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Art. 55, Dum ludis floribus: 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).

Aside from Song of the Times (ed. Wright 1839, pp. 251-52), also copied by the Ludlow scribe, Dum ludis floribus is the earliest known lyric to blend Latin, Anglo-Norman, and English. Its first four stanzas combine French half-lines with Latin conclusions. The last stanza opens with a Latin verse followed by an Anglo-Norman one. Only the last two verses are in English, and the linguistic shift delivers a climactic surprise, “the shock for which nothing before has prepared the reader” (Turville-Petre 1996, p. 203). Identifying himself as a student in Paris, the poet writes in praise of his beloved while in the throes of desperate love-longing. His sigh of love-anguish, uttered in the vernacular, ends his elegant appeal with a bluntly native lament. To literalize the poet’s final stanza, he writes in Latin, lodges in France, but in the depth of despair moans in English.

In miniature, Dum ludis floribus reflects the trilingual fluency of the Harley compilation. The poem is sometimes viewed as evidence for a class of poet, the so-called wandering student, who would readily import Latin and French poetic conventions into vernacular English verse. The lyric’s position on folio 76r below A Spring Song on the Passion and I Pray to God and Saint Thomas (arts. 53, 54) seems a calculated exercise in displaying various forms of passion (Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 212–13; Lerer 2003, pp. 1255–59; Fein 2007, pp. 72–73, 83). For the Latin translation, I acknowledge the assistance of Radd Ehrman, classics professor at Kent State University. For further commentary on Dum ludis floribus, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4344–45; Scattergood 2005, pp. 53–54; Lerer 2008; Durling, pp. 281–83; and Birkholz, p. 218.

[Fol. 76r. ANL 134. Långfors, p. 109. IMEV Suppl., NIMEV 694.5. MWME 11:4191–92 [19]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 8. Meter: A macaronic lyric in five monorhymed alexandrine quatrains, alternating Latin and Anglo-French, until the last two lines, which are in Middle English. Layout: No columns, written as prose. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 64–65 (no. 23); Kennedy, pp. 12–14 (no. 2); Brook, p. 55 (no. 19); Stemmler 1970, p. 25; Jeffrey and Levy, pp. 248–50 (no. 47); Millett, online edition; Lerer 2008, pp. 249–50. Other MSS: None. Translations: Kennedy, pp. 12–14; Jeffrey and Levy, pp. 248–50; Millett, online translation; Lerer 2008, pp. 250.]

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