Sunday, 23 April 2017

'He stey opon the rode'

 
Two short fourteenth-century poems for Eastertide, from William Herebert. This single couplet is an English rendering of the verse 'Crucem sanctam subiit':

He stey opon the rode, that barst helle clos;
Ygurd he was wyth strengthe, the thrydde day aros.

He climbed upon the rood, who burst hell's clos, [enclosure, stronghold]
Girded he was with strength, on the third day arose.

Perhaps the most interesting word here is the verb stey (stien), which I've translated as 'climbed', though it can refer to various kinds of upward movement. It's a dynamic way of describing Christ's ascent of the cross; in medieval poetry of the Crucifixion, that ascent is often (at least, more commonly than today) imagined as an active, energetic movement - Christ springing to mount the cross, rather than passively being lifted up by the hands of others. Herebert's word stey comes from the Old English gestigan, which is the verb used in the same context in the Dream of the Rood: there the cross says of the 'young warrior' gestah he on gealgan heanne, 'he mounted on the high gallows'.

It's a verb which connects Easter and the Ascension, another moment when Christ stey upwards. I don't think we have a word today which quite covers the various meanings of stien - 'ascend' just doesn't do it, since it's altogether too decorous for a word which also refers to mounting horses and scrambling up trees. This is a word for Christ the warrior, going into battle, with the cross imagined as both his weapon and his steed. ('What is he, this lordling, that cometh from the fight...')

This energetic figure recalls Gregory the Great's spirited picture of Christ as the lover in the Song of Songs, who comes 'leaping' towards his beloved:
Hence it is that Solomon has put into the mouth of the Church the words: Behold, He cometh! leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. These hills are his lofty and noble achievements. “Behold, He cometh leaping upon the mountains.”

When He came to redeem us, He came, if I may so say, in leaps. My dearly beloved brethren, would you know what His leaps were? From heaven he leapt into the womb of the Virgin, from the womb into the manger, from the manger on to the Cross, from the Cross into the grave, and from the grave up to heaven.
The Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf turned this image into English poetry, in his poem on the Ascension:

Bi þon Salomon song, sunu Dauiþes,
giedda gearosnottor gæstgerynum,
waldend werþeoda, ond þæt word acwæð:
"Cuð þæt geweorðeð, þætte cyning engla,
meotud meahtum swið, munt gestylleð,
gehleapeð hea dune, hyllas ond cnollas
bewrið mid his wuldre, woruld alyseð,
ealle eorðbuend, þurh þone æþelan styll."
Wæs se forma hlyp þa he on fæmnan astag,
mægeð unmæle, ond þær mennisc hiw
onfeng butan firenum þæt to frofre gewearð
eallum eorðwarum. Wæs se oþer stiell
bearnes gebyrda, þa he in binne wæs
in cildes hiw claþum bewunden,
ealra þrymma þrym. Wæs se þridda hlyp
rodorcyninges ræs þa he on rode astag,
fæder, frofre gæst. Wæs se feorða stiell
in byrgenne, þa he þone beam ofgeaf,
foldærne fæst. Wæs se fifta hlyp
þa he hellwarena heap forbygde
in cwicsusle, cyning inne gebond
feonda foresprecan, fyrnum teagum,
gromhydigne, þær he gen ligeð
in carcerne clommum gefæstnad,
synnum gesæled. Wæs se siexta hlyp,
haliges hyhtplega, þa he to heofonum astag
on his ealdcyððe.

Of this Solomon sang, son of David,
in spiritual mysteries, wise in songs,
ruler of nations, and spoke these words:
“This shall be made known: that the King of angels,
the Lord mighty in strength, will come springing upon the mountain,
leaping the high uplands; hills and downs
he will garland with his glory, and redeem the world,
all earth's inhabitants, by that glorious leap.”
The first leap was when he descended into a woman,
an unblemished virgin, and there took human form
without sin; that became a comfort
to all earth's dwellers. The second bound
was the birth of the boy, when he was in the manger,
wrapped in cloth in the form of a child,
the glory of all glories. The third leap
was the heavenly King's rush when he climbed upon the cross,
Father, Comforting Spirit. The fourth bound
was into the tomb, when he relinquished the tree,
safe in the sepulchre. The fifth leap
when he humbled the host of hell's inhabitants
in living torment; the King bound within
the advocate of the fiends in fetters of fire,
the malignant one, where he still lies
fastened with chains in prison,
bound by sins. The sixth leap,
the Holy One's joyous play, was when he ascended to heaven
into his former home.

rodorcyninges ræs þa he on rode astag  - 'the heavenly King's rush when he climbed upon the cross'. All these verbs of rushing and leaping and bounding are absolutely full of vigour and vitality, as if Christ is the embodiment of life itself - a force of sheer energy, which cannot be contained by any tomb or any clos. They remind me too of those medieval depictions of the Resurrection where Christ has one foot in the tomb and one out - 'bursting from the spiced tomb'...

Christ leaps from the tomb towards Mary (BL Egerton 2781, f. 171)

Along similar lines, here's Herebert's version of the hymn 'Jesu nostra redemptio':

Jesu, oure raunsoun, love, and longynge,
Louerd God almyhti, Wrouhte of alle thinge:
Flesh thou nome and mon bicome in times endinge.
What milsfolnesse awalde thee that oure sunnes bere,
So bitter deth to tholien, from sunne us for t'arere?
Helle cles thou thorledest and bouhtest thine of bondes;
Wyht gret nobleye thou opsteye to thy Fader ryhthonde.
Thylke mylse nede thee t'awelde oure wyckenesse
Wyth thy mercy, and ful us ay wyth thy nebshaftes blisse.
Thou be nou oure ioie, that shalt ben oure mede,
And oure wele ay be in thee, that shalt us wyth thee nede.

Jesu, our ransom, love, and longing,
Lord God almighty, Maker of all things:
Flesh you took and man became at time’s ending.
What compassion so overcame you that you bore our sins,
Such bitter death to suffer, to raise us up from sin?
Hell's stronghold you broke, and saved your own from bondage;
With great majesty you rose up to your Father’s right hand.
By that same compassion, overcome our wickedness
With your mercy, and fill us ever with the bliss of your face.
Be now our joy, you who shall be our reward,
And may our bliss be ever in you, who will keep us with you.

