Thefliche thow me robbedest; the Olde Lawe graunteth
That gilours be bigiled - and that is good reson:
Dentem pro dente et oculum pro oculo.
Ergo soule shal soule quyte and synne to synne wende,
And al that man hath mysdo, I, man, wole amende it.
Membre for membre was amendes by the Olde Lawe,
And lif for lif also - and by that lawe I clayme
Adam and al his issue at my wille herafter.
And that deeth in hem fordide, my deeth shal releve,
And bothe quyke and quyte that queynt was thorugh synne;
And that grace gile destruye, good feith it asketh.
So leve it noght, Lucifer, ayein the lawe I fecche hem,
But by right and by reson raunsone here my liges:
Non veni solvere legem set adimplere.
Thow fettest myne in my place ayeins alle reson -
Falsliche and felonliche; good feith me it taughte,
To recovere hem thorugh raunsoun, and by no reson ellis,
So that with gile thow gete, thorugh grace it is ywonne.
Thow, Lucifer, in liknesse of a luther addere
Getest bi gile tho that God lovede;
And I, in liknesse of a leode, that Lord am of hevene,
Graciousliche thi gile have quyt - go gile ayein gile!
And as Adam and alle thorugh a tree deyden,
Adam and alle thorugh a tree shal turne to lyve;
And gile is bigiled, and in his gile fallen:
Et cecidit in foveam quam fecit.
Now bigynneth thi gile ageyn thee to turne
And my grace to growe ay gretter and widder.
The bitternesse that thow hast browe, now brouke it thiselve
That art doctour of deeth, drynk that thow madest!
For I that am lord of lif, love is my drynke,
And for that drynke today, I deide upon erthe.
I faught so, me thursteth yet, for mannes soule sake;
May no drynke me moiste, ne my thurst stake,
Til the vendage falle in the vale of Josaphat,
That I drynke right ripe must, resureccio mortuorum.
And thanne shal I come as a kyng, crouned, with aungeles,
And have out of helle alle mennes soules.
Fendes and fendekynes bifore me shul stande
And be at my biddyng wheresoevere me liketh.
Ac to be merciable to man thanne, my kynde it asketh,
For we beth bretheren of blood, but noght in baptisme alle.
Ac alle that beth myne hole bretheren, in blood and in baptisme,
Shul noght be dampned to the deeth that is withouten ende:
Tibi soli peccavi &c.
It is noght used on erthe to hangen a feloun
Ofter than ones, though he were a tretour.
And if the kyng of that kyngdom come in that tyme
There the feloun thole sholde deeth oother juwise,
Lawe wolde he yeve hym lif, and he loked on hym.
And I that am kyng of kynges shal come swich a tyme
There doom to the deeth dampneth alle wikked;
And if lawe wole I loke on hem, it lith in my grace
Wheither thei deye or deye noght for that thei diden ille.
Be it any thyng abought, the boldnesse of hir synnes,
I may do mercy thorugh rightwisnesse, and alle my wordes trewe.
And though Holy Writ wole that I be wroke of hem that diden ille -
Nullum malum impunitum &c.
Thei shul be clensed clerliche and clene wasshen of hir synnes
In my prisone Purgatorie, til parce it hote.
And my mercy shal be shewed to manye of my bretheren;
For blood may suffre blood bothe hungry and acale
Ac blood may noght se blood blede, but hym rewe.
Auaivi archana verba que non iicet homini loqui.
Ac my rightwisnesse and right shal rulen al helle,
And mercy al mankynde bifore me in hevene.
For I were an unkynde kyng but I my kyn helpe -
And nameliche at swich a nede ther nedes help bihoveth:
Non intres in iudicium cum servo tuo.
Thus by lawe,' quod Oure Lord, "lede I wole fro hennes
Tho leodes that I love and leved in my comynge.
And for thi lesynge, Lucifer, that thow leighe til Eve,
Thow shalt abyen it bittre!" - and bond hym with cheynes.
As troth and al the route hidden hem in hernes;
They dorste noght loke on Oure Lord, the lothlieste of hem alle,
But leten hym lede forth what hym liked and lete what hym liste.

