Sunday, 8 January 2012

'There is a blossom sprung of a thorn'

In poetry about the Epiphany, you sometimes find depictions of the three kings representing the three ages of man - one young, one in the prime of life, and one aged. A modern example is Dorothy L. Sayers' poem 'The Three Kings', in which they are distinguished by the gifts they bring: the sorrowful youngest king brings myrrh, the middle-aged priest brings incense, and the oldest king brings golden baubles as baby toys. A similar idea is found in this sixteenth-century English carol called 'There is a blossom sprung of a thorn', but here the interesting thing is that the three kings apparently each see a different aspect of Christ as they present their gifts to him: the oldest king sees a judge; the middle king sees a baby; the youngest king sees Christ the Redeemer of mankind.

The carol comes from Balliol College MS. 354, the commonplace book of a London grocer named Richard Hill, which you can see here.

1. There is a blossom sprung of a thorn,
To save mankind that was forlorn,
As the prophets said before,
Deo Patri sit gloria.

2. There sprang a well at Mary's foot,
That turned all this world to bote; [redemption]
Of her took Jesu flesh and blood,
Deo Patri sit gloria.

3. From that well there stretched a stream,
Out of Egypt into Bethlehem;
God through his highness turned it again,
Deo Patri sit gloria.

4. There were three kings of divers lands,
They thought a thought that was strong,
Him to seek and thank among.
Deo Patri sit gloria.

5. They came richly with their presents,
With gold, myrrh and frankincense,
As clerks read in their sequence,
Deo Patri sit gloria.

6. The eldest king of the three,
He went foremost, for he would see
What doomsman that this should be,
Deo Patri sit gloria.

7. The middlemost king up he rose,
He saw a babe in arms close;
In middle age he thought he was.
Deo Patri sit gloria.

8. The youngest king up he stood,
He made his offering rich and good,
To Jesus Christ, that shed his blood.
Deo Patri sit gloria.

9. There shone a star out of heaven bright,
That men of earth should deem aright
That this was Jesu, full of might.
Deo Patri sit gloria.

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