'Jesu nostra redemptio', with an English gloss, in an Anglo-Saxon hymnal

Thursday, 13 April 2017

'My folk, what have I done to thee?

'Popule meus', in a 13th-century manuscript, BL Add. 18031, f. 174

One of the most dramatic and powerful parts of the traditional Good Friday liturgy is the Improperia, the 'Reproaches' in which Christ is imagined speaking from the cross. Recalling numerous key events of Old Testament history, the text contrasts these moments of God's love and protection of his people with the suffering inflicted on him during his Passion. The Improperia are dramatic in every sense, adopting the voice of Christ as he reproaches his people and draws a series of contrasts between past and present: what he has done for mankind, contrasted with the pain they are now causing him to suffer. Here's the Latin text, and here's a recording of it being sung; in Latin and in translation it's been set by various composers, and this version is one familiar to me.

There are several medieval English translations of this text, which form a sub-genre of a very extensive tradition of poems in which Christ addresses mankind from the cross. ('Unkynde man, give heed to me' is a typical example of that genre.) Perhaps the most memorable of these appeals occurs in the middle of the dramatic re-enactment of the Crucifixion in the York Plays. In this play Christ speaks only twice, silent as he is nailed to the cross; but when he is lifted up he speaks a complete twelve-line verse, calling on 'Al men that walkis by waye or strete' to witness his suffering. In the streets of medieval York, where these plays were performed, these words would be spoken directly to the audience and passersby - just as in the Good Friday liturgy Christ's 'reproaches' are intended to transcend their historical context to speak to every congregation, every soul.

The following poetic translation of the Improperia is by William Herebert, and dates to the early 14th century. The poet-preacher John of Grimestone also wrote a version of this text a few decades later.

My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

For from Egypte ich ladde thee,
Thou me ledest to rode tree.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Thorou wyldernesse ich ladde thee,
And fourty yer bihedde thee,
And aungeles bred ich yaf to thee,
And into reste ich brouhte thee.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

What more shulde ich haven ydon
That thou ne havest nouth underfon?
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Ich thee fedde and shrudde thee,
And thou wyth eysyl drinkst to me
And wyth spere styngest me.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Ich Egypte beth for thee
And here tem yshlou for thee.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Ich delede the see for thee,
And dreynte Pharaon for thee,
And thou to princes sullest me.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

In bem of cloude ich ladde thee,
And to Pylat thou ledest me.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Wyth aungeles mete ich fedde thee,
And thou bufetest and scourgest me.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Of the ston ich dronk to thee,
And thou wyth galle drincst to me.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Kynges of Chanaan ich for thee bet,
And thou betest myn heved wyth red.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Ich gaf thee croune of kynedom,
And thou me gyfst a croune of thorn.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

Ich muchel worshype dede to the,
And thou me hongest on rode tree.
My folk, what habbe I do thee?
Other in what thyng toened thee?
Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me.

BL Arundel 83, f. 116v (early 14th century)

Here's a (lightly) modernised version of Herebert's poem.

My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

For from Egypt I led thee;
Thou leadest me to rood-tree.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

Through the wilderness I led thee,
And forty years I cared for thee,
And angels' bread I gave to thee,
And into rest I brought thee.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

What more should I have done
That thou hast not underfon? [received]
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

I thee fed and clothed thee,
And thou givest vinegar for drink to me
And with spear stingest me.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

I Egypt scourged for thee
And their offspring slew for thee.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

I divided the sea for thee,
And drowned Pharaoh for thee,
And thou to princes sellest me.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

With beam of cloud I led thee,
And to Pilate thou leadest me.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

With angels' meat I fed thee,
And thou buffetest and scourgest me.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

From the stone I gave drink to thee,
And thou with gall givest drink to me.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

Kings of Canaan I for thee beat,
And thou beatest my head with a reed.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

I gave thee a crown of kingdom [i.e. kingship],
And thou me givest a crown of thorn.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

I great honour gave to thee,
And thou me hangest on rood-tree.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

As you can see, Herebert manages to make almost every line of his poem rhyme on either 'me' or 'thee', to highlight the simple but stark contrast which lies at the heart of this text: God's love and man's cruelty. This is a poetic device Herebert has taken from the refrain of the Latin text and carried through into the verses (which don't rhyme in the Latin):

Popule meus, quid feci tibi?
Aut in quo contristavi te?
Responde mihi.

Herebert makes several of his verses rhyme on these same pronouns and the same thematic contrast between the actions of Christ and 'his folk': mihi and tibi, me and thee. Since for Herebert 'I' would also be pronounced more like 'ee', the sound and contrast are there in the repeated refrain too: My folk, what habbe I do thee? Irony is the key to this poem, and it's all in those pronouns.

For another poem by William Herebert for Holy Week, see the wonderful 'What is he, this lordling, which cometh from the fight?'

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

'Between March and April'


What a magical time of year this is. In my beautiful part of England, the cusp of March and April is just the moment when spring is really bursting forth (the vernal equinox traditionally being not the beginning but the midpoint of spring, of course...). The tentative shoots of Candlemas, at the beginning of February, have by Lady Day become fields of spring flowers and branches rich with blossom. So here's a medieval spring poem which is exactly perfect for this time of year. It's from the early fourteenth century (one of the Harley lyrics), so is pretty much contemporary with the poem in my last post - but in praise of a more flesh-and-blood lady!

Betwene Mersh and Averil
When spray beginneth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wil
On hire lud to singe.
Ich libbe in love-longinge
For semlokest of alle thynge.
He may me blisse bringe;
Ich am in hire baundoun.
An hendy hap Ich habbe yhent!
Ichot from hevene it is me sent.
From alle wimmen my love is lent
And light on Alisoun.

On hew hire her is fair ynogh,
Hire browe browne, hire eye blake;
With lossum chere he on me logh,
With middel small and well ymake.
Bote he me wolle to hire take
For to ben hire owen make,
Longe to liven Ichulle forsake
And feye fallen adoun.
An hendy hap Ich habbe yhent!
Ichot from hevene it is me sent;
From alle wimmen my love is lent
And light on Alisoun.

Nightes when I wende and wake –
Forthi mine wonges waxeth won –
Levedy, all for thine sake,
Longinge is ylent me on.
In world nis non so witer mon
That all hire bounte telle con:
Hire swire is whittore than the swon,
And fairest may in toune.
An hendy hap Ich habbe yhent!
Ichot from hevene it is me sent;
From alle wimmen my love is lent
And light on Alisoun.

