Sunday 12 December 2010

A star as bright as day

This is a beautiful example of the lullaby genre, from the 15th century (or most likely earlier). There are several related versions of this poem in various medieval manuscripts; this one is from Bodleian MS. Eng. Poet. e. 1 (dated between 1460-90), as modernised by the Oxford Book of Carols. You can see an image of one page from the manuscript, though not of this carol, here. The editors of the Oxford Book of Carols set the words to a gentle, lilting 16th-century tune, like this:

"This endris night" means "the other night".

This endris night I saw a sight,
A star as bright as day,
And ever among a maiden sung,
Lullay, by by, lullay.

This lovely lady sat and sang,
And to her child did say,
"My son, my brother, father dear,
Why liest thou thus in hay?
My sweetest bird, 'tis thus required,
Though thou be king veray,
But nevertheless I will not cease
To sing By by, lullay."

The child then spake in his talking,
And to his mother did say,
"Yea, I am known as heaven-king
In crib though I be laid.
For angels bright down to me light;
Thou knowest 'tis no nay.
And for that sight thou may'st delight
To sing, By by, lullay."

"Now, sweet son, since thou art a king,
Why art thou laid in stall?
Why dost not order thy bedding
In some great kinges hall?
Methinks 'tis right that king or knight
Should lie in good array.
And then among, it were no wrong
To sing By by, lullay."

"Mary mother, I am thy child,
Though I be laid in stall;
For lords and dukes shall worship me,
And so shall kingès all.
Ye shall well see that kingès three
Shall come on this twelfth day.
For this behest give me thy breast
And sing, By by, lullay."

"Now tell, sweet son, I thee do pray,
Thou art my love and dear —
How should I keep thee to thy pay,
And make thee glad of cheer?
For all thy will I would fulfill—
Thou knowest well, in fay
And for all this I will thee kiss,
And sing, By by, lullay."

"My dear mother, when time it be,
Take thou me up on loft,
And set me then upon thy knee,
And handle me full soft.
And in thy arm thou hold me warm,
And keep me night and day,
And if I weep, and may not sleep,
Thou sing, By by, lullay.

"Now sweet son, since it is come so,
That all is at thy will,
I pray thee grant to me a boon,
If it be right and skill —
That child or man, who will or can
Be merry on my day,
To bliss thou bring — and I shall sing,
Lullay, by by, lullay."

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