Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Springtide Song of the Redemption

From A Clerk of Oxford:
This is one of the earliest Middle English lyrics, which survives only in the thirteenth-century manuscript British Library, MS Egerton 613. It provides an early example of the 'Christ as knight' motif (of which I gave some more examples the other day), and it does so with a teasing misdirection which delays the identification of the knight until late in the poem: 'I am suffering for love,' the speaker says, 'for the sake of a wonderful knight who came and sought me through woods and forests, and rescued me from captivity' - not revealing until the fourth verse that the knight is Christ. The poem does this partly by playing on the different meanings of the word child, which means 'a young man training to be a knight' (think 'Childe Roland to the dark tower came') as well as the modern sense of the word.

The editor of the book where I found this poem entitles it 'A springtide song of the redemption', which is both a lovely and an apt title, for that is what it is. 'Somer' in the first line encompasses both spring and summer as we would think of it, the whole warm season of the year (the famous 'Sumer is icumen in', with its returning cuckoos, similarly seems more fitted for April than for June). Spring is the time in medieval literature when things start to happen - folk long to go on pilgrimages, the dreamer of Piers Plowman goes wandering in search of wonders, cuckoos sing, birds form parliaments, owls debate with nightingales - the list goes on. And it's not surprising that this convention is found in religious verse too: here's a nice example of an Annunciation poem in springtime mode, and think of the 'dew in April' in this famous lyric...(Read more.)

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