Thomas of Hales, Love Rune
THOMAS OF HALES, LOVE RUNE: FOOTNOTES1 Here begins a certain song which Brother Thomas of Hales of the order of Minorites composed at the request of a young girl dedicated to God
2 And best able to protect (or advise) a noblewoman (see note)
3 In the end, however thoroughly a person may guard [himself], / He shall die like a leaf on a bough
4 He (Henry) holds [power] from God and bows to Him
5 He asks with thee (i.e., in dowry) neither lands nor people, / Nor fancy furs or fine cloth
6 It (i.e., the dwelling God will give you) is fairer by many times
7 No miner may ever undermine it (her) / Nor cause the foundation to give way (or, no Minorite may falsify it through his meager writing C see note)
8 Fortunate are [they who are] born alive / Who might this same condition guard (know) / For once you have lost it (Him), / It (He) is never found again
9 Among all others, it (He) bears the prize (i.e., is the best)
10 While you guard it (know Him) under your skirt
11 Does he not [commit], Maiden, an evil deed, / Who may choose one of two things, / If he should, without need, / Pick the worse [of the two] and neglect the better?
12 And learn each part of it without book (i.e., memorize it) / So that you may be very expert in [knowing] it
THOMAS OF HALES, LOVE RUNE: NOTESAbbreviations:
MS Oxford, Jesus College MS 29.
M Morris edition (1872).
B Brown edition (1932).
DW Dickins and Wilson edition (1951).
K Kaiser edition (1958).
DB Dunn and Byrnes edition (1990).
Oxford, Jesus College MS 29 is the sole record for Love Rune. Each stanza, written in double lines, begins with an enlarged capital. These initials alternate in color, red or blue. After the incipit in red, the poem begins midway on a recto, fills a verso/recto opening, and ends midway on the next verso. The last ten lines are copied as one stanza in five lines. Inscribed by a thirteenth-century scribe who writes in a neat, compact hand, the poem is occasionally corrected by a later hand. The following notes record the second hand's corrections and the relatively few emendations and variant readings in the five editions.
1 mayde Cristes. The phrase meaning "Christ's maid" is synonymous with puella Deo dicate in the Latin heading. What these phrases indicate of the woman's status is uncertain, except that she is a virgin. If she was a real person, she may have been a nun — a Minoress or Poor Clare (Hill , p. 321; D'Angelo, p. 237), a lay recluse (Millett, pp. 97-98), or merely a pious laywoman under the friar's instruction. Bloomfield remarks that the maiden "may be no one at all but a poetic construct" (p. 55). For another possibility, see the note to line 4, and for a discussion of the circumstance stated in the incipit and this stanza, see the Introduction to Love Rune. The gendered context of the work — pious instruction from a religious man to a woman in need of guidance — has a long tradition; such works often focus on the subject of virginity; see Newman, pp. 19-45.
2 luve ron. The exact meaning is uncertain. Ron ("rune") would seem to combine a range of senses: "song," "message," "secret," and "riddle"; the whole phrase luve ron suggests a private message between lovers or a love poem with a private meaning. The phrase luve runes is the translation of Latin amatoria carmina in The Life of Saint Katherine (ed. Eugen Einenkel, EETS, o.s. 80 [1884; repr. Millwood, N. Y.: Kraus, 1975], p. 7). The poet's plan to "wurche" a love rune suggests the intricacy of verbal composition in interlocked rhyme and sense, and it hints at a secret message to discover. In The Harley Lyrics (ed. Brook) the word roune appears four times as a noun: a love song (4.38, p. 33); a song that pleases women (6.62, p. 36); a birdsong, seen as amorous and cryptic, and animal sounds, seen as secretive (11.2, 11.29, pp. 43-44; according to Peter Heidtmann, "the hidden meaning of audible sounds" ["The Reverdie Convention and `Lenten is Come with Love to Toune,"' Annuale Mediaevale 12 (1971), 88]). It also appears twice as a verb: the reader's whispered naming of the poet's lover, which is hidden in a pun (3.30, p. 32); the private sweet-talking whispers between men and women (6.41, p. 36). A later alliterative poem, Summer Sunday, also calls its own form runic (ed. R. H. Robbins, Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries [New York: Columbia University Press, 1959], p. 100).
Only a few commentators have given close attention to what the term means in this poem. For Bloomfield, luve ron suggests a hidden "wisdom" within a framed structure, something to be unlocked like the treasure of virginity itself (pp. 59-60; on the gnostic concept that virginity confers knowledge of God, see Bugge, pp. 120-22). Levy believes that the poem is a veiled message in likeness to the Annunciation (p. 125; see notes to lines 103 and 205). The rune is elucidated in several of the following notes. See especially notes to lines 100, 123, 127, 153-84, 167, 181, 189-92, and 194-202.
4 onother soth lefmon. This phrase sets up the situation as if it were ordinary, but the word onother is startling after the poet has stated the maiden's dedication to Christ. One wonders if the phrase mayde Cristes has a generic, neutral meaning, that is, "virgin made in the image of Christ" (see note to line 1). That the virgin should so much as express a desire not directed to God reveals her virginal status to be endangered (Bloch, pp. 97-101).
5 treowest. First t is interlined by the second hand.
6 wyte cuthe. The language is very ambiguous. M and B take the phrase wyte cuthe as an infinitive plus a past participle as adjective, "best able to keep (or guard) a noblewoman," an adjectival phrase in parallel with treowest (so Swanton, p. 246). As a verb witen has two quite different meanings ("guard, keep, preserve" and "know, advise"), and either may be meant here. Punning upon both verbs occurs in lines 148, 152, 158, 167 (note), and 183. Another interpretation would read wyte as a noun ("advisor") and cuthe as the past participle, "best advisor known to a noblewoman." (In a reading close to this one, Stone takes wyte as the noun wight, "man," but the spelling is improbable; compare wihte at line 132.)
The word cuthe suggests, in the courtly language of the poem, a friendly acquaintance with the potential for amorous intimacy. It is used in a similar way at line 104, to refer to Christ's wooing desire to be cuth by the maiden. At line 199, it is the poem itself that should be cuthe to the end, that is, known by heart. The word appears to be used thrice strategically — at beginning, middle, and end — to develop a theme of how one may know God through words and desire. See MED connen v., senses 3-5.
