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Middle English Marian Lyrics: Introduction


1 Chaucer, Geoffrey, "An ABC," ed. R. T. Lenaghan in Larry D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, third ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), pp. 637-40. See Appendix A for full text.

2 Guillaume composed this poem in 1331 and completed a revision in 1355. John Lydgate translated the entire La pèlerinage into English in the fifteenth century, incorporating Chaucer's translation of the ABC poem into his own.

3 The title is that given by Thomas Speght in his 1602 edition of Chaucer's Works, who writes that the poem was made "at the request of Blanche Duchess of Lancaster, as praier for her privat use, being a woman in her religion very devout" (fol. 347r). If Speght is accurate, the poem is one of Chaucer's earliest surviving poems, from the 1360s.

4 Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World (New York: Dutton, 1987), p. 90.

5 In form and subject matter, The Prioress' Tale itself is typical of the miracles genre rather than the lyric tradition.

6 Five Centuries of Religion, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), p. 151.

7 Because belief in Mary's perpetual virginity was widespread among early Christians, the translation of this word (the Greek adelphoi may mean either "brothers" or "kinsmen") had important implications. Some commentators assumed these brothers were sons of Joseph by a previous marriage; St. Jerome believed they were simply cousins of Jesus.

8 This title was given in the sixteenth century to a work known earlier as The Book of James; though the name is not medieval, I use the designation Protevangelium throughout this volume to avoid confusion with the Book of James in the New Testament.

9 See Wilhelm Schneemelcher, p. 423.

10 The late-fifth-century Transitus Mariae is the oldest known written example. Jaroslav Pelikan summarizes the development of legends of Mary's dormition and assumption in Mary Through the Centuries, ch. 15. See also note to §77, lines 50-51, below.

11 On the importance of this image, see Pelikan, ch. 3.

12 See E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), ch. 6.

13 The influence of such associations is uncertain. Michael P. Carroll cautions that Mary's comparison with Isis is limited, as early Christians would not have associated their heavenly queen with promiscuity; he cites Lewis Farnell in arguing, moreover, that Mary was the first to be imagined as a virgin mother. See Carroll, pp. 8-10.

14 Nestorius objected to the term because to him it implied that Mary had engendered her own Eternal Creator, that God had originated in Mary's womb. He preferred Anthropotokos, mother of man, or Christotokos, mother of Christ. But Theotokos was already in widespread use, and since those opposed to Nestorius interpreted his objections as a denial of Jesus' godhead, Nestorius was labeled a heretic and Mary's designation as Theotokos was officially adopted as dogma at Ephesus.

15 For details, see Pelikan, ch. 4, and Hilda Graef, pp. 101 ff.

16 Mary Clayton provides a useful overview of pre-Anglo-Saxon devotion to Mary in The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 1-24.

17 The Revised Standard Version translates "young woman" from the Hebrew, rather than "virgin" from the Vulgate. But Pohle argues that the Hebrew 'almah does, in fact, connote "virgin" elsewhere, specifically in Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8, and Psalm 67:27 (RSV 68:25) (pp. 84 ff.). For further discussion of the issue, see Marina Warner, pp. 19-21.

18 Pseudo-Matthew, ch. 13, in B. Harris Cowper, pp. 51-52.

19 Joseph Pohle outlines the doctrine and theology of this dogma in Mariology, pp. 83-104. See also Pelikan, ch. 8.

20 Graef describes each figure's contribution to Mariology in Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, vol. 1, pp. 77-100.

21 Concerning Virgins 2.2.15, qtd. in Pelikan, p. 120.

22 According to Father Johann G. Roten of the Marian Library and International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, the epithet appears to have originated with Pseudo-Isidore of Seville (Liber de ortu et obitu patrum, PL 83, col. 1285) and came to be associated with "Shrine Madonnas" erected during the late Middle Ages in Europe. Such statues could be opened to display additional religious scenes; the Trinity image was called "the throne of God" or le chez de dieu. He writes: "The motif disappeared after the Council of Trent [1546-63], probably to avoid controversy over mixing a marian and a trinitarian motif" (private correspondence, 16 February 1996).