Ich am for wowing all forwake,
Wery so water in wore,
Lest eny reve me my make
Ychabbe yyirned yore.
Betere is tholien while sore
Than mournen evermore.
Geynest under gore,
Herkne to my roun!
An hendy hap Ich habbe yhent!
Ichot from hevene it is me sent;
From alle wimmen my love is lent
And light on Alisoun.

'When the spray begins to spring...'

A translation:

Between March and April
When the spray begins to spring,
The little bird fulfils her will [desire]
With her voice to sing.
I live in love-longing
For the loveliest of all things.
She may me bliss bring;
I am in her baundoun. [power]
A happy fate I have yhent! [found]
I know from heaven it is to me sent.
From all women my love is lent [taken away]
And alighted on Alisoun.

In hue her hair is fair indeed,
Her brows brown, her eyes black;
With lovely face she laughed upon me
With waist small and well-made.
Unless she will to her me take
For to be her own make, [partner]
Long to live I will forsake,
And dead I will fall down.
A happy fate I have yhent!
I know from heaven it is to me sent.
From all women my love is lent
And alighted on Alisoun.

At nights when I turn and wake –
For that reason my cheeks grow wan –
Lady, all for thine sake,
Longing me has come upon.
In world there is not so wise a man
That all her goodness tell can.
Her neck is whiter than the swan,
The fairest maid in town.
A happy fate I have yhent!
I know from heaven it is to me sent.
From all women my love is lent
And alighted on Alisoun.

I am for wooing all forwake, [worn out]
Weary as turbulent water,
Lest anyone should my lover take,
Whom I have yearned for so long.
Better for a while to suffer sore
Than to mourn evermore.
Geynest under gore, [kindest of women]
Hearken to my roun! [song]
A happy fate I have yhent!
I know from heaven it is to me sent
From all women my love is lent
And alighted on Alisoun.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

'Our Lady's Lay'

Annunciation, c.1310 (BL Royal MS 15 D II, f.3)

Today is the feast of the Annunciation, 'Lady Day'. As I explored last year, the medieval church considered 25 March to be the single most important date in history, at once the beginning and the end of Christ's life on earth: it was the date of the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the eighth day of Creation, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the sacrifice of Isaac, all profoundly meaningful events in the carefully-crafted divine story of salvation history. Its resonances reached even unto Middle Earth, as Tolkien aligned the downfall of the Ring to this most auspicious of dates.

Here's a lovely little poem about the Annunciation by William Herebert, the early 14th-century friar and poet. It's a poetic retelling of the Gospel for this feast, Luke 1:26-38, and in Herebert's manuscript is headed 'Evangelium: Missus est angelus Gabriel'. It begins with a brief prologue:

Prologus:
Seynt Luke, in hys godspel, bryngeth ous to munde
Hou Godes Sone of hevene com tok oure kunde,
And sayth who was messager and of whom ysend,
Into whuch lond, to what wymman, and yn whuch toun alend.
Of Luk leche, oure levedy prest, lofsom in apryse,
Lustneth lythe oure levedy lay that gynth in thisse wyse.

Missus est:
Ysend was thaungel Gabriel vrom God the Trinite
Into the lond of Galilee, to Nazareth cite,
To a mayde that hedde o mon ykald Joseph to spouse,
That was of grete kunne, of kyng Davides house.
The mayde to whom Gabriel ysend was on hye,
He rediliche to wysse ynemned was Marie.
And when thaungel was in-wend to speke wyth the mayde,
Hendeliche he grette hyre on thys wyse and sayde:
"Hayle be thou, vol of grace, oure Loverd ys wyth the;
Among alle wymmen thou yblessed be."
When he thys herde, a was ystured in thaungles spekynge,
And inwardlyche thouthte whuch was thys gretynge.
Thenne sayde thaungel bryht, "Marye, dred thou nouht.
Thou havest yvounde grace tovore God ysouht.
Lo, in the conceyve thou shalt and sone bere,
Whom thou shalt 'Jesu' nemnen, that Englys ys 'helere.'
Thes shal be muchel, and nemned 'worth,' the alre hextes Sone,'
And oure Loverd hym shal ȝeve hey stoede vor to wone.
Hys oune vadres see, David, and he shal be regnynge
In Jacobes house wythouten ey endynge,
And hys kyneryche shal boen aylastinge."
Thenne spak Marie to thaungel anon,
"Hou may thys ben? vor knoulechyng have ich of no wepmon."
Thaungel hyre onsuerede and sayde to ryhte,
"The Holy Gost vrom bouenuorth in the shal alihte,
And the shal byshadewen the alre hextes myhte.
And lo ther Elyzabeth, thy cosyne on the heelde,
Haveth conceyved ane sone in dawes of hyre eelde,
Vor nothyng impossible nys to God that al may welde."
Thenne spak Marye and mekelyche sayde,
"Lo me her alredy my Lordes hondmayde.
To me be do, vollyche also, ase thou rather saydest."

Who so nule nouht lye that maketh trewe asay,
Of oure levedy Marie thys ys seynt Lukes lay,
To hevene he make ous stye at oure endeday. Amen.

This poem twice identifies itself as a 'lay' - first 'Our Lady's lay', then 'St Luke's lay'. In Middle English this would suggest a song to be sung with accompaniment, which makes this poem a little different from Herebert's other translations. The poem actually does read like a song, with a real musical quality and a smoothness to the rhythm and rhyme which are only apparent when you read it aloud - so here's a recording of it, which aims to convey at least a little of its melodious sound. And a translation:

Prologue:
Saint Luke, in his gospel, brings to our mind
How God's Son from heaven came and took our kind; [nature]
And says who was messenger and from whom he was sent,
Into which land, to what woman, and to which town he came.
By Luke the physician, our Lady's priest, praiseworthy in renown,
Listen with pleasure to our Lady's lay that begins in this manner.

