Saturday 14 January 2012

"Sing now, mother," said that child, / "What me shall befall / Hereafter, when I come to age, / As do mothers all."

Virgin and Child from Rochester Cathedral

This fourteenth-century lullaby lyric is a good example of the genre, both in how well-developed the subject is - the baby Christ predicts his own life, from birth to death - and in the naturalistic touches the anonymous poet adds to this dialogue between mother and child - particularly the detail in verse 2 that the mother is hoping to get her child to sleep without having to sing to him, but he feels cheated without a lullaby! I also like the moment in verse 27 where Mary, hearing the child say he will be a king, interrupts with excited delight, almost ambitious for her son (only to be told that he will not be a king of this world). There's a very pretty interplay between the child demanding to hear his mother predict his future ('as all mothers do'), and her amused protest that she knows nothing more of him than what Gabriel told her (going over the familiar details of his birth as mothers, indeed, all do), darkening into something more solemn as he tells her what sorrow she will have to face when he is grown up. The idea of a baby who is childish enough to insist on being sung to, but who can yet predict his own life and death, seems to get right to the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation.

The poem is found in John of Grimestone's commonplace book, like this lullaby and this related text; John must have had a taste for this particular theme, and thank goodness he did, or this poems might have been lost to us! My modernised version of the text comes first, and the Middle English follows.

Lullay, lullay, la, lullay,
My dear mother, lullay.

1. As I lay upon a night
Alone in my longing
Methought I saw a wondrous sight:
A maid a child rocking.

2. The maiden wished without a song
Her child asleep to bring;
The child thought she did him wrong,
And bade his mother sing.

3. "Sing now, mother," said that child,
"What me shall befall
Hereafter, when I come to age,
As do mothers all.

4. "Every mother, truly,
Who can her cradle keep
Is wont to lullen lovingly
And sing her child asleep.

5. "Sweet mother, fair and free,
Since that this is so,
I pray thee that thou lullen me,
And sing somewhat thereto."

6. "Sweet son," said she,
"Whereof should I sing?
I never yet knew more of thee
Than Gabriel's greeting!"

7. "He greeted me well, upon his knee,
And said, 'Hail, Mary,
Full of grace, God is with thee.
Thou shalt bear Messiah.'

8. "I wondered greatly in my thought
For man knew I never none.
'Mary,' he said, 'fear thee not:
Trust God of Heaven alone.'

9. 'The Holy Ghost shall do all this.'
He said it should be done
That I should bear mankind's bliss,
Thee, my sweet son!

10. "He said, 'Thou shalt bear a king
In King David's city,
In all Jacob's nation
King there shall he be.'

11. "He said that Elizabeth
Who barren was before,
A child now conceived hath,
'Therefore believe me the more!'

12. "I answered blithely,
For his words me pleased,
'Lo, God's servant, here am I,
Be it as thou me said.'

13. "There, as he said, I thee bore
On a mid-winter night,
In maidenhead, without sorrow,
By grace of God almighty.

14. "The shepherds that waked in the wold
Heard a wondrous mirth
Of angels there, as they told,
At the time of thy birth.

15. "Sweet son, certainly,
No more can I say;
But if I could I gladly would,
To do all at thy pay." ['everything that would please you']

16. "Mother," said that sweet thing,
"To sing I shall thee lere [teach]
What I shall endure of suffering,
And do while I am here."

17. "When the seven days are done
Right as Abraham wished,
Cut shall I be with a stone
In a very tender place.

18. "When the twelve days are done,
By leading of a star
Three kings shall seek for me then
With gold, incense, and myrrh.

19. "The fortieth day, to fulfill the law,
We shall to the temple go;
There Simeon shall pronounce a saw
And shall tell you of woe.

20. "When I am twelve years of age,
Joseph and thou, mourning,
Shall me find, mother mild,
In the temple teaching.

21. "Til I be thirty at the least
I never shall be from thee severed,
But ever, mother, be at thy behest,
Joseph and thee to serve.

22. "When the thirty years be spent,
I must begin to fulfill
That for which I am hither sent,
Through my Father's will.

23. "John Baptist, of merit most,
Shall me baptise by name;
Then my Father and the Holy Ghost
Shall witness what I am.

24. "I shall be tempted by Satan,
Who fallen is in sin;
Just as he tempted Adam,
But I shall it better withstand.

25. "Disciples I shall gather
And send them out to preach,
The laws of my Father
In all this world to teach.

26. "I shall be so simple
And yet so all-knowing
That a great part of the people
Shall want to make me king."

27. "Sweet son," then said she,
"No sorrow could cause me pain,
If I might live to see the day
When you were made a king!"

28. "No, no, mother," said that sweet,
"For that came I not,
But to be poor, and ease the woe
To which man has been brought.

29. "Therefore when two and thirty years be done
And a little more,
Mother, thou shalt make great moan
And see me die so sore.

30. "The sharp sword of Simeon
Shall pierce into thine heart,
For my great grief and dreadful pain
Sorely thee shall smart.

31. "Shamefully then I shall die
Hanging on the rood,
For man's ransom shall I pay
Mine own heart's blood."

32. "Alas! son," said that maid,
"Since this will be so,
How can I live to see the day
That will bring thee such woe?"

33. "Mother," he said, "take it light,
For I shall live again,
In flesh like yours, through my might,
For else I lived in vain.