23 See, for example Anselm, Oratio 52 ad S. Virginem Mariam (PL 158, col. 957).

24 Firmin M. Schmidt outlines the Church's position on Mary's queenship in "The Universal Queenship of Mary" (Mariology, ed. Juniper B. Carol, vol. 2, 493-549). The body of that essay predates the 1954 Ad caeli reginam, a papal proclamation establishing the feast of Our Blessed Lady as Queen, but an appendix describing that encyclical completes the chapter.

25 Warner has argued that this distorts the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount. But the vision of Mary as queen symbolizes a realization of the heavenly reward promised to the faithful. To exalt the one most faithful in service is, in fact, to fulfill Jesus' words in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

26 Fasciculus morum: A Fourteenth-Century Preacher's Handbook, ed. and trans. Siegfried Wenzel, p. 73.

27 Nativitate B. V. Mariae, PL 183, col. 441; trans. Rosemary Woolf in The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages, p. 118.

28 The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), p. 32.

29 It is impossible to know what has been lost, but Carleton Brown theorized that because good religious poetry was preserved and circulated for its inspirational and instructive value, we still have most of the best (and therefore most frequently anthologized) poetry produced during the Middle Ages (B13, p. 132). Rossell Hope Robbins felt this was an exaggeration, but argued that we have at least a representative sampling of the lyrics composed during that century (On the Mediaeval English Religious Lyric, p. 44).

30 Robbins prefers this term for such pocket-sized collections of such verses as MS Sloane 2593 or Eng. Poet 3.1; sometimes called minstrel books, the origins and uses of these books are uncertain. See Andrew Taylor, "The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript," Speculum 66 (1991), 43-73.

31 The Dominicans were known for their devotion to Mary; they celebrated the Little Office of the Virgin Mary each day and are credited with introducing the Rosary prayer. So it is likely that they also composed poetry about Mary.

32 Wenzel discusses the use of such verses in Preachers, Poets, and the Early English Lyric; see especially pp. 80-81.

33 John Lydgate (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1970), p. 256.

34 By contrast, some have noted in the fifteenth-century lyric an increase in dramatic lyrics such as the Marian laments and those modeled after courtly love poems. Brown mentions that "the fifteenth century was marked by a rapid growth of interest in the religious drama" (B15, p. xxi), apparently reflected in the lyrics. Again, Woolf dislikes the trends. In some cases, she writes, "the effect suggests that the author felt that unless every emotion was heightened to the point of hysteria, and every gesture or action made melodramatically compelling, the reader might remain unmoved" (p. 8). Yet the dramatic influence was not all bad, Woolf feels: she speculates that the fifteenth-century growth of lyrics on the Nativity "was stimulated by the mystery plays, in which the Nativity became detached from its liturgical season, and in which the relevant human sentiments were thoroughly explored" (p. 148). Of course, the majority of Nativity lyrics of the period are carols, products of a different path from that taken by Lydgate and his followers.

35 EEC, p. xlvii. Most scholars share this view; however, Robbins argued that the form originated with Latin processional hymns.

36 The Ave Maria is a liturgical prayer based on Gabriel's and Elizabeth's greetings to Mary (Luke 1:28 and 42).

37 "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Verso, 1971), pp. 160 ff.

38 Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Bernard of Clairvaux and Amadeus of Lausanne, trans. Marie-Bernard Saïd and Grace Perigo, Cistercian Fathers Series No. 18-A (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1993).

39 See, for example, the York Tille Thekers play of the Nativity and the Wakefield Second Shepherd's Play.

40 The Planctus Mariae form grew popular in the twelfth century. On its development, see G. C. Taylor, "The English Planctus Mariae," Modern Philology 4 (1906), 605-37.

41 See PL vol. 182, cols. 1134-42; Migne notes that it is not known whether the piece is by Bernard of Clairvaux or Bernard Clarae-Vallensis. A Middle English metrical version of that work appears in the Vernon MS at fol. 287a; it is printed, with the Latin text and the Cambridge University MS Dd.1 English version, in G. Kribel, "Studien zur Richard Rolle de Hampole," Englische Studieren 8 (1885), 84-114.

42 In "The Virgin's Gaze: Spectacle and Transgression in Middle English Lyrics of the Passion" (PMLA 106 [October 1991], 1083-93), Sarah Stanbury explores the ways Mary's gaze on her son's body provides meditational focus in several Passion lyrics; "visual empathy" connects the reader to Mary's experience and, through her, to Christ's.