The ambiguity of the phrase wyte cuthe is important, for it initiates a theme — the desire for "knowing" through counsel or experience — even as it shows that received wisdom is difficult to unlock. The phrase is very hard to pin down because it is made to comprehend several possible meanings: the advising role of Thomas, the possessive or protective role of a husband or of God, the need to guard something the woman has (virginity), and the potential of someone sexually "knowing" her.
freo. Best translated "noble," as DW suggest: "The virgin addressed is obviously a nun, who in the ME period would almost certainly be of gentle birth" (p. 217). Another meaning may, however, be present — "free, unattached" — since Thomas seems to be inviting the question of why a woman dedicated to Christ would seek onother soth lefmon (see note to line 4). The word recurs in different contexts at lines 25, 94, and perhaps 143 (an emendation; see note).
13 theines. Means "men" generically, but, with its primary sense "servants, attendants," it implies men who are subject to higher authority (God or death). Compare Death: "Hwer beoth thine theynes / That the leoue were?" (line 177; ed. Morris, p. 179).
her. Swanton translates as "formerly," but the modern sense "here" fits this word here and in line 9.
bolde. The modern meaning "bold, proud" is primary here, but this is another word that unfolds with repetition in the poem (like cuth, note to line 6); it recurs at lines 80, 113 (note), 119, and 127 (note). The word has two areas of meaning that come into play: (1) the adjective describing a range of qualities generally deemed masculine: "brave, heroic, confident, forward, rash, sturdy, strong" (MED bold adj.); and (2) the noun for a sturdy "building, temple, stronghold" (MED bold n.). The word denotes male activity, implicit if not overt, here and in two Harley lyrics (ed. Brook): The Fair Maid of Ribblesdale (7.6, p. 37) and An Old Man's Prayer (13.19, p. 46); see T. L. Burton, "`The Fair Maid of Ribblesdale' and the Problem of Parody," Essays in Criticism 31 (1981), 288. Compare too the phallic sense of boldhede in The Owl and the Nightingale, line 514 (ed. Grattan and Sykes, p. 16).
Thus the word here may be translated "bold, proud, with masculine bravado," a meaning that underscores the futility of brazen confidence in the face of mortality.
15 Saintsbury praises Thomas of Hales's poetic skill, noting the newness of such natural versified rhythms in English:
It is inexpressible what a joy the first occurrence of such rhythms as [line 12], of such an internal rhyme as [line 15] gives one. The very bones of an Englishman under the cold mould itself ought to start and tremble at the hearing of them. (p. 56)
20 ro ne rest. Written in the corrector's later hand. For the collocation, see MED ro n.(4), sense (b).
23 ofdryve. "to drive (something) away, dispel" (MED); this rare word, not recorded in OE, is documented only here and once in a fifteenth-century text.
24 best. Taking this word to modify weneth rather than libben, DW translate: "When he has the greatest expectation of life" (p. 217). The sense is very close by either interpretation.
25 riche. The word denotes power as well as wealth; see MED riche adj.
28 vouh ne gray. The phrase, derived from OF vair et gris ("variegated fur and gray fur") and common in thirteenth-century ME verse, appears several times elsewhere in Jesus College MS 29: The Passion of Our Lord, line 66; A Moral Ode, line 357; and Doomsday, line 28 (all ed. Morris, pp. 39, 70, 164). DW explain that the first kind of fur comes "from the grey back and white belly of a sort of squirrel, the second from the grey back alone" (p. 197). See MED fou adj. as n., sense 2, and grei n.(2), sense (a).
30 enne. "a single one"; see MED on num., sense 4(f), "the space of one day, a single day," and compare line 88.
32 Al so. So MS; DW: Al-so; DB: Also. The phrase, meaning "just as, as" is written as two words here and at lines 43, 73, 83, 138, 177 and 204; see MED also adv., senses 4b.(b) and 5b.
33 DW offer a colloquial translation: "This world is full of ups and downs."
35 is. So MS; K: hit is.
39 Ye. This use of the second-person plural pronoun is unique in the poem and may be an error for Thu. If not, Thomas's usually intimate tone of address to the maiden is here more generalized as he expounds on the transience of life.
aswynde. The word is from OE aswinden, "waste, away, perish, be ruined," as all editors agree (see also MED). Manning, however, would read it as the phrase as wynde, "as wind," and he uses it to locate six images from nature that have biblical overtones (p. 123).
43 Al so. So MS; DW: Al-so; DB: Also. See note to line 32.
44 mereuh. See MED meruwe adj., sense (c); this occurrence is the only one cited as a description for love ("unstable, variable"); more commonly the word is used for people ("frail").
47 ne werie mon so syde. Misconstruing the verb, Manly emends to ne werie mon robe so syde, "no matter how wide a robe a man may wear" (p. 11).
50 sed. MS: sad. The emended spelling, an attested form, is adopted for rhyme (see MED sad adj.). The word includes the sense "sated, satiated." DW note the break in the rhyme and suggest the emendation without actually adopting it (p. 218).
51 funde. For this verb, see MED founden v.(1), sense 2(a), "go away, depart, leave."
53 alunde. So B, K; MS: a lunde. Taking the word to be a past participle, the MED cites no other occurrences and compares it to the adverb alunde, "in the land," and the past participle aloined, "remote, estranged." DW provide a lengthy etymological note (p. 218).
54 bed. See MED bidden v., sense 7(d), "offer to fight, challenge."
55 he. So MS; B, K: ne.
56 amed. This word, derived from OE ge-mæd(e)d, is not recorded in texts later than 1300 (MED amad adj.).
57-64 The guarded treasure of this stanza is analogous to the treasure of heaven (see note to line 145) and the treasure of the maiden's virginity (lines 177-84). The wealth described here is, of course, the false kind, threatened by theft or decay (Luke 12.34).
59 me. "one, someone" (MED).
