Tuesday 20 December 2011

Thou little baron, thou little king

This lullaby carol is from a manuscript of the 1370s, which belonged to a Franciscan friar named John of Grimestone. The manuscript is a kind of 'commonplace book' with notes for his own preaching, mostly in Latin, and various short poems jotted down throughout - perhaps things he had composed himself, or things he had heard and liked.

In this carol a sinner, standing in for all mankind, addresses the infant Christ. Note that the refrain also appears in this poem (as well as in some others), suggesting the phrase had a wide currency.

Refrain: Lullay, lullay, little child,
Why weepest thou so sore?

Lullay, lullay, little child,
Thou who wast so stern and wild, [mighty]
Now art become meek and mild,
To save those who were forlore. [lost]

But for my sin I know it is
That God's Son has suffered this:
Mercy, Lord, I have done amiss!
Indeed, I will never more.

Against my Father's will I chose
An apple, with a rewful res; [in a lamentable frenzy]
Therefore my heritage I lost,
And now thou weepest therefore.

An apple I took from a tree;
God it had forbidden me;
For that I ought damned to be,
If it were not for thy weeping.

Lullay for woe, thou little thing,
Thou little baron, thou little king;
Mankind is the cause of thy mourning,
That thou hast loved so yore. [so long]

For man that thou hast aye loved so,
Yet shalt thou suffer pains mo, [yet more pain]
In head, in feet, in hands too,
And yet weep well more.

That pain us make of sin free,
That pain us bring, Jesu, to thee,
That pain us help aye to flee
The wicked fiend's lore.

[May that pain free us from sin; may that pain bring us, Jesu, to thee; may that pain ever help us to flee the teaching of the wicked fiend]

Here it is in something closer to the original spelling (John of Grimestone's commonplace book is now Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates 18.7.21):

Refrain: Lullay, lullay, litel child,
Why wepest thou so sore?

Lullay, lullay, litel child,
Thou that were so sterne and wild
Now art become meke and mild,
To saven that was forlore.

But for my senne I wot it is
That Godes Sone suffret this:
Mercy, Lord, I have do mis;
Iwis, I wile no more.

Ayenis my Fadres wille I ches
An appel with a rewful res;
Werfore myn heritage I les,
And nou thou wepest therfore.

An appel I tok off a tre;
God it hadde forboden me;
Wherfore I shulde dampned be,
Yef thy weping ne wore.

Lullay for wo, thou litel thing,
Thou litel barun, thou litel king;
Mankinde is cause of thy murning,
That thou hast loved so yore.

For man that thou hast ay loved so,
Yet shaltou suffren peines mo,
In heved, in feet, in hondes to,
And yet wepen wel more.

That peine us make of senne fre,
That peine us bringe Jesu to thee,
That peine us helpe ay to fle
The wickede fendes lore.

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