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The Four Leaves of the Truelove: Introduction


1 Nor, to my knowledge, does it appear in any English herbal before the Renaissance. The first known instance is in the herbal of John Gerard (1545-1612): Gerard's Herbal: The History of Plants, ed. Marcus Woodward (London: Studio Editions, 1994), pp. 101-03; see Plate 1. For the herbal that appears with Truelove in MS Bodl. Addit. A 106, see G'sta Brodin, ed. "'Agnus Castus,' a Middle English Herbal Reconstructed from Various Manuscripts," Essays and Studies on English Language and Literature 6 (1950), 1-329.

2 Many of the miniatures in the English Bohun Hours (Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS Auct. D. 4. 4, c. 1380) are framed in a variety of four-compartmented knots. See Lucy Freeman Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385 (Oxford: Harvey Miller, 1986), vol. 1, plate 367, and vol. 2, pp. 157-59; and the superb Last Judgment miniature reproduced in L. F. Sandler, "A Note on the Illuminators of the Bohun Manuscripts," Speculum 60 (1985), 368.

3 The moralization is illustrated by a fourteenth-century verse that survives in a handbook for Franciscan preachers: "Trewelove among men that most is of lette, / In hattes, in hodes, in porses is sette. / Trewelove in herbers spryngeth in May, / Bote trew love of herte went is away" (ed. Wenzel, pp. 159-60). On the tradition in ME verse, see Fein (1991). The plant is compared to the Cross in Gerard, p. 101.

4 Christ descends and ascends at the poem's midpoint, drawing the vertical trajectory of a "stem." A similar effect marks the Vernon lyric Maiden Mary and Her Fleur-de-Lys, lines 65-72, where a mental line drawn by means of the Harrowing (at the center) completes a shaping of the botanical emblem.

5 See Introduction to Love Rune; and Bernard S. Levy, "The Annunciation in Thomas de Hales' Love Ron," Mediaevalia 6 (1980), 123-34.

6 The opening of Truelove contains several echoes of Nou Sprinkes the Sprai, a thirteenth-century pastourelle; see the note to line 11 for points of correspondence. On other English pastourelles, see Sichert; Reichl; and the list provided in the Select Bibliography (under "secular chansons d'aventure").

7 See the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditations on the Life of Christ, pp. 54-56; Love's Mirror, p. 46; and Gail McMurray Gibson, "Blessing from Sun and Moon: Churching as Women's Theater," in Bodies and Disciplines: Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and David Wallace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 139-54. For other associations of the number forty, see the note to line 237 of Dispute.

8 For additional evidence that Truelove has a date of composition considerably earlier than the two MSS, see "Note on the Edited Text" (below). There is linguistic evidence that the poem was modernized at least once before the two manuscripts were copied.

9 The woodcut is listed as No. 1009 in Edward Hodnett, English Woodcuts 1480-1535, second ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 278. It is reproduced from other de Worde printings in Stephen Hawes, The Pastime of Pleasure, ed. William Edward Mead, EETS o.s. 173 (1926; rpt. New York: Kraus, 1971), p. 77; and Stephen Hawes, The Minor Poems, ed. Florence W. Gluck and Alice B. Morgan (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), plate 14. Besides The Pastime of Pleasure (1509, 1517) and Truelove, de Worde used it for Hawes's Comfort of Lovers (1511), Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (1517), and The Squire of Low Degree (1520?).

10 In particular, the sermon has been thought too prolix (Sandison, p. 87); too didactic in its neglect of the fictional bird and maiden (Anon., p. 18; Gollancz and Weale, p. xxi); and too blatantly artificial in its working-out of the four-part conceit (Pearsall, p. 186; Lawton [1989], p. 159).
The Vertues of Herbs appears in an Oxford manuscript in the vicinity of the alliterative poem edited here. The "virtue" of an herb is its medicinal or otherwise efficacious property, and the word expresses how each God-created substance (mineral, plant, animal) was thought to possess an innate essence or power. The truelove (Paris quadrifolia, herb paris) does not appear among the plants listed in this herbal. 1 It is instead featured in an ornate poem, where its special property unfolds over a span encompassing all of Christian history. Ultimately, the "virtue" of truelove is grace, the herb becoming an emblem for how people should love God who loves them. This gracious grasse offers the cure for spiritual love-longing.

