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Art. 29, Bytuene Mersh ant Averil: 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).

Alysoun is a spirited song of youthful love in springtime. Longing for a girl of particular beauty, the impassioned speaker praises her delectable charms: brown hair, black eyes, swan-white neck, and sweet English name. The infectious refrain of this lyric trips its own tune, the delirious lover declaring how his desire is fixed by happy fortune on one named Alysoun. The name Alysoun carries connotations of beauty and pleasure, being related to Old French alis, “smooth, delicate, soft, slim (of waist)” (as mentioned in line 16), and to Middle English lisse (n.), “comfort, ease, joy, delight.” Though the lover’s affection has not been returned, the girl’s very existence brings him pleasure. He is optimistic and yet weary with anticipation. The lyric’s gaiety sets off his desperation, spurring one to dance while the lover suffers. Commentators frequently note how the homespun heroine of this lyric resembles her namesakes in Chaucer: the Miller’s lively heroine and the effervescent Wife of Bath (Donaldson, pp. 23–24). In MS Harley 2253 Alysoun is one of three English love poems copied on fol. 63r–v. Characterizing love’s frenzy, they project a continuum of emotion — joy to despair — as experienced by an aspirant male: his love requited (art. 28), hoped for (art. 29), or rebuffed (art. 30). For some of the rich and varied commentary on this popular, much-anthologized lyric, see the bibliography and discussion in MWME 11:4174–75, 4321–24; and also Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 204–05; Scattergood 2005, p. 56; and Lerer 2008, pp. 241–43.

[Fol. 63v. IMEV, NIMEV 515. MWME 11:4174 [4]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 7. Meter: Four 8-line stanzas, ababbbb3–4c3, each followed by a lilting 4-line refrain, DDD4C3, tied by rhyme to the stanza. Layout: No columns. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 27–29 (no. 6); Morris and Skeat, pp. 43–44; Ritson 1877, pp. 49–50; Böddeker, pp. 147–48; Brown 1932, pp. 138–39 (no. 77); Brook, p. 33 (no. 4); Stemmler 1970, pp. 13–14; Silverstein, pp. 85–87 (no. 66); Millett, online edition; Treharne, pp. 568–69. Other MSS: None.]

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