And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 28. november 2014

The sleder way - A fifteenth-century satirical carol on mortality

We are soon entering Advent, a season for songs and carols. I’m very fond of the musical traditions of Christmas and its songs, both those of my native Norway, the ones more typically found in Britain or the general songs, carols and hymns belonging to the Catholic repertoire of Western Europe. As a prologue to this season, I’m posting a carol from the fifteenth century which from the onset has very little to do with Christmas. I have taken it from R. L. Greene’s Early English Carols (Oxford 1977), where it is listed among the satirical carols, although thematically it could just as easily have been listed among the carols of mortality. The text comes from Bodleian Library. MS. Eng. Poet. e. I, and is written sometime in the fifteenth century. The lyrics of this carol belong – albeit loosely - to a very old tradition of Christian admonitory verse where the relationship between the soul and the body is scrutinized, sometimes in the form of a dialogue. In this particular case, however, the focus is less on the moral lesson, as it is a warning against fellow men, yet it contains elements typical of the cultural environment in the immediate centuries after the Black Death which I have elsewhere referred to as the cult of mortality. In order to emphasise this connection, I’ve chosen a rather macabre illustration.

In the following I have standardised the lettering as opposed to how it is printed in Greene 1977, but otherwise I have made no changes to the text.


Three living and three dead
MS Harley 2917, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, France, c.1480-c.1490
Courtesy of British Library

haue in mynd, in mynd, in mynd,
Secuters be oft onekynd.

Man, bewar, the way ys sleder;
Thy sowle sall go thou wottes not weder,
Body and sowle and all together;
Lytyll joye ys son done.

Haue thi sowle in thi mynd;
The secators be right onkynd;
Mane, be thi own freynd;
Lytyll joye ys son done.

In holy bok yt ys wreten
That sely sovle ys son forgeten,
And trev yt ys for to seken;
[Lytyll joye ys son done.]

Her ys a song for me;
Syng another for the;
God send vs love and charite;
[Lytyll joye ys son done.]

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