Sent was...
Sent was the angel Gabriel from God the Trinity
Into the land of Galilee, to Nazareth city,
To a maid who had a man called Joseph to spouse, [i.e. as her betrothed]
Who was of great kin, of king David's house.
The maid to whom Gabriel sent was from on high,
He knew very truly was named Mary.
And when the angel had come in to speak with the maid,
Courteously he greeted her in this way and said:
"Hail be thou, full of grace, our Lord is with thee;
Among all women thou blessed be."
When she this heard, she was stirred at the angel's speaking,
And inwardly wondered what was this greeting.
Then said the angel bright, "Mary, dread thou not.
Thou hast found grace before God.
Lo, in thee conceive thou shalt and a son bear,
Whom thou shalt 'Jesu' name, that in English is 'healer.'
Who shall be great, and named 'worth,' 'the Son of the most high,'
And our Lord shall give him a high place to dwell:
His own father's seat, David, and he shall be reigning
In Jacob's house forever without ending,
And his kingdom shall be everlasting."
Then spake Mary to the angel anon,
"How may this be? for knowledge have I of no man."
The angel answered her and said aright,
"The Holy Ghost from above in thee shall alight,
And thee shall beshadow the highest one's might;
And lo, Elizabeth, thy cousin in grace,
Hath conceived a son in the days of her old age,
For nothing impossible is to God who governs all."
Then spake Mary and meekly said,
"Behold me here all ready, my Lord's handmaid.
To me be done, fully also, as thou hast said before."

Whoever tells no lies, proves to tell the truth,
Of our lady Mary this is Saint Luke's lay,
To heaven may she make us rise at our end-day. Amen.

The song-like quality of this poem made me wonder whether Herebert had heard the popular song on the same subject, 'Angelus ad virginem' - according to Chaucer, at least one 'clerk' of fourteenth-century Oxford was accustomed to sing that song for his own amusement, 'so sweetly that the chamber rang'. But this poem is worlds away from the naughty young clerk of the Miller's Tale, and stays much closer to the Biblical text than the other song does. The only real addition, apart from the introduction and conclusion, is an English translation for the name 'Jesus': 'that in English is healer'. In Old English 'healer' (Hælend), meaning 'saviour', was very commonly used in place of the name Jesus - Ælfric, for instance, does this almost all the time (here's a good example). This occurs in Middle English, too, though less frequently, so Herebert's audience probably would have been well acquainted with this interpretation of the name.

There are a few other grace notes, adding little touches of loveliness to the familiar story. Particularly elegant are the two lines which aim to catch the ear of the hearer, and say 'listen to this!':

Of Luk leche, oure levedy prest, lofsom in apryse,
Lustneth lythe oure levedy lay that gynth in thisse wyse.

By Luke the physician, our Lady's priest, praiseworthy in renown,
Listen with pleasure to our Lady's lay that begins in this manner.

There's some nice play here on pairs of similar-sounding words, heavy with alliteration - Luke and leche (i.e. 'physician', since St Luke was traditionally said to be a doctor); priest and apryse ('price', renown); lady and lay (a little Dylan-esque, that); and lustneth ('listen') and lythe, which means something like 'gladly, with delight'. That last word suggests, I think, that the whole experience of listening to this poem is simply meant to be pleasurable. It's not really trying to do anything clever with this well-known story, but purely intending to make it pleasant, pretty, 'lovesome' to hear - food for glad and loving meditation. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Poetry of William Herebert: 'Thou wommon boute fere'

I've written a piece for this week's Catholic Herald on the medieval poet William Herebert:

In early 14th-century Oxford, surrounded by some of the foremost theologians of medieval Europe, a Franciscan friar named William Herebert was writing a precious little collection of poems.

Herebert’s name is not well known today, but his poems, beautiful and distinctive in their own right, also represent an important milestone for English Catholicism: he was one of the first people to turn the Latin hymns of the Church into English poetry.

Read the rest here. I've posted a number of William Herebert's poems on this blog before, and they can be found under this tag - I particularly recommend 'The kynges baneres beth forth ylad', 'Wele, herying and worshipe', and 'Hail, Lady, sea-star bright'.

As I was writing this piece it occurred to me that 2017 happens to be the closest we can get to an anniversary for Herebert: we don't know his exact dates of birth or death (c.1270 to c.1333 is the usual guess), but we do know that he became master of the Franciscan house in Oxford around 1317. This 700-year anniversary seems as good a date to mark as any - and as regular readers will know, I enjoy a good anniversary. So I've decided that over the course of this year I'll post the rest of Herebert's poems here, with translations, and maybe a few audio recordings too - like many Middle English poets, his verses are often better heard than read on the page. A few of Herebert's poems can be found in anthologies of Middle English verse, and there's one edition of his English poems which is available online, but that edition (while very useful) contains no translations or glossing to help the reader unfamiliar with Herebert's rather tricky dialect. I'll do my best to make his poems more accessible, and to highlight some of the qualities which make them so appealing.

Virgin and Child (All Souls, Oxford)

To get us started, here's one of Herebert's longer poems, one of the few which has no known source.

Thou wommon boute fere
Thin owne fader bere!
Gret wonder this was
That on wommon was moder
To fader and hire brother,
So never other nas.

Thou my suster and moder
And thy sone my brother,
Who shulde thenne drede?
Whoso haveth the king to broder
And eek the quene to moder
Well aughte for to spede.

Dame, suster and moder,
Say thy sone, my brother,
That is domesmon,
That for thee that him bere,
To me be debonere;
My robe he haveth opon.

Sethe he my robe tok,
Also ich finde in bok,
He is to me ibounde;
And helpe he wole, ich wot,
For love the chartre wrot,
The enke orn of his wounde.

Ich take to witnessinge
The spere and the crowninge,
The nailes and the rode,
That he that is so cunde
This ever haveth in munde,
That boughte us with his blode.

When thou yeve him my wede,
Dame, help at the nede;
Ich wot thou might fol well,
That for no wreched gult
Ich be to helle ipult,
To thee ich make apel.

Now, Dame, ich thee biseche,
At thilke day of wreche
Be by thy sones trone,
When sunne shall ben sought
In werk, in word, in thought,
And spek for me thou one.

When ich mot nede apere
For mine gultes here
Tofore the domesmon,
Suster, be ther my fere
And make him debonere
That my robe haveth opon.

For habbe ich thee and him
That markes berth with him,
That charite him tok,
The woundes all blody,
The toknes of mercy,
Ase techeth Holy Bok,
Tharf me nothing drede;
Sathan shall nout spede
With wrenches ne with crok.
Amen.