65-72 Hwer is . . . This stanza uses the ubi sunt formula ("Where are they [the great ones] now?"). Hector and Caesar are two of the nine worthies of the past, used to show the futility of worldly dominance. Thomas's emphasis is, however, on the pairs of famous worldly lovers, Paris and Helen, Amadas and Idoine, Tristram and Isolde, a focus "in consideration of his theme" (Brown, p. 199). Several commentators have praised the elegaic quality of Love Rune. See Woolf (1968), p. 62; Pearsall, p. 97; and Bloomfield, pp. 55-56. On the motif, see Wells (1916), pp. 389-90; Geoffrey Shepherd, "`All the Wealth of Croesus . . .': A Topic in the `Ancren Riwle."' Modern Language Review 51 (1956), 161-67; and Takami Matsuda, "The Ubi Sunt Passages in Middle English Literature," Studies in English Literature (Japan) 59 (1983), 65-81, especially 74.
67 and Ideyne. So DW, DB; MS: & dideyne, the initial d of dideyne deriving from an elision with and. Amadas and Idoine are the lovers of French romance. It is possible that an adjective originally appeared before one of the names in this line. In an awkward attempt to correct the line length, M emends lines 67-68: Amadas tristram and dideyne / yseude and all theo.
68 alle theo. the sense wanted is "those" (compare theos, line 180), not "they" (compare lines 71, 99, 103).
69 meyne. For the meaning "physical strength, vigor," see MED main n.1.(a), the definition provided by B. DW's definition, "retinue," which DB follow, is unlikely given the context and rhyme-words (MED meine n.).
71 ut of the reyne. "out of dominion," that is, they have lost their former dominance. The MED cites this passage under the meaning "people of a kingdom, a king's subjects" (regne n., sense 2[b]), but the first meaning "sovereignty, dominion" is more appropriate to the context. Manning sees in lines 71-72 the last of six images that establish the "theme of the inevitability of natural decay, . . . the dominant theme of the first part of the poem" (p. 123).
72 schef. M emends this word to scheft and provides a far-fetched gloss for lines 71-72: "They have passed away as a shaft from the bowstring" (p. 95). Weston's translation follows this interpretation (p. 343). See, too, Holthausen's comment (p. 370).
cleo. The meaning of this word is uncertain. The definition provided, "just as the sheaf is [cut] by the scythe" is the choice of most commentators. Bloomfield connects it to Revelations 14, the Son of Man with a sickle (pp. 56-57), which would tie the image to many other allusions to Revelations in Love Rune. The etymological problem is whether cleo derives from OE clif, cleofu, "hillside, clift," or from OE clawu, clea, "hook." Brown, perhaps following Manly, accepts the former, cites the word's appearance elsewhere in the MS (A Moral Ode, line 343, ed. Morris, p. 70), and translates: "as the sheaf from the hillside." This gloss is also adopted by Cook, and by Sisam and Sisam. If, as seems more likely, the word has the second derivation, there is no other documentation of its reference to a farm implement; the recorded usages signify a claw, a talon, a crosier, and an instrument of torture. See MED claue n.(1), sense 2.(b); Holthausen, p. 370; Kemp Malone, "Notes on Middle English Lyrics," ELH 2 (1935), 60; DW, p. 218.
73 al so. So MS; DB: al-so; B, DW, K: also. See note to line 32.
75 here. MS: heren. For this emendation, taken for the rhyme, compare the infinitive to hele in a rhyme position at line 63.
79 fere. Derived from OF ofaire, the word is rare in Middle English. The MED cites only three occurrences, this one being the earliest, the others dating from the fifteenth century (see fere n.).
80 the on hire is bold. Literally translated "the one [who] here is bold." On the significance of the recurring word bold, see note to line 13.
82 Cook lengthens the line by inserting the word noble before kyng.
83 al so. So MS; DB: al-so; DW: also. See note to line 32.
Absalon. David's son, noted for his beauty. See 2 Kings 14.25; and Chaucer's LGW Prol. F 249 (Riverside Chaucer, p. 595).
85 Malone reads this line as parenthetical (p. 60).
87 The sponsa Christi theme begins here, with Christ described as the lover the maiden should seek. One may note how Jesus is shown to fulfill all a woman may be thought to desire, and how his appeal lies, in large measure, in his physical, human traits: "Since the person of Christ is not only God but truly man, he displays all the desirable qualities of perfect humanity, and may be responded to as a true lover and the worthiest of suitors" (Swanton, p. 248; see also Bugge, pp. 87-90). Compare the presentation of Christ's appeal in the Ancrene Wisse:
Let everyone now choose one of these two, earthly comfort or heavenly, whichever she wants to keep — because she must let go of the other. . . . Stretch out your love to Jesus Christ, and you have won him. Reach for him with as much love as you sometimes have for some man. He is yours to do all that you want with. (Trans. Savage and Watson, p. 197)Courtly terms applied to Christ are typical of the anchoritic texts that preceded Love Rune, "expressly developed to meet the needs of women" and drawing "ultimately on the bride-imagery of the Song of Songs" (Swanton, p. 248). On the sponsa Christi motif, see also Bugge, pp. 90-96.
89 ikneowe. So Cook; MS: iknowe. The only occurrence of the word in the poem, the rhyme indicates this spelling.
90 childe. As DW point out, the term means "a youth of noble birth," which seems to have been something of a title for a young aspirant to knighthood, especially in romances and ballads. See MED child n., sense 6(a).
93 lufsum lost. Christ is depicted as having amorous desire for a human lover (i.e., the soul). The logic behind this depiction is that Christ endured the Passion to prove His love for humankind, so certainly he desires each soul in a way best expressed through the terms of passionate love. See Bugge, p. 82; and compare In a Valley of This Restless Mind (edited in this volume).
94 of wisdom wilde. "strong in wisdom." B glosses wilde as "filled" (that is, vvilled). The substitution of v for f is common in the MS, but not w for f. The OED glosses it as the adjective wield, "strong, powerful, mighty," which I accept here (see also DW, pp. 218-19). Wisdom is a central theme; see note to line 6.
95 reowe. So Cook; MS: rewe. Emendation is accepted for rhyme.
96 ylde. Cook emends to hylde. The word, from OE hyldo, carries a range of appropriate meanings, "grace, favor, protection." Swanton and DW translate it as "protection."
100 Est and west, north and suth! This line comes at the exact center of the luve ron composed by Thomas (lines 9-192). The four cardinal directions may be meant to invoke the sign of the Cross and thereby sanctify the rune, so that it may bring the Holy Bridegroom to the maiden. (On why the Passion should be invoked, see note to line 93.) If this interpretation is correct, the line is integral to the cryptic, runic nature of the poem (see note to line 2).
