Saturday 30 March 2013

Lo, lemman sweet

Lo, lemman swete, now may þou se
þat I haue lost my lyf for þe.
What myght I do þe mare?
For-þi I pray þe speciali
þat þou forsake ill company
þat woundes me so sare;

And take myne armes pryuely
& do þam in þi tresory,
In what stede sa þou dwelles,
And, swete lemman, forget þow noght
þat I þi lufe sa dere haue boght,
And I aske þe noght elles.

Christ in majesty, displaying his wounds (BL Arundel 302 f.56)

Like the poem I posted yesterday, this is from the manuscript Cambridge University Dd. 5. 64, III.  Here Christ appeals to the soul as a knight to his lady, imploring her to forsake all others for his sake; he asks her to take his arms into her keeping, as if he were Lancelot and she the lily maid of Astolat tenderly guarding his shield in her chamber.  Here the 'arms' are the 'Arma Christi', the instruments of the Passion, a familiar motif in medieval art and literature.  The image of Christ as knight and lover goes as far back in literature as there have been knights and lovers: one particularly famous example is this passage from Ancrene Wisse, where Christ is imagined as a king who loves and woos a noble lady besieged by her foes in a far-off land.  My favourite example of all is the handsome king and lover (and mother) Christ of 'In a valley of restless mind', patiently enduring the disdain of his lady, chasing away her enemies, and preparing for her a comfortable chamber in his own body.

Lo, sweetheart dear, now may thou see
That I have lost my life for thee.
What might I do thee more?
And so I pray thee especially
That thou forsake ill company
That woundeth me so sore;

And take mine arms prively
And put them in thy treasury,
Wherever thou may dwell;
And, sweetheart dear, forget thou not
That I thy love so dear have bought,
And I ask thee for nothing else.

Arma Christi in BL Harley 211, f.135

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