Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Medieval Christmas Poetry (1)

This verse is from the early thirteenth century; you may recognise some of the lines, as they are quoted in another, much more famous poem quoted below, which has been set as a Christmas Carol. 


Bringing us bliss now, the birds are all singing;
Branches sprout leaves and the grasses are springing.
Of one that is matchless my utterance sings
Chosen as mother by the King of Kings.

Taintless she is, and unspotted by sin,
Descended from Jesse, of kingly kin.
The Lord of mankind from her womb was born,
To save us from sin, who would else be forlorn.

'Hail Mary, full of grace! And may Our Lord
Be with you!' was the Angel Gabriel's word.
The fruit of your womb I declare shall be blest.
You shall carry a child beneath your breast.'

This greeting and word which the angel had brought,
Mary considered and pondered in thought.
She said to the angel, 'How could such thing be?
Of knowledge of man my body is free.'

She was virgin with child and virgin before,
And still virgin yet when her Baby she bore.
Never was maiden a mother but she;
Well might she the bearer of God's Son be!

Blest be the Child, and the Mother, too, blest,
And where her Son suckled, blest the sweet breast!
Praised be the time such child was born,
Who saved us from sin, who would else be forlorn!

[Trans: Brian Stone]


This second verse is from a minstrel manuscript form the early fifteenth century, and clearly draws on the earlier one.  Dew is a long standing literary figure for virginity: here the conception of the Son is seen as enhancing, rather than ending Our Lady's virginity.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
To her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.

(For those who like such things, here is the original:

I syng of a mayden
þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges
to here sone che ches.

He came also stylle
þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle,
þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille,
þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle
þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille,
þat fallyt on þe spray.;

Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be.)

3 comments:

Patricius said...

Thanks for posting this excellent collection of Christmas poems. My own absolute favourite Christmas poems, by the way, are those of St Robert Southworth.
Also, as one of "those who like such things" I am particularly impressed by the use of a font including the old English letter- if I am not mistaken- thorn. I'd love to know where to get one!
Wishing you all the blessings of Christmas.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks Patricius. I hope that you have seen that, following your comment, I have posted two poems by St Robert Southwell.

I can claim no credit for the use of a thorn, as I copied and pasted it from an online version of the original poem.

I hope that you, too, have a blessed and happy Christmas.

Sarah Bowen said...

Awww this is amazing~ I love your collection of Christmas poems. Actually I really love reading poems, last year I even spent most of my time reading and browsing poems especially the short Christmas poems I found. this is going to be a treat :) Merry Christmas!