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Art. 43, Lenten ys come with love to toune: 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).

This famous lyric exemplifies at its best the Middle English reverdie, a song celebrating spring. The vitality of the new season quickens every line of Spring and animates its dancing rhythm. Metrically, the poem is similar to The Fair Maid of Ribblesdale and (aside from dialect) Advice to Women (arts. 34, 44). The latter poem is its partner in MS Harley 2253: the scribe sets the two works in parallel columns on fol. 71v, pairing them for meter and content. Linkages between the two poems exist in their shared springtime openings and in a few verbal echoes in the last stanza of Spring and the first one of Advice.

Other Middle English analogues to Spring are worth noting. Joyous birdsong, lively mood, and natural setting are evoked in the fine lyrics Somer is i-cumen in and Foweles in the frith (IMEV, NIMEV 3223, 864). In addition, the bird debate The Thrush and the Nightingale (IMEV, NIMEV 3222) closely corresponds to Spring in how it opens on the same line, substituting the word Somer for Lenten. Because Thrush is also composed in a 12-line, 3-rhyme tail-rhyme stanza, it seems clearly related to Spring. When grouped with Advice, this triad of poems exhibits a shared theme: men’s desire for women brings pleasure and pain.

In Spring, the speaker’s conflicted emotions produce an inherent tension. The language conveys spring’s lush fullness by means of vivid, finely distilled detail, while the speaker, whose love is unrequited, feels at odds with the season’s pleasures. In the end, he can endure only so much of the sensual life buzzing around him, and he flees from it in self-imposed exile. For commentary on Spring, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4332–35; Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 206–07; D’Arcy, pp. 314–16; Fuller, pp. 262–63; and Scattergood 2005, p. 55.

[Fol. 71va. IMEV, NIMEV 1861. MWME 11:4183 [10]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 8. Meter: Three 12-line tail-rhyme stanzas, aa4b3cc4b3dd4b3ee4b3, with regular alliterative ornament. Layout: Left side of double-column page. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 43–44 (no. 13); Morris and Skeat, pp. 48–49; Böddeker, pp. 164–65; Brown 1932, pp. 145–46 (no. 81); Brook, pp. 43–44 (no. 11); Stemmler 1970, pp. 20–21; Millett, online edition; Treharne, pp. 569–70. Other MSS: None.]

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