43 For further discussion of the tradition, see Warner, ch. 6; on its theological significance, see Pelikan, ch. 15.

44 On the characteristics and traditions of this form, see Helen Estabrook Sandison, The "Chanson d'aventure" in Middle English, Bryn Mawr College Monographs, vol. 12 (Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College, 1913).

45 On the debate, see Stephen R. Reimer, p. 21.

46 See "Texts, Textual Criticism, and Fifteenth-Century Manuscript Production" in Fifteenth-Century Studies, ed. Robert F. Yeager (Hamden: Archon, 1984), pp. 126-27.

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Middle English Marian Lyrics: Introduction

Almighty and al merciable queene,
To whom that al this world fleeth for socour,
To have relees of sinne, of sorwe, and teene,
Glorious virgine, of alle floures flour,
To thee I flee, confounded in errour.
Help and releeve, thou mighti debonayre,
Have mercy on my perilous langour.
Venquisshed me hath my cruel adversaire. 1
So begins a late-fourteenth-century poem composed at the request of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, in circumstances which reflect a scene characteristic of Marian devotion at the apex of its flourishing. The influential Blanche, a woman known for her piety, seeks devotional material in the vernacular for her personal use, and perhaps also for instructional use within her great household. She makes her request of a courtier in the service of her husband, John of Gaunt. The courtier, Geoffrey Chaucer, turns to an ABC prayer in one of the most popular works of the day among French and English aristocracy, Guillaume de Deguilleville's La pèlerinage de vie humaine. 2 Chaucer's adaptation is an eloquent manifestation of the enthusiastic religious sensibility of its audience. The poem demonstrates the centrality of the Virgin Mary to devotional literature among the highly sophisticated Christians of the age. In many ways, their devotion to Mary is the key to their refinement; she is the model of courtesy and of faith. In condensing Guillaume's twelve-line stanzas into eight-line stanzas, Chaucer relies masterfully on the full range of Marian epithets which resonate throughout his culture's uses of Mary as muse, mediator, intercessor, comforter, instructor and gracious model for feeling, piety, and discipline. In the "A.B.C. called La priere de Nostre Dame" 3 (see Appendix A), the first word of each stanza fixes an image that evokes what Donald Howard calls a "centrifugal" thought pattern 4; the meditator's focus on each image, often on Mary as the embodiment of some quality ("Almight[iness]," "Bounty," "Comfort," and so on), triggers a host of associations which focus the reader's heart on these qualities.

Chaucer uses common Marian typology here: she is the burning bush, the flower of flowers, the queen of mercy, the vicar and mistress of the world, and the governess of heaven. The legalistic imagery is noteworthy and typical: the guilty speaker, fearful of the "grete assyse / Whan we shule come bifore the hye justyse" (lines 36-37), appeals to the compassionate and generous Mary as an advocate who will surely plead on his behalf at the bar of heaven. And Mary, "largesse of pleyn felicitee" (line 13), will not refuse the penitent supplicant.

In choosing a French source, Chaucer mines a rich vein, the continental vernacular tradition. His works echo other Marian poems, some well known, some obscure. The prologue to The Prioresse Tale (see Appendix B) emphasizes Mary's virtue in lines of pure praise, evocative of the Psalms. 5 The prologue to The Second Nun's Tale likewise contains an Invocatio ad mariam which employs a number of epithets and images common to the English Marian lyrics (see Appendix C). Chaucer's verses reflect widespread sensibilities; the Second Nun's and the Prioress' words would have sounded familiar to medieval audiences whose devotion to Mary found expression in lyrics, hymns, carols, plays, and well-known legends.

Mary's prominence in medieval literature led G. G. Coulton to remark that "it is difficult to see how the ordinary medieval worshipper can have avoided the conclusion that, for practical purposes, Mary mattered more to him than Christ." 6 This may be an exaggeration, but the mother of Jesus was indeed a beloved and central figure in the hearts and minds of medieval Christians. As a non-judgmental figure of graciousness and kindness, she served well as an ever-available mediator and model for believers who sought to reconcile guilt and hope. The poems selected for this volume provide a sampling of the rich tradition of Marian devotion expressed in Middle English lyrics.