102 Of Hym he halt. DW translate this phrase as "he is his vassal," and they remark that it is "apparently a translation of the Latin legal formula X tenet de Y" (p. 219).
103 sonde. So all editors; MS: schonde. The MS reading offers an odd meaning: "shame, disgrace, insult" or "disgraced person" (from OE sceand, scand, scond). The word obviously wanted is sonde, "message"; see MED sond(e) n. Here Thomas styles himself an emissary for God, a role analogous to that of Gabriel at the Annunciation. The poem that follows Love Rune in MS is The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (ed. Morris, p. 100). On this aspect of the poem, see Levy, pp. 123-34.
104 cuth. "known by, acquainted with," with amorous implication. See note to line 6.
105 This line appears to refer to the custom of a dowry, which Christ does not demand. DW translate and comment: "`He demands no dowry with you'. But the convent generally did" (p. 219).
106 rencyan. The word refers to a kind of fine cloth, but its specific features are uncertain, except that it was "made in or associated with Reims" (MED). The only other occurrence of the word appears in a text of the same MS, On Serving Christ (c. 1300), line 70 (ed. Morris, p. 92). In both occurrences, the spelling in -an departs from the rhyme-words in -on.
108 weli mon. MS: weli man, with i man written by the second hand over an erasure. The vowel has been emended for the rhyme because everywhere else the spelling mon appears.
111 Manning reads this line as about each person's potential for grace: "To realize [his] capability [for eternal love], man must raise himself above the merely natural level through sanctifying grace, a gift which God freely bestows upon him" (p. 124).
113 bolde. "castle or mansion, dwelling place, abode" (MED bold n.). The figure of a castle carries several associated traditional meanings: Solomon's temple, the heavenly city, Christ's body, a human body, and (less meaningful in Love Rune) the Church. See Cornelius; Rogers, pp. 28-40; Bloomfield, p. 58 n. 8; and Swanton, pp. 247, 283 n. 43. Thomas of Hales's Franciscan contemporary Robert Grosseteste made the figure popularly known through his AN Chateau d'Amour, a work visibly influenced by the writings of Hugh of Saint Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux (Sajavaara, p. 62). Grosseteste used it, too, in Templum Dei, which begins with a meditation on 1 Corinthians 3.17, "For the temple of God is holy, which you are" (ed. Goering and Mantello, pp. 10, 29; see also 1 Corinthians 6.19). The castle of the body is the basic metaphor for Sawles Warde and a frequent figure in the Ancrene Wisse; see Savage and Watson, pp. 70, 133, 137, 190-91, 210, 217, 380 n. 82, 383 n. 99.
In Love Rune the choice of the word bolde adds an element of masculine dominance to the traditional castle figure: God's bolde (of which Solomon's temple is a type) will stand forever, while mere men who are bold will always wither like meadow grass. Given to the maiden (line 119), the bold of God becomes also a figure for her intact body, in which she may experience paradisaical joy; compare St. Katherine's description of the city in the heart (trans. Savage and Watson, pp. 276-77; the only instance of bold in Katherine appears in this passage [line 1649; ed. Einenkel, p. 81]). On the usage of bold in Love Rune, see also notes to lines 13 and 127.
114 Salomon. Solomon's temple is described in 3 Kings 6-8 (Douay-Rheims translation). It is both a figure for the heavenly mansion, and an embodiment of the moral that the best of what men may build is infinitely exceeded by God's edifice in heaven. The biblical account explains how God entered the temple in the guise of a cloud (3 Kings 8.10-12), and Hugh of Saint Victor uses the biblical passage to illustrate how God conceals the "treasure of the heart," i.e., His image in man (p. 102); Hugh's treatment of Solomon's temple has probably influenced Thomas of Hales.
115-16 These lines introduce an important imagery of gems, which is later to be associated with the maiden's virginity (lines 161-66). On the gems of Solomon's temple, see 3 Kings 7.9-10, where the specific stones are not named. Compare too the listed gems of the New Jerusalem in Revelations 21.18-21 and in the dreamer's vision at the end of Pearl, lines 985-1032 (ed. Gordon, pp. 36-37). Bloomfield also cites a letter on virginity by Osbert of Clare, twelfth-century Prior of Westminster, that names the "twelve stones of virginity from the Apocalypse" (p. 57).
119 bold. See notes to lines 113 and 127.
121 mote. The word, from OF mote, means "hill, eminence, mound," not "moat, ditch," a meaning not recorded before 1378 (MED mote n.; Malone, p. 60).
123 mynur. The primary meaning is "miner," describing a military activity: "one whose military function it is to undermine fortifications, tunnel into a town" (MED minour n.). All editors accept this reading; see also Swanton, p. 248. This passage is the earliest recorded instance of this usage, which is also found in Chaucer's Knight's Tale, CT I 2465 (Riverside Chaucer, p. 58). If bold is understood as the maiden's body, the miner figure becomes sexually charged.
The secondary meaning is a crucial pun. Mynur discreetly refers to Thomas the poet, a friar Minor (in the heading, "de ordine fratrum Minorum"). See MED Menour n. and adj. The poet is graciously deflecting the maiden's attentions from himself to Christ, their proper object (see Introduction). The innuendo is thus sexual even as Thomas politely declines: "No miner (or friar Minor) may undermine the castle of God that is given to you, maiden, by right." Shakespeare uses a similar pun in a comic exchange that quibbles on virginity in military figures; see All's Well That Ends Well I.i. 118-22 (Riverside Shakespeare, p. 506.)
hire. This word may mean either "it" or "her," and it participates in the pun on mynur.
underwrot. "undermine," and possibly "underwrite, meagerly write." Thomas appears to extend the pun upon mynur (see note above) into this verb. If so, he modestly calls his writing inadequate to the purpose; God, however, will overlook it in His love for the maiden. Thus seen as a modesty topos, the pun maintains the courtesy of Thomas's refusal of the maiden. Nonetheless, the original meaning, "undermine," lingers, and if given Thomas as its subject, the word raises sexual thoughts even as Thomas refuses the offer.
127 bold. A masculine, vaguely phallic connotation may have been perceptible to the contemporary audience. Avoiding the "miner" or "Minor" (line 123), the maiden is given the blisse of God's bold. On the strongly implied physicality of God's love, compare notes to lines 87 and 194-202; on the usage of bold, compare notes to lines 13 and 113.