The truelove plant's popular associations permit it to serve as a multivalent emblem: it has, as an organic herb, medicinal potential; it is cruciform in shape; and its four leaves joined at the center create a looped love-knot. To allow these meanings to converge, the poet embeds them in an array of conventional motifs: a pious opening that hints of an amorous pastourelle, followed by a love complaint and a sermon. The thread starts as the adventure of a man devoutly absorbed in his orisons, but it is soon diverted to the mournful strains of a young woman desperate in love. The girl's lament is, in turn, wholly subsumed by a bird's speech, delivered to console her. Relegated to the background, the maiden becomes the bird's patient auditor, and both she and the eavesdropping man virtually disappear while the bird sermonizes at length. In the final stanza they rematerialize, the maiden now comforted, and the man concluding his adventure. The poet thus encloses the bird's sermon within two frames, a female listener overheard by a male one.

This structure, both complex and formally patterned, leads the meditant reader to verbal arrangements of increasing sophistication. Through typological allusions that nuance the botanical emblem, the poem conjures the sign of the Cross, with the meditation ultimately centering upon the Passion and Resurrection (stanzas 16-25). The pious turtledove tells the history of God and man as though it were a vast love-knot with alternate tyings, loopings, and retyings. 2 Contrastive ideas C truth/falsehood, love/betrayal C are alternated in a structure of symmetrical oppositions. The emblem signifies the mystic nodus amicitiae, "knot of friendship," that binds humanity in kinship to God. Narrative joinings and disjoinings create a metaphorical knot being tied and broken, and, finally, made endlessly circular without break. Blessed souls may return to God and Mary in heaven; the maiden receives comfort; and the narrator ends his adventure in the same place of cyclic natural growth that opened the poem: "In a mornynge of May when medose suld sprynge" (lines 1, 519-20).

With the blooming meadow as a pretext, the poet borrows from a popular belief that the truelove flower brings luck in love. In early spring its fragile blossom rises on a central stalk amidst four equal leaves (Plate 1). Hopeful lovers liked to adorn their hats and clothes with flowering trueloves, taking the flower as romantic token. Seizing a good chance to moralize, preachers used the plant to teach about the font of divine Love: one should seek only God because human love is unstable and fickle. The organic plant signifies corruption C for people wither and die like plants C but, if taken as an emblem of the Divine, the frail cruciform herb signifies God's love revealed on the Cross. 3 The lovesick maiden of Truelove receives a variant of this sermon from a talking turtledove, said to be delivered miraculously from Mary. After a long fruitless search for an elusive "trewluf" (herb/lover), the maiden eagerly absorbs the bird's message and finds her health restored.

The vocal dove makes the herb his ruling conceit, comparing its leaves to the Trinity, with the fourth leaf made Mary (by extension, all humanity). When God created humans in his likeness, they willfully disobeyed and left him. Mournful of this separation from his "flowers" and "friends" (lines 102-03), God forged a new union through Mary, who individually comes to embody the loyalty that mankind could not collectively sustain. The drama culminates in an action by the "second leaf": Christ dies sacrificially in order to allow God's "haly handwarke" to depart from hell and join him in heaven. Hell's gates burst at the climactic center of the poem, and Christ, acting as parent, births his own "bon chylder" into the resurrected life (lines 259-60, 268). God's knotted bond to humanity, forged when he created Adam and Eve, is forever secured when Christ harrows hell. 4

The remainder of the bird's sermon dwells upon the fate of an individual after death, explained in a tone of concerned warning. Pride and friendships will not avail when the soul finds itself naked and solitary before its Maker. Judicial metaphors create a vivid courtroom scene of final Judgment where even the intercessory pleas of Mary will not help the sinner unrepentant in life. The event on the Cross has divided the fates of men; each individual is now faced with a choice between the hard path to heaven and the smooth one to eternal suffering:
Bot hard way is to heven and haste to hell.
In purgatory is payn, whoso passes thare.
Of mekyll wa may thai wytt, that tharin sal dwell
  Ful lang. (lines 370-77)
Relying upon expiation in purgatory is an undesirable solution, given the painfulness and uncertain duration of that place. The bird warns the maiden not to delay in reforming her life because the deeds she does here will constitute her fate in the next life (lines 374-75). Consequently, "now ware tym to begyn" (line 387).

The bird's 455-line sermon occupies thirty-five stanzas, or seven-eighths of the poem. Modern readers may find the maiden's patience extraordinary. In the final stanza, she is so genuinely thankful that she blesses the "body, bones, and blood" of the miraculous bird (line 509). To be put off by the length of the sermon is, however, to miss its wondrous curative capacity, which is supposed to take place C for both maiden and meditant reader C through a process of absorbing words and designs crafted in poetic sequence. Truelove works as a medicine delivered by verbal means, bringing potential health to each fragile, blossom-like soul. The maiden, "syghand and sekand" among the flowers at the opening (line 8), was doomed to wither without a medicinal treatment. The solace she seeks in her secular way is the curative herb truelove, or a faithful lover. The bird redirects her to the divine Truelove by means of a sermon-poem shaped like the plant. The sermon thus delivers from Christ as Physician (line 286) the medicine she seeks C an "herbal" cure imbibed as a verbal pill that makes her whole again.

