Sunday, 5 May 2013

In Summer before the Ascension

As I write this it's the evening of the Sunday before the Ascension, and on just such a day at just such an hour some time in the fourteenth century, somebody wrote the following poem:

1. In somer bifore the Ascenciun
At Evensong on a Sonundai,
Dwellyng in my devociun
For the pees fast gon I prai:
I herde a reson to my pai,
That writen was with wordes three,
And thus hit is, schortly to say:
Mane nobiscum, domine.

2. What this word is forte mene
On Englisch tonge, I schal you telle:
In concience and we be clene,
Digne thee, lord, with us to dwelle,
The feondes pouste for to felle,
That for us diede uppon the tre;
In wit and worschipe, wei and welle,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

3. Whon thou from deth was risen and gon,
Then as a palmere forth gon pas,
Tho met thou pilgrimes makyng moon,
But yit thei wust never who thou was.
Thus then carpes Cleophas:
The niht is neih as we may se,
The liht of the dai is waxen las:
Mane nobiscum, domine.

4. Dwelle with us, our fader dere,
Thi bidyng is in hevene blis,
And evure thi name be halewed here.
Thi kyngdom let us nevere mis.
In hevene thi wille folfuld is,
And heere in eorþe that hit so be!
The rihtwys weyes ye wolde us wis,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

5. Our bred, our uche dayes foode,
Drihten deore, thou us diht.
Our dette, God that is so goode,
Forgive us for thi muchele miht,
As we schul heom with herte liht
That in our dette or daunger be.
Leste we rule us not ariht,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

6. Dwelle with us, Lord, leste we have teene,
Lede us to no temptacion.
In eny synne if we beo seene,
We prey thee of merci and pardoun;
With al the mekenes that we moun,
We schal crye, knelyng on kne:
Uppon bere whon we beo boun,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

7. Lord, dwelle with us in al our neode;
Withouten thee we have no miht
Our hondes up til our hed to beode,
Wit nor weole savereth no siht.
In eny caas if we ben cliht,
We con not but we crie to thee,
In al our neode bothe day and niht,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

8. Ho dwelleth with thee, thar have no doute
For no synne ne sodeyn chaunce.
But ay the fend is fast aboute
To putte us, Lord, fro thi plesaunce;
Whon we beoth out of governaunce,
Our flesch is frele, we can not fle:
Keep us out of al cumbraunce,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

9. Dwelle with us, Lord of love and pes,
And make thi wonynge us withinne,
In charite that we encres,
And kep us out of dedly synne;
Torn never thi face from us to twynne;
For Marie love, that mayden fre,
Whon we schal eny werk beogynne
Mane nobiscum, domine.

10. Mane nobiscum, domine!
Withouten thee we ben riht nouht.
What joye or blis weore that to the,
To theose that thou hast deore abouht?
In word, in wille, in herte and thouht,
We schul preye to the Trinite:
Out of this world whon we be brouht,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

This is from the Vernon Manuscript (Bodleian MS. Eng. Poet. a.1 (3938)), an important collection of English poetry made in the West Midlands shortly before 1400.  I've posted several poems from this manuscript previously ('This world fareth as a fantasy'; 'Think on yesterday', and 'Who tells the truth, he shall be shent'), and this poem has something in common with all three. Those, however, are predominantly poems of moral instruction, mingled with philosophical reflection, and this is closer to a prayer; in fact verses 4-6, as you can see, paraphrase the Lord's Prayer. It's best compared to the equally lovely 'And all was Deo Gracias', from the same collection, which likewise begins with the speaker of the poem lingering in church, gladdened by the words of the service and seeking to integrate them into personal devotion. The third line, 'dwelling in my devotion' suggests the idea of a meditative resting in prayer, a contemplative process of taking the prayer of the liturgy inside you and absorbing it slowly and thoughtfully, just as Christ is asked in later verses to 'dwell' within the soul.

