Tuesday 25 March 2014

Angelus ad virginem / Gabriel from heaven's king

Gabriel, fram evene king
Sent to the maide swete,
Broute hire blisful tiding,
And faire he gan hire greten:
"Heil be thu, ful of grace arith,
For Godes Sone, this evene lith,
For mannes loven
Wile man bicomen
And taken
Fles of thee, maiden brith,
Manken fre for to maken
Of senne and devles mith."

Mildeliche im gan andsweren
The milde maiden thanne:
"Wichewise sold ichs beren
Child withhuten manne?"
Thangle seide, "Ne dred te nout;
Thurw tholigast sal ben iwrout
This ilche thing
Warof tiding
Ichs bringe.
Al manken wrth ibout
Thur thi swete chiltinge,
And hut of pine ibrout."

Wan the maiden understud
And thangles wordes herde,
Mildeliche with milde mud
To thangle hie andswerde:
"Hur Lordes theumaiden iwis
Ics am, that her aboven is.
Anenttis me
Fulfurthed be
Thi sawe,
That ics, sithen his wil is,
Maiden withhuten lawe
Of moder have the blis."

Thangle wente awei mid than
Al hut of hire sithte;
Hire wombe arise gan
Thurw tholigastes mithe.
In hire was Crist biloken anon:
Suth God, soth man ine fleas and bon,
And of hir fleas
Iboren was
At time,
Warthurw us kam God won.
He bout us hut of pine
And let im for us slon.

Maiden moder makeles,
Of milche ful ibunden,
Bid for hus im that thee ches,
At wam thu grace funde,
That he forgive hus senne and wrake,
And clene of evri gelt us make;
And evne blis
Wan hure time is
To sterven
Hus give for thine sake
Him so her for to serven
That he us to him take.

This is a thirteenth-century English version of a Latin song about the Annunciation, 'Angelus ad virginem'; it can be sung to the same tune as the Latin, and the manuscript (BL Arundel 248) has the music, followed by the Latin, then the English text:

'Angelus ad virginem' is one of the catchiest surviving medieval songs. It's mentioned by Chaucer in the Miller's Tale, where young Nicholas, the naughty clerk of Oxford (not my namesake, of course!), plays 'Angelus ad virginem' to entertain himself, 'so sweetly that the chamber rang'. It has been observed that Chaucer may have intended a sly parallel between the adulterous Nicholas, who sneaks into bed with his landlord's wife when the other man is away, and the angel subintrans in conclave 'secretly entering the chamber' - but perhaps the less said about that the better... The Latin song sounds like this:

And the English like this:

Here's a modernised version of the English:

Gabriel, from heaven's king
Sent to the maid sweet,
Brought her blissful tidings,
And fair he did her greet:
"Hail be thou, full of grace aright,
For God's Son, this heaven's light,
For man's love
Will man become
And take
Flesh of thee, maiden bright,
Mankind free for to make
From sin and devil's might."

Gently him did answer
The gentle maiden then:
"In what way can I bear
A child without a man?"
The angel said, "Fear thee naught;
Through the Holy Ghost shall be wrought
This same thing
Of which tiding
I bring.
All mankind will be bought [redeemed]
Through thy sweet childing,
And out of torment brought."

When the maiden understood
And the angel's words heard,
Gently with a gentle mind
To the angel she answered:
"Our Lord's serving maiden iwis [indeed]
I am, who here above is.
Concerning me
Fulfilled shall be
Thy saw, [your words]
That I, since his will it is,
A maiden, without law, [i.e. outside the law of nature]
Of mother will have the bliss."

The angel went away with than [that]
All out of her sight;
Her womb to arise began
Through the Holy Ghost's might.
In her was Christ enclosed anon:
True God, true man in flesh and bone,
And of her flesh
Born he was
In time,
Whereby to us came God wone. [to dwell]
He bought us out of pain
And was for us slain.

Maiden mother makeless, [matchless]
Of mercy full abounding,
Pray for us to him who thee ches, [chose]
With whom thou grace found,
That he forgive us sin and wrake, [injury]
And clean of every guilt us make;
And heaven's bliss
When our time is
To sterve [die];
Grant us for thy sake
Him so here for to serve
That he us to him take.

The English is modelled on the Latin but is not a straight translation (that might have put too much strain on what is already a demanding rhyme-scheme). Some differences include the language used to describe the Virgin: sweet, maiden bright, milde ('gentle'), and the triply alliterating maiden mother makeless in the last verse are all without parallel in the Latin, and they lend a tender and affectionate tone to the whole poem. I'm particularly fond of the angel's phrase 'thy sweet childing', i.e. child-bearing; as often in Middle English religious verse, the words light, sweet, fair and blissful feature heavily. It's the English poet's idea to have Mary say, as her acceptance of the angel's message, that 'a maiden will have the bliss of motherhood' - a nice touch. In the fourth verse, where the Latin turns with startling swiftness from birth to death, from Christ's entry into Mary's womb to his Crucifixion, the English keeps the focus on the moment of the Incarnation: 'In her was Christ enclosed anon: / True God, true man in flesh and bone, / And of her flesh / Born he was / In time, / Whereby to us came God wone'. Only the very last word of the verse introduces the idea that he was 'slain'. The rhyme in the final verse between makeles and ches recalls another family of Middle English Annunciation lyrics, 'I sing of a maiden' and 'Nu these fules singet'; makeless is a a useful word in this context, a kind of serendipitous holy pun, because it means both 'without equal' and 'without a mate', i.e. a virgin.

The angel and the Virgin, on either side of a window in the painted chancel at Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

Here's the Latin text:

Angelus ad virginem
Sub intrans in conclave,
Virginis formidinum
Demulcens inquit "Ave,
Ave regina virginum,
Coeli terraeque dominum
Et paries
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medella criminum."

"Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?"
"Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timaes,
Sed gaudeas,
Quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia."

Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei,
"Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
Et cupiens
Factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio."

Angelus disparuit
Et statim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Hinc exiit
Et iniit
Affigens humero
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
Hosti mortifero.

Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Et deleat
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beata
Post hoc exsilium.


Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Thanks for posting this. I hadn't ever made the connection, but I now realize that I have recordings of both versions on Christmas albums -- the Latin from the Tallis Scholars, and the ME from Anonymous 4.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thank you!

An Old Mertonian

JWY said...

I wonder if you know the (original) source of the Latin that you've printed in the body of your post? The penultimate stanza in places online and as sung in recordings I've heard shows certain alterations of the text that appears in BL Arundel 248. As far as I can see, the penultimate is the only stanza for which someone has proposed alternate readings. The corrections make it somewhat easier to read, but I'm curious who's responsible for them.