The hope expressed at the end of the exposition is that "we" may win the love of the Truelove (the Trinity and Mary) because, like the maiden, we are edified as to where and how to seek it. The narrator prays God to grant everyone this particular grace, a revelatory pun that conflates God's grace with the herbal grass (line 515; compare line 66). So in reading this poem of "sowlehele," we swallow the medicine, and each time we reread the poem meditatively, discovering more of its embedded meaning, we increase the dosage and improve its effect.

As a poem of spiritual counsel addressed to a lovelorn woman, Truelove is similar to another poem in this volume, Thomas of Hales's Love Rune, written generations earlier and addressed to a "young woman dedicated to God," a phrase suggesting an audience removed from secular life. In both poems an advisor steers a young woman away from her yearnings for physical love, arguing that her object will necessarily be false and fleeting, and asks that she turn her affections instead toward God, an infallible Lover. The message of Truelove might therefore seem to be monastic, an exhortation to embrace celibacy and take oneself to the convent or cell. Truelove's place in late fourteenth-century alliterative verse situates it, however, in a later tradition of emblematic moral instruction to a pious laity. While the poem does borrow from the longstanding tradition of learned men instructing novitiate women on the religious life, its message is to be understood in a more universal way. The distracted maid is like mankind's fallen soul wandering lost in an Edenic "orchard" (line 4). She resembles the grieving dreamer in Pearl more than she does a specific female recipient of paternalistic moral advice. At the same time, in filling a maiden's mind with life-saving "grace," the messenger-bird behaves in shadow resemblance to the archangel Gabriel (who pronounced Mary "full of grace" in the moment marking the Incarnation), just as Thomas of Hales had also made an Annunciatory gesture in giving the "maid of Christ" a message of God's amorous longing. 5

Truelove borrows, too, from the French-influenced lyric tradition of chanson d'aventure, especially the type known as pastourelle. Two motifs lead the reader toward certain expectations: a male adventurer spies a solitary maiden, and then he overhears her lament of misfortune in love. In secular verse the set-up often becomes an amorous encounter, as in the lyric De clerico et puella of MS Harley 2253, 6 but sometimes the narrator remains, as here, merely an observer of the maiden's beauty and the recorder of an overheard complaint. The man's experience forms the outermost frame, a sensibility whose ordinary perception of things leads the reader into the poetic and meditative experience. In this instance the strolling narrator is absorbed in his own efficacious, health-seeking practice: he is "byddyng" his "owres" (line 4), that is, devoutly saying the prayers prescribed in a book of hours, probably the Hours of Mary [M], or perhaps the Hours of the Cross [C]. The events sequenced in these two offices closely reflect the biblical events appearing in Truelove: Creation and Fall of Mankind, Annunciation [M], Visitation [M], Nativity [M], Adoration of Magi [M], Flight out of Egypt [M], Massacre of Innocents [M], Betrayal [C], Christ before Pilate [C], Flagellation [C], Crucifixion [C], Mary and John at Cross, Deposition [C], Entombment [C], Harrowing of Hell, Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene, Doubting Thomas, Christ's Appearance to the Apostles, Resurrection, Coronation of Virgin [M], and Last Judgment (Wieck, pp. 39-41, 60, 90). Thus the narrator is not simply witnessing a remarkable maiden/bird dialogue; he is rapt in a state of meditative prayer, and many images associated with specific prayers, as illuminated in a book of hours, unfold before him C and the reader C in the bird's sermon.

Inside the experience of the prayerful narrator exists the setting that becomes the second frame of Truelove: a maiden standing beside a tree upon which a turtledove is perched. This tableau possesses emblematic significance reflective of a third literary type, the planctus. With another pun operating on the level of revelation, the meditant seems led C as if by grace C to the sight of a "mourning may" during his "May morning" stroll (lines 1, 7). As I have stated, the maiden's grief in the orchard suggests the desolation of humankind in separation from God, an allusion reinforced by the bird's first story of Creation, and, ultimately, when the girl receives comfort, her joy may resemble that of Mary visited by Gabriel, which the bird also depicts in his vignette of the Annunciation. More crucially, however, especially in terms of the meditative focus upon mourning, this preliminary grouping of maiden, tree, and bird provides a detailed shadow-likeness to a sacred image: Mary at the foot of the Cross. Mary's mourning becomes an antidotal model for the "mourning may": Mary mourned her loss deeply but with remarkable stamina and dignity, culminating in stately coronation and reunion (stanzas 17, 24). Her experience, which brackets the midpoint Harrowing of Hell, is the anchoring image for numerous English lyric and prose planctus Mariae. Its figuration here dignifies the opening strains of lament from a lovesick maiden.

