Back to top

Art. 63, Nou skrinketh rose ant lylie-flour: Introduction

ABBREVIATIONS: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CCC: Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); IMEV Suppl.: Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse (Robbins and Cutler); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

An Autumn Song offers a sensitive meditation on mortal decay and spiritual health. An unusual feature is the embedded chanson d’aventure formula that occupies the second through fifth stanzas. A similar though less-developed device occurs in Jesus Christ, Heaven’s King (art. 51). The curative balm for the sinner rests in Mary, whom the speaker seeks as he thinks on his folly. He ventures out in Peterborough upon a morewenyng in a mood of sad rumination and lament. The echoic “mournyng” in line 14 yokes setting and mood by means of pun. The same pun exists in Jesus Christ, Heaven’s King (art. 51), lines 10–11, and also in the opening of the alliterative Four Leaves of the Truelove (IMEV, NIMEV 1453), a poem about seeking and finding spiritual remedy (Fein 1998, pp. 166, 180). Here, the speaker depicts Mary’s curative medicine: herbs of sweet smell that offer the way to heaven, prefigured in the faded suete savour of real flowers. The poet brilliantly merges the starkly contrastive fairness of ladies and the pierced side of Christ. The evocative first line, a reverdie stung by autumnal nostalgia, establishes a mood of elegaic sadness because floral beauty (of rose and lily) is beset with decay. The flowers, conventional for describing women’s complexions, deftly come to denote the certainty of death, and then, in what seems a spontaneous transition, fleshly renunciation and Jesus’ torn body. The poem thus quietly abjures the secular lyric’s celebration of women’s love by converting the floral image to meanings of transience and memento mori. In fearing death, the speaker meditates on Jesus’ death on the cross and birth in Mary’s flesh, and finds therein a female physician’s “cure” for his mourning, thoroughly transforming the trouvères’ concept of the lady as healer.

Homage to the Virgin’s Five Joys (line 46) connects this lyric to other works in MS Harley 2253 (arts. 49, 67, 104). Topical and verbal links (the brightness of a lady, the wilting of a petal or leaf) join the ending to the beginning of the next item (Stemmler 2000, pp. 118–19). In the sequence of English lyrics on fols. 79r–81r, this poem culminates a religious sequence (arts. 60–63) and forms a bridge to the secular songs (arts. 64, 65) that follow. For further commentary, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4349–50; Scattergood 2005, pp. 65–66; Fein 2007, pp. 84–85; and Durling, p. 289.

[Fol. 80rb. IMEV, NIMEV 2359. MWME 11:4195 [23]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 9. Meter: Six 10-line stanzas, aa4b3aa4b3c4b3c4b3. The final stanza lacks line 7. Layout: Right side of a double-column page; lines 7–10 of each stanza are written as two lines.. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 87–89 (no. 30); Böddeker, pp. 213–15; Patterson, pp. 98–100; Brown 1952, pp. 11–12 (no. 10); Brook, pp. 60–62 (no. 23); Silverstein, pp. 47–48 (no. 27); Saupe, pp. 149–50 (no. 78); Millett, online edition; Treharne, pp. 580–82. Other MSS: None.]

Go To Art. 63, Nou skrinketh rose ant lylie-flour