A Medieval Dr Seuss


This week’s poem is something small that amuses me (and I hope it will keep you amused whilst I head off to the New Chaucer Society Congress in Reykjavik).  It is a schoolboy’s translation, turned into rough verse, added to a collection of grammar teaching texts in London, British Library MS Harley 1002.  The verse translates prose describing a jay (like the beautiful one above from Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Hatton 10, a manuscript of the Statutes of England made circa 1500) which can mimic other creatures.  Scroll down for text and translation.

The additions were edited by C E Wright (from whom I have adapted the text below) and have been discussed previously by Nicholas Orme.  The translation exercise helps the schoolboy extend his vocabulary of Latin nouns and verbs (though something has perhaps gone awry in the final line?).  I have no great insights into its poetics, but it is joyfully Dr Seuss-like in its parallelism (and believe me I have read a lot of Dr Seuss in the last few years since Miss S came along).  It seems that Dr Seuss was inspired by the Middle Ages (see here and here), and I think he might have liked this little verse too.

At my howse I have a Jaye,
He can make mony diverse leye,
He can barky[n]g as a foxe,
He can lowe as a noxe,
He can crecu as a gos,
He can remy as a nasse in his cracche,
He can croden as a froge,
He can bark[e]n as a dogg,
He can cheteron as a wrenne,
He can [cakelyn] as a henne,
He can neye as a stede –
Such a birde yt were wode to fede.

[At my house I have a jay, / He can sing many a varied lay, / He can bark like a fox, / He can low like an ox, / He can cackle like a goose, / He can bray like a donkey in its stall, / He can croak like a frog, / He can bark like a dog, / He can chatter like a wren, / He can cackle like a hen, / He can neigh like a horse – / It would be mad to feed such a bird!]

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