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In a Valley of this Restless Mind: Introduction


1 A Literary History of England (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948), p. 218. See also Gray (1972), p. 143; Woolf (1968), p. 187; Wimsatt (1978), p. 345.

2 This method of gradual approach through a metamorphosing narrator has troubled at least one critic, Stevick, who judges the piece "not [to] be good poetry" because of "distracting shifts in the direction of direct address" and "contradictions" that frustrate logic (pp. 109-10; see also Speirs, p. 81). Wimsatt asserts, on the other hand, that in the context of a mystical, "dream realm" "transitions from one role to another are easily made" ([1984], p. 83).

3 See Edmund Reiss, The Art of the Middle English Lyric (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1972), p. 129; Astell, pp. 154-58.

4 Derek Pearsall, John Lydgate (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), p. 75.

5 It is interesting to note that the poem's sister piece Tabernacle was ascribed to Lydgate by an aged John Shirley, fifteenth-century publisher. Even though Shirley's knowledge of Lydgate's canon is usually reliable, scholars have not accepted the attribution: see Henry Noble MacCracken, The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, part 1, EETS e.s. 107 (rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. xxxi-xxxii; and Pearsall, p. 78.

6 Felicity Riddy, "The Provenance of Quia amore langueo," Review of English Studies, n.s. 18 (1967), 429-33.

7 Brown, Rel. Lyr. XIV, p. 262; on the manuscripts see Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, The Index of Middle English Verse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), no. 1781.
The poem that follows here has attracted some of the highest praise bestowed upon a Middle English religious lyric: Albert C. Baugh honors it as "the most beautiful," 1 and Ann W. Astell, in a sensitive study of the Song of Songs in medieval literature, calls it "perhaps the finest of the vernacular poems inspired by the Canticum" (p. 145). It is routinely included in general anthologies of religious verse, but it has rarely been printed in specialized Middle English collections. The poem, entitled by its first line In a Valley of This Restless Mind, survives in two manuscripts from the early fifteenth century C one from Lambeth Palace, the other from Cambridge University Library. The earliest edition (Furnivall [1866]) prints both texts side by side. While the two versions are similar, there are often subtle differences in individual wordings, and an important variation in order of stanzas (the fourteenth and the fifteenth are reversed). Although scholars of the poem have preferred the Lambeth text and (usually) its order for the basis of their discussions, editors of general anthologies have most often printed the Cambridge version. When this disparity in modern reception is set against the poem's extraordinary qualities, a critical edition of the poem seems rather overdue.

In the Lambeth manuscript This Restless Mind follows the Marian lament In a Tabernacle of a Tower, another poem with the same refrain, which is taken from Canticles 2.5 C Quia amore langueo, "Because I am sick for love" C where it is spoken by the Bride to the Bridegroom. Beyond the shared refrain, these two poems agree in both stanzaic pattern and lyrical tone of intimate address. These correspondences, taken together, suggest the derivation of one from the other. The more uniquely original of the two poems is the one printed here, which is probably the earlier piece. The Marian poem has the Virgin utter her refrain-lament to a musing narrator from within a dreamlike vision. Here, it is a wounded lover-knight figure C Christ as Bridegroom C who suffers an exquisite longing for love, and who speaks from within a visionary place imagined with natural detail (valley and hill) yet interiorized in the narrator's "restless mind." The shifted assignation of the scriptural line from human Bride-Soul-Virgin to divine Bridegroom delivers a startling effect, as Mary-Ann Stouck has noted: "The effect of the change is to inform the whole poem with intensified feeling, since it implies not only a greater degree of love C Christ's capacity for love, as for suffering, being infinitely greater than man's C but also a startling insufficiency in Christ: He cannot be satisfied without man's love. . . . The feeling here is refined and engages our sympathy" (p. 3).