128 thar wythal. K, DB; MS: thar wyth al; M: thar-wyth-al; B, DW: thar wyth-al. See MED ther-withal adv., sense 3, "in addition to that."
138 Al so. So MS; DW: Al-so; DB: Also. See note to line 32.
142 See Revelations 21.25.
143 freo. MS: seoly; DW emend: sley. Emendation is indicated by the rhyme. The error may have originated in a confusion between scribal f and s. The word freo, "privileged" and also "out of the bondage of sin" (MED fre adj., senses 1a.[d] and 3a.), completes the question of how a freo wymmon should choose a lefmon (see note to line 6). The emended reading also accords with a traditional view of virginity; compare Aldhelm: "virginity is freedom, chastity ransom, conjugality captivity" (trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 75); and P. Brown, p. 86. The MS reading, faulty in rhyme, means "blessed." DW argue that sley, "skillful, dexterous," "would give a fair rhyme, though perhaps not quite so satisfactory a meaning" as seoly (p. 219). Holthausen suggests emendation of ful seoly to ful of feo, "wealthy" (p. 370).
144 On the figure of Christ as Lover-Knight, see Woolf (1962), pp. 1-16.
145 tresur. The idea that God gives each person a treasure when he or she relinquishes worldly possessions appears often in the Gospels; see Matthew 19.21, Mark 10.21, and Luke 12.33-34, 18.22. This treasure is not only the promise of heaven but the image of God in each soul, described as "this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4.7; cited by Aldhelm, p. 74). A critical aspect of this treasure, because it is Christ's presence within, is profound wisdom, as described by Paul:
. . . their hearts may be comforted, being instructed in charity, and unto all the riches of the fulness of understanding, unto the knowledge of the mystery of God the Father, and of Christ Jesus: In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2.2-3)This conception of treasure as wisdom buried within the soul of each human being, where there is both image and presence of Christ, is central to Thomas's poem, itself styled as an enigmatic message-box enclosing hidden wisdom (Bloomfield, p. 59); virginity itself may be thought the key to wisdom (Bugge, pp. 120-22).
146 pel. The definition is "fine cloth" often of royal purple (OF paile, from Latin pallium); see MED pal n., where Love Rune is listed under sense 1.(c). M, DW, and Malone (p. 60) correctly identify this meaning, while B glosses the word "fur" (see MED pel n.(2), and compare line 28). The word pel is not recorded before 1349, and it occurs in technical documents, such as wardrobe accounts, but not in poetry. Compare, too, Aldhelm: "virginity is gold, chastity silver, conjugality bronze; . . . virginity is the royal purple, chastity the re-dyed fabric, conjugality the (undyed) wool" (trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 75).
147 luke. There are two verbal meanings evoked by this word, which, like witen (see note to line 6), is a clear pun. It means both "lock," MED louken v.(1), sense 1(b); and "guard, defend, watch over," MED louken v.(1), sense 1(b), and loken v.(2), sense 12b. While editors and commentators have differed in translating the line (M, B, DW, DB: "lock, fasten, close"; Swanton: "look to"), no one seems to have caught the pun.
The different meanings matter. The one given by the editors, "lock, fasten," pertains specifically to physical virginity, which the maiden must keep hidden and intact. The second meaning, "watch over," also requires that the maiden be protective of her "bower," but treats the treasure more as something she may view and enjoy. These two meanings blend into the next line, with its equally ambiguous verb wyte.
148 wyte. Means either "guard" or "know"; see notes to lines 6 and 147, and 167.
149 theove . . . revere . . . lechur. MS theoves . . . reveres . . . lechurs. The rhyme indicates that the original of lechurs was the singular form; all three nouns have been emended to accord with this form.
151 The language comparing the maiden to a sweet flower is traditional in both love poetry (see, for example, Annot and John, lines 11-20 [The Harley Lyrics, ed. Brook, pp. 31-32]) and devotional descriptions of virginity, as in Holy Maidenhead: "Maidenhood is the flower that once completely cut down never blooms again" (trans. Savage and Watson, p. 228; see also Aldhelm, p. 74).
152 witest. See notes to lines 6 and 167.
153-84 ymston. The treasure in the castle of the body is now called a gemstone, named "Maydenhod" at line 162. The figurative notion that virginity is a gem has a long tradition (see Swanton, pp. 247-48; Rogers, pp. 28-40). St. Margaret in the Katherine-group legend calls out to Christ in prayer:
"Lord, listen to me! I have a precious jewel, and I have given it to you — I mean my maidenhood, the brightest blossom in the body that bears it and keeps it well. Never let the evil one throw it in the mire. . . . Lord, defend me, and protect it always for yourself." (Saint Margaret, trans. Savage and Watson, p. 289)In the anchoritic literature virginity, a gem, is closely identified with Christ himself:
The eagle keeps in his nest a precious gem called "agate," . . . This precious stone is Jesus Christ, true as a stone, and full of every power over all gemstones. He is the agate that the poison of sin never came near. Keep him in your nest, that is, your heart. (Ancrene Wisse, trans. Savage and Watson, pp. 98-99; compare p. 296)Virginity becomes the mark of physical linkage to Christ in spiritual marriage, because Christ's image is unmarred in the virgin's intact body. The author of Holy Maidenhood so instructs the reader:
Do not break the seal [of virginity] that seals you both together (Canticles 4:12). . . . No wonder if what is so like God is lovely to him; for he is the loveliest thing and all unbroken, and always was and is more pure than anything, and loves purity more than anything. And what is a more beautiful thing and more praiseworthy among earthly things than the power of maidenhood, unbroken and pure, modelled on him?" (trans. Savage and Watson, pp. 228-29)On this idea further, see Bugge's discussion of how the anchoritic texts are influenced by "the Christian gnostic tradition, wherein virginity is the image of the divine essence" (p. 120).
Consequently, in order to grasp the meaning of the rune, one must read the pronouns He and Hine in lines 155, 156, 159, 160, 164, 167, 179, 181, 183, and 184 in a double fashion: as the neuter pronoun "it" in reference to the gemstone virginity (as all editors and commentators have read these pronouns) and as the masculine "He" and "Him" in reference to Christ the Holy Gemstone, who actively desires, inhabits, and enjoys the body of the virgin.
