Friday, 31 January 2014

'My woeful heart thus clad in pain'

My stats tell me that hordes of Googlers are, as every year, beginning to seek out 'medieval love poems' and 'medieval compliments' in preparation for Valentine's Day. While I am very glad to be of service to all these happy romantics, this mournful love poem is more to my current taste.

My woeful heart thus clad in pain
Knows not well what to do or say,
Long absence grieveth me so.

For lack of sight near am I slain;
All joy my heart hath in disdain,
Comfort from me is go.

And though I would somewhat complain
Of my sorrow and great pain,
Who should comfort me do?

There is no thing can make me fain,
But the sight of him again
Who causes my woe.

None but he may me sustain;
He is my comfort in all pain;
I love him and no mo. [other]

To him I will be true and plain,
And ever his own in certain,
Till death part us two.

My heart shall I never from him refrain;
I gave it him without constrain,
Ever to continue so.

Head of a woman (BL Stowe 12, f. 332)

This is a poem from the Findern Manuscript (Cambridge University Library Ff.1.6), a fifteenth-century anthology of poems which belonged to a family who lived in Findern in Derbyshire. The anonymous poems in this manuscript have a great deal in common in style, theme and diction, and if you've read any of the four I've previously posted ('Continuance of remembrance'; 'Ah mercy, Fortune, have pity on me'; 'Where I have chosen, steadfast will I be'; 'Yet would I not the causer fared amiss' ) you'll recognise their distinctive voice. They are distinguished by being understated: deliberately and deceptively simple, like this poem which uses just two rhymes throughout, perfectly, and without making any fuss about it.

The unmodernised poem:

My woofull hert this clad in payn
wote natt welle what do nor seyn
longe absens greuyth me so.

ffor lakke of syght nere am I sleyn;
All Ioy myne hert hath in dissedeyn,
Comfort ffro me is go.

then thogh I wold me owght complan
Of my sorwe and grete payn,
who shold comforte me do?

Ther is no thynge can make me to be fayn,
butt the syght of hym agayn
that cawsis my woo.

None butt he may me susteyn;
he is my comfort in all payn;
y loue hym and no moo.

To hym I woll be trywe and playn,
And euyr his owne in serteyn,
tyll deth departe us to.

my hert shall I neuer ffro hym refrayn;
I gaue hitt hym with-owte constrayn,
euyr to contenwe so.


KirstenM said...

That is one beautiful poem. Thank you.

Clerk of Oxford said...