Back to top

Art. 45, Heye Louerd, thou here my bone: 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 Old Man’s Prayer is a penitential lyric that poignantly expresses contrition mixed with nostalgia for days gone by. Composed in a sophisticated, challenging stanza, the lyric features dense alliterative ornament, pararhyme, and concatenation. All but one stanza is linked by alliteration. The only break in the pattern occurs after the fifth stanza, where the speech is charged with emotion: here the old man confronts and abruptly addresses “Dreadful Deth” (line 86). Framed as a prayerful utterance, the poem seems suited for moving dramatic performance. In recalling his youth, the speaker revisits its pleasures and evokes a sad sense of the gulf between past vigor and present enfeeblement. He confesses in colorful figures that the seven sins were once his close companions: Lechery was his mistress, Liar his interpreter, Sloth and Sleep his bedfellows, and so on (lines 52–68). As the lyric closes, the speaker approaches death in a state of penitential dread and hope. The anonymous poet constructs a fictional self-portrait of psychological subtlety and insight.

Among English Harley lyrics, an analogue to An Old Man’s Prayer is Maximian (art. 68), another complaint by an old man. The elaborateness of the stanza also invites comparison to the intricate metrical patterning of Satire on the Consistory Courts (art. 40). For commentary on An Old Man’s Prayer, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4336–37, as well as Scattergood 2000b, pp. 15–26; Fuller, p. 261; and Treharne, pp. 571–72.

[Fol. 72ra–va. IMEV, NIMEV 1216. MWME 9:3034 [335], 11:4186 [13]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 8. Meter: Six 17-line stanzas with five rhymes in a complex pattern, aa4b3aa4b3cc4b3cc4b3d4e3dd4e3, and one final 5-line stanza, a4b3aa4b3. (Stanza 4 substitutes two c-rhymes for two a-rhymes.) Regular features of the stanza include pararhyme, alliteration, stanza-linking, and concatenation at lines 12–13. Lines 13–17 form a wheel. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 47–51 (no. 15); Böddeker, pp. 187–90; Patterson, pp. 61–64; Brown 1952, pp. 3–7 (no. 6); Brook, pp. 46–48 (no. 13); Treharne, pp. 572–74. Other MSS: None.]

Go To Art. 45, Heye Louerd, thou here my bone