157 alyve. So DW, K, DB; MS: a lyve; B: a-lyve.
158 wyten. See notes to lines 6 and 167.
167 witest under thine hemme. The pun always latent in the verb witen (note to line 6) comes forth in a sexualized way — "know God under hem" — beside the expected meaning — "guard virginity under hem." On sexualized language to describe union with Christ, see Bugge, 81-122, and McGinn, pp. 205-26. Bugge speaks of how virginity was thought to be "the first condition of intimate communion with God" (p. 121). Caroline Walker Bynum notes how Catherine of Siena was said to receive "the ring of Christ's foreskin" in mystic marriage (Holy Feast and Holy Fast [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987], p. 246). Thomas has extended the erotic metaphors of mystical language by contextualizing them into what looks like a courtly love lyric. As McGinn comments, rather than be surprised (as we moderns tend to be), in the context of Christian mysticism "we should be scandalized not so much by the presence of such erotic elements as by their absence" (p. 205).
The phrase under thine hemme invokes a motif in love poetry in which the poet enjoys imagining what is under a maiden's clothes and often expresses a desire to be there (under her skirt, in particular). The usual phrase is under gore ("skirt") or under bis ("linen"). The sexual meaning is unambiguous in The Owl and Nightingale, line 515 (ed. Grattan and Sykes, p. 16). See also The Thrush and the Nightingale, line 150 (ed. Brown, p. 106); and The Harley Lyrics 3.16, 3.17, 4.37, 5.38, 7.58, 7.79-84, 9.54-55 (ed. Brook, pp. 31-34, 38-39, 41). Here, while the imagined Lover is Christ, Thomas writes in the language of a love-poet who typically invites sexual thoughts of the lady.
168 than. So B DW, K, DB; MS: that.
170 grace. So all editors; MS: pris, written by a later hand where the scribe omitted the rhyme-word.
vertu. This word has its technical sense, referring to an occult efficacy or curative power thought to inhere in a substance. Precious stones and plants were said to possess virtues, which were enumerated in lapidaries and herbals. See DW, p. 219, and Bloomfield, p. 59. For specific lapidaries, see Joan Evans, and Mary S. Serjeantson, eds., English Medieval Lapidaries, EETS o.s. 190 (1933; rpt. Millwood, N. Y.: Kraus, 1990); and Albertus Magnus, Book of Minerals, trans. Dorothy Wyckoff (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967).
172 lectorie. This is the first recorded occurrence of the word in ME, and the only one spelled without the prefix a-. See MED alectorie n. and lectorie n. The word, derived from Latin alectoria, denotes a small, clear stone said to be found in a cock's gizzard.
tupace. So all editors; MS: tupace ywys, the second word written in a later hand.
175 Among. So M, DW, DB; MS: A mong; B: A-mong; K: Amon.
177 al so. So MS; DW, DB: also. See note to line 32.
181 Both Christ and the gem of virginity are described as set in gold, and Thomas the poet may be seen to be completing the "worked" love rune in a manner analogous to a goldsmith setting a gem. Compare the analogous idea of the narrator — by extension the poet — as a jueler in the exquisitely wrought Pearl, lines 252-300 (ed. Gordon, pp. 10-11).
182 fyn amur. "A technical term used by Provençal poets" (Bloomfield, p. 59). Christ, the Lover-Knight who proffers love-gifts (a castle, a treasure, a gem) loves in noble, courtly fashion.
183 wite. See notes to lines 6 and 167.
184 bur. The term that has denoted the lady's body, in which she must guard her virginity (compare lines 147 and 178), now denotes heaven, shining with Christ's light (Revelations 21.23). Compare too the description of heaven in The Wooing of Our Lord: "You [Christ] loosed your prisoners and delivered them out of the death-house, and yourself took them with you to your jewelled bower, the abode of eternal joy" (trans. Savage and Watson, p. 250).
189-92 This rhetorical question, explaining the choice and making clear the proper answer, is so delicately expressed that it refers both to the maiden's proper choosing of Christ over Thomas and to Thomas's noble choosing to write the luve ron rather than assenting to the maiden's desire.
194 withute sel. Stone interprets the absence of a seal as Thomas's way of making the poem an open message rather than one that might be perceived as a love note (p. 56). This idea supports the notion that Thomas is discreetly deflecting the maiden's amorous desires even as he is making a luve ron that brings her God's fyn amur. Levy finds here an allusion to the scrolls in the iconography associated with the Annunciation (pp. 127-30). Allusions to Revelations may also be present: the opening of the scroll with seven seals (chap. 6) and the unsealed roll (chap. 10). Compare too the notion of virginity as the unbroken "seal" that keeps whole God's image in the soul (Holy Maidenhood, p. 228).
194-95 The poem is to be thought of as written upon an unsealed parchment roll. Hill argues that the original poem was in fact written on a roll, as were many other Franciscan lyrics (, pp. 322-25; see also Woolf , pp. 57-58). The reference may in fact be more figural than literal, as discussed in the Introduction.
199 Hwoso. So K; MS: Hwo so; B, DW, DB: Hwo-so.
199 cuthe. See note to line 6.
201 Millett notes that the maiden appears to be literate (in English, though probably not in Latin or French) and that she is pictured "in solitary but not silent meditation" (pp. 97-98).
203 The song the maiden will sing is both this poem (called a cantus in the incipit) and the "new song" of the hundred and forty-four thousand virgin brides of Christ in Revelations 14.3-4 (Swanton, p. 249; see also Bugge, pp. 117-18). The second hand has written Item cantus in the right-hand margin on the line that opens the next piece (The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary), directly below the Amen that concludes Love Rune.
204 al so. So MS; DW: al-so; DB: also. See note to line 32.
205 he. The pronoun is richly ambiguous. It refers to the message, the rune itself, or to the messenger, either Thomas its conveyor (and author) or God the Wooer (figured as ultimate Author). The line also contains an allusion to the Annunciation; see note to line 103 and Swanton, p. 249.
207 brudthinge. "bridal," from OE bryd-þing; according to the MED this is the only occurrence of the word in ME.