Here's a translation of the poem (but I like Herebert's use of 'dame' for 'lady', so I've kept that...):

Thou woman without compare,
[Who didst] thine own father bear!
Great wonder this was,
That one woman was mother
To father and her brother,
Such another never was.

Thou my sister and mother,
And thy son my brother;
Who then should dread?
Whoever has the king for brother
And the queen for mother
Well ought to succeed.

Dame, sister and mother,
Say to thy son, my brother,
Who is domesman, [judge]
That for thee who him did bear
To me be debonair; [merciful and gracious]
My robe he hath upon.

Since he my robe took,
As I find in book, [i.e. the Bible]
He is to me bound.
And help he will, I wot, [I know]
For love the charter wrote,
The ink ran from his wounds.

I take to witnessing
The spear and the crowning, [i.e. with thorns]
The nails and the rood,
That he that is so kind [benevolent in nature]
Have ever this in mind,
Who bought us with his blood.

Since thou gave him my weed, [clothing]
Dame, help at the need.
I know thou may full well,
That for no wretched guilt
I may be to hell ypult; [thrust]
To thee I make appeal.

Now, Dame, I thee beseech,
At that day of wreche [Judgement Day]
Be by thy son's throne,
When sins shall be sought [searched through]
In work, in word, in thought,
And speak for me, thou alone.

When I must needs appear
For mine sins here
Before the domesman,
Sister, be there my fere [companion]
And make him debonair
That my robe hath upon.

For if I have thee and him
Whom the marks beareth on him,
Which charity him took - [the marks which love gave him]
The wounds all bloody,
The tokens of mercy,
As teacheth Holy Book,
Nothing need I dread;
Satan shall not succeed
With wrenches nor with crook. [with tricks or guile]
Amen.

This is a fairly simple poem - deliberately simple, I think, perhaps because it's not a translation of a hymn. It aims to be direct, intimate and devotional, a private and meditative kind of prayer, and so it depends for its effect on repetition and more straightforward diction than Herebert tends to use in his hymn translations. This seems appropriate for a poem which so tenderly explores intimate family relationships, leaning on the kinship created when Mary gave her son 'my robe', the clothing of human flesh. Christ is our brother, he wears our clothes, and so how can he not be 'bound' by the bond of love?

The images here are ones traditional in medieval spirituality, including that striking idea that Christ wrote the 'charter' of human liberation with the ink of his own blood. His sufferings are called to be 'witnesses' to the transaction written upon his body. This is a legal image (fitting for a poem where Christ is not only a brother but domesman, 'judge'), but it's also part of a wider tradition of images drawn from books and book-making, common in medieval devotional writing; these speak, for instance, of Christ writing upon the book of the heart, or compare his body stretched upon the cross to stretched-out parchment on which a message of love is written. It's an image drawn from a literate, documentary, book-filled culture, perhaps inspired by the very ink which flowed from the poet's hands as he wrote these words in his manuscript.


It's a metaphor which would have resonated in early fourteenth-century Oxford. This picture, which the Catholic Herald chose to illustrate my piece, is very appropriate for Herebert, though none of the buildings visible here had been built when he lived in Oxford. This is the view from the tower of St Mary's church in the centre of the city, looking over what's now called Radcliffe Square. In Herebert's day, looking out from St Mary's, you would have seen not the elegant towers and spacious quadrangles of All Souls' but a cluster of small, closely-packed residential halls populated by students and teachers, the forerunners of Oxford's colleges. This street was the centre of the book trade in medieval Oxford, where you would have found the scribes, parchment-makers, bookbinders and copyists, all the people making the books and writing implements which the university relied on.

Various places might claim to be the heart of the University of Oxford, but St Mary's has a particularly good right to that title: it was in this church that the first university library was established (around 1320, during Herebert's time in Oxford, and more than 150 years before the founding of the Bodleian) and in the early days of the university lectures, ceremonies, and graduations took place here. We know that Herebert preached at St Mary's on at least one occasion, since his manuscript of his works contains a sermon to be given there on 9 June 1314, the translation feast of St Edmund of Abingdon.

St Edmund, scholar and Archbishop of Canterbury, grew up in Oxford about a century before Herebert was born, and had a strong connection to St Mary's. As a boy St Edmund was educated in a school attached to the church, where he had three miraculous experiences during his childhood (read about them here). On one occasion, a ghostly voice prevented him from running out of the church to play with other boys during Mass. Another time, a stone fell off the church tower while he was listening to a lecture in the churchyard, but Edmund was saved from harm. At twelve years old, Edmund made a vow of chastity which he confirmed by a mystical marriage with the Virgin Mary: he placed a ring on the finger of a statue of the Virgin in St Mary's, from which he then found it could not be removed, and wore another ring himself as a token of his vow. These stories associate Oxford's local saint with the physical spaces inside and outside this church, which you can still walk through today even if most of the buildings around them have changed.

By the west door of St Mary's, where St Edmund was nearly hit by a stone...

As a Franciscan, William Herebert's home in Oxford was not here in the heart of the city but on its outskirts, in the parish of St Ebbe's. The Franciscan house there had been founded in 1224, two years before St Francis' death; it was, of course, demolished at the Reformation, and the site now lies underneath a supermarket. (The area is currently being redeveloped, bringing to light some fascinating glimpses into life at medieval Greyfriars.)

For such a deeply traditional university, Oxford has often been uncomfortable with its medieval roots - for a long time after the Reformation, acknowledging any continuity between the university and the scholarly communities of the monks and friars of medieval Oxford was all too dangerously Catholic. The university's humanist origin myth was established at the expense of people like Edmund of Abingdon and William Herebert, and this attitude has not entirely died out; in official publications it's not uncommon to see something like this short piece which makes the 'history of books in Oxford' begin only in 1478, with the first book printed in the city. Books and their readers and writers go back a long way before that, of course. For Herebert in the early fourteenth century, Edmund of Abingdon was already part of Oxford's history; at St Mary's he might have thought, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of Herebert's Oxford contemporary Duns Scotus, 'this air I gather and I release / He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what / He haunted'...

Edmund of Abingdon too has a place in the history of English poetry, since one of the earliest and most popular devotional poems in Middle English survives embedded in one of his Latin works:

Nou goth sonne under wod,
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre,
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and thee.

