Friday, 12 October 2012

When broom bears apples and hemlock bears honey

This is a poem or song from a fifteenth-century manuscript of songs and carols, which includes among many others this carol of the Virgin Mary, and the Annunciation carol 'Tidings true'.  Today's poem is on a very conventional theme, the untrustworthiness of the world (for variations of which, see this set of posts), but this is a particularly neat expression of the idea.

Wold God that men might sene
Hertes whan they bene,
For thinges that bene untrew.
If it be as I wene,
Thing that semeth grene
Is ofte faded of hew.

[Would to God that men could see hearts as they really are, as things that are untrue; for if it is as I believe, things that seem fresh and green are often faded in hue.]

Will is tak for reson;
Trew love is full geson;
No man sett be shame.
Trost is full of treson;
Eche man oderes cheson;
No man him seilfe will blame.

[Self-will is mistaken for reason; true love is very scarce, and no one cares for shame. Trust is full of treason; every man accuses someone else, but no one will accuse himself.]

This warlde is variabell;
Nothing therein is stable,
Asay now who so will.
Sin it is so mutable,
How shuld me be stable?
It may not be thorow skill.

[This world is variable; nothing therein is stable, let anyone test it who will! Since it is so mutable, how can anyone be secure? Reason says this cannot be.]

Whan brome will appelles bere,
And humloke hony in fere,
Than seke rest in lond.
With men is no pees;
Ne rest in hart is, no lese,
With few be see and sond.

[When a broom-bush bears apples, and hemlock bears honey, then look for rest in this world. Among men is no peace, and rest in heart belongs to few, truly, by sea or by shore.]

Sithen there is no rest,
I hold it for the best,
God to be our frend,
He that is our Lord,
Deliver us out with his word,
And graunt us a good ende!

[Since there is no rest, I hold it for the best to take God as our friend. May he who is our Lord deliver us by his word, and grant us a good end!]

This poem's attitude to 'rest' reminds me of George Herbert's 'The Pulley':

When God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottome lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.