Mary's compassion informs the meditational focus of another alliterative poem in forty thirteen-line stanzas, The Dispute between Mary and the Cross. The two poems differ greatly, however, in style: While the Truelove poet adopts a tone of pastoral solicitude, the Dispute poet seeks startling effects through carnal, often violent imagery. Nonetheless, real correspondences do exist in both external structure and theological argument. The salvific qualities of Mary and Cross are superimposed in both these poems, and in each a doctrine of mankind's second birth through Christian redemption is illustrated in a metaphoric "birthing" of mankind that occurs midpoint. The two forty-stanza poems are quite remarkable in using a woman's form C her procreative capacity to become, mid-body, a point of exit for another body C to make poetry based upon the subjects of incarnation and redemption (Fein [1992], pp. 110-14; see too the Introduction to Dispute). In this regard, the number forty possesses great significance. The Testament of Christ is a much-copied contemporary poem containing conceits also found in Dispute (Christ's body as parchment, his wounds inscribed words of pardon) and Truelove (herb truelove as a four-part "rent" of repentance). In this work, which appears near Dispute in the Vernon MS, Christ's time in Mary's womb is numbered at forty weeks and forty days. Moreover, forty days was the prescribed space of time under Jewish law for purification of the womb after a woman gave birth, a period that even virginal Mary observed. The author of the very popular Meditations on the Life of Christ asks the reader to reenact this period in meditation during the forty days from the Nativity to the Feast of the Purification. 7 Thus forty is the number intrinsically associated with the Incarnation of God in the womb of Mary.

Given the Truelove poet's propensity for pun and concrete metaphor, it is not surprising to discover that the careful structuring probably extended even to physical layout. The title The Four Leaves of the Truelove references the poem inscribed upon four leaves of parchment, a quarto with eight sides, five stanzas on each half-leaf. Observation of the lines that would have headed or ended individual folios reveals logical transitions at these points. For example, the ending of stanza 5 explains where to "begyn" the search for truelove (line 65), and the opening of stanza 11 C "Now is this ilk second lef . . . (line 131) C would have headed the top of the second leaf. Such a format would have highlighted the symmetries of the poem, and the midpoint would have appeared at the exact middle of four leaves. While neither of the two surviving manuscripts of Truelove preserves it in quite this manner, the copy found in Robert Thornton's manuscript (British Library Addit. MS 31042) appears to be based on an exemplar copied just as described. The only other manuscript copy of the poem, Oxford, Bodleian Library Addit. MS A.106, is the composite volume of medical recipes, charms, a lapidary, and an herbal. Here the poem is spread across not eight but seventeen folio sides; it begins midway on a page, averaging two to two and a half stanzas per page. This layout reflects the four-leaf layout in roughly doubled form.

Both manuscripts are from Yorkshire, and they preserve Truelove in what is likely its original northern dialect with some midland influence. In its technical features Truelove belongs with a small group of surviving verse, dated c. 1380-1400, in the thirteen-line alliterative stanza with northern or north midland affiliations: The Pistel of Swete Susan, De tribus regibus mortuis, two Saint John poems in a fourteen-line variant stanza, The Awntyrs off Arthure, and two plays from York (Pearsall, p. 185; see also Turville-Petre [1974], pp. 3-15; Lawton [1989], pp. 158-61). Summer Sunday and The Dispute between Mary and the Cross also belong to the style, seeming to represent the early end of the movement, with Dispute probably originating in East Anglia. The manuscripts of Truelove date much later (c. 1425-50) than its time of composition, which may be ascertained more closely by observing the similarities in structure to Dispute and in stanza to Susan, poems that appear side by side in the Vernon MS (c. 1385), followed by The Testament of Christ, the poem using the truelove as an emblem. These correspondences suggest that Truelove is contemporary with the three works gathered in Vernon (c. 1380-85). 8

As the fifteenth century progressed, the stanzaic alliterative style receded northward, appearing in the Scottish Rauf Coilyear, The Buke of the Howlat, and Golagros and Gawane. When Wynkyn de Worde printed Truelove in sixteenth-century London (c. 1510), an appreciation of the stanza had been lost. The printer merged the bob of the ninth line into the tenth or eleventh line of each stanza and set a paragraph sign at the beginning of almost every fourth line, as if the poem was to be read in four-line units. On the frontispiece of de Worde's edition the title The .iiii. leues of the trueloue appears ornamentally upon a scroll and beneath it is a woodcut depicting a man and woman in a garden, a tree between them in the background (Plate 2). The woman is offering a ring to the man, and a scroll over her head records her words: "Holde this a token yvvys [ywys]." The man responds: "For your sake I shall it take." This woodcut, which is borrowed from a series designed for Stephen Hawes's The Pastime of Pleasure (1509), represents the poem's subject in a most superficial way. 9 One wonders whether de Worde's customers would have bought the slim volume as a devotional text or as something by which to celebrate a wedding. Aside from a few printings of Piers Plowman, all of them later in date, the Wynkyn de Worde Truelove is the only known early print of a medieval alliterative poem (Turville-Petre [1978]; Blake).