[Now goes the sun under the wood,
I grieve, Mary, for your fair face;
Now goes the sun under the tree,
I grieve, Mary, for thy son and thee.]

We don't know who wrote this (it's just possible it was St Edmund himself) but it dates to the early thirteenth century, and is a reminder that Herebert, though an innovator in some ways, was following in a very well-established tradition of devotional English poetry. Herebert's poems to the Virgin, including 'Thou wommon boute fere', are very much in that tradition.

St Mary's (source)

The Oxford context for Herebert's work appeals to me for obvious reasons, but it's actually an important one: it challenges several popular stereotypes about the medieval period to find a trained theologian in a university city, in the early fourteenth century, spending his time translating Latin hymns into English verse. Firstly, it's a good example of how seriously medieval preachers took their pastoral duties - forget your lazy dark-ages myths about clerics gabbling away in Latin to maliciously hide religion from the unlearned. (I hope no one who reads this blog believes that nonsense, but it's still regularly promulgated to the public by people who should know better.) Part of Herebert's motivation was evidently that he wanted his congregation to understand the hymns of the church in the vernacular, in their language - which was his language too, though he was also thoroughly conversant in Latin and French. That doesn't even make him particularly unusual or controversial for his day; he was part of a very long tradition of pastoral and homiletic writing in the vernacular going back to the Anglo-Saxon period, representing perhaps the longest unbroken strand of continuity in English literature. And since people still go around saying that Chaucer was the 'Father of English poetry', 'one of the first people to write in English', and all that, it's always good to remember that no, he really wasn't...

I emphasise the Englishness of Herebert's verse in part because there's been a little flurry of writing about 'Englishness' lately. In the rather frantic journalistic search for historical analogies for Brexit, Norman Conquest parallels are all very last year - it's all about the Reformation now. Witness this, and this, and this, all of which depend on the idea that 'English identity' is absolutely and inextricably Protestant, constituted in large part by opposition to the medieval, Catholic, pre-Reformation past. This is hardly a new argument (far from it!) but it's a pretty awful one for all kinds of reasons. Quite apart from the dangers inherent in declaring any particular minority religion or denomination to be not English, it involves repeating popular myths about medieval England and its relationship to the rest of Catholic Europe which most historians stopped even bothering to refute decades ago, so simplistic and caricatured are they. Imagine thinking that for the nine hundred years (!) between the Synod of Whitby and the Reformation, England was 'subservient to Rome' and tied to the 'conformist Continent', only capable of innovation, liberty and creativity once free of those wicked foreigners and their Catholic shackles. It's such an ignorant and old-fashioned view - and a very limited and (ironically) constricting way of talking about how other people might understand their own overlapping ethnic, national and religious identities.

So now seems a good time to celebrate someone like Herebert and his very English Catholicism - his very Catholic Englishness - which was perfectly compatible for him with both scholarly Latin learning and fluency in French and Anglo-Norman literature. His manuscript is trilingual, representing a very catholic (with a small c) range of interests, and revealing the thoughtful creativity of his poetry and the sensitivity of his pastoral care. These make him appealing, but not at all unique; he was a man of his time. He was a product of the lively and dynamic culture of medieval England and Catholic Europe, which educated and nurtured Herebert and many more like him - and which deserves to be taken seriously in its own right, and not just as a prop in a lazy rhetorical argument.

Friday, 17 February 2017

'Whan alle tresors arn tried,' quod she, 'Treuthe is the beste'

‘There I could see winged wonders fly’, by Warwick Goble (1912)

My latest column for History Today is out now, and can be read here. It's about Chaucer's brilliant, dizzying, disturbing poem The House of Fame, and its vision of what we have recently started calling a 'post-truth' world - in which stories spread and circulate regardless of whether they are true or not.

Chaucer then describes an even more disturbing sight, more chaotic and unstable than the House of Fame: one built of twigs, whirling and spinning about at an incredible speed. This house is full of ‘tidings’; a useful Middle English word, which can simply mean news or information, but often has negative overtones of gossip and rumour. Tidings circulate in this house on every subject imaginable and, as they pass from one person to another, they grow in the telling, quickly becoming an inseparable amalgam of false and true. They spread like fire ‘from a spark sprung amiss / until all a city burnt up is’.

In one especially vivid moment, Chaucer describes a false story fighting with a true one to escape out of a window of the house, each crying ‘Let me go first!’. They agree to go around the world as sworn brothers, so closely mingled together that no one will ever be able to separate truth from lie. These tidings are then carried abroad by travellers, sailors and pilgrims - groups in medieval society stereotypically notorious for caring more about a good story than about the facts.

Chaucer’s noisy, dizzying house of rumours will sound familiar to any user of Twitter. What Chaucer understands and brings sharply to life in this poem is that truth is rarely the most important factor in determining whether a story will spread. We are all capricious readers, who respond to and share stories that in some way accord with our own understanding of the world. This idea was a long-standing interest for Chaucer and lies behind The Canterbury Tales, too: as the pilgrims in that poem tell stories to each other, they demonstrate how complex the process of hearing and sharing tales can be. Whether they react to each other’s stories with praise or violent disapproval, the pilgrims are motivated more by their own interests and preoccupations than by the intrinsic value of the story. Once a tale is told, the teller cannot control how its hearers will receive it.
Here are some extracts from The House of Fame (far be it from me to paraphrase Chaucer when he can so eloquently speak for himself!). First the description of the house of rumour:

And ever mo, as swyft as thought,
This queynte hous aboute wente,
That never mo hyt stille stente.
And therout com so gret a noyse
That, had hyt stonden upon Oyse,
Men myghte hyt han herd esely
To Rome, y trowe sikerly...
And on the roof men may yet seen
A thousand holes, and wel moo,
To leten wel the soun out goo.
And be day, in every tyde,
Been al the dores opened wide,
And be nyght echon unshette;
Ne porter ther is noon to lette
No maner tydynges in to pace.
Ne never rest is in that place
That hit nys fild ful of tydynges,
Other loude or of whisprynges;
And over alle the houses angles
Ys ful of rounynges and of jangles
Of werres, of pes, of mariages,
Of reste, of labour, of viages,
Of abood, of deeth, of lyf,
Of love, of hate, acord, of stryf,
Of loos, of lore, and of wynnynges,
Of hele, of seknesse, of bildynges,
Of faire wyndes, and of tempestes,
Of qwalm of folk, and eke of bestes;
Of dyvers transmutacions
Of estats, and eke of regions;
Of trust, of drede, of jelousye,
Of wit, of wynnynge, of folye;
Of plente, and of gret famyne,
Of chepe, of derthe, and of ruyne;
Of good or mys governement,
Of fyr, and of dyvers accident.
And loo, thys hous, of which I write,
Syker be ye, hit nas not lyte,
For hyt was sixty myle of lengthe.
Al was the tymber of no strengthe,
Yet hit is founded to endure
While that hit lyst to Aventure,
That is the moder of tydynges,
As the see of welles and of sprynges;
And hyt was shapen lyk a cage.