The exact temporal marker at the beginning is rare (as far as I know) and interesting, especially because it is directly linked to the theme of the poem: 'Mane nobiscum, Domine' was indeed used at Vespers on Sundays in the Easter season. (Before the Reformation, 'Evensong' was the usual English name for Vespers.) It's a quotation from Luke 24:29, spoken on the road to Emmaus, where two disciples met, unknowingly, the resurrected Christ. 'He made as though he would have gone further; but they constrained him, saying, "Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent."' The poem tells this story in verse 3, describing how Christ went out 'as a palmer' - that is, a pilgrim - and met the 'pilgrims' his disciples. It's interesting to see that in this 14th-century English illustration of the meeting on the road to Emmaus, from the Taymouth Hours (British Library, Yates Thompson 13), the note in red says (in French) that Christ appeared 'to the pilgrims':

They have travellers' hats, and Christ himself has a palmer's staff and scrip.

The poem paraphrases Cleophas' words, 'The night is nigh as we may see, the light of the day is waxen less; mane nobiscum, domine,' and this phrase, 'Dwell with us, Lord', becomes the refrain and theme of the poem, its central prayer.  There are many things highly conventional about this poem, but even so the effect is at times strikingly direct and personal.

In the fourth line the poem refers to praying 'for the peace', which is the name of a Collect (still called the 'Collect for Peace' in the Book of Common Prayer - the one which begins 'O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give...').

A translation, attempting to preserve some of the beauty of the original:

1. In summer before the Ascension
At Evensong on a Sunday,
Dwelling in my devotion
'For the peace' I began to pray;
I heard a lesson to my pay, [which pleased me]
Which written was with words three,
And thus it is, in short to say:
Mane nobiscum, domine.

2. What it is that these words mean
In the English tongue, I shall you tell:
In conscience if we be clean,
Deign thou, Lord, with us to dwell,
The fiend's power for to fell,
Who for us died upon the tree;
In wit and worship, woe and weal,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

3. When thou from death was risen and gone,
Then as a palmer forth did pass,
Thou met those pilgrims making moan, [lamenting]
But yet they never knew who thou wast.
Thus then said Cleophas:
'The night is nigh as we may see,
The light of the day is waxen less:
Mane nobiscum, domine.'

4. Dwell with us, our Father dear,
Thy biding is in heaven's bliss; [your dwelling-place is in heaven]
Ever may thy name be hallowed here.
Thy kingdom let us never miss.
In heaven thy will fulfilled is,
And here in earth may it so be.
In righteous ways thou will us wis, [guide]
Mane nobiscum, domine.

5. Our bread, our each day's food,
Lord dear, may thou us dight; [prepare]
Our debts, God who art so good,
Forgive us for thy great might,
As we shall those, with hearts light,
Who in our debt or power be.
Lest we rule us not aright,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

6. Dwell with us, Lord, lest we have teen, [pain, suffering]
Lead us to no temptation.
In any sin if we be seen,
We pray thee for mercy and pardon;
With all the meekness that we may
We shall cry, kneeling on knee:
Upon the bier when we lay,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

7. Lord, dwell with us in all our need;
Without thee we have no might
Our hands up to our head to bid;
No wit nor wealth can bring us light.
If we be caught in any plight
We can do nothing unless we cry to thee;
In all our need both day and night,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

8. Who dwells with thee need have no doubt
For any sin or sudden chance;
But ay the fiend is fast about
To put us, Lord, from thy plesaunce; [favour]
When we are out of governance,
Our flesh is frail, we can not flee:
Keep us from all encumbrance, [trouble, misfortune]
Mane nobiscum, domine.

9. Dwell with us, Lord of love and peace,
And make thy home us within,
In charity that we may increase,
And keep us out of deadly sin;
Turn never thy face from us to twin; [part]
For Mary's love, that maiden free,
When we shall any work begin,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

10. Mane nobiscum, domine!
Without thee we are right nought.
What joy or bliss would that bring thee,
In those that thou hast dearly bought?
In word, in will, in heart and thought,
We shall pray to the Trinity:
Out of this world when we be brought,
Mane nobiscum, domine.

Emmaus (BL Harley 7026, f. 9)

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