Sunday 3 April 2016

'When I see blossoms spring'

Iffley, Oxford

When I se blosmes springe,
And here foules song,
A suete love-longynge
Myn herte thourhout stong,
Al for a love newe
That is so suete and trewe,
That gladieth al my song.
Ich wot al myd iwisse
My joie and eke my blisse
On him is al ylong.

Of Jesu Crist hi synge,
That is so fayr and fre,
Swetest of alle thynge;
His othwe hic oghe wel boe.
Wl fer he me sothte,
Myd hard he me bothte,
Wyth wnde to and three;
Wel sore he was yswnge,
And for me myd spere ystunge,
Ynayled to the tree.

When I miselve stonde
And with myn eyen seo
Thurled fot and honde
With grete nayles threo,
Blody wes ys heued,
On him nes nout bileved
That wes of peynes freo.
Wel, wel ohte myn herte
For his love to smerte,
And sike and sory beo.

Jesu, milde and softe,
Yef me streynthe and myht
Longen sore and ofte
To lovye the aryht.
Pyne to tholie and dreye
For the sone, Marye.
Thou art so fre and bryht,
Mayden and moder mylde,
For love of thine childe,
Ernde us heven lyht.

Alas, that I ne con
Turne to him my thoht,
And cheosen him to lemmon!
So duere he us hath yboht
With woundes deope and stronge,
With peynes sore and longe,
Of love ne conne we noht.
His blod that feol to grounde,
Of hise suete wounde,
Of peyne us hath yboht.

Jesu, milde and suete,
I synge the mi song;
Ofte I the grete
And preye the among.
Let me sunnes lete,
And in this lyve bete
That Ich have do wrong.
At oure lyves ende,
When we shule wende,
Jesu, us undefong.

Here's a springtime poem for Eastertide from the early fourteenth century. It's one of the 'Harley lyrics', from the collection of English, French and Latin poems found in British Library, Harley 2253, where it looks like this:

(The second verse I've included here comes from another version of the poem in British Library, MS Royal 2. F. VIII.)

A modernised version:

When I see blossoms spring,
And hear the birds' song,
A sweet love-longing
My heart through-stung, [pierces]
All for a love new
That is so sweet and true,
That gladdens all my song:
I know in truth, iwis,
My joy and all my bliss
On him is all ylong. [is all because of him]

Of Jesu Christ I sing,
Who is so fair and free, [noble]
Sweetest of all thing;
His own ought I well to be.
So far for me he sought,
With suffering he me bought,
With wounds two and three;
Well sore he was swung,
And for me with spear was stung,
Nailed to the tree.

When I myself stand
And with my eyes see
Pierced foot and hand
With great nails three;
Bloody was his head,
On him was nothing left
That of pain was free;
Well, well ought my heart
For his love to smart,
And sigh and sorry be.

Jesu, mild and soft, [merciful and gentle]
Give me strength and might
To long sore and oft
To love thee aright.
Pain to thole and dree [suffer and endure]
For thy son, Mary,
Thou art so free and bright!
Maid and mother mild
For love of thy child,
Win for us heaven's light.

Alas, that I am not able
To turn to him my thought,
And choose him as my love!
So dear he us hath bought
With wounds deep and strong,
With pains sore and long,
Of love we know nothing at all!
His blood that fell to ground,
From his sweet wounds,
From pain us hath bought. [redeemed]

Jesu, mild and sweet,
I sing thee my song;
Often I thee greet [cry to thee]
And pray to thee among:
Let me sins forsake,
And in this life amends make
For what I have done wrong.
At our life's end,
When we shall wend, [depart]
Jesu, us underfong. [receive]

Blossoming cross (BL Stowe 39, f. 23v)

'When I see blossoms spring', with its speaker pierced to love-longing by blossom and birdsong, begins very like another of the Harley lyrics (well, several of them, actually):

Bytuene Mersh and Aueril,
When spray biginneth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ich libbe in love-longinge
For semlokest of alle thynge;
He may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.

(Between March and April, when the blossom begins to spring, the little bird takes her pleasure in singing in her own tongue. I live in love-longing for the loveliest of all things. She can bring me to bliss; I am in her power.)

But this one is a secular love-poem, and the love-longing in this case is for a woman called Alisoun. The first verses of these two poems are almost interchangeable - gender aside - and you can see how smoothly 'When I see blossoms spring' takes the conventions of springtime love-poetry and applies them to Christ. The rich associations between spring and Easter, renewal and rebirth, must have made such a device seem quite natural (in every sense), as in the texts I looked at in my last post and many others. You might like to compare the slightly earlier 'Summer is come and winter gone'.

'The lutel foul', BL, Royal 3 D VI, f.116

2 comments: said...

I have just spent the most lovely way to spend an hour ( when I should have been writing ) thank you !

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I very much enjoyed these poems.