That list of 'rounynges and of jangles' is just brilliant. The dreamer's eagle-guide drops him inside the house, where he finds it's full of crowds of people busily whispering to each other and spreading tidings:

And every wight that I saugh there
Rouned everych in others ere
A newe tydynge prively,
Or elles tolde al openly
Ryght thus, and seyde: "Nost not thou
That ys betyd, lo, late or now?"
"No," quod he, "telle me what."
And than he tolde hym this and that,
And swor therto that hit was soth -
"Thus hath he sayd," and "Thus he doth,"
"Thus shal hit be," "Thus herde y seye,"
"That shal be founde," "That dar I leye" -
That al the folk that ys alyve
Ne han the kunnynge to discryve
The thinges that I herde there,
What aloude, and what in ere.
But al the wondermost was this:
Whan oon had herd a thing, ywis,
He com forth ryght to another wight,
And gan him tellen anon-ryght
The same that to him was told,
Or hyt a forlong way was old,
But gan somwhat for to eche
To this tydynge in this speche
More than hit ever was.
And nat so sone departed nas
Tho fro him, that he ne mette
With the thridde; and or he lette
Any stounde, he told him als;
Were the tydynge soth or fals,
Yit wolde he telle hyt natheles,
And evermo with more encres
Than yt was erst. Thus north and south
Wente every tydyng fro mouth to mouth,
And that encresing ever moo,
As fyr ys wont to quyke and goo
From a sparke spronge amys,
Til al a citee brent up ys.
And whan that was ful yspronge,
And woxen more on every tonge
Than ever hit was, hit wente anoon
Up to a wyndowe out to goon;
Or, but hit myghte out there pace,
Hyt gan out crepe at som crevace,
And flygh forth faste for the nones.
And somtyme saugh I thoo at ones
A lesyng and a sad soth sawe,
That gonne of aventure drawe
Out at a wyndowe for to pace;
And, when they metten in that place,
They were achekked bothe two,
And neyther of hem moste out goo
For other, so they gonne crowde,
Til ech of hem gan crien lowde,
"Lat me go first!" "Nay, but let me!
And here I wol ensuren the,
Wyth the nones that thou wolt do so,
That I shal never fro the go,
But be thyn owne sworen brother!
We wil medle us ech with other,
That no man, be they never so wrothe,
Shal han on of us two, but bothe
At ones, al besyde his leve,
Come we a-morwe or on eve,
Be we cried or stille yrouned."
Thus saugh I fals and soth compouned
Togeder fle for oo tydynge.

This piece seems to have struck a chord, for obvious reasons. It seems appropriate that we should turn to Chaucer for comment on such a question: few writers have given more thought to what it means to share a story (or tell a tale), and what that act can reveal about the teller. If social media is like Chaucer's House of Rumour or his Canterbury pilgrimage writ large, it's important to emphasise that for him this is in part a literary question, in the broadest sense: it demonstrates the importance of studying and understanding story, narrative, reading and interpretation, the use of words. All 'tidings' are only words, and so in order to understand them we should learn from thinking about how stories work and where they derive their power.

Sethe the tyme that God was boren,
This world was never so untrewe.
Men recchen never to ben forsworen,
To reuen that is hem ful duwe;
The peynted word that fel biforen,
Behynde, hit is another hewe.
Whon Gabriel schal blowe his horn,
His feble fables schul hym rewe.

Since the time that God was born,
This world was never so untrue;
Men care never to be forsworn -
The time to rue that is full due.
The painted word which falls before,
Behind, it shows another hue.
When Gabriel shall blow his horn,
These feeble fables they shall rue.

So wrote an anonymous contemporary of Chaucer, one of many writers in the late fourteenth century to lament what's been called that era's 'crisis of truth'. (Here's another one). In saying that 'this world has never been so untrue', he means something even more serious than Chaucer does in talking of tidings 'of fals and soth compouned'; at a time when trewthe meant not just factual accuracy but faithfulness, integrity, honour, an 'untrewe' world was a frightening prospect. How much worse would a post-truth one be?

In the opening scenes of Piers Plowman, when the dreamer falls asleep on the Malvern Hills, the very first thing he sees in his dream is a tower on a hill, standing in the east against the sun. It soars high above the 'fair field of folk' which is this world, where all classes of people are busily engaged in 'working and wandering'. That tower, the dreamer later learns, is the dwelling-place of Truth. The figure of Holy Church explains to him that Truth is nothing less than God: father, creator, provider of all good things in the world. The more human beings are like Truth, upright and honest in all their dealings, the more they are like God and his most trustworthy of treasures:

'Whan alle tresors arn tried,' quod she, 'Treuthe is the beste.
I do it on Deus caritas to deme the sothe;
It is as dereworthe a drury as deere God hymselven.
Who is trewe of his tonge and telleth noon oother,
And dooth the werkes therwith and wilneth no man ille,
He is a god by the Gospel, agrounde and olofte,
And ylik to Oure Lord, by Seint Lukes wordes.'

'When all treasures are tried,' said she, 'Truth is the best.
I appeal to [the text] 'God is Love' to prove the truth;
It is as precious a love-gift as dear God himself.
Whoever is true of his tongue and says nothing else,
And acts accordingly and wishes no man ill,
He is god-like, says the Gospel, on earth and in heaven,
And the image of Our Lord, by St Luke's words.'

Thursday, 2 February 2017

'All hail, lantern of light!'

