Monday, 30 January 2017

'Trewthe is put in low degree'

Truth, Mercy, Peace and Justice before the Throne of God (BL Royal 20 B IV, f. 7)

God be with trewthe where he be!
I wolde he were in this cuntre.

A man that schuld of trewthe telle,
With grete lordes he may not dwelle.
In trewe story as clerkes telle,
Trewthe is put in low degree.

In laydies chaumberes cometh he not;
There dare trewthe setten none fot.
Thow he wolde, he may not
Comen among the heye mene.

With men of lawe he hath non spas;
They loven trewthe in none plas;
Me thinketh they han a rewly grace
That trewthe is put at swich degree.

In holy cherche he may not sitte;
Fro man to man they schuln him flitte.
It reweth me sore in mine witte,
Of trewthe I have gret pite.

Religious, that schulde be good,
If trewthe cum there, I holde him wood.
They schulden him rende cote and hood,
And make him bare to flee.

A man that schulde of trewthe aspie,
He must seken esilye
In the bosum of Marie,
For there he is for sothe.

This is a carol from the fifteenth-century manuscript BL Sloane 2593. It's one of a number of medieval English poems lamenting contemporary society's lack of 'trewthe' (which in Middle English has a broad meaning encompassing integrity, honour, honesty, loyalty, etc.). A translation:

God be with truth wherever he be!
I wish he were in this country.

A man who ought of truth to tell,
With great lords he may not dwell.
In true story, as clerks tell,
Truth is put in low degree.

In ladies' chambers comes he not;
There dares truth set not a foot.
Though he would, he cannot
Come among the high mene. [in 'high society']

With men of law he has no space;
They love truth in no place;
It seems they have a rewly grace [an unfortunate lot]
That truth is put at such a degree.

In holy church he cannot sit;
From man to man they would him flit. [drive him on]
It rues me sore in my wit,
Of truth I have great pity.

Religious, who should be good -
If truth comes there, I hold him wood. [mad]
They would him rend coat and hood,
And make him bare to flee.

A man who would of truth espy,
He must seek it easily [perhaps 'simply, quietly']
In the bosom of Mary,
For there he is, in truth.

Compare this post on a Christmas carol, 'Tidings that be true'.

1 comment:

sophy0075 said...

How prescient! How relevant! Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose!