Sunday, 3 April 2016

'When I see blossoms spring'

Iffley, Oxford

When Y se blosmes springe,
Ant here foules song,
A suete love-longynge
Myn herte thourhout stong,
Al for a love newe
That is so suete ant trewe,
That gladieth al my song.
Ich wot al myd iwisse
My joie ant eke my blisse
On him is al ylong.

Of Iesu Crist hi synge,
That is so fayr and fre,
Swetest of alle thynge;
His othwe hic oghe wel boe.
Wl fer he me sothte,
Myd hard he me bothte,
Wyth wnde to and three;
Wel sore he was yswnge,
And for me myd spere ystunge,
Ynayled to the tree.

When Y miselve stonde
Ant with myn eyen seo
Thurled fot ant honde
With grete nayles threo,
Blody wes ys heued,
On him nes nout bileved
That wes of peynes freo.
Wel, wel ohte myn herte
For his love to smerte,
Ant sike ant sory beo.

Jesu, milde ant softe,
Yef me streynthe ant myht
Longen sore ant ofte
To lovye the aryht.
Pyne to tholie ant dreye
For the sone, Marye.
Thou art so fre ant bryht,
Mayden ant moder mylde,
For love of thine childe,
Ernde us heven lyht.

Alas, that Y ne con
Turne to him my thoht,
Ant cheosen him to lemmon!
So duere he us hath yboht
With woundes deope ant stronge,
With peynes sore ant longe,
Of love ne conne we noht.
His blod that feol to grounde,
Of hise suete wounde,
Of peyne us hath yboht.

Jesu, milde ant suete,
Y synge the mi song;
Ofte Y the grete
Ant preye the among.
Let me sunnes lete,
Ant in this lyve bete
That Ich have do wrong.
At oure lyves ende,
When whe shule wende,
Jesu, us undefong.
Amen.

Here's a springtime poem for Eastertide, from the early fourteenth century. It's one of the 'Harley lyrics', from the collection of English, French and Latin poems found in British Library, Harley 2253, where it looks like this:


(The second verse I've included here comes from another version of the poem in British Library, MS Royal 2. F. VIII.)

'When I see blossoms spring', with its speaker pierced to love-longing by blossom and birdsong, begins very like another of the Harley lyrics (several of them, actually):

Bytuene Mersh ant Aueril,
When spray biginneth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ich libbe in loue-longinge
For semlokest of alle thynge;
He may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.

(Between March and April, when the blossom begins to spring, the little bird takes its pleasure in singing in its own language. I live in love-longing for the loveliest of all things. She can bring me to bliss; I am in her power.)

But this is a secular love-poem, and the love-longing in this case is for a woman called Alisoun. The first verses of these two poems are almost interchangeable - gender aside - and you can see how smoothly 'When I see blossoms spring' takes the conventions of springtime love-poetry and applies them to Christ. The association between spring and Easter must have made such a device seem quite natural (in every sense), as in the texts I looked at in my last post and many others: of course spring is the season when Easter is celebrated, but spring is a reflection of the meaning of Easter, too. It's not a coincidence! You might like to compare the slightly earlier, but perhaps even more lovely, 'Summer is come and winter gone'.

Here's a modernised version:

When I see blossoms spring,
And hear the birds' song,
A sweet love-longing
Entirely pierces my heart,
All for a love new
That is so sweet and true,
That gladdens all my song:
I know in truth, iwis,
My joy and all my bliss
On him is all ylong. [is all because of him]

Of Jesu Christ I sing,
Who is so fair and free, [noble]
Sweetest of all thing;
His own ought I well to be.
So far for me he sought,
With suffering he me bought,
With wounds two and three;
Well sore he was swung,
And for me with spear was stung,
Nailed to the tree.

When I myself stand
And with my eyes see
Pierced foot and hand
With great nails three;
Bloody was his head,
On him was nothing left
That of pain was free.
Well, well ought my heart
For his love to smart,
And sigh and sorry be.

Jesu, mild and soft, [merciful and gentle]
Give me strength and might
To long sore and oft
To love thee aright.
Pain to suffer and endure
For thy son, Mary,
Thou art so free and bright!
Maid and mother mild
For love of thy child,
Win for us heaven's light.

Alas, that I am not able
To turn to him my thought,
And choose him as my love!
So dear he us hath bought
With wounds deep and strong,
With pains sore and long,
Of love we know nothing at all!
His blood that fell to ground,
From his sweet wound,
From pain us hath bought. [redeemed]

Jesu, mild and sweet,
I sing thee my song;
Often I thee greet
And pray to thee among:
Let me sins forsake,
And in this life amends make
For what I have done wrong.
At our life's end,
When we shall wend,
Jesu, us underfong. [receive]
Amen.

Blossoming cross (BL Stowe 39, f. 23v)

2 comments:

http://givemeaplacetostandearth.blogspot.co.uk said...

I have just spent the most lovely way to spend an hour ( when I should have been writing ) thank you !

Michelle Jimerson Morris said...

Thank you! I very much enjoyed these poems.