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Art. 67, Ase Y me rod this ender day: 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).

The Five Joys of the Virgin has been called the “purest example in English of a love song to the Virgin” (Woolf 1968, p. 137). The poet’s amorous thoughts of his Lady yield to devotion on her Five Joys and eventually to a petition for participation in her transcendent joyfulness. Expressing himself in the manner of a courtly singer, the poet permits an erotic subtext to develop: in asking Christ to grant Mary’s intimate mediation (line 52), he hopes to advance toward a heavenly state of sublime pleasure.

A well-known secular poem with the refrain Nou sprinkes the sprai (IMEV, NIMEV 360; ed. Brown 1932, pp. 119–20 [no. 62]) shares this poem’s first line but not its meter. The imitator here is apparently the religious poet, who has adapted a familiar opening to evoke the eroticized circumstance of a pastourelle encounter. For the phenomenon of turning a secular song or phrase to religious purpose, one can compare the Ludlow scribe’s pairing of The Way of Christ’s Love and The Way of Women’s Love (arts. 92, 93) and the conversion of a phrase from When the Nightingale Sings (art. 65; see explanatory note to line 6). Like the narrator of Nou sprinkes the sprai, the speaker of The Five Joys of the Virgin is intent on play, his thoughts focused on a beloved may (lines 2–3). The secular ploy continues until the maiden is identified as Mary and her Five Joys contemplated: Annunciation, Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, and Ascension. The inclusion of the Epiphany is unusual but not unique among English poems; here it replaces the traditional fifth Joy, the Assumption (subsumed in the Ascension).

Elsewhere in the Harley manuscript the same theme is addressed in the French Joys of Our Lady and Prayer on the Five Joys of Our Lady (arts. 49, 104), and it is referenced in the English An Autumn Song (art. 63). In more than a dozen extant Middle English lyrics on the subject, Mary’s Joys are usually five in number, although formulations on seven, eight, twelve, or fifteen joys also occur. For further commentary, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4354–55.

[Fol. 81va–b. IMEV, NIMEV 359. MWME 11:4200 [27]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 9. Meter: Ten 6-line stanzas, aaa4b3a4b3. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 94–96 (no. 34); Böddeker, pp. 218–19; Brown 1952, pp. 13–14 (no. 11); Brook, pp. 65–66 (no. 27); Saupe, pp. 147–48 (no. 77); Millett, online edition. Other MSS: None.]

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