09 November 2017

Thomas of Erceldoune V (25-72)

Image 1

Als j me wente þis endres daye,
ffull faste in mynd makand my mone
In a mery mornynge of Maye,
28   By huntle bankkes my self allone,
I herde þe jaye, & þe throstyll cokke,
The Mawys meynde hir of hir songe,
Þe wodewale beryde als a belle,
32   That alle þe wode abowte me ronge.
Allone in longynge thus als j laye,
Vndyre-nethe a semely tree,
[was] j whare a lady gaye
[36   Come rydyng] over a longe lee.
If j solde sytt to domesdaye,
With my tonge, to wrobbe and wrye,
Certanely þat lady gaye,
40   Never bese scho askryede for mee.

25 -- j: as previously noted 'j' alone  = 'I'.

It is important to note that the poem begins as a first person account, as if by Thomas himself, which continues until line 72. Thereafter the poet tells the tale in the third person, with one brief reversion to first at line 276.

25 -- endres: 'other'. The statement that this all started the other day conflicts with the later statement on line 286 that Thomas spent three years in Elfland.

26 -- 'ffull faste in mynd makand my mone': 'with every intention of voicing my complaint'. Most likely an unhappy lover's complaint, since that is a commonplace of Middle English poetry. Consider Chaucer, The House of Fame, where Dido laments her abandonment by Aeneas in lines 315-60, and the narrator comments (362-63): 'Al her compleynt ne al hir moone, / Certeyn, avayleth hir not a stre'. See also Troilus and Criseyde IV.950: 'Ful tendrely he preyde and made his mone'.

28 -- huntle bankkes: Huntley Bank, a hillside near Earlston (Ercledoune), also known as Huntley Brae. The naming of an actual place begins the story firmly in this world. The references to 'the other day' (25) and the Eildon Tree (80, 84) play the same role. Thus Faërie is very close to the world we know.

29-32 -- The singing of the birds, just  as one would expect in May, also helps to root the story in the ordinary world.

29 -- þrostyll cokke: a thrush, perhaps the missel thrush (turdus viscivorus). Swainson notes that throstle cock is the name for this bird in nearby Roxburgh (2).

30 -- Mawys: the mavis or song thrush (turdus musicus).

-- meynde hir:  'reminded herself', 'recalled'.

31 -- wodewale: the woodlark (alauda arborea), says Murray. While I do not doubt this, I have been unable to find corroboration. Swainson (98-99) does not include wodewale as a local variant for woodlark, but for the Great Spotted Woodpecker (dendrocopus major) and the Green Woodpecker (gecinus viridis) in far off Hampshire and Somerset, respectively.  The OED identifies the woodwall first as archaic name for the golden oriole (oriolus galbula, which seems to be the same as the oriolus oriolus, but I cannot yet confirm this).

-- beryde: 'resounded'.

33 -- Allone in longyng: see note on line 26.

34 -- semely tree: not the same as the so-called Eildon Tree (80, 84), another landmark, whose location is commemorated by a monument. See image 1 above.

35 -- was] j whare: here and elsewhere below the Thornton MS has lacunae in the text, and I have used the other MSS to supplement. Cotton reads 'I was war', while Landsdowne has 'I saw where' and Cambridge 'Saw I where'.  Clearly there is also confusion between 'whare' (=  'aware') and 'whare' (= 'where'), and this has affected the verb. Since the lines preceding these detail the speaker's awareness of his surroundings, I am inclined to the far more vivid 'was j whare', i.e., 'I became aware', which also preserves the inverted word order suggested by the remains of this line in Thornton, and paralleled in Cambridge. 

36 -- Come rydyng]: Cotton: 'come rydyng'; Landsdowne: 'cam rydyng'; Cambridge: 'came ridand'.

-- lee: 'lea' denotes open land not currently under the plow, either used for pasturage or left fallow.  

38 -- to wrobbe and wrye: 'wrobben' means 'babble on, prattle'. 'Wry(e' means to 'move by twisting or turning', sometimes with connotations of misinterpretation or madness. 

40 -- scho: she.

-- askryede for mee: 'described by me'. True to his word, the poet spends virtually no time at all in what follows describing the Lady. Rather he focusses in detail on her horse and its saddle (42-46, 49-51, 57-64), with briefer comments on the Lady herself interspersed (47-48, 54-56).

