Friday, 24 May 2013

A Medieval Morning Prayer

Jesu Lord, blyssed thou be,
For all this nyght thou hast me kepe
From the fend and his poste,
Whether I wake or that I slepe.

In grete deses and dedly synne,
Many one this nyght fallyn has,
That I my selve schuld have fallyn in,
Hadyst thou not kepyd me with thi grace.

Lord, gyffe me grace to thi worschype,
This dey to spend in thi plesanse;
And kepe me fro wyked felyschipe,
And from the fendys comberance.

Jesu, my tunge thou reule all so,
That I not speke bot it be nede,
Hertly to pray fore frend and fo,
And herme no man in word ne dede.

Cryste, gyffe me grace, off mete and drynke
This dey to take mesurably,
In dedly synne that I not synke
Thorow outrage of foule glotony.

Jesu my lord, Jesu my love,
And all that I ame bond unto,
Thi blyssing send fro hevyn above,
And gyffe them grace wele to do.

My gode angell that arte to me send
From God to be my governour,
From all evyll sprytys thou me defend,
And in my desesys to be my socoure.

A man wakes and greets the sun, from the beginning of Prime in a 13th-century English Book of Hours, BL Egerton 1151

This is a fifteenth-century prayer for the morning which appears in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole 61.  A detailed study of the manuscript can be found here; as well as prayers and short poems like this one, it contains romances, comic tales and entertaining saints' lives - the popular literature of fifteenth-century England - and probably belonged to a middle-class family in the Midlands.  It's interesting to compare this simple poem to the translation of a morning hymn which I posted a few months ago, 'Our weary limbs refreshed now with rest' (yes, I did reuse the same picture - I love it!); this poem is much more straightforward, and is probably supposed to be an easily remembered personal devotion, intended for a lay audience. The comparison between the two usefully illustrates the range and diversity of late medieval religious writing in the vernacular; the theme is roughly similar, but this poem focuses on acts of private thanksgiving, resolution and petition for the day ahead, and the diction is much more homely.

Here's a modernised version, not that it needs much explanation - except that in the last verse spirits is pronounced sprits, as those of you accustomed to singing Tudor church music will readily appreciate ;)  The 'good angel' is a guardian angel, as in these prayers (I found some more to add to that post, and they'll appear here soon).

Jesu Lord, blessed thou be,
For all this night thou hast me kept
From the fiend and his poste, [power]
Whether I waked or slept.

In great disease and deadly sin,
Many a one this night fallen has,
That I myself should have fallen in,
Hadst thou not kept me with thy grace.

Lord, give me grace to thy worship,
This day to spend in thy plesanse; [in a way pleasing to you]
And keep me from wicked fellowship,
And from the fiend's encomberance.

Jesu, my tongue rule thou also,
That I speak not but there be need,
Heartily to pray for friend and foe,
And harm no man in word or deed.

Christ, give me grace, of meat and drink
This day to take measurably,
In deadly sin that I not sink
Through outrage of foul gluttony.

Jesu my lord, Jesu my love,
To all that I am bound unto
Thy blessing send from heaven above,
And give them grace well to do.

My good angel that art to me sent
From God to be my governor,
From all evil spirits thou me defend,
And in my disease to be my succour.


Anonymous said...

Another lovely poem - many thanks for your blog, I enjoy all your postings and am so glad I came across it.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you for commenting - it means so much to me when people take the time to let me know they're reading and enjoying the blog!

Anonymous said...

I also am very grateful for what you write and post on this site. Blessed Feast of St. Bede and also Holy Trinity Sunday!

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you, and to you too!

Audrey said...

What a wonderful gift your posts are! Thank you so much for your work. My son and I are studying the Middle Ages and this morning prayer is the perfect way to start our day. A wonderful blessing that you include its history and a copy of the illuminated manuscript. We also found the evening prayers as well. Again, thank you!