Thursday 28 April 2011

A Medieval Love Poem: When the Nightingale Sings

I've posted this before, but it's April, and it's a great poem, so I'm posting it again.

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,
Northamptoun 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.

This is one of the 'Harley lyrics', a group of poems preserved in British Library, Harley MS 2253. The manuscript was made early in the fourteenth century in the West Midlands, and contains works in English, Latin and French; the English poems are some of the best-known Middle English lyrics, and include several other springtime poems, among them 'Lenten ys come with love to toune' and 'Bytuene Mersh ant Averil'.

Men and women gathering flowers in April (BL Yates Thompson 3, f. 4)

A translation (lemman = sweetheart, darling):

When the nightingale sings
The woods grow green,
Leaf and grass and blossom spring
In April, I believe.
And love is to my heart gone
With a spear so keen,
Night and day my blood it drinks
My heart causes me pain.

I have loved all this year
Such that I may love no more;
I have sighed many sighs,
Lemman, for your pity.
To me love is never any nearer,
And that I sorely regret.
Sweet lemman, think on me -
I have loved you long.

Sweet lemman, I pray you
Give me one love-speech.
While I live in the world so wide
None other will I seek!
With your love, my sweet beloved,
My bliss you might increase;
A sweet kiss from your mouth
Would be my cure.

Sweet lemman, I pray you
For a gift of love.
If you love me, as men say,
And lemman, as I believe,
If it be your will
Make it to be seen!
So much I think on you
That I grow green. [like the woods!]

Between Lincoln and Lindsey,
Northampton and Lound
I know of no maid so fair
As the one who holds me in bondage.
Sweet lemman, I pray you,
Love me a little while!
I will sing my song
To the one to whom it belongs.

Women picking flowers, in a calendar for April (BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 74v)


Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you knew in which century this poem was written? I plan on reciting this during my class' medieval feast, but need to confirm that it is from an appropriate time!

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Nevermind! I just reread the post...silly me xD

Thomas Hillman said...

What a lovely and interesting poem. Thank you for posting that.

Anselm said...

A custom I have every spring. A time of love and romance

juaise said...

Iam really wowed..
Whattta beautiful words

juaise said...

Outstanding words 😍