Hir palfraye was a dapill graye,
[42 ........................................
Swylke one ne saghe j neuer none;
Also dose þe sonne on someres daye,
48   Þat faire lady hir selfe scho shone.
Hir selle it was of roelle bone,
ffull semely was þat syghte to see!
Stefly sett with precyous stones,
52   And compaste all with crapotee,
Stones of Oryente, grete plente;
Hir hare abowte hir hede it hange;
Scho rade over þat lange lee;
56   A whylle scho blewe, anoþer scho sange;
Hir garthes of nobyll sylke þay were,
The bukylls were of Berell stone,
Hir steraps were of crystalle clere,
60   And all with perell over-by-gone.
Hir  payettrelle was a of jrale fyne,
Hir cropoure was of Orpharë,
And als clere golde hir brydill it schone,
64   One aythir syde hange bellys three.
[She led iij grehoundis in a leeshe,
viij rachis be hir fete ran;
To speke with hir wold I not seesse;
68   Hir lire was white as any swan.
Fforsothe, lordyngs, as I yow tell,
Thus was þis lady fayre begon.]
Scho bare an horne abowte hir halse,
72   And under hir belte full many a flone;

42-45 Murray places a lacuna in his printing of the Thornton, Cotton, and Cambridge Manuscripts, yet he clearly believes something resembling the text of the Lansdowne once stood here, since his numbering of the lines takes the Lansdowne into account. Yet whatever memory of the original the Lansdowne preserves is an imperfect and troublesome one, which we cannot simply insert to fill the gap, since that would disrupt the rhyme scheme and the numbering. 

[The farest Molde that any myght be;
Here sadell bryght as any day.
*44   Set with pereles to þe kne.
And furthermore of hir Aray,
Divers clothing she had upon;]

41 -- palfrey: a riding horse of the Middle Ages, known for a smooth, quick gait that made it ideal for travelling long distances.

*42 -- Molde: type, nature, character.

*45 -- furthermore: in addition.

*45-46 -- Aray...clothing: it is difficult to be sure what is being described here, since aray can refer either to the furnishings of the saddle or the apparel of the Lady, and clothing can mean 'clothing' as well as the 'trappings' of a horse. 'And furthermore', however, seems to establish a connection to *43-44, and the descriptions of the horse's tack are more detailed than those of the Lady, whom the poet calls indescribable in line 40, or describes in vague or fulsome terms: she shines like the summer sun (47-480; wears her hair loose, blows a horn, or sings (54-56). This inclines me to believe that aray and clothing refer to the saddle and its trappings.

*46 -- clothing: the trappings or caparison. In image two we see two caparisoned horses, one in blue, the other in red.

 lmage Two, by Jean Fouquet ca 1450s 1455-60.

46 -- Swylke one: 'such a one'. See next note.

-- ne saghe j neuer none: the vaporish modern prohibition against multiple negatives does not apply in Middle English. It requires a bit of gymnastics to make them all fit in: ''Nor saw I never none such as this one.' It is obviously a very strongly negative statement.

-- 49: selle also means saddle, but here may refer specifically to the seat. Cf. the same line in the Lansdowne -- 'here sege was of ryall bone' -- where sege clearly means 'seat',

-- roelle bone: walrus ivory, or possibly narwhal (OED s.v. ruel-bone). The Lewis Chessmen are likely the most famous example of work in walrus ivory. For much of the Middle Ages, elephant ivory was in short supply in northern Europe.

52 -- compaste: 'compassed', or 'surrounded', i.e., a border of gemstones ran along the edges of the saddle.

-- crapote: either toadstone -- a greenish fossil gemstone believed to be found inside the heads of toads (cf. Fr. crapaud), which could serve as an antidote to poison --  or emerald as  'Stones of Oryente' may indicate. How often is 'emerald' the more prosaic choice?

56 -- a whylle...anoþer...: sometimes...sometimes....

57 -- garthes: the girth of the saddle.

58 -- berell stone: beryl, of which emerald and aquamarine are examples.

59 -- crystalle clere: quartz crystal. Cf. Sir Orfeo 357-58, on the wall of the fairy king's castle: 'Al þe vt-mast wal / Was clere & schine as cristal'.

