Sunday, 20 December 2015

Medieval Poetry (v)

Last year, I discovered an online copy of Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century.

This has some real gems, including one of my favourites:

Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter
thowt he not to long

And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
in here book.

Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene quen.

Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!
Therefore we mown syngyn

Deo gratias!

That 'Blessed be the time' sounds almost heretical, until one recalls the Easter Exsultet: O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem! (O happy fault, that won for us so great and glorious a Redeemer!)

As so often with me, part of the favouritism is because I used to sing it, in those dim and distant days when I was a boy chorister... This is the setting by Boris Ord, sung by a rather good choir from the Other Place.

Here is another poem, from the same collection.  This is not a Christmas poem, but I thought it interesting anyway. In particular, I noticed that although Eve gets a passing mention in the first stanza, the devil deals directly with Adam.

In the vale of Abraham
Cryst hym self he made Adam,
And of his rybbe a fayr womman,
And thus this seemly word began.

‘Cum, Adam, and thou xalt se
The blysse of paradis that is so fre;
Therein stant an appil-tre,
Lef and fruit growit thereon.

Adam, if thou this appil ete,
Alle these joyis thou xalt forsete,
And the peynis of helle gete.’
Thus God hym self warnid Adam.

Quan God was fro Adam gon,
Sone after cam the fend anon;
A false tretour he was on,
He tok the tre and krep thereon.

‘What eylyt the, Adam, art thou wod?
Thi lord hast tawt the lytil good, 
He wolde not thou understood
Of the wyttes that he can.

Take the appil of the tre,
And ete thereof, I bidde the,
And alle hese joyis thou xalt se,
Fro the he al hedyn non.’

Quan Adam hadde that appil ete,
Alle hese joyis wern forsete,
Non word more must he speke,
He stood as nakyd as a ston.

Then cam an aungil with a swerd,
And drof Adam into a disert;
Ther was Adam sore aferd,
For labour coude he werkyn non.

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