Friday 2 April 2010

Mary addresses mothers

O all women that ever were born
That bear children, stay and see
How my son lies me before
Upon my knee, taken from the tree.
Your children you dance upon your knee
With laughing, kissing, and merry cheer:
Behold my child, behold now me,
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

O woman, woman, well is thee,
Your child's cap you put on;
You comb his hair, behold his ble; [face]
And know not when you will have done;.
But ever, alas, I make my moan
To see my son's head as it is here:
I pick out thorns by one and one
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

O woman, a chaplet chosen you have
Your child to wear; it gives you great liking. [pleasure]
You pin it on with great solas; [care]
And I sit with my son sore weeping.
His chaplet is thorns sore pricking;
His mouth I kiss with sorrowful cheer. [expression]
I sit weeping, and you singing,
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

O woman, look to me again,
Who play with and kiss your children's pappys [breast]
To see my son I have great pain,
In his breast so great a gap is,
And on his body so many swappys. [wounds]
With bloody lips I kiss him here;
Alas, full hard seem my haps, [circumstances]
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

O woman, you take your child by the hand
And say, "My son, give me a stroke!"
My son's hands are sore bleeding;
To look on him gives me no layke. [pleasure]
His hands he allowed for your sake
Thus to be bored with nail and spear;
When you make mirth, great sorrow I make,
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

Behold, women, when you play
And have your children on knees dancing:
You feel their feet, so sweet are they,
And to your sight full well likand. [lovely to look at]
But the biggest finger of a hand
Through my son's feet I can put here
And pull it out sore bleeding,
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

Therefore, women, by town and street,
Your children's hands when you behold,
Their breast, their body and their feet
Then good it were on my son if think ye would,
How care has made my heart full cold,
To see my son, with nail and spear,
With scourge and thorns manifold,
Wounded and dead, my dear son, dear.

You have your son full whole and sound,
And mine is dead upon my knee;
Your child is free, and mine is bound,
Your child is alive and mine, dead is he;
Why was all this, but for thee?
For my child trespassed never here.
Methink you ought now to weep with me
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

Weep with me, both man and wife:
My child is yours and loves you well.
If your child had lost his life,
You would weep at every mell, [occasion]
But for my son weep you never a dell. [little]
If you love yours, mine has no peer;
He sends yours both hap and hele, [good fortune and salvation]
And for you died my dear son, dear.

Now all women who have your wit
And see my child on my knees dead,
Weep not for yours, but weep for it,
And you shall have full great meed. [reward]
He would again for your love bleed
Rather than that you damned were.
I pray you all, to him take heed,
For now lies dead my dear son, dear.

Fare well, woman, I may no more
For dread of death rehearse his pain.
You may laugh when you like, and I weep sore;
That may you see if you look to me again.
To love my son if you be fain,
I will love yours with heart entire,
And he shall bring your children and you, certainly
To bliss where is my dear son, dear.

This extraordinarily vivid poem is a fifteenth-century meditation on the theme of the Pieta: Mary cradling her dead Son on her lap. The Middle English text from here:

Of alle women that ever were borne
That berys childur, abyde and se
How my son liggus me beforne
Upon my kne, takyn fro tre.
Your childur ye dawnse upon your kne
With laghyng, kyssyng, and mery chere:
Behold my childe, beholde now me,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

O woman, woman, wel is thee,
Thy childis cap thu dose upon;
Thu pykys his here, beholdys his ble;
Thu wost not wele when thu hast done.
But ever alas I make my mone
To se my sonnys hed as hit is here:
I pyke owt thornys be on and on
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

O woman, a chaplet choysyn thu has
Thy childe to were, hit dose thee gret likyng
Thu pynnes hit on with gret solas;
And I sitte with my son sore wepyng.
His chaplet is thornys sore prickyng;
His mouth I kys with a carfull chere.
I sitte wepyng, and thu syngyng,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

O woman, loke to me agayne
That playes and kisses your childur pappys
To se my son I have gret payne,
In his brest so gret gap is,
And on his body so mony swappys.
With blody lippys I kis hym here;
Alas, full hard me thynk me happys,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

O woman, thu takis thi childe be the hand
And seis, "My son, gif me a stroke!"
My sonnys handis ar sore bledand,
To loke on hym me list not layke.
His handis he suffyrd for thi sake
Thus to be boryd with nayle and speyre;
When thu makes myrth, gret sorow I make,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

Beholde, women, when that ye play
And hase your childur on knees daunsand:
Ye fele ther fete, so fete are thay,
And to your sight ful wel likand.
But the most fyngur of any hande
Thorow my sonnys fete I may put here
And pulle hit out sore bledand,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

Therfor, women, be town and strete,
Your childur handis when ye beholde,
Theyr brest, theire body and theire fete
Then gode hit were on my son thynk ye wolde, 4
How care has made my hert full colde,
To se my son, with nayle and speyre,
With scourge and thornys manyfolde,
Woundit and ded, my dere son, dere.