Even though The Four Leaves of the Truelove had an audience as late as the sixteenth century, it has attracted a small readership in the time since, and even smaller praise. In surveying in 1812 the titles printed by de Word, Thomas Dibdin declared the Truelove "wretchedly dull" (Ames, p. 382). The first modern printing occurred in 1901 under a poorly chosen Latinate heading, The Quatrefoil of Love, which editor Israel Gollancz, who did not know the de Worde copy, called "a mere suggestion" (p. 112). In completing Gollancz's edition after his death, Magdalene M. Weale kept the title and advanced Dibdin's position, pronouncing the piece to be the work of a moralist "first and foremost" who in his zeal to preach neglected the potential of the fictive frame (pp. xx-xxii). In addition, she found the poem to be antiquated in its subject ("a sublimation of the sex instinct"), lacking in "beauty," and "not too skillfully carried out" (p. xxiii). Led by such unsympathetic and misleading assessments, modern readers have criticized features of the poem that were never intended to be read according to modern notions of proportion, subtlety, or romantic sensibility. 10 The Truelove has not deserved these aspersions, which derive from a misunderstanding of what made the poem effective in its own time, place, and culture.

As an alliterative meditation of intricate refinement and serious purpose, The Four Leaves of the Truelove has much to tell us about the devotional tastes and reading habits of people for whom literacy was a skill self-consciously cultivated to order to gain personal knowledge of God. Asking that the work be more than merely read, the poet expected his verbal artifact to be mentally embraced and spiritually imbibed as an efficacious "pill" for personal salvation. The user's engagement was to be both contemplative and interactive, mastering the text not just for its content but also for its forms. He or she was to use it to meditate in visualized concepts, from remembered images in books of hours, from patterns and interweavings suggested by sacred emblems, and from the four leaves of the poem in his or her hands.

The restored English title is the poem's proper one, extracted from the sixth stanza and recorded by Wynkyn de Worde. This title unites, by means of the popular plant-name, the dual themes truth and love, and it contains the poet's favorite wordplay on lufe ("love") and lefe ("leaf" and "belief"). Shortened to Truelove, it focuses in on the poet's remarkable effort to make content cohere with a single form articulated in various ways. In this aim the poem may well remind readers of medieval verse of another stanzaic, alliterated poem, the enigmatic masterpiece Pearl. If we were to search through surviving Middle English lyrics for the work most likely to have been directly influenced by the shape-making art found in Pearl, The Four Leaves of the Truelove would certainly be among the leading contenders.

Note on the Edited Text

The poem is clearly older than its manuscripts, some pronunciations being obscured by modernized spellings (e.g., sorow instead of sorwe; lady instead of lef(e)dy). The plain style attributed to the Truelove (by, for example, Pearsall, p. 185) appears to be a by-product of corruption. While several lines and passages remain deficient in alliteration, careful comparison of the three texts provides ample evidence that the original poem was ornately alliterative and operated on a tighter line than has often survived.

In the long lines of Truelove, alliteration tends to be regularly applied in the following patterns: an a-verse possessing three lifts, two of them alliterating, with the lift just before the caesura usually being one of the two alliterating words in the a-verse; a b-verse possessing two lifts, which either alliterate with each other (the aa/bb type of line) or, more typically, alliterate with at least one of the lifts in the a-verse. There is a marked tendency on the part of the poet to integrate the third nonalliterating lift of the a-verse alliteratively into the b-verse. In some particularly expository passages (and especially in wheels), the poet seems to relax the alliteration C or else it has been scribally altered. But even at these places there usually exists an interplay of sound patterns (two or three consonants, with some degree of assonance).

Indeed, sound patterns that go beyond the normal alliterative patterns are an important part of the verbal texture. For example, there is often an alternation of two, sometimes three, initial consonantal or vocalic phonemes interwoven over a series of lines, which may operate only partially within the formal stress patterns. Internal rhymes are frequent. Moreover, the poet paid close attention to echoic medial and end sounds, and he alliterated occasionally upon sounds created by elision of two words, a type of soundplay ignored by scribes as they casually inverted words.

