Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Song for All Souls

Singing a Requiem, BL Arundel 302, f.77v (English, 15th century)

For all Cristen saulys pray we:
Requiem eternam dona eis, Domine.

O God, we pray to the in specyall,
For all the saulis that sufferd payne infernall;
Now, Jhesu, for thi mercy graunt them lyffe eternall,
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

In aspeciall for the saulys that han most nede,
Abydyng in the paynes of derkenesse,
Weche han no socoure but almysdede:
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Now God, in heuen that art so hye,
These saulys thou graunte joy and blysse,
For wham this day we syng and crye,
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

This is the text of a medieval English song on the commemoration of All Souls. It survives with its music in the Ritson manuscript (BL Additional 5665), which was compiled between c.1475-1510 at a religious house somewhere in Devon, possibly at Exeter Cathedral, and contains a number of songs in English and Latin. Other songs from this manuscript include the two carols based on the 'O' antiphons and the wonderful 'Marvel not, Joseph'; although to my knowledge this song has not been recorded, I imagine it to have sounded something like 'Marvel not, Joseph', which you can listen to at that link.

The Latin in the refrain is taken from the introit to the Requiem Mass: Eternal rest grant unto them, O God, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

The text of the song is printed in Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford, 1977), pp. 186-7; here's my modernised version:

For all Christian souls pray we:
Requiem eternam dona eis, Domine.

O God, we pray to thee particularly
For all the souls who suffer pain infernal;
Now, Jesu, for thy mercy grant them life eternal,
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Especially for the souls who have most need,
Abiding in the pains of darkness,
Who have no succour but almsdeeds:
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Now God, in heaven that art so high,
These souls grant thou joy and bliss,
For whom this day we sing and cry,
Et lux perpetua,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

This is a recording of the earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the Requiem, by Johannes Ockeghem. Written in the second half of the fifteenth century, it is roughly contemporary with the English poem.

Requiem, BL Royal 2 B VIII, f.144 (English, early 15th century)

Just for comparison, here are some English prayers for the dead from vernacular Prymers of the early sixteenth century, which I found in the book Monumenta ritualia ecclesiae Anglicanae. They form part of the Office of Compline, and are headed (as the song begins) 'for all Cristen soulis':

Euerlastynge reste, lord, 3yue to hem : And perpetuel ly3t shyne to hem : Fro the 3ate of helle : Delyuere, lord, the saulis of hem: I bileue to se the goodis of the lord : In the lond of lyuyng men.

Reste thei in pees. So be it.

God, the maker and a3enbiere of all feithful men : graunte thou remyssioun of alle synnes to the saulis of thi seruantis men and wymmen : that thei thru3 piteuouse preieris togider take the for3yuenesse which thei han euer desirid : that lyuyst and regnest god bi alle worldis of worldis. So be it.

Reste thei in pees. So be it.

The soulis of alle feithful deed men bi the merci of god reste in the pees of iesu crist. So be it.

Blesse ye.

The lord blesse.

God 3yue grace to the quyke, and to the deede reste, and for3yuenesse to the chirche, and to the kingdom pees and concorde, and to us synneris liif and endeles glorie. Amen.

That is:

Everlasting rest, Lord, give to them, and perpetual light shine on them. From the gate of hell, deliver, Lord, their souls. I believe to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living men.

May they rest in peace. So be it. [i.e. Amen]

God, the maker and redeemer of all faithful people, grant thou remission of all sins to the souls of thy servants, men and women, that they through devout prayers together receive the forgiveness which they have ever desired; who livest and reignest God through all worlds of worlds. So be it.

May they rest in peace. So be it.

May the souls of all faithful dead by the mercy of God rest in the peace of Jesu Christ. So be it.

Bless ye.

The Lord bless.

God give grace to the living, and to the dead rest, and forgiveness to the church, and to the kingdom peace and concord, and to us sinners life and endless glory. Amen.

Souls entering heaven, BL Yates Thompson 13, f.138 (English, 14th century)

The Collect is translating this:

Fidelium Deus omnium conditor, et redemptor animabus famulorum, famularumque tuarum remissionem cunctorum tribue peccatorum: ut indulgentiam, quam semper optaverunt, piis supplicationibus consequantur. Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum.

Another version of the Prymer has an alternate Collect:

Lorde, inclyne thyne eare vnto our prayers, wherin we ryght deuoutly call vpon thy mercy, that thou wylte bestowe the soules of thy seruauntes, both men and women, (whyche thou haste commaunded to departe fro this worlde) in the countrey of peace and reste, and further cause them to be made parteyners with thy sayntes. By Chryst our lorde. So be it.

Lord, incline thine ear unto our prayers, wherein we right devoutly call upon thy mercy, that thou wilt bestow the souls of thy servants, both men and women, which thou hast commanded to depart from this world, in the country of peace and rest, and further cause them to be made partners with thy saints. By Christ our Lord. So be it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. What beautiful songs/prayers.

Chateaubriand said...

So beautiful pristine language.

Rachel said...

Awesome! Thanks for this post. I like the older English.

Itinérante said...

Hauntingly beautiful!