Here’s a love poem for Valentine’s Day: scroll down to find a text and Modern English translation. The poem (DIMEV 3279) is from MS Digby 86 (see fol. 200r), a late thirteenth-century West Midlands trilingual miscellany written by an anonymous scribe for his own use. It is, in essence, a list or catalogue of many of love’s different and contrasting qualities. I think many students might, if pushed, venture that the repetition of love is throughout the poem would be an example of anaphora. Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or phrase in several successive clauses (in prose) or the repetition of the same word or phrase at the start of several successive lines (in poetry). Yet calling this anaphora loses sight of the fact that in this poem the lexical repetition is not a rhetorical scheme operating at the level of two or three clauses, sentences or lines in a longer piece of text but rather it defines the whole poem.
Next week sees Oxford University’s tribute to Seamus Heaney. Amongst all the immense losses brought about by the death of this great poet is the loss of a skilled translator of Middle English, a translator who brought medieval poetry to a wider audience. In 2009, Heaney published a translation of Robert Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid and seven of his Moral Fables. Earlier in his career, Heaney translated a short Middle English text called ‘The Names of the Hare’. This early Middle English poem is preserved in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Digby 86, a late thirteenth-century West Midlands trilingual miscellany written by an anonymous scribe for his own use.