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Art. 64, My deth Y love, my lyf Ich hate: 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).

A variant of the pastourelle in which a lover pleads at the lady’s window, The Clerk and the Girl is often linked to another Harley pastourelle, The Meeting in the Wood (art. 35). The oxymorons of the first line might also be meant to connect it to the opening of the preceding Autumn Song (art. 63), wherein lovely women betoken death and death on the cross betokens life. While that poem is religious, this one — a dialogue with debate elements — is secular. The clerk speaks the first two stanzas, and the remaining ones alternate speakers. The girl has the final word. The clerk seems at first to be talking to himself, bemoaning unrequited love, but then it becomes clear he is addressing the girl. She answers in blunt colloquial tones that puncture the pretensions of his speech: “Do wey, thou clerc! Thou art a fol!” (line 9). In the rich colors of parody, a no-nonsense girl mocks a poet-lover’s self-absorbed airs and even the class disparity of the traditional pastourelle: it is better to go on foot than ride a wicked horse, she says, playing off the sexual meaning too. The two argue as opposites in diction (his elevated love talk versus her down-to-earth colloquialisms) and in stance (his wooing persistence versus her stubborn reluctance). Class is less an issue here than in the traditional pastourelle: the couple evokes a rustic village pairing of equals. Dispute yields eventually to reconciliation, as in many medieval debates. While the woman at first shows surprise, disgust, and alarm at the man’s persistence, she eventually seems to know him as her long-lost love once he reveals that they kissed fifty times before at her window.

Many analogues and influences have been proposed for this lyric. Two are from popular ballad: the enmity-of-kin theme as found in Clerk Saunders (Child, no. 69; MWME 6:1798); and the returned-sailor theme as in The Kitchie Boy (Child, no. 252), wherein the lover returns after an absence and tests his beloved’s fidelity by posing as a new suitor. A resemblance to The Nut-Brown Maid is also sometimes cited (MWME 3:730–33 [61]). Woolf compares the piece to a German Fensterlieder, in which a lover pleads at a window for admission (1970, p. 285). Conlee calls it “the finest example of a ‘night-visit’ dialogue in Middle English” (p. xxxvi). It appears to be darkness of night that hides the speaker’s identity. He compliments the lady as a source of light, “briht so daies liht,” while he is like a sun-blighted summer leaf (lines 2–3).Thus does a clerk maddened by sorrow wander under wode-gore and find his way back to radiant love.

The Clerk and the Girl appears to be grouped, by layout and meter, with the two poems that come next (arts. 65, 66). It is not to be confused with an English interlude known by a similar title, De Clerico et Puella IMEV, NIMEV 668; MWME 5:1324 [6]; ed. Brandl and Zippel, p. 203). For further commentary, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4350–52, and also Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 209–10; Scattergood 2000b, pp. 43–62, and 2005, pp. 63–64; and Hines, pp. 99–100.

[Fol. 80v. IMEV, NIMEV 2236. MWME 3:727 [54], 11:4196–98 [24]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 9. Meter: Nine 4-line stanzas in septenary meter, aaaa7, with some internal rhymes. Layout: No columns. Speech markers are not in the manuscript and have been added editorially. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 90–91 (no. 31); Böddeker, pp. 172–73; Brown 1932, pp. 152–54 (no. 85); Brook, pp. 62–63 (no. 24); Bennett and Smithers, pp. 124–26; Stemmler 1970, pp. 26–27; Silverstein, pp. 91–92 (no. 69). Other MSS: None.]

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