34. "To my Father I shall wend
In human flesh to Heaven;
The Holy Ghost I shall thee send,
With his gifts seven.

35. "I shall thee take, when the time is,
To me at the last,
To be with me, mother, in bliss:
All this have I cast. [arranged]

36. "All this world judge I shall,
At the dead's rising;
Sweet mother, this is all
That I will now sing."

37. Certainly this sight I saw,
This song I heard sing,
As I lay this Yule's day,
Alone in my longing.

Here's the poem in Middle English (a conflation of the texts found in this book and this one):

Lullay, lullay, la, lullay,

My dere moder, lullay.

1. As I lay upon a night
Alone in my longing
Me thoughte I saw a wonder sight,
A maiden child rocking.

2. The maiden wolde withouten song
Hire child aslepe bringe;
The childe thoughte she ded him wrong,
And bad his moder singe.

3. "Sing now, moder," seide that child,
"What me shalle befalle
Hereafter whan I cum to eld
So don modres alle.

4. "Ich a moder treuly,
That can hire credel kepe
Is wone to lullen lovely
And singen hire child aslepe.

5. "Swete moder, fair and fre,
Sithen that it is so
I preye thee that thu lulle me,
And sing sumwhat therto."

6. "Swete son," seide she,
"Wherof shud I singe?
Wist I nevere yet more of thee
But Gabrieles gretinge."

7. "He grette me godly on his kne
And seide, 'Heil, Marye,
Full of grace, God is with thee.
Beren thu shalt Messye.'

8. "I wondred michil in my thoghte
For man wold I right none.
'Marye,' he seide, 'drede thee nought:
Lat God of Hevene alone;

9. 'The holy ghost sal don al this.'
He seide withouten wone
That I suld beren mannis blis,
Thee, my swete sone.

10. "He seide, 'Thou salt beren a king
In King Davids see,
In al Jacobs woniing
Ther king suld he be.'

11. "He seyde that Elizabeth
That baraine was before,
A child conceyued hath,
'To me leue thu the more.'

12. "I answerede blethely,
For his word me paiyede,
“Lo! Godis servant, her am I,
Be it as thu me seide."

13. "Ther, as he seide, I thee bare
On midwenter night,
In maidenhed, withouten care,
By grace of God almight.

14. "The shepperdis that wakkeden in the wolde
Herden a wonder mirthe
Of angles ther, as they tolde,
In time of thy birthe.

15. "Swete son, sikirly,
No more can I say;
And, if I coude, fawen wold I
To don all at thy pay."

16. "Moder," seide that swete thing,
"To singen I shall thee lere
What me fallet to suffring
And don whil I am here.

17. "Wanne the seuene daies ben don
Rith as Abraham wasce
Cut sal I ben with a ston
In a wol tendre place.

18. "Wanne the tuelue dayes ben do,
Be leding of a stere
Three kingges me sul seke tho
With gold, ensens, and mirre.

19. "The fourti day, to fille the lawe,
We solen to temple ifere;
Ther simeon sal thee sey a sawe
That changen sal thi chere.

20. "Wan I am tuelue yer of elde,
Joseph and thu, murningge,
Solen me finden, moder milde,
In the temple techingge.

21. "Til I be thretti at the leste
I sal neuere fro the suerue,
But ay, moder, ben at thin heste,
Joseph and the to serue.

22. "Wan the thretti yer ben spent,
I mot beginne to fille
Wer-fore I am hidre sent,
Thoru my fadres wille.

23. "Jon baptist of merite most
Sal baptize me be name;
Than my fader and the holi gost
Solen witnessen wat I ame.

24. "I sal be tempted of Satan,
That fawen is to fone,
The same wise that was Adam,
But I sal betre with-stonde.

25. "Disciples I sal gadere
And senden hem for to preche,
The lawes of my fader,
In al this werld to teche.

26. "I sal ben so simple
And to men so conning
That most partiye of the puple
Sal wiln maken me king."

27. "Suete sone," than seyde sche,
"No sorwe sulde me dere,
Miht I yet that day see
A king that thou were!"

28. "Dowey, moder," seide that suete,
"Therfor cam I nouth,
But for to ben pore and bales bete,
That man was inne brouth.

29. "Therfore wan to and thretti yer ben done
And a litel more,
Moder, thou salt maken michil mon
And seen me deye sore.

30. "The sarpe swerde of simeon
Perse sal thin herte,
For my care of michil won
Sore the sal smerte.

31. "Samfuly for I sal deye
Hangende on the rode,
For mannis ransoun sal I paye
Myn owen herte blode."

32. "Allas! sone," seide that may,
"Sithen that it is so,
Whorto shall I biden that day
To beren thee to this wo?"

33. "Moder," he seide, "tak it lighte,
For liven I shall ayeine,
And in thy kinde, thoru my might,
For elles I wroughte in veine.

34. "To my Fader I shall wende
In mine manhed to Hevene;
The Holy Ghost I shall thee sende,
With hise sondes sevene.

35. "I shall thee taken, whan time is,
To me at the laste,
To ben with me, moder, in blis:
All this, than, have I caste.

36. "All this werld demen I shall,
At the dom rising;
Swete moder, here is all
That I wile now sing."

37. Certeinly this sighte I say,
This song I herde sing,
As I lay this Yolisday,
Alone in my longing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have been looking for information about this poem as I will be performing a musical setting of it. I am so happy to have found your blog as it contains many posts of interest to me. Thank you for your work.