Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Two Medieval Evening Prayers

A little while ago I posted a fourteenth-century prose prayer for the evening, and here to accompany it are two rhymed prayers in English from the following century.  The first is from British Library, Harley MS. 541, a prayer to the Virgin:

Upon my ryght syde y me leye,
Blessid lady, to thee y pray,
For the teres that ye lete
Upon yowre swete sonnys feete,
Sende me grace for to slepe,
And good dremys for to mete,
Slepyng, wakyng, til morowe daye bee.
Owre lorde is the frwte, oure lady is the tree,
Blessid be the blossome that sprange, lady, of thee.
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti.

That is:

Upon my right side I me lay;
Blessed lady, to thee I pray:
For the tears that ye lete [wept]
Upon your sweet son's feet,
Send me grace for to sleep,
And good dreams for to meet, [dream]
Sleeping, waking, till morrow day be.
Our Lord is the fruit, Our Lady is the tree,
Blessed be the blossom that sprang, Lady, of thee.
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti.

'Send me grace for to sleep, and good dreams for to meet' - what a lovely prayer!

The other set of verses is in the same manuscript as this morning prayer, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole 61, and they go very well together.

Jesus Lord, well of all godnes,
For thi grete pety I the pray:
Forgyffe me all my wykidnes
Wher-with I have greuyd the to-dey.

Honour and praysing to the be,
And thankyng for thi gyftys all
That I this dey reseyuid of the;
Now, curtas Cryst, to the I calle.

This nyght fro perell thou me kepe,
My bodely rest whyll that I take;
And als longe as myne evyne sclepe,
Myn hert in thi seruys wake.

For feryng of the fend owre fo,
Fro fowll dremys and fantasys,
Kepe this nyght, from synne also,
In clenes that I may vpryse.

Saue my gode doers fro greuans,
And quyte them that thei on me spend.
Kepe my enmys fro noyans,
And gyffe them grace for to amend.

Mercy, Jesu, and grante mercy;
My body, my soule, I thee bekene,
In nomine patris et filii
Et spiritus sancti, Amen.


Jesus Lord, well of all goodness,
For thy great pity I thee pray:
Forgive me all my wickedness
Wherewith I have grieved thee today.

Honour and praising to thee be,
And thanking for thy gifts all
That I this day received of thee;
Now, courteous Christ, to thee I call.

This night from peril thou me keep,
My body's rest while that I take;
And as long as mine eyen sleep,
Mine heart in thy service wake.

For fear of the fiend our foe,
From foul dreams and fantasies
Keep me this night, from sin also,
In cleanness that I may uprise.

Save my good-doers from grievance,
And quit them what they on me spend. [quit = repay]
Keep my enemies from noyans, [trouble]
And give them grace for to amend.

Mercy, Jesu, and grant mercy;
My body, my soul, I thee bekene, [entrust to thee]
In nomine patris et filii
Et spiritus sancti, Amen.

'I sleep, but my heart wakes' recalls a verse from the Song of Songs (5:2) which was very popular in medieval devotional writing; it's the title of a work by Richard Rolle, for instance. Note also the echo of the hymn Te lucis ante terminum in that line about 'foul dreams and fantasies'. I talked a little about the vocabulary of dreams and 'fantasies' in my post on medieval translations of that hymn, and although this poem is a little older than 'O Lorde, the maker of al thyng', which I quoted there, the collocation of the same two English words suggests the inspiration of the Latin - somnia et noctium phantasmata... But unlike 'Te lucis' this hymn is in the first person singular, for private devotion, not communal use.

William Mundy (c. 1529–1591), 'O Lord, the maker of all thing'

(I just googled 'O Lord, the maker of all thing' and saw it described on a supposedly reputable site as 'one of the earliest vernacular English prayers'. Can you believe that? It's from the sixteenth century! There were eight centuries' worth of English vernacular prayers older than that - hundreds of them, stretching through nearly a whole millennium. You just read two of them...)


Anonymous said...

Of course you must realise that Absolutely Nothing Happened between the Romans leaving and the Tudors arriving....... (oh. Except 1066. I was forgetting that). Source for this: my school history lessons in the 1970s, where we covered this entire period by doing 'a project on the middle ages' (i.e. nothing much at all) for 4 weeks!

Clerk of Oxford said...

Haha, my school was the same! I think we studied the Black Death for a week or so, but of the non-dying parts of the Middle Ages, there was no sign...