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The Prophecy of Merlin (Magdalene Coll. MS)


1 With sharpened swords, and men ready to terrorize


1 When feythe fayleth. Versions of this lyric - identified as "Chaucer's Proverbs" - were regularly printed in earlier editions of Chaucer. Richard Morris's edition contains the following lyric:
Qwan prestis faylin in her sawes,
And Lordis turnin Goddis lawes
Ageynis ryght;
And lecherie is holdin as privy solas,
And robberie as fre purchas,
Bewar than of ille!
Than schall the Lond of Albion
Turnin to confusion,
As sumtyme it befelle.
As printed in The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, rev. ed. (London: Bell, 1875), vol. 6, p. 307. Skeat prints a similar version of this poem from Caxton's edition of Chaucer, as the first one of the "Sayings" (or proverbs) of Chaucer:
Whan feyth failleth in prestes sawes,
And lordes hestes ar holden for lawes,
And robbery is holden purchas,
And lechery is holden solas,
Then shal the lond of Albyon
Be brought to grete confusioun.
See Skeat's Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 7 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1897), p. 450.

4 purchas. Skeat glosses purchas as "bargain." It is that which is acquired.

7 Goneway . . . Curtays. Perhaps Gone-Away and Courtesy, allegorical figures of rudeness and politeness respectively. That is, when Rudeness calls upon Courtesy. Another possibility: Goneril and Cordelia from the King Lear story (Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain book 2, chapters 11-14).

7-14 When Goneway . . . in youre asyse. RHR prints five and one-half lines of this lyric in his notes to the Trinity College Dublin version of "When lordes wille is londes law." I supply variants from RHR's text in the notes below.

8 Wallys. Wales. The poet mentions three Celtic regions: Wales, Scotland (line 9), and Ireland (line 11).

9 Albeon Skottlonde. A pleonasm for Scotland or northern Britain.

11 rede Irlonde fox. So MS; RHR (in his partial transcription) rede londe. Perhaps a reference to Robert I "the Bruce" (reigned 1306-29), who had red hair and who was noted for his duplicity and self-serving policies. This cryptic line also perhaps alludes to the Battle of Bannockburn (1314). It might, however, refer to John Comyn the Red, who defeated Edward I's forces at Roslin in 1301. Robert Bruce murdered the Red Comyn during a parley at the Greyfriars' church, Dumfries, in 1306.

12 glayvys grownde. So MS; RHR glaringe grounde. RHR's transcription breaks off with these words.
(Magdalene Coll. Cambridge MS 1236 fol. 91r)
When feythe fayleth in prestys sawys,
And lordys wyll be londys lawys,
And lechery is prevy solas,
And robbery ys goode purchas:
Than shall the londe of Albeon
Be turned into confusion.
When Goneway shall on Curtays call,
Then Wallys shall rayke and hastely ryse;                                
Then Albeon Skottlonde shall to hem fall;
Then waken wonders in every wyse.
The rede Irlonde fox shall ryse with all
With glayvys grownde, and gare men to agryse 1
To fell and fende oure fomen all;
Sevyn shall sytt in youre asyse.
sayings; (see note)
law of the land
secret comfort
booty; (see note)
(see note)
Wales; wander; rebel; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
kill; thwart; enemies
Seven; trial

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