The Gollancz and Gollancz/Weale editions of The Four Leaves of the Truelove were both based on the London Thornton MS (T), with a selective listing of the variants from Bodl. Addit. MS A 106 (A) and no consideration of the Wynkyn de Worde print (W), which was unknown to those editors. In each instance the text from T was lightly emended with reference to A. Neither edition included an assessment of the relative merit of each manuscript. When the Gollancz/Weale edition appeared in 1935, reviewers unanimously criticized its textual apparatus. J. P. Oakden found the listing of variants from A to be insufficient for the specialist. He, along with Dorothy Everett, G. V. Smithers, and C. L. Wrenn, called for more editorial consideration of the variants, demonstrating that there were often better readings from A that the editors had omitted. In particular, Wrenn thought that the rhymes ought to have been emended, and he wished for a "more courageous critical text based on the two MSS jointly" (p. 375).

The text offered here expands the work of Gollancz and Gollancz/Weale by its extensive collation of both manuscripts as well as the third witness to the poem. All three copies hold valuable evidence for an editor endeavoring to recover the original text of Truelove. In terms simply of alliterative effect, neither A nor T offers a better text than the one that can be achieved by comparison of the variants. Moreover, even though W is more modern than the manuscripts, it often preserves evidence of the best reading. The exemplar of W was a third manuscript that possessed many readings superior in sense or meter to both A and T.

In critically editing Truelove, I have found many indications that the poem underwent at least one comprehensive revision between its composition and its copying into the documents that survive. There are numerous errors common to all three texts, a finding that means there was a shared version in the ancestry of the surviving copies, that is, a version at least one remove from the original poem. This shared ancestor represents a revisionary effort to make a demanding meter and older vocabulary more accessible to a new audience. The common errors include several identifiable losses of alliterative words (see, for example, the emendations at lines 40, 44, 213, 482, and 495).

A critical text of Truelove has to remain largely the composite product of its two late scribes and printer. Even so, I have restored the poem as far as sound scholarship and editorial practice will allow. Emendations adopted from T or W are spelled in accordance with the A scribe's normal practice. A's few instances of flawed rhyme-words have been emended; for most of these, the expected form is to be found in T or W. For many words, the northern spellings that represent the poet's dialect are easily confirmed by either rhyme or recurrent soundplay; for the most obvious of these, textual consistency has been sought, with cases of emended spelling noted. The comparative edition offered here, based on A but dependent too upon T and W, presents a poem more verbally artful than has been previously recognized. It is my hope that the Truelove poet's quietly ornate style can now be better perceived.

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Select Bibliography


Oxford, Bodleian Library Additional MS A 106, fols. 6b-14b. Yorkshire, c. 1425-50. [Base text. A composite MS consisting of six booklets; Truelove appears in the first booklet, accompanied by a treatise on the pestilence, a lapidary, an herbal, medical recipes, and three poems.]

London Thornton MS: London, British Library Additional MS 31042, fols. 98a-101b. Yorkshire, c. 1425-50. [One of two miscellanies compiled by Robert Thornton for private or domestic use; Thornton's books preserve several romances and alliterative poems.]

Early Print

London, British Library Huth 102. The .iiii. Leues of the Trueloue. Quarto. Printed by Wynkyn de Worde. Fleet Street, London, c. 1510. Listed in: A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave. Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England . . . 1475-1640. Second ed. Rev. F. S. Ferguson, W. A. Jackson, and K. F. Panzer. Vol. 2. London: Bibliographical Society, 1976. No. 15345. [A slightly modernized version based on a third MS. Two copies survive: London, British Library Huth 102, and San Marino, Huntington Library HEH RB 31382.]


Thompson, John J. Robert Thornton and the London Thornton Manuscript: British Library MS Additional 31042. Manuscript Studies 2. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987. Plates 19b, 20a. [Fols. 98a, 101b.]


Gollancz, Israel, ed. "The Quatrefoil of Love: An Alliterative Religious Lyric." In An English Miscellany, Presented to Dr. Furnivall. Ed. N. R. Ker, A. S. Napier, and W. W. Skeat. 1901; rpt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1969. Pp. 112-32. [London Thornton MS.]

Gollancz, Israel, and Magdalene M. Weale, eds. The Quatrefoil of Love. EETS o.s. 195. 1935; rpt. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus, 1971. [London Thornton MS.]

Textual Commentaries

Everett, Dorothy. "The Quatrefoil of Love [review]." Year's Work in English Studies 15 (1935), 118-19.

Oakden, J. P. "The Quatrefoil of Love [review]." Modern Language Review 31 (1936), 209-10.

Smithers, G. V. "The Quatrefoil of Love [review]." Medium Evum 6 (1937), 51-57.