Thu hase thi son full holl and sounde,
And myn is ded upon my kne;
Thy childe is lawse, and myn is bonde,
Thy childe is an life and myn ded is he;
Whi was this oght but for thee?
For my childe trespast never here.
Me thynk ye be holdyne to wepe with me
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

Wepe with me, both man and wyfe:
My childe is youres and lovys yow wele.
If your childe had lost his life,
Ye wolde wepe at every mele,
But for my sone wepe ye never a del.
If ye luf youres, myne has no pere;
He sendis youris both hap and hele,
And for yow dyed my dere son, dere.

Now alle wymmen that has your wytte
And sees my childe on my knees ded,
Wepe not for yours, but wepe for hit,
And ye shall have ful mycull mede.
He wolde ageyne for your luf blede
Rather or that ye damned were.
I pray yow alle, to hym take hede,
For now liggus ded my dere son, dere.

Fare wel, woman, I may no more
For drede of deth reherse his payne.
Ye may lagh when ye list, and I wepe sore,
That may ye se and ye loke to me agayne.
To luf my son and ye be fayne,
I wille luff yours with hert entere,
And he shall brynge your childur and yow sertayne
To blisse wher is my dere son, dere.

Langland's Passion, II: Good Friday

Part I here. The story continues with Pilate coming to judge the outcome of the joust between Christ and Death:

Thanne cam Pilatus with muche peple, sedens pro tribunali,
To se how doghtiliche Deeth sholde do, and deme hir botheres right.
The Jewes and the justice ayeins Jesu thei weere,
And al the court on hym cryde " Crucifige!' sharpe.

As in a court, accusers come forward (a 'pelour' is a litigant in a criminal case, as in 'appellant'; a 'cachepol' is a bailiff):

Tho putte hym forth a pelour bifore Pilat and seide,
"This Jesus of oure Jewes temple japed and despised,
To fordoon it on o day, and in thre dayes after
Edifie it eft newe - here he stant that seide it -
And yit maken it as muche in alle manere poyntes
Bothe as long and as large a lofte and by grounde."
"Crucifige!" quod a cachepol, " I warante hym a wicche!"
"Tolle, tolle!" quod another, and took of kene thornes,
And bigan of grene thorn a garland to make,
And sette it sore on his heed and seide in envye,
"Ave, raby," quod that ribaud, and threw reedes at hym.

The scene moves immediately to the place of Crucifixion, without any of the intervening events which the Gospels describe, such as the carrying of the cross; it's a spare, dignified account:

Nailed hym with thre nailes naked on the roode,
And poison on a pole thei putte up to hise lippes,
And beden hym drynken his deeth-yvel - hise dayes were ydone -
And seiden, "If that thow sotil be, help now thiselve;
If thow be Crist and kynges sone, com down of the roode;
Thanne shul we leve that lif thee loveth and wol noght lete thee deye!"

('Then we will believe that Life, i.e. God, loves you and will not let you die')

" Consummatum est,' quod Crist, and comsede for to swoune,
Pitousliche and pale as a prisoner that deieth;
The lord of lif and of light tho leide hise eighen togideres.

The day for drede withdrough and derk bicam the sonne.
The wal waggede and cleef, and al the world quaved.
Dede men for that dene come out of depe graves,
And tolde why that tempeste so longe tyme durede.
"For a bitter bataille," the dede body seide,
"Lif and Deeth in this derknesse, hir oon fordeoth hir oother.
Shal no wight wite witterly who shal have the maistrie
Er Sonday aboute sonne risyng" - and sank with that til erthe.

