Saturday, 14 February 2015

'I am escapid from his band'

Women playing tambourines (BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 182)

On this blog, I aim to be useful. So if you are currently in need of some resources for a medieval Valentine's Day - compliments, endearments, love poems and all - you may be pleased to hear that I collected some together, for your benefit and use, in this post. However, if you happen to think romantic love is all sentimental nonsense, I can recommend this spoof love poem; and if you want something a little more philosophical, there's 'All other love is like the moon'. And today I offer for your enjoyment a poem which is mostly about the delights of not being in love.

Vp, son and mery wether,
Somer draweth nere.

Somtyme Y louid, so do Y yut,
In stedfast wyse and not to flit,
But in danger my loue was knyt,
A pitous thyng to hire.

For when Y offrid my seruice,
I to obbey in humble wyse
As fer ferth as Y coulde deuise,
In contynaunce and chere.

Grete payne for nought Y dude endur,
Al for that wyckid creature;
He and no mo, Y you ensur,
Ouerthrew al my mater.

But now, Y thancke [God] of hys sond,
I am escapid from his band
And fre to pas by se and land
And sure fro yere to yere.

Now may Y ete, drynke, and play,
Walke vp and doune fro day to day,
And herkyn what this louers say,
And laugh at there maner.

When Y shal slepe Y haue good rest;
Somtyme Y had not altherbest,
But, ar that Y cam to this fest,
Y bought hit al to dere.

Al that affray ys clene agoo;
Not only that, but many mo,
And, sith Y am ascapid so,
I thencke to hold me here.

But al the crue that suffren smert,
I wold thay sped lyke yure desert,
That thay myght synge with mery hert
This song with vs in fere.

This poem is a puzzle. It comes from the late fifteenth-century Findern manuscript (Cambridge University Library MS. Ff. 1.6), which contains, among other things, a number of love-lyrics written from a female perspective. The speaker here is clearly a woman, recalling how at some point in the past she grieved that her steadfast love was scorned, but rejoicing that now she has come to feel this has left her free - as if she has 'escaped' from the restrictive bonds of love. However, as the editor (Richard Greene, in Early English Carols) notes, "the allusive and generalizing style of this carol keeps it from giving a clear picture of the situation it treats". The difficulty of working out what's going on here also makes it tricky to translate, but here's a rough attempt:

Up, sun and merry weather,
Summer draweth near.

Once I loved, as I do yet,
In steadfast manner, and not to alter;
But in contempt my love was kept,
A piteous thing to hear.

For when I offered my service,
To obey in humble manner
As far as I could devise,
In countenance and cheer,

Great pain for naught I did endure,
All for that wicked creature;
He and no other, I you assure,
Overthrew all my state.

But now, I thank God for his gift,
I am escaped from his bond,
And free to pass by sea and land
And secure from year to year.

Now may I eat, drink, and play,
Walk up and down from day to day,
And hearken what these lovers say,
And laugh at their manner.

When I sleep I have good rest;
At one time I did not have the best;
But, before I came to this feast, [probably 'this happy state of affairs']
I bought it all too dear.

All that affray is clean gone by;
Not only that, but many more,
And, since I am thus escaped,
I intend to stay here.

But all of those who suffer pain,
I wish they had the same fate as you,
That they might sing with merry heart
This song with us together.

The last verse is particularly puzzling to me; crue must mean something like 'gang of people', but it's an odd word, and that sense isn't recorded in the MED. The earliest non-military sense in the OED is from 1570. So is a military sense intended? It must mean literally 'I wish for all the crue who suffer (or permit?) pain to have the same fate as you, that they might sing with a merry heart this song with us together'. But who is 'you', and what was his (or her) fate?

All very mysterious. But if you don't worry too much about the exact situation, this is an attractive little song; there's a palpable sense of liberty and play about it - the speaker free to wander wherever she likes, to 'eat, drink and be merry', and to laugh at the silly ways of lovers. 'Since I am thus escaped, I intend to stay here!' So you can take this an anti-Valentine, if you like.

Poor St Valentine being beheaded (BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 243)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have juxtaposed interestingly in these latest two posts!

With the previous one, thinking about the imagery of 'lucan', '(on)bindan', 'fetera','bend', '(on)laeteth', '(on)windeth', 'rapas'(and perhaps 'toweorpan' and the 'loca' of 'hretherlocan'?) and your remarks about Baldr got me wondering if that imagery with respect to winter is typically Old English, or perhaps more commonly 'Germanic', and what traditional analogies it might have elsewhere.

It also called to mind "Adam lay i-bowndyn,/ bowndyn in a bond,/ Fowre thowsand wynter / thowt he not to long", where I suppose the juxtaposition with "winter" may be largely fortuitous, but perhaps also not without an immediate resonance for the original audience.

(By the way, have you posted anything on counting in 'winters', and, if not, might you be willing to consider doing so, sometime? I remember we were generally discouraged from translating by leaving it at 'winters' lest it sound distractingly like Fenimore Cooper or an old 'western' or whatever!)

Here, "Somer draweth nere" amidst imagery of being "escapid from his band", "ascapid so" - and so having moved beyond a situation where "in danger my loue was knyt".

I don't know what the current state of 'Danger Studies' is, but I have gone rereading all Lewis's index entries in The Allegory of Love and his Appendix II on 'Danger'.

That hasn't told me whether being 'knit in danger' is an unusual image or expression or not. And I am left wondering if there might be deliberate ambiguity in it. Maybe reading Lewis has got me thinking allegorically without warrant, but 'Danger' is looming large, if indistinctly, in my thoughts. And so I wonder, could the line ambiguously mean not only "in contempt my love [for my beloved] was kept," but on some sense 'my beloved was knit in [protective, offputting]"danger" '? (My allergorically racing mind even begins to wonder if "that wyckid creature; / He and no mo" might (partly) mean 'my beloved's quality of "Danger" '!)

An Old Mertonian