Wrenn, C. L. "The Quatrefoil of Love [review]." Review of English Studies 13 (1937), 374-77.

Related Latin Work

Meditations on the Life of Christ (Meditationes vitae Christi). Trans. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961. Pp. 54-56.

Related Middle English Works

Alliterative poems in thirteen-line stanzas:

The Awntyrs off Arthure. Ed. Robert J. Gates. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

De tribus regibus mortuis. Ed. Ella Keats Whiting. In The Poems of John Audelay. EETS o.s. 184. 1931; rpt. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus, 1988. Pp. xxiv-xxvii, 217-23, 256-59.

The Dispute Between Mary and the Cross. Printed in this edition. [Forty stanzas; second birth at midpoint; appears in Vernon MS, pt. 3.]

The Pistel of Swete Susan. Ed. Russell A. Peck. In Heroic Women from the Old Testament in Middle English Verse. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1991. Pp. 73-108. [Possesses stanza most similar to Truelove stanza; appears in Vernon MS, pt. 3.]

Summer Sunday. Ed. Rossell Hope Robbins. In Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. Pp. 98-102, 301-03.

York Plays 36 and 45 ("The Death of Christ" and "The Assumption of the Virgin"). Ed. Richard Beadle. In The York Plays. London: Edward Arnold, 1982. Pp. 323-33, 452; 392-99, 460-61.

The Bird with Four Feathers. Printed in this edition. [Chanson d'aventure with a bird sermon; structural use of number four.]

Ecce ancilla Domini. Ed. E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick. In Early English Lyrics. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1926. Pp. 112-14. [Annunciation poem in dialogue form; delivered word ties a "knot."]

In a Valley of This Restless Mind. Printed in this edition. [Search for a truelove leads to mystical contact with Christ's body.]

Love, Nicholas. Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. Ed. Michael G. Sargent. Garland Medieval Texts 18. New York: Garland, 1992.

Love That God Loveth. Ed. J. Kail. In Twenty-Six Political and Other Poems. EETS o.s. 124. London, 1904. Pp. 73-79. [The herb truelove, emblem of Christ's wounds, provides medicine for the soul.]

Lydgate, John. Purification Marie. (From The Lyfe of Oure Lady, Book VI, lines 1-301.) Ed. W. B. D. D. Turnbull. In The Vision of Tundale. Edinburgh: T. G. Stevenson, 1843. Pp. 127-37. [43 rime-royal stanzas on the Virgin's forty-day purification and her offering of a turtledove and a dove, with the birds' meanings explicated.]

Maiden Mary and Her Fleur-de-Lys. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century. Second ed. Rev. G. V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957. Pp. 181-85, 280-81. [Vernon lyric with alliteration and botanical emblem.]

The Middle English Charters of Christ. Ed. Mary Caroline Spalding. Bryn Mawr College Monograph 15. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College, 1914. Pp. 63, 65. [An allegorized truelove is the "rent" to enter heaven; earliest version, The Short Charter, is Northern; see also The Testament of Christ.]

The Middle-English Harrowing of Hell and Gospel of Nicodemus. Ed. William Henry Hulme. EETS e.s. 100. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trhbner, 1907.

Orison to the Trinity. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century. Second ed. Rev. G.V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957. Pp. 121-24, 275. [Northern lyric prayer to Trinity and Mary in 13 stanzas; appears in Vernon MS.]

Pearl. Ed. E. V. Gordon. Oxford: Clarendon, 1953. [Central emblem has multiple, unfolding associations; structure is circular, numerological, framed, and a diptych; style is alliterative and stanzaic.]

Secular chansons d'aventure with a maiden's lament:
De clerico et puella. Ed. G. L. Brook. In The Harley Lyrics. Fourth ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968. Pp. 62-63.

I Met in a Morning a May in a Meadow. Ed. A. Brandl and O. Zippel. In Middle English Literature. New York: Chelsea, 1949. P. 128.

The Meeting in the Wood. Ed. G. L. Brook. In The Harley Lyrics. Fourth ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968. Pp. 39-40.

The Murning Maidin. Ed. G. Gregory Smith. In Specimens of Middle Scots. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1902. Pp. 64-69.

Nou Sprinkes the Sprai. Ed. Carleton Brown. In English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1932. Pp. 119-20.

The Sweetness of Jesus. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century. Second ed. Rev. G. V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957. Pp. 61-65, 262-63. [Northern love-song to Jesus, who asks nothing "Bot a trewluf for His travail."]

The Testament of Christ. Ed. F. J. Furnivall. In The Minor Poems of the Vernon Manuscript. Part 2. EETS o.s. 117. 1901; rpt. New York: Greenwood, 1969. Pp. 637-57. [Follows The Pistel of Swete Susan in Vernon MS; see also The Middle English Charters of Christ.]

