A New Year’s Gift

[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.]

Beseeching you, dere heret, as enterly as y cane,
To take en gre this poure gifte onely for my sake,
As is the custome, and hath ben many a day,
Oo frend to another yeve and take.
Riche it is nat, grete boste of to make,
Save an hert is remembratyf to you in everi stounde
The whiche perisschide ones, yet grene is the wonde.

[Beseeching you, dear heart, as sincerely as I can, to accept this poor gift willingly only for my sake, as is the custom, and has been for many a day, one friend to another to give and receive.  It is not expensive, a thing to make a great show about, except a heart remembers everything for you day after day, it being pierced only once, yet its wound remains fresh.]

That it be youres, trewely it is my liste;
My possessioon and my parte therof I denye;
And as towcheing to this olde worlde called had-I-wiste,
Unto my lives ende fuly I deffie.
Palamon gafe his herte to Emely;
He fuched it no better, ne repentide it les
Thanne I do of this gifte, God I take to witnes.

[That it is yours, truly that is my desire; my ownership and my share thereof I forgo; and as regards this old world called if-only-I’d-known, I defy it entirely unto my life’s end. Palamon gave his heart to Emily; he could bestow it no better, nor did he repent it less than I do of this gift, I take God as my witness.]

My purpose hathe ben longe my hert thus to chast,
And til this yeres day I ne durst for schame.
Men sey that no thinge is so free as gyfte,
And to take it ayene I were fulle to blame;
But as in that deffaute I wille not lese my name,
So that I yeve ones by yeve for evermore,
For this hath love and trouth y-lerned me the lore,

Ever more without chaung forever
Til body and soule parte and dissevere.

[My intention for a long time has been to compel my heart thus, yet until this New Year’s Day I dared not do it for bashfulness.  Men say that nothing is as as free as a gift, and if I took it back I would be completely to blame; but I will not lose my reputation on account of that fault. That which I have given once is given for ever more, for love and truth have taught me a lesson about this.  Ever more without change forever until body and soul part and are divided.]

One thought on “A New Year’s Gift

  1. What an absolutely wonderful poem in a perfect (temporal) setting. Much late medieval lyric slides through my mind like an unknotted thread through cloth, but this I will keep.

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