Background: Mary and Church History

As the primary source of historical information about the mother of Jesus, the Bible provides few details. Luke offers accounts of the Annunciation (1:26-38), Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth (1:39-56), the birth of Jesus (2:1-7), and her conversation with the twelve-year-old Jesus upon finding him in the temple (2:41-51). Mary figures in Matthew's briefer account of the Nativity, the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and the return to Nazareth (1:18-2:23). John describes Jesus' first miracle (2:1-12), performed at his mother's request, when he changes water into wine at a wedding feast. Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe an incident in which Jesus' mother and brethren 7 come to speak with him (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21). John reports Mary's presence at Jesus' Crucifixion (19:25-27). Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41) identify Mary the mother of James and Joseph, apparently brothers or cousins of Jesus, as being present at the Crucifixion. On Easter morning, Mary the Mother of James is at the empty tomb (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10); Matthew identifies only "the other Mary" (i.e., not Mary Magdalene) there (28:1). Finally, the Book of Acts reports that Mary was present with the disciples at Christ's ascension into heaven (1:14).

But as Christianity spread, questions about Jesus' origins led to speculation; legends and apocryphal accounts began to fill the gaps in Mary's story. It was a primarily Christological interest in Mary that prompted such writings as the second-century Protevangelium 8 attributed to Jesus' brother James. 9 This book and the sixth-century Pseudo-Matthew, which is derived from it, describe the details of Mary's remarkable life from her conception and birth to the Annunciation and birth of Jesus and the flight into Egypt. The story of her long-childless parents, Anna and Joachim, and the miraculous conception is patterned after the Old Testament stories of Anna, mother of Samuel, and of Sarah, mother of Isaac, as well as the Gospel accounts of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, and of the conception of Jesus. Accounts of Mary's death and bodily assumption into heaven began to appear in the fifth century. 10 These stories, transmitted in such works as the thirteenth-century Golden Legend and the fourteenth-century Cursor Mundi, were well known in the Middle Ages. But although minor details from these accounts figure into the general body of Marian legends, extant Middle English lyrics -- unlike the cycle plays or saints' legends -- owe relatively little to these apocryphal sources. Instead, they tend to focus on her roles as maiden, mother, queen, and mediator. Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg argues that while Christology endeavors to understand the theological significance of historical events, Mariology attempts to symbolize or personify that significance, to embody the meaning of the events (pp. 144-50). So it is, perhaps, that Marian lyrics focus on a figure who is herself less important as a historical figure than as a symbol of faith and obedience to God.

In fact, it was a typological code of symbols which shaped Mary's identity for later Christians. Various Old Testament characters and images prefigured her. In the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons called Mary the New Eve, following Paul's identification of Christ as the New Adam; 11 he also associated her with the woman clothed with the sun in Apocalypse (Revelation). In the fourth century, St. Ambrose made extensive use of typology to describe Mary, and such imagery was absorbed into the liturgy. Medieval poets assembled catalogues of typological readings that allow readers to meditate on the various attributes of Mary: in §88, "Marye, mayde mylde and fre," Mary is equated with Sarah, Judith, Esther, the burning bush, the sling by which David slew Goliath, and the dew on Gideon's fleece. Gregory I and subsequent commentators equated Mary with the sponsa of Canticles (Song of Solomon). 12 In such figurings, Mary stood for the Church (the Bride of Christ) as well. The Marian feast masses, particularly for the Assumption, emphasize this bridal imagery. Pannenberg describes Mary as "the symbol of humanity receiving the grace of God in faith in contrast to the old humanity symbolized by Eve, and thus also the symbol of the church in its relation to God" (p. 145). This equation took shape early in the development of Christian thought.

Pre-Christian myths also helped to shape the legends of Mary. As Christianity spread, the art and traditions of old and new cultures blended, and the Blessed Virgin assumed some of the mythic and iconographic roles of Isis and Ceres (mother goddesses); Minerva and Diana (virgin goddesses); and Rhea (a virgin who conceived by the god Mars). In Apuleius' second-century work The Golden Ass, the narrator recounts meeting a goddess who identifies herself as Minerva, Venus, Diana, Proserpine, and Isis; the goddesses are seen as interchangeable figures. Such fluid identities were easily absorbed into the figure of Mary. 13 But while some similarities to pagan goddess figures were inevitable as Marian iconography took shape, biblical typology dominated the development