William of Nassington. On the Trinity. Ed. George G. Perry. In Religious Pieces in Verse and Prose. EETS o.s. 26. 1905; rpt. New York: Greenwood, 1969. Pp. 63-75. [Didactic poem on the Trinity, with an account of Christ's life and the Last Judgment.]

Criticism of The Four Leaves of the Truelove

Ames, Joseph. Typological Antiquities of the History of Printing in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Ed. Thomas F. Dibdin. Rev. William Herbert. Vol. 2. 1812; rpt. London: Bulmer, 1969. P. 382.

Anon. "The Quatrefoil of Love [review]." Notes & Queries 169 (1935), 18.

Bennett, J. A. W. Middle English Literature. Ed. Douglas Gray. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Pp. 49-50.

Blake, N. F. "Wynkyn de Worde and The Quatrefoil of Love." Archiv fhr das Studium der Neuren Sprachen und Literaturen 206 (1969), 189-200.

Davidoff, Judith M. Beginning Well: Framing Fictions in Late Middle English Poetry. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988. Pp. 92, 190-92.

Fein, Susanna Greer. "Why Did Absolon Put a 'Trewlove' under His Tongue? Herb Paris as a Healing 'Grace' in Middle English Literature." Chaucer Review 25 (1991), 302-17.

——. "Form and Continuity in the Alliterative Tradition: Cruciform Design and Double Birth in Two Stanzaic Poems." Modern Language Quarterly 53 (1992), 100-25.

Lawton, David. "The Diversity of Middle English Alliterative Poetry." Leeds Studies in English 20 (1989), 159-62.

Pearsall, Derek. Old English and Middle English Poetry. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977. Pp. 185-86, 299.

Phillips, Helen. "The Quatrefoil of Love." In Langland, the Mystics, and the Medieval English Religious Tradition: Essays in Honour of S. S. Hussey. Ed. Helen Phillips. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 1990. Pp. 243-58.

Raymo, Robert R. "Works of Religious and Philosophical Instruction." In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500. Ed. Albert E. Hartung. Vol. 7. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1986. Pp. 2334, 2541-42.

Sandison, Helen E. The "Chanson d'Aventure" in Middle English. Bryn Mawr College Monographs 12. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College, 1913. Pp. 83, 86-87.

Related Studies

Barratt, Alexandra. "The Prymer and Its Influence on Fifteenth-Century Passion Lyrics." Medium Evum 44 (1975), 264-79.

Duggan, Hoyt N. "The Shape of the B-Verse in Middle English Alliterative Tradition." Speculum 61 (1986), 564-92.

Friedman, John Block. Northern English Books, Owners, and Makers in the Late Middle Ages. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995. Pp. 67-72.

Harwood, Britton J. "Pearl as Diptych." In Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives on the Pearl-Poet. Ed. Robert J. Blanch, Miriam Youngerman Miller, and Julian N. Wasserman. New York: Whitson, 1991. Pp. 61-78.

Keiser, George. "The Progress of Purgatory: Visions of the Afterlife in Later Middle English Literature." In Zeit, Tod und Ewigkeit in der renaissance Literatur. Ed. James Hogg. Salzburg: Institut fhr Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universit@t Salzburg, 1987. Pp. 111-59.

Lawton, David, ed. Middle English Alliterative Poetry and Its Literary Background: Seven Essays. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1982.

Phillips, Helen. "The Ghost's Baptism in The Awntyrs off Arthure." Medium Evum 58 (1989), 49-58. [Truelove cited, p. 55.]

Reichl, Karl. "Popular Poetry and Courtly Lyric: The Middle English Pastourelle." REAL: The Yearbook in Research in English and American Literature 5 (1987), 33-61.

Sichert, Margit. Die mittelenglische Pastourelle. Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1991.

Turville-Petre, Thorlac. "'Summer Sunday,' 'De Tribus Regibus Mortuis,' and 'The Awntyrs off Arthure': Three Poems in the Thirteen-Line Stanza." Review of English Studies, n.s. 25 (1974), 3-15.

——. The Alliterative Revival. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, Rowman & Littlefield, 1977. Pp. 35, 44, 62-63.

Wenzel, Siegfried. Verses in Sermons: "Fasciculus Morum" and Its Middle English Poems. Cambridge, Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1978. Pp. 159-60.

Wieck, Roger S. The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. With essays by Lawrence R. Poos, Virginia Reinberg, and John Plummer. London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988.

Williams, D. J. "Alliterative Poetry in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries." In The Middle Ages. Ed. W. F. Bolton. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1970. Pp. 116, 128.