209-10 These lines are not differentiated from the preceding stanza in MS: they continue the rhymes, and the sole colored capital is the H of Hwenne (line 201). They do mark a dramatic shift to the poet. The preceding eight lines complete an image: the maid who sits in longing arrives as a bride before God who sits enthroned. The final two lines, Bloomfield writes, are "the last reminder of a submerged theme which runs through the poem. . . . Here we have the true conclusion which is the culmination and conclusion of the frame. It is the last reminder of death in the poem — the writer's own" (p. 55).
The formal structure of the first two hundred lines (twenty-five stanzas) of Love Rune suggests that the last ten lines serve as formal epilogue. See note to line 100.
Incipit quidam cantus quem composuit frater Thomas de Hales de ordine
fratrum Minorum ad instanciam cuiusdam puelle Deo dicate. 1
A mayde Cristes me bit yorne
That Ich hire wurche a luve ron,
For hwan heo myhte best ileorne
To taken onother soth lefmon,
That treowest were of alle berne,
And best wyte cuthe a freo wymmon. 2
Ich hire nule nowiht werne,
Ich hire wule teche as Ic con.
Mayde, her thu myht biholde
This worldes luve nys bute o res,
And is byset so felevolde,
Vikel and frakel, and wok and les.
Theos theines that her weren bolde
Beoth aglyden so wyndes bles;
Under molde hi liggeth colde,
And faleweth so doth medewe gres.
Nis no mon iboren olyve
That her may beon studevest,
For her he haveth seorewen ryve,
Ne tyt him never ro ne rest;
Toward his ende he hyeth blyve,
And lutle hwile he her ilest;
Pyne and deth him wile ofdryve
Hwenne he weneth to libben best.
Nis non so riche, ne non so freo,
That he ne schal heonne sone away!
Ne may hit never his waraunt beo
Gold ne seolver, vouh ne gray;
Ne beo he no the swift, ne may he fleo,
Ne weren his lif enne day —
Thus is thes world, as thu mayht seo,
Al so the schadewe that glyt away!
This world fareth hwilynde:
Hwenne on cumeth, another goth;
That wes bifore nu is bihynde;
That er was leof nu hit is loth.
Forthi he doth as the blynde
That in this world his luve doth;
Ye mowen iseo the world aswynde —
That wouh goth forth, abak that soth!
Theo luve that ne may her abyde,
Thu treowest hire myd muchel wouh
Al so hwenne hit schal toglide —
Hit is fals and mereuh and frouh
And fromward in uychon tide!
Hwile hit lesteth is seorewe inouh;
An ende, ne werie mon so syde,
He schal todreosen so lef on bouh. 3
Monnes luve nys buten o stunde:
Nu he luveth, nu he is sed,
Nu he cumeth, nu wile he funde,
Nu he is wroth, nu he is gled;angry;
His luve is her, and ek alunde;
Nu he luveth sum that he er bed;
Nis he never treowe ifunde —
That him tristeth, he is amed!
Yf mon is riche of worldes weole,
Hit maketh his heorte smerte and ake;
If he dret that me him stele,
Thenne doth him pyne nyhtes wake.
Him waxeth thouhtes, monye and fele,
Hw he hit may witen, withuten sake.
An ende hwat helpeth hit to hele?
Al deth hit wile from him take.
Hwer is Paris and Heleyne
That weren so bryht and feyre on bleo?
Amadas and Ideyne,
Tristram, Yseude, and alle theo?
Ector with his scharpe meyne,
And Cesar riche of wordes feo?
Heo beoth iglyden ut of the reyne
So the schef is of the cleo.
Hit is of heom al so hit nere,
Of heom me haveth wunder itold.
Nere hit reuthe for to here
Hw hi were with pyne aquold,
And hwat hi tholeden alyve here?
Al is heore hot iturnd to cold —
Thus is thes world of false fere!
Fol he is the on hire is bold.
Theyh he were so riche mon
As Henry ure kyng,
And al so veyr as Absalon,
That nevede on eorthe non evenyng,
Al were sone his prute agon;
Hit nere on ende wrth on heryng!
Mayde, if thu wilnest after leofmon,
Ich teche the enne treowe king.
A! Swete, if thu ikneowe
The gode thewes of thisse childe —
He is feyr and bryht on heowe,
Of glede chere, of mode mylde,
Of lufsum lost, of truste treowe,
Freo of heorte, of wisdom wilde —
Ne thurhte the never reowe
Myhtestu do the in His ylde!
He is ricchest mon of londe,
So wide so mon speketh with muth;
Alle heo beoth to His honde,
Est and west, north and suth!
Henri, King of Engelonde,
Of Hym he halt and to Hym buhth. 4
Mayde, to the He send His sonde,
And wilneth for to beo the cuth.
Ne byt He with the lond ne leode,
Vouh ne gray ne rencyan; 5
Naveth He therto none neode,
He is riche and weli mon!
If thu Him woldest luve beode,
And bycumen His leovemon,
He broughte the to suche wede
That naveth king ne kayser non!
Hwat spekestu of eny bolde
That wrouhte the wise Salomon
Of jaspe, of saphir, of merede golde,
And of mony onother ston?
Hit is feyrure of feolevolde- 6
More than Ich eu telle con!
This bold, Mayde, the is bihote
If that thu bist His leovemon.
Hit stont uppon a treowe mote
Thar hit never truke ne schal,
Ne may no mynur hire underwrot,
Ne never false thene grundwal; 7
Tharinne is uich balewes bote,
Blisse and joye, and gleo and gal!
This bold, Mayde, is the bihote
And uych o blisse thar wythal.
Ther ne may no freond fleon other,
Ne non furleosen his iryhte;
Ther nys hate, ne wreththe nouther,
Of prude ne of onde of none wihte.
Alle heo schule wyth engles pleye,
Some and sauhte in heovene lyhte.
Ne beoth heo, Mayde, in gode weye
That wel luveth ure Dryhte?
Ne may no mon Hine iseo
Al so He is in His mihte
That may withuten blisse beo;
Hwanne he isihth ure Drihte,
His sihte is al joye and gleo!
He is day wythute nyhte!
Nere he, Mayde, ful freo
That myhte wunye myd such a knyghte?
He haveth bitauht the o tresur
That is betere than gold other pel,
And bit the luke thine bur,
And wilneth that thu hit wyte wel.
