Saturday, 17 May 2014

A Regina Caeli


The Marian antiphon for the Easter season (which we are still in for a while longer) is the Regina Caeli, so here's a medieval carol which takes that text as its starting-point. It comes from the fifteenth-century manuscript of carols collected by the Canterbury friar James Ryman, which includes a number of carols inspired by this text (I posted another one last year). The text is:

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia,
For He whom you were merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

This song would be sung at Compline, after the last service of the day, and it has a lilting and melodious chant, with all the sweet simplicity of a lullaby. Listen to it here. Ryman's carol borrows just the first two lines and meditates upon them, inverting them to form a macaronic refrain which weaves its way through the poem.

The text comes from here, and my translation follows.

1. O emperesse, the emperoure,
Quem meruisti portare,
Of heven and erthe hath made the floure:
Regina celi, letare.

2. O quene of grace, the king of blisse,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath made thy sete next vnto his:
Regina celi, letare.

3. O princesse pure, the prince of peas,
Quem meruisti portare,
Euer thy ioye he doth encreas:
Regina celi, letare.

4. O lady fre, the lorde of alle,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath made man free, that was moost thralle:
Regina celi, letare.

5. O swete moder, thy son Ihesus,
Quem meruisti portare,
He rose ayene, that died for vs:
Regina celi, letare.

6. O mayden myelde, thy son so dere,
Quem meruisti portare,
Hath crowned the in blis so clere:
Regina celi, letare.

7. O spowse of Criest, oure sauyoure,
Quem meruisti portare,
Heven and erthe the doth honoure:
Regina celi, letare.

8. O Marie, of thy sonne aske this,
Quem meruisti portare,
That we may dwelle with hym and his:
Regina celi, letare.


Here's a translation:

1. O empress, the emperor,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Of heaven and earth hath made thee the flower:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

2. O queen of grace, the king of bliss,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath made thy seat next unto his:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

3. O princess pure, the prince of peace,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Ever thy joy he doth increase:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

4. O lady free, the lord of all,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath made man free, who was most in thrall: [i.e. imprisoned]
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

5. O sweet mother, thy son Jesus,
Whom you were merited to bear,
He rose again, who died for us:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

6. O maiden mild, thy son so dear,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Hath crowned thee in bliss so clear:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

7. O spouse of Christ, our Saviour,
Whom you were merited to bear,
Heaven and earth do thee honour:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

8. O Mary, of thy son ask this,
Whom you were merited to bear,
That we may dwell with him and his:
Queen of heaven, rejoice.

This is a finely balanced poem, elegantly constructed. Each verse in turn presents us with a pair of evenly matched titles: emperor and empress, king and queen, prince and princess, lord and lady, mother and son. Notice how perfectly the Latin and English lines fit together: every first line offers an address to Mary and then a title for Christ to which the relative pronoun of the refrain, quem, can refer. In every verse the first three lines provide a cause of joy which leads up to the fourth line's imperative, lætare - as if to say 'and so for that reason, be glad'. And you hardly notice how well it works, because the effect is so lovely.

1 comment:

Chris Doran said...

This is exquisite. Thank you!