The Presentation (BL Egerton 3277, f.114)

Today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the end of the forty-day Christmas season. It takes its English name from the custom of blessing and processing with candles on this day, a practice linked to the words of Simeon on meeting Christ that he is 'a light to lighten the Gentiles'. This is a festival of light and hope, a first shoot of spring.

The name 'Candlemas' dates from the Anglo-Saxon period (the first recorded appearance of the name is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's entry on the death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014), and there's plentiful and evocative evidence of the observance of this feast in England from the tenth century onwards. In the past I've posted an Anglo-Saxon sermon for this feast, a Candlemas miracle-story about St Dunstan, Cnut's Candlemas song at Ely, a particularly lovely Middle English Candlemas carol 'The queen of bliss and of beauty', and Margery Kempe's description of her experience of the celebrations of this day - five centuries of Candlemas Days.

The liturgy for this day is particularly dramatic, encouraging the congregation to re-enact the Gospel story by bearing the light of Christ in their hands. The Presentation in the Temple is also represented in medieval drama, in several different versions, so here are a few short extracts, in modernised spelling, from the fifteenth-century N-Town Plays. The full text can be found here, and you might like to compare the treatment of the same subject from the York Corpus Christi Plays.

The play begins with the aged Simeon, expressing his desire to see God before he dies:

I have been priest in Jerusalem here
And taught God's law many a year,
Desiring in all my mind
That the time were coming near
In which God's Son should appear
In earth to take mankind, [human form]
Before I died that I might find
My Saviour with my eyes to see.
But that it is so long behind, [overdue]
It is great distress unto me.

For I wax old and want my might
And begin to fail my sight,
The more I sorrow this tide,
Save only as I tell you right:
God of his grace hath me hight [promised]
That blissful birth to bide.
Wherefore now here beside
To Sancta sanctorum will I go
To pray God to be my guide,
To comfort me after my woe.

He prays, and an angel tells him to go to the temple in Jerusalem, where he will see God's Son. Simeon rejoices:

Ah, I thank thee, Lord of grace,
That hath granted me time and space
To live and bide this.
And I will walk now to the place
Where I may see thy Son's face,
Which is my joy and bliss.
I was never lighter, iwis,
To walk never here before! [I have never been so happy to come here]
For a merry time now is
When God, my Lord, is born.

'Light' here means 'happy, light-hearted', but of course it suggests the 'light' which has come to him. Anna, the prophetess, greets him:

All hail, Simeon! What tidings with you?
Why make ye all this mirth now?
Tell me whither ye fare.

Simeon: Anne, prophetess, if ye knew why
So should ye - I make a vow -
And all manner of men that are,
For God's Son - as I declare -
Is born to buy mankind! [redeem humanity]
Our Saviour is come to end our care!
Therefore have I great mirth to go.
And that is the cause I haste me
Unto the temple, him to see,
And therefore hinder me not, good friend.

Anna: Now blessed be God in Trinity
Since that time is come to be!
And with you will I wend
To see my Saviour ende [gracious]
And worship him also
With all my will and my full mind.
As I am bound, now will I do.

Presentation in the Temple (medieval wall-painting, Chalgrove, Oxfordshire)

They go to the temple, and Mary and Joseph enter with the child and their offering. Simeon prophesies:

In the temple of God, who understood, [let it be understood]
This day shall be offered with mild mood
He who is king of all,
Who shall be scourged and shed his blood,
And after die upon the rood,
Without cause to call; [without deserving it]
For whose Passion there shall befall
Such a sorrow both sharp and smart
That as a sword pierce it shall
Even through his mother's heart.

Anna: Yea, that shall be as I well find,
For redemption of all mankind,
That bliss for to restore
Which hath been lost time out of mind
By our father of our own kind,
Adam and Eve before.

Simeon and Anna greet the child in a beautiful bit of shared verse:

Simeon: All hail, my kindly comforter!
Anna: All hail, mankind's creator!
Simeon: All hail, thou God of might!
Anna: All hail, mankind's saviour!
Simeon: All hail, both king and emperor!
Anna: All hail, as it is right!
Simeon: All hail also Mary bright!
Anna: All hail, salver of sickness!
Simeon: All hail, lantern of light!
Anna: All hail, thou mother of meekness!

Mary: Simeon, I understand and see
That both of my son and me
Ye have knowing clear. [full knowledge]
And also in your company,
My son desires for to be,
And therefore take him here.


Simeon takes Jesus in his arms:

Welcome, prince without peer!
Welcome, God's own son!
Welcome, my Lord so dear!
Welcome, with me to wone! [dwell]

Then follow English versions of two Latin liturgical texts for Candlemas: the Introit, 'Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam' ('We have received thy mercy, O Lord, in the midst of thy temple') and the Nunc Dimittis.

Lord God in majesty
We have received this day of thee,
In midst of thy temple here
Thy great mercy, as we may see.
Therefore thy name of great degree
Be worshipped in all manere [every way]
Over all this world, both far and near,
Even unto the uttermost end;
For now is man out of danger
And rest and peace to all mankind.

Here the direction reads 'Nunc dimittis seruum tuum Domine, et cetera. The psalme songyn every vers, and therqwyl Symeon pleyth with the child and qwhan the psalme is endyd, he seyth:'

Now let me die, Lord, and hence pass,
For I, thy servant in this place,
Have seen my Saviour dear,
Which thou hast ordained before the face
Of all mankind, this time of grace,
Openly to appear;
Thy light is shining clear
For all mankind's salvation.
Mary, take your child now here
And keep him well, this man's salvation.


Joseph hands out candles to Mary, Simeon and Anna, and Mary takes the child to the altar:

Highest Father, God of power,
Your own dear son I offer you here,
As I to your law am sworn.
Receive thy child in glad manner,
For he is the first, this child so dear,
That of his mother is born.
But though I offer him you beforn, [to you]
Good Lord, yet give me him again,
For my comfort were fully lorn [lost]
If we should long asunder be!

She and Joseph make their offerings, and Mary's last words are as she places the birds upon the altar - a sacrifice which looks ahead to the greater 'offering' Christ will make, of his own life:

Almighty Father, merciful King:
Receive now this little offering,
For it is the first in degree
That your little child so young
Presents today by my showing
To your high majesty.
From his simple poverty,
By his devotion and my good will,
Upon your altar receive of me
Your son's offering, as it is skylle. [fitting]