('No creature will know for certain who shall win the combat between Life and Death until Sunday')

Some seide that he was Goddes sone, that so faire deyde:
Vere filius Dei erat iste.
And some seide he was a wicche: "Good is that we assaye
Wher he be deed or noght deed, doun er he be taken."
Two theves also tholed deeth that tyme
Upon a croos bisides Crist - so was the comune lawe.
A cachepol cam forth and craked bothe hir legges,
And hir armes after of either of tho theves.
Ac was no boy so boold Goddes body to touche;
For he was knyght and kynges sone, Kynde foryaf that throwe
That noon harlot were so hardy to leyen hond upon hym.

Legends about the soldier who pierced Christ's side with a spear abounded in the Middle Ages; he was given the name Longinus, and it was said that his blindness was cured by Christ's blood when he was persuaded to unwittingly pierce Christ's body:

Ac ther cam forth a knyght with a kene spere ygrounde,
Highte Longeus, as the lettre telleth, and longe hadde lore his sight.
Bifore Pilat and oother peple in the place he hoved.
Maugree his manye teeth he was maad that tyme
To justen with Jesus, this blynde Jew Longeus.
For alle thei were unhardy, that hoved on horse or stode,
To touchen hym or to tasten hym or taken hym doun of roode,
But this blynde bacheler, that baar hym thorugh the herte.
The blood sprong doun by the spere and unspered the knyghtes eighen.
Thanne fil the knyght upon knees and cryde Jesu mercy:
"Ayein my wille it was, Lord, to wownde yow so soore!"
He sighed and seide, " Soore it me athynketh!
For the dede that I have doon I do me in youre grace.
Have on me ruthe, rightful Jesu!" - and right with that he wepte.

The figure Faith interprets what has happened (after cursing the Jewish crowd for 'unchivalric' behaviour!):

Thanne gan Feith felly the false Jewes despise,
Callede hem caytyves acorsed for evere:
"For this foule vileynye vengeaunce to yow falle!
To do the blynde bete hym ybounde, it was a boyes counseille.
Cursede caytyves! Knyghthood was it nevere
To mysdo a deed body by daye or by nyghte.
The gree yit hath he geten, for al his grete wounde.
For youre champion chivaler, chief knyght of yow alle,
Yilt hym recreaunt rennyng, right at Jesus wilk.
For be this derknesse ydo, Deeth worth yvenquisshed;
And ye, lurdaynes, han ylost - for Lif shal have the maistrye."

Good Friday: Jesus doth himself bemoan

Jesus doth himself bemoan
And speketh to sinful man:
"Thy garland is of green,
Of flowers many a one;
Mine of sharp thorns -
My hew it maketh wan.
Thine hands streite gloved,
White and clene kept;
Mine with nails thorled
On Rood, and eke my feet.
Across thou bearest thine arms
Whan thou dancest narewe*;
To me thou hast none awe,
But to world's glory.
Mine for thee on Rood
With the Jews wode
With great ropes to-drawe.
Open thou hast thy side,
Spayers long and wide,
For vainglory and pride,
And thy long knife astrout* -
Thou art of the gay rout;
Mine with spear sharp
Istongen to the heart,
My body with scourges smart
Beswongen all about.
All that I tholede on Rood for thee
To me was shame and sorrow;
Well little thou lovest me
And less thou thinkest on me,
At even and eke amorrow.
Sweet brother, well might thou see
These pains strong on Rood Tree
Have I tholed for love of thee.
They that have wrought it me
May sing "Welaway".
Be thou kind, per charite,
Let thy sin and love thou me -
Heaven bliss I shall give thee,
That lasteth ay and o."

* when you dance closely
* i.e. your clothes are decoratively slashed (to show a colourful undershirt), with a dagger worn by the side; note the pun on 'spayers', the name of these fashionable slits, and 'spears' a few lines later.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Sheer Thursday

The ballad I posted yesterday refers to the Thursday before Easter as 'Scere Thursday'. The OED has English citations for the word from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, and interestingly (to me, anyway), this is cognate with the name still used for the day in Scandinavian countries. It's related to the Old Norse skærr or skírr, which both mean 'clean, bright' - so think English 'sheer' - and therefore may derive from the practice of washing the altars on Maundy Thursday, or perhaps to the purification of the soul in confession. 'Maundy' is a good medieval word too and I'm glad it's still in such wide use, but I like the connotations of 'scere' as well.