Wyth theove, with revere, with lechur,
Thu most beo waker and snel —
Thu art swetture thane eny flur
Hwile thu witest thene kastel.
Hit is ymston of feor iboren —
Nys non betere under heovene grunde;
He is tofore alle othre icoren;
He heleth alle luve wunde.
Wel were alyve iboren
That myhte wyten this ilke stunde,
For habbe thu hine enes forloren,
Ne byth he never eft ifunde. 8
This ilke ston that Ich the nemne
``Maydenhod" icleoped is.
Hit is o derewurthe gemme,
Of alle othre, he berth that pris, 9
And bryngeth the withute wemme
Into the blysse of paradis.
The hwile thu hyne witest under thine hemme, 10
Thu ert swetture than eny spis.
Hwat spekstu of eny stone
That beoth in vertu other in grace —
Of amatiste, of calcydone,
Of lectorie and tupace,
Of jaspe, of saphir, of sardone,
Smaragde, beril, and crisopace?
Among alle othre ymstone,
Thes beoth deorre in uyche place.
Mayde, al so Ich the tolde,
The ymston of thi bur
He is betere an hundredfolde
Than alle theos in heore culur;
He is idon in heovene golde,
And is ful of fyn amur.
Alle that myhte hine wite scholde,
He schyneth so bryht in heovene bur!
Hwen thu me dost in thine rede
For the to cheose a leofmon,
Ich wile don, as thu me bede,
The beste that Ich fynde con;
Ne doth he, Mayde, on uvele dede
That may cheose of two that on,
And he wile withute neode
Take thet wurse, the betere let gon? 11
This rym, Mayde, Ich the sende,
Open and withute sel.
Bidde Ic that thu hit untrende,
And leorny bute bok uych del
Herof that thu beo swithe hende 12
And tech hit other maydenes wel:
Hwoso cuthe hit to than ende,
Hit wolde him stonde muchel stel.
Hwenne thu sittest in longynge,
Drauh the forth this ilke wryt:
Mid swete stephne thu hit singe,
And do al so hit the byt.
To the he haveth send one gretynge:
God Almyhti the beo myd,
And leve cumen to His brudthinge
Heye in heovene, ther He sit!
And yeve him god endynge
That haveth iwryten this ilke wryt. Amen.
of Christ earnestly asked me; (see note)
make a love rune(see note)
By which she; learn
true lover; (see note)
I will not at all deny her
as I am able
is nothing but a rash delirium
beset with manifold [evil]
Fickle; vile; weak; false
These thanes (i.e., men); here; (see note)
Have passed away like a gust of wind
earth they lie; (see note)
wither like meadow grass
There is no man born alive
here; be steadfast
Nor does he ever attain peace or rest; (see note)
a short while; endures;
Suffering; drive away; (see note)
When he hopes to prosper; (see note)
none so powerful; noble; (see note)
soon [go] away from here
warrant [against death]
fancy variegated nor gray fur; (see note)
Be he never so swift; flee [death]
Nor guard his life a single day; (see note)
Entirely like; glides; (see note)
changes constantly; (see note)
[He] Who was ahead now; (see note)
Who once was beloved now is despised
may see; languish; (see note)
While grief advances, truth retreats
The love; abide
You trust it with; grief
Until the time when it shall pass; (see note)
unstable; weak; (see note)
unruly; each season
lasts; sorrow enough
lasts but a fleeting moment
Now; tired (of his love); (see note)
depart; (see note)
also elsewhere; (see note)
formerly fought; (see note)
found to be true; (see note)
Whoever; trusts; mad; (see note)
worldly good fortune; (see note)
smart and ache
dreads; someone will rob him; (see note)
worry keeps him awake at night
His thoughts grow; numerous
How; protect; sin
In the end; conceal
death will take all of it
beautiful and fair in face
Idoine; (see note)
those; (see note)
powerful strength; (see note)
They have vanished; dominion; (see note)
Just as the sheaf is [cut] by the scythe; (see note)
It is as if they never were; (see note)
wonders have been told to me
Is it not a pity to hear; (see note)
they suffered [while]
appearance; (see note)
Foolish is he who here is bold; (see note)
Although; as powerful
Henry III (1216-72); (see note)
just as fair as; (see note)
never had; an equal
pride; (see note)
In the end it was not worth a herring
long for a lover; (see note)
will teach you about a
knew; (see note)
qualities; (see note)
amorous desire; (see note)
Noble; strong of wisdom; (see note)
You would never regret it; (see note)
Were you to put yourself; protection; (see note)
As far as men speak with mouths
All are at His command
you; message (or messenger); (see note)
desires to be known by you; (see note)
He has no need to do so
powerful; prosperous; (see note)
would bring you to; wedding; (see note)
As never had; emperor
temple; (see note)
was constructed by; (see note)
jasper; sapphire; refined; (see note)
am able to tell you
mansion; to you is promised; (see note)
fine hill; (see note)
remedy for every sorrow
mirth and song
dwelling place; promised you; (see note)
every; beyond that; (see note)
friend leave another
lose his rights
pride; ill will
Ultimately they; angels
United and reconciled
Entirely as; (see note)
privileged; (see note)
dwell with; (see note)
committed to you one treasure; (see note)
or fine cloth; (see note)
bids you lock (look after); bower; (see note)
desires; you guard (know) it well; (see note)
Against thief; robber; lecher; (see note)
alert and vigilant
sweeter; flower; (see note)
defend your castle; (see note)
gemstone borne from afar; (see note)
the lowest part of heaven
It (He); before all others chosen
describe for you
``Virginity"; is called
You are sweeter than any spice; (see note)
What may you say
That possesses power or grace; (see note)
cock-stone; topaz; (see note)
Emerald; beryl; chrysoprase
gemstones; (see note)
as I have told you; (see note)
set in the gold of heaven; (see note)
refined love; (see note)
who; guard it (know Him) should [do so]; (see note)
bower of heaven; (see note)
asked my advice
wish to select; asked
Openly; seal; (see note)
I request; unroll
Whoever knows it to the end; (see note)
afford him much help
Draw forth this same writ
Sing it with a sweet voice; (see note)
everything as it directs you; (see note)
you; (see note)
be with you
allow [you] to come to His bridal; (see note)
give; (see note)