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Art. 9, De l'Yver et de l'Esté: 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).

In Debate between Winter and Summer nature’s seasonal renewal is made “un grand estrif” that ends with Winter banished and Summer ascendent. As each season argues for its advantages over the other, each also speaks in its own idiom: Winter debates in octosyllabic couplets against an opponent who utters lyrical tail-rhyme stanzas. They go three rounds, each longer than the last, till Summer finally wins. In the closing argument Summer discloses that his opponent dwells with Lucifer, while he hails from paradise. The debate thus gains a moral dimension, associating Winter with sin and evil, Summer with grace and comfort. Several have suggested that the author is Nicholas Bozon, a fourteenth-century English Franciscan who wrote a large number of religious poems in Anglo-Norman, as well as the antifeminist poem Women and Magpies (art. 78), appearing in Harley’s quire 12 (see Jeffrey and Levy, pp. 14–16).

Debate poems are a late medieval form that might have been inspired by and modeled on Virgil’s Eclogues. The earliest known European example addresses the same theme treated here: Conflictus Veris et Hiemis, commonly attributed to Alcuin (?735–804), an English scholar who became a leading teacher at Charlemagne’s court. A tradition of setting Winter in debate with Summer continued with vigor in medieval Latin verse. The seasons in monumental debate also appear in medieval English folk celebrations of May Day, where there survive “vestiges of a once fully fledged ritual depicting the struggle between the rep-resentatives of Winter and those of Summer” (Matthews, p. 403). Numerous Harley lyrics align mood and morals with seasonal change (e.g., arts. 43, 52, 53, 63).

For commentary on the poem, see Bossy, pp. 162–63; Reichl 2000, pp. 220–26 (who presents Latin analogues); Revard 2007, pp. 105–08; and Cartlidge, pp. 248–52.

[Fols. 51ra–52va. ANL 146. Långfors, p. 423. Vising §366. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 5. Meter: For Winter, octosyllabic couplets; for Summer, 6- and 9-line tail-rhyme stanzas, aabaab(aab), octosyllabic a-lines, tetrasyllabic b-lines. Layout: Double columns, speaker changes marked by paraphs. Editions: Jubinal, 2:40–49; Dove 1969, pp. 174–79; Bossy, pp. 2–14; (in error, Ker, p. x, lists Wright as editor). Other MSS: None. Translation: Bossy, pp. 3–15.]

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