Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A medieval phrase for happiness

This post arose from an entry in the Middle English Dictionary under the word foul, which means 'bird' - the origin of Modern English 'fowl', but with a wider range of meaning which includes every kind of bird. The entry, available online here, gives a list of quotations illustrating the proverbial phrase as fain as foul of dai 'as glad as a bird of the day'. Sometimes a dictionary entry can be as good as a poem, and so it is with this. Here are the quotations, slightly expanded and with translations.

Cristene men ogen ben so fagen so fueles arn quan he it sen dagen.

Christians ought to be as happy as birds are when they see the day dawn.
(from the Middle English translation of Genesis and Exodus)

Gladder icham... Þan þe fouel whan hit ginneþ dawe.

I am gladder than the bird when the day begins to dawn.
(from the romance Bevis of Hamtoun)

And thus with joye and hope wel to fare
Arcite anoon un to his in is fare
As fayn as fowel is of the brighte sonne.

And thus full of joy and hope for success,
Arcite quickly returns home,
As glad as the bird is of the bright sun.

(from the Canterbury Tales, the Knight's Tale)

Þenne was I as fayn as foul on feir morwen,
Gladdore þen þe gleomon is of his grete ȝiftes

Then was I as happy as a bird on a bright morning,
Gladder than a minstrel is in his great rewards.

(from Piers Plowman A, 11.109-110)

He seith nat ones nay,
But was as glad ther of as fowel of day.

He did not once say no,
But was as glad of it as a bird of the day.

(from the Canterbury Tales, the Shipman's Tale)

They were as glad of his comyng
As fowel is fayn, whan that the sonne vp riseth.

They were as glad of his coming as a bird is happy when the sun rises.
 (from the Canterbury Tales, the Shipman's Tale)

Was ther nevere fowel so fayn of May
As I shal been, whan that she cometh in Troye
That cause is of my torment and my joie.

There was never bird so glad of May 
As I shall be when she comes to Troy
Who is the cause of my torment and my joy.
(from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde)

Thi son wham we abide and seke als foghil the day.

Thy Son, whom we await and seek as the bird does the day.
(from The Mirror of Man's Salvation, from c.1500)


Theodric the Obscure said...

I am happy as a bird at daybreak to get this link. Thanks!

Kindred Spirit said...

I have always had an affinity for birds, and now I love them all the more. Thank you very much for posting this.

RovingLibrarian said...

Delightful! Poetry indeed.