Middle English Lyrics

This section is about anonymous secular English lyrics, which started to appear in English literature with Chaucer and were developed by later poets, many of them anonymous. These short lyrics appeared in special anthologies or sometimes were included in the collections of religious poetry. Some of them were probably set to music, as their texts indicate refrains. This is probably the case with “Cuckoo”, a short and sweet song about the coming of summer. Well, “sweet” is somewhat qualified by the line in which, while listing what various animals do in summer, we learn that “bucke verteth”, i.e. “buck farts”. But what should it matter in comparison with all the glories of summer? May it never end.

The other poem is “Alison”. I think I have already wondered – was “Alison” in the Middle Ages a synonym for “sexy wench”? Like a medieval equivalent of “Candy”? Anyway, this Alison is blonde and black-eyed. Apparently all the virtuous romance heroines were blue or gray-eyed, so that indicates her sexiness. The speaker fell in love with her between March and April, and now he goes through all the conventional torments of a lover – he can’t sleep, he grows pale and so on.

“My Lief is Faren in Londe” is a song about the problems of a long-distance relationship – the beloved is travelling far away, the lover can’t join her. But she keeps hold of his heart whenever she rides or walks.

“Western Wind” is perhaps the most touching of all the poems here because it is so enigmatic in its shortness. The speaker is exposed to the western wind and rain. He wishes he were in his bed with his love in his arms. What drove him away from the warm bed? We will never know.

“I am of Ireland” was probably a song accompanying a dance, and its words are basically an invitation to dance. The Irish theme, I think, is a part of a certain tradition in which a dominant culture starts to incorporate certain elements from the subjugated culture. Makes me think about the fashion for “Scottish” dances in the 18th and 19th century.


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