[First, of course, the apology for the lack of new posts on this blog. The good news is that this because I am hard at work on The Book. But I will try to do a little better in 2018. By way of a New Year’s gift, here is a late fifteenth-century New Year’s gift poem from MS Lambeth 306 with text and Modern English translation. The lover sends his heart, and this poem, as a New Year’s present. It is a lovely heartfelt poem about giving and receiving.]
Juellis pricious cane y non fynde to selle
To sende you, my soverein, this New Yeres morowe,
Wherfor lucke and good hansselle
My hert I sende you, and Seynt John to borowe,
That an hundred yeres withouton adverssite and sorowe
Ye mowe live: I pray to God that ye so mote,
And of all your dessires to sende you hastely bot.
[I can find no precious jewels to sell to send something to you, my lady, on this New Year’s morning, so therefore for good fortune and as as a New Year’s lucky charm I send you my heart, with St John as my guarantor, so that you might live a hundred years without adversity and sorrow: I pray to God that you might do so, and that God might send you quickly everything you desire.] Continue reading
This post is written in honour of the Third Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day. As the International Hoccleve Society’s website explains, this day celebrates all sorts of academic and personal recoveries and returns (just as Thomas Hoccleve’s wits returned to him on November 1st). The book I am writing aims to recover ‘lost’ technical terms and reconstruct ideas about poetics that were current in Britain in the later Middle Ages. Potential loss and possible recovery play an important part in the way fifteenth- and sixteenth-century poets think about metre. As a sixteenth-century printer put it, if you print a poem in the author’s original spelling you recover ‘the native grace and first mynd of the wryter’. This is because the author’s spelling encodes the rhythms and metrical patterns as first intended, which later transmission can unwittingly remove.
Three terms for the price of one in this blog post. An abece (or an abc) is a poem where each line or each stanza (or even each word in a stanza, in one particularly jazzy Latin example) begins with each letter of the alphabet in turn. Chaucer’s translation of Deguileville’s prayer to the Virgin Mary is usually called his ABC because each stanza of the poem begins with each letter in turn. Another Middle English poem, often called ‘The ABC of Devotion’, models itself on a child’s alphabet, beginning with a cross and ending with puns on the ‘tittle’ and ‘point’, the punctuation marks that sometimes followed the alphabet in a primer text.
This technical term provides a good example of the mis-named, the loosely-defined, the nameless and the only-belatedly-named in Middle English poetics. It’s a word sometimes flung about by my students when close-reading: any syntactical break (i.e. anywhere a line of poetry has a division between grammatical phrases or clauses, and especially if it’s near the middle of the line) gets called a caesura without too much thought. It’s one of those technical terms that gives you faux expertise: you can spot something easy (i.e. a syntactic break) and label it with a word which makes it seem as if you are analysing the metre. Joseph A Dane is usefully strict about how relevant the word is for Chaucer’s metre in this article (the answer is not very!).
[Update: the whole translation is now available as an ebook via Amazon]
Just a quick post to say that my article on a group of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century lyrics which in the past were misidentified as Middle English virelais has been published in Medium Ævum 85.1 (2016). The poems in question are in fact English versions of various French complainte forms. The article explains how they came to be misidentified, and discusses the imitation of French forms in English. It argues that this form was recognisable and had distinctive connotations, meaning that it could be used parodically or ironically in some instances. You can download a copy of the article here:
Here’s the text of the short talk I’m giving as part of a Roundtable discussion (Session 5D) on ‘After Chaucer’ at the New Chaucer Society Congress on Tuesday afternoon.
As I explained in a previous post, over New Year’s I stumbled upon a little-noticed prologue, uniquely preserved in London, British Library MS Harley 7578. It prefaces the Liber Proverbiorum, a mid-fifteenth-century verse translation of an early fourteenth-century collection of proverbs and wise sayings by the friar and preacher Nicole Bozon. The text as a whole had been edited in two American PhD dissertations, but neither had been published, and so the poem had faded into obscurity.
On Valentine’s Day, of course, a fifteenth-century Valentine’s ballade. By coincidence, I found this one in the manuscript which preserves the proverbial text translated for Margaret of Anjou which I’ve been working on for the last few weeks. It was printed once in Skeat’s multi-volume Works of Chaucer, but not much looked at since, I think. I like the tone of voice in this lyric: the histrionic lover, completely and utterly devoted, but also full of a sense of his own absurdity and the unfairness of love.
This post is really just the story of how one thing leads to another in research. It’s also to tell you about what I’ve been working on in the last three weeks, a sudden and unexpected digression from my poetics book. It’s also to highlight the role of noblewomen in the commissioning of English verse in the middle of the fifteenth century.
Over New Year’s, I went to the British Library to look at a fifteenth-century manuscript with a little-known prologue to a little-known text. The text, the Liber Proverbiorum, is a verse translation of an early fourteenth-century collection of proverbs and wise sayings by the friar and preacher Nicole Bozon. The text as a whole had been edited in two American PhD dissertations, but these were hard to get hold of, so I went to look at it myself. Continue reading