60 -- perell: pearl or mother of pearl.

-- over-by-gone: 'ornamented all over'.

61 -- payetrelle: peitrel, a 'protective breastplate' or 'breast collar' for a horse. See image three.

-- jrale fyne: an unknown precious stone. Murray says: 'I can get no light on iral-stane; the scribes also seem not to have understood it, and hence their alterations, rial, alarane, &c'. He guesses that iral-stane was the original reading, since that would rhyme with schone in line 63, which fyne obviously cannot.

63 -- cropoure: crupper, today only a strap running the back of the saddle to the horse's tail to keep the saddle from shifting; in the Middle Ages, a covering for the horse's hind quarters, often armored. See image two.

-- Orpharë: probably signifying that the crupper has an ornamental band or fringe of gold, from orfevrie, 'goldsmith's work', from Latin 'aurifaber', goldsmith.

Image Three

*65-70 -- A second lacuna, this one posited by Murray. While there is no visible gap in Thornton, Lansdowne shows one. Cotton is damaged at this point, but enough remains to show that it did not continue as Thornton does, directly from 'bellys three' to 'And sevene raches...'. Cambridge supplies the text I've inserted. This, however, is also problematic. For, as Murray points out, these lines are not in the poem itself, but 'written at the side and foot with marks of insertion'.

*66 -- rachis: a rache or ratch was a hunting dog that tracked its prey by scent, unlike greyhounds, which rely on sight.

*67 -- To speke with hir wold I not seesse: Since he has not spoken with her yet, this sentence seems unlikely to mean, 'to speak with her I would not cease'. Here 'with hir' makes more sense taken to mean 'regarding her'. He can't stop talking about her.

*68 -- lire: cheek.

*70 -- fayre begon: 'beautifully turned-out'.

71 -- halse: neck.

72 -- flone: arrows. Together with the horn and the dogs, the arrows suggest that she is hunting, but what, or whom? Arrows of course had long been associated with the god of Love. Does the poet's failure to mention a bow make it more conspicuous? Does her appearance as a huntress hark back to Venus' appearing to Aeneas as a huntress in Book One of The Aeneid? (1.379-497 Fagles). There Aeneas mistakes her for a human at first, recognizing her as his goddess mother only as she turns to go. Thomas will also mistake the Fairy Queen for someone else when he sees her (lines 85-96).


Note to the Reader:

I am not a Medievalist by training, though I've read a fair amount of Old and Middle English for someone who isn't. My goal is to make this fascinating text more readily available and more easily read than it has been so far. The text Murray published in 1875 is available from the Early English Text Society for a reasonable price. (Beware of scanned reprints put out by others.) I have also lately discovered that Ingeborg Nixon published a text and commentary in Denmark in the early 1980s, but I have not been able to find a copy of it for sale at anything like a reasonable price ($300+). For that much I should get to meet the Queen of Elfland herself. One of these days I will make a pilgrimage to consult it at the New York University library, which seems to have a copy. So, pardon any mistakes I make, and help me to correct them. I will gladly publish any comment that is civil and signed. Anything rude or anonymous I shall delete.


Works Consulted

Burnham, Josephine M, A Study of Thomas of Erceldoune, PMLA 23.3 (1908) 375-420.

Lyle, E.B., Thomas of Erceldoune: The Prophet and the Prophesied, Folklore 79 (1968) 111-121.

________, The Relationship between Thomas the Rhymer and Thomas of  Erceldoune, Leeds Studies in English 4 (1970) 23-30.

________, The Visions in St Patrick's Purgatory, Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas the Rhymer, and The Demon Lover, Neuphilologishe Mitteilungen 72 (1971) 716-722.

Paton, Lucy Alan, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, Boston (1903).

Swainson, Charles, Provincial Names and Folklore of British Birds, London (1885).


⇦Thomas of Erceldoune IV || Thomas of Erceldoune VI⇨

1 comment:

  1. The wind so whirled a weathercock / He could not hold his tail up.
    The frost so nipped a throstlecock / He could not snap a snail up.
    “My case is hard,” the throstle cried,
    And “all is vane,” the cock replied,
    And so they set their wail up.