Like the narrator's restless mind, the poem's logical movement is fluid, emotive, ever-shifting. Lines of uneven length create a lyric echo of the Song of Songs. Terms for the beloved punctuate the lover's speech, initially in third-person descriptions given to the listening narrator, but, increasingly, in second-person expressions made directly to the female beloved, whom he identifies by name, Mannis Soule. The frequent endearments create an atmosphere of intimacy and lovingness, of overhearing C eventually of receiving C the most private murmurings and erotic blandishments of a lover while he woos and seduces his espoused. Christ the Bridegroom here makes love to the reader, approaching first through the distanced figure of Mannis Soule, then through the drawn-in narrator, and finally through direct address to "thow," the reader. 2 The tone of familiarity is intense: God is personified as a gentle, patient, persistent lover, waiting to gain a response, seizing upon any sign of affectionate reciprocation. The languishing voice of a loving Deity shapes the emotional texture of the poem.

In using the figure of Lover-Knight for Christ, the poet transfers attribution for Christ's wounds from the history of the Passion to the effects of an unrequited love for mankind. The metaphor is well-known in Middle English religious lyrics and meditations (Woolf [1962], pp. 1-16). Here, Christ is literally wounded for love, languishing in pain caused by his beloved, who, in return for his affection, has beaten him and forcibly dressed him in strange garments C a bloodied shirt, gloves embroidered with blood, shoes tightly buckled with nails. The reader is asked to reenvision the crucified Christ and his wounds through the language of courtly fashion and love etiquette.

The poet thus depicts the relationship of God and man in humanly sexual terms: Christ is the male suitor of the feminine soul (the anima). This representation merely prefaces, however, another, more startling figure of amorous kinship: Christ as the nurturing mother who shelters her infant Mannis Soule within her wounded side, nursing her with milk/blood from her "pap." Here is another expression of Christ's loving nature that found outlet in such affective writings as Julian of Norwich's Shewings, where Christ is tenderly referred to as "oure precyous moder Jhesu, he may fede us wyth hymselfe, and . . . he may homely lede us into his blessyd brest by his swet opyn syde, and shewe us ther in perty of the godhed and the joyes of hevyn" (pp. 123-25; see Stouck, pp. 3-4, 8). The juxtaposing of two quite differently gendered metaphors for Christ achieves, as Thomas D. Hill has noted, "an original and startling effect C a moment in which Christ's sexual nature is abruptly redefined" (p. 459). In fact, gendered definitions of behavior and kinship seem to govern a hidden movement within the poem's narrative of conversion. Astell believes that the poet imposes a feminized perspective upon the reader, that is, a sexualized perspective that connotes a receptivity for conversion. Many of the roles given to Christ are also specifically feminine, and as Astell notes, they form "an imagistic sequence from languishing to receptive lovemaking to pregnancy, nursing, and rearing" (p. 147). She interprets this figuratively feminine process as a means by which Christ models the response he seeks from his Bride.

One might take the interpretation of gendered roles in the poem a bit further by considering the key kinships represented by these roles. It seems that the essential natures of Christ, of the visionary narrator/reader, and even of the named bride Mannis Soule are each to some extent bigendered. The Soule is "man's," yet she is the feminized object of God's love-pursuit. The visionary wanderer of the opening is ostensibly like all male narrators who recite a lyric chanson d'aventure (Hill, p. 460). Yet when he meets the wounded man, he has found both the object of his search ("Truelove") and an alter-ego (reinforced when Christ's lamenting "I" supplants his narrating "I"). These correspondences implicitly identify him with both the masculine, love-seeking wooer and the feminized love-object, Mannis Soule. Christ is a courteous pursuer of his beloved, a hunter, and yet his courtship of Mannis Soule is remarkably passive and stationary, his wounded body laid out as an enticing "bait": seemingly more like a woman, "he draws his love to him by the beauty of his body" (Hill, p. 461). The gender-oriented positions of these three personages are all curiously interchangable and fluctuant.

What stabilizes the flowing in and out of sexual roles is the assertion of immutable familial relationships: Christ names Mannis Soule as his sister and his wife. These horizontal relationships betoken Christ's flesh-and-blood kinship to mankind. The marital bond creates, in addition, the potential for procreation, a possibility that in the poet's devotional framework suggests conversion. That, in fact, is what happens when Christ and Mannis Soule C Bridegroom and bride C consummate their spiritual marriage in the stanza break between lines 104 and 105. Conversion leads to a new kinship of vertical dimension, Christ as bigendered parent (Mother and reigning Father) and Soule as bigendered child (man and woman). Conversion brings revelation of the kinship in spirit (rather than flesh) that exists between God and Mannis Soule.

In joining with God, the soul is transformed from wayward sister flesh to docile spiritual child. The catalyst for the transformation is Christ's wounded side, a venerated site of holiness in This Restless Mind; it is, as James I. Wimsatt notes, "the source and place of contemplative bliss, which [the poet] has made the master image of the poem" ([1978], p. 343). In a very literal way the wound makes Christ's heart accessible to mankind. Whether Christ is to be seen as Lover or as Well of Grace, this point of access is crucially important to humankind. The tender scene of the soul's refuge and infantile repose in Christ's wound becomes yet another transition, this time to imagery of proper child-rearing. The newly birthed infant soul will eventually be weaned from "baby food" and fed with "adversity" (lines 117-19). The caring Parent will raise the child through strict, loving discipline, ever testing the trueness of its filial love.

Thus, the poet's seemingly bizarre blurring of gender lines can be seen to belong to a larger, anthropomorphized expression of God's relationship to humankind. Presented as a kinship, this relationship is complex and, in natural terms, irrational. The logic exists devotionally, as one may see in the poem that follows This Restless Mind in Lambeth 853. In seeking to know how he should "for kyndnes . . . luf [his] kyn" (line 17), the poet of The Sweetness of Jesus works through the familial and social roles of Jesus C father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, prince, king, friend C and concludes that he owes total fealty: "no thyng will he have iwys, / Bot trewluf for his travail" (lines 87-88). Another Middle English lyric of exceptional power, Undo Thy Door, My Spouse Dear, begins with the sexualized image of Christ imploring narrator-spouse (mankind) to unlock the door of his heart. The physically insertive act is reversed at the end, when the narrator appeals to Christ, whose "herte is cloven oure love to kecchen" (line 17), to "Perce myn herte with thi lovengge, / That in The I have my duellingge" (lines 21-22). The desire of Christ to enter man's heart reveals itself as man's need to be enclosed in Christ's wounded heart. The poem is ultimately about a complete change in one's being, that is, a spiritual giving up of the boundaries of self. 3 Similar ideas clearly direct the restless imagery of In a Valley of This Restless Mind.

The text printed here is based on the copy in Lambeth 853, a collection of religious verse that dates from the mid-fifteenth century. The compiler of this manuscript exercised judgment as to the arrangement of poetic matter largely of a devotional nature. The poem falls within a group of four copied in the first quire: Surge mea sponsa, Tabernacle, This Restless Mind, and Sweetness. The effect of this sequence is to treat the poem as a lyrical companion C almost as a continuation C of Tabernacle. All four poems are songs of love-longing, and a narrative thread develops: Christ singing of love to the Virgin, the Virgin singing to mankind, Christ also singing to mankind, and, in response, mankind's declaration of love to Christ and a final plea for mercy. The second, slightly later manuscript, Cambridge University Library Hh.4.12, has This Restless Mind copied in the midst of works by the fifteenth-century poet John Lydgate, between The Legend of Saint Austin at Compton (an exemplum on tithing) and The Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep (a beast debate with political overtones). Why the lyric was chosen to join this collection is not apparent, but the book's fascicular origin may provide some clue. In the fifteenth-century book trade, publishers would sometimes "have poems or groups of related poems copied in loose quires which would then be held in stock and bound up to the taste of specific customers." 4 Lydgate's works were often marketed in this fashion, and the Cambridge manuscript is one such book. 5

The date of In a Valley of This Restless Mind is uncertain. Robert D. Stevick places it c. 1430, but Carleton Brown prints In a Tabernacle of a Tower as a lyric of the late fourteenth century, and Felicity Riddy groups both poems under this earlier date. If Tabernacle is accepted as the later poem, as several commentators have thought it to be, then This Restless Mind is surely a composition of the fourteenth century, perhaps close in time to The Sweetness of Jesus, its other companion in the Lambeth manuscript. Sweetness may be dated by its earliest manuscript to the mid-fourteenth century. The dialects of Tabernacle and Sweetness are, however, both more northern than is that of This Restless Mind C insofar as we have an accurate record of its original dialect in two fairly late manuscripts. The two texts that survive are in the more standard, southern dialect associated with London, a dialect into which many fourteenth-century texts were translated in the fifteenth century. To make comparison, Tabernacle survives in eight manuscripts, six in this dialect and two preserving features of the northern origin; 6 Sweetness survives in sixteen manuscripts, but only two retain the northern dialect. 7 The two texts of This Restless Mind do not, therefore, reliably indicate its date of composition or its author's dialect. If Restless Mind preceded Tabernacle, then it, too, probably originated in the north.

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London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 853, pp. 7-14. C. 1450. [Base text.]

Cambridge, Cambridge University Library Hh.4.12, fols. 41b-44a. C. 1475.


Both Manuscripts

Furnivall, F. J., ed. Political, Religious, and Love Poems. EETS o.s. 15. Second ed. 1903; rpt. Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, 1965. Pp. 180-89.
Based on Lambeth

Riddy, Felicity, ed. In The Middle Ages (700-1550). Ed. Michael Alexander and Felicity Riddy. St. Martin's Anthologies of English Literature. Vol. 1. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. Pp. 416-21.

Based on Cambridge

Cecil, David, ed. The Oxford Book of Christian Verse. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940. Pp. 25-29.

Comper, Frances M. M., ed. Spiritual Songs from English Manuscripts of Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and New York: Macmillan, 1936. Pp. 167-71. [In modern spelling, based on Cambridge.]

Donaldson, E. Talbot, ed. Poets of the English Language: I. Langland to Spenser. Ed. W. H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson. New York: Viking, 1950. Pp. 30-34.

Duncan, Thomas G., ed. A Selection of Religious Lyrics. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975. Pp. 100-04. [Lambeth order.]

Gray, Douglas, ed. A Selection of Religious Lyrics. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975. Pp. 41-45, 125-27. [Lambeth order.]

Nicholson, D. H. S., and A. H. E. Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Oxford: Clarendon, 1917. Pp. 6-10.

Sisam, Celia, and Kenneth Sisam, eds. The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse. Oxford: Clarendon, 1970. Pp. 357-60.

Stevick, Robert D., ed. One Hundred Middle English Lyrics. Second ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Pp. 88-93. [Lambeth order.]

Edited Extracts

Chambers, E. K., and F. Sidgwick, eds. Early English Lyrics. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1926. Pp. 151-54. [12 stanzas, based on Lambeth.]
Cook, A. S., ed. A Literary Middle English Reader. Boston: Ginn, 1915. Pp. 439-40. [3 stanzas, based on Cambridge.]

Kaiser, Rolf, ed. Medieval English: An Old English and Middle English Anthology. Third ed. Berlin: Rolf Kaiser, 1958. Pp. 291-93. [10 stanzas, based on Lambeth.]

Reeves, James, ed. The Cassell Book of English Poetry. New York: Harper and Row, 1965. [11 stanzas, in modern spelling, based on Lambeth.]


Davie, Donald, trans. The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. Pp. 16-20. [Based on Cambridge, follows Gardner translation.]

Gardner, Helen, trans. The New Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1950. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972. Pp. 9-12. Also: The Faber Book of Religious Verse. London: Faber and Faber, 1972. Pp. 56-60. [Based on Cambridge, follows Sisam and Sisam edition.]

Segar, Mary G., trans. A MediFval Anthology. London: Longmans, Green, 1915. Pp. 23-26. [12 stanzas, based on Lambeth.]

Watts, Nevile, trans. Love Songs of Sion: A Selection of Devotional Verses from Old English Sources. London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1924. Pp. 58-62. [Based on Lambeth.]

Weston, Jessie L., trans. The Chief Middle English Poets: Selected Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914. Pp. 347-49. [Based on Lambeth.]

Related Medieval Works

A Meditation of the Five Wounds of Jesus Christ. Ed. Carl Horstmann. In Yorkshire Writers. Vol. 2. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896. Pp. 440-41.

A Talking of the Love of God. Ed. Carl Horstmann. In Yorkshire Writers. Vol. 2. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896. Pp. 345-66.

Bernard of Clairvaux. On the Song of Songs. Trans. Kilian Walsh and Irene Edmonds. 4 vols. Cistercian Fathers Series 4, 7, 31, 40. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1971, 1976, 1979, 1980.

In a Tabernacle of a Tower. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century. Second ed. Rev. G. V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957. Pp. xii, 234-37, 286-87. [Companion poem in Lambeth.]

Julian of Norwich. The Shewings. Ed. Georgia Ronan Crampton. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994. [Especially pp. 120-26.]

Rolle, Richard. Prose and Verse. Ed. S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson. EETS o.s. 293. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. [Especially pp. 15-33, 42-63.]

Surge mea sponsa. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1939. Pp. 65-67, 305-06.

Sweet Jesus, Now Will I Sing. Ed. Carl Horstmann. In Yorkshire Writers. Vol. 2. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896. Pp. 9-24.

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. [Companion poem in Lambeth.]

Undo Thy Door, My Spouse Dear. Ed. Carleton Brown. In Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century. Second ed. Rev. G. V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957. P. 86.

Criticism of In a Valley of This Restless Mind

Astell, Ann W. The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990. Pp. 143-54.

Brewer, Derek. English Gothic Literature. History of Literature Series. Ed. A. Norman Jeffares. New York: Schocken Books, 1983. Pp. 48-50.

Gray, Douglas. Themes and Images in the Medieval English Religious Lyric. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972. Pp. 143-45.

Hill, Thomas D. "Androgyny and Conversion in the Middle English Lyric, 'In the Vaile of Restles Mynd."' ELH 53 (1986), 459-70.

Manning, Stephen. Wisdom and Number: Toward a Critical Appraisal of the Middle English Religious Lyric. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962. Pp. 59-62.

Speirs, John. Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition. New York: Macmillan, 1957. Pp. 80-81.

Stevick, Robert D. "The Criticism of Middle Engish Lyrics." Modern Philology 64 (1966), 108-10.

Stouck, Mary-Ann. "'In a valey of zis restles mynde': Contexts and Meaning." Modern Philology 85 (1987), 1-11.

Wimsatt, James I. "The Canticle of Canticles, Two Latin Poems, and 'In a valey of zis restles mynde."' Modern Philology 75 (1978), 327-45.

——. "St. Bernard, the Canticle of Canticles, and Mystical Poetry." In An Introduction to The Medieval Mystics of Europe. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984. Pp. 82-88.

Woolf, Rosemary. The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968. Pp. 187-91.

Related Studies

Beckwith, Sarah. "Limens, Boundaries and Wounds: Corpus Christi as Rite of Passage." In Christ's Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings. London: Routledge, 1993. Pp. 55-63.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Pp. 110-69.

Cross, J. E. "The Virgin's Quia Amore Langueo." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 73 (1972), 37-44.

Dronke, Peter. "The Song of Songs and Medieval Love-Lyric." The Medieval Poet and His World. Storia e Letteratura Raccolta di Studi e Testi 164. Rome: Storia e Letteratura, 1984. Pp. 209-36.

Gillespie, Vincent. "Strange Images of Death: The Passion in Later Medieval English Devotional and Mystical Writing." 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.

Gray, Douglas. "The Five Wounds of Our Lord — I-IV." Notes and Queries, n.s. 10 (1963), 50-51, 82-89, 127-34, 163-68.

Heimmel, Jennifer P. God is Our Mother: Julian of Norwich and the Medieval Image of Christian Feminine Divinity. Salzburg: Institut fhr Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universit@t Salzburg, 1982. Pp. 34-45.

McGinn, Bernard. "The Language of Love in Christian and Jewish Mysticism." In Mysticism and Language. Ed. Steven T. Katz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Pp. 202-35.

Rubin, Miri. "Christ's Suffering Humanity." In Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Pp. 303-16.

Woolf, Rosemary. "The Theme of Christ the Lover-Knight in Medieval English Literature." Review of English Studies, n.s. 13 (1962), 1-16.