“A Warning Spoken by the Soul of a Dead Person” (DIMEV 3624)
A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: FOOTNOTES
A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: A version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Selden); B version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Lansdowne); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson; D: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 322 (SC 21896); DMF: Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330–1500); DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; FP: Lydgate, Fall of Princes, ed. Bergen; Gray: “Two Songs of Death,” ed. Gray; Hassell: Hassell, Middle French Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; MED: Middle English Dictionary; ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.
Found in a devotional miscellany dating to the first quarter of the fifteenth century, this poem is exemplary of the Signs of Death genre (see Introduction, p. 2), in which the speaker imagines his or her body in its multiple stages of decomposition by contrast with its formerly beautiful state in life. In this lyric the body’s dissolution is accentuated by the work’s replacement of internal physiological structures, like the spine, for the external forces of decomposition, such as the adder, as we see in line 17. In this way the poem creates an opposition between the body’s internal dissolution and the external forces of destruction visiting it in death. In its spatial codification of the body’s destruction and emphasis on gory detail, furthermore, this poem insists on its memorability for the purpose of contemplation, not unlike that required of the viewer in Man of Sorrows iconography, which depicts Christ’s wounded body for the purposes of devotional contemplation. Although this body’s state is quite different from that of Christ crucified, it similarly presents as a spectacular object, inciting meditation on its fragility through the emphasis on its beleaguered condition.
24 stynke foulere than an hounde. Proverbial. See Whiting H592.
A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: TEXTUAL NOTES
Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodley 789 (SC 2643), fols. 149r–50r (basis for this edition)
Woolf, Rosemary, ed. “Mi Leeve Liif.” In The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Pp. 317–18.
Hirsh, John C., ed. “Index of Middle English Verse No. 2255.” In “Prayer and Meditation in Late Mediaeval England: MS Bodley 789.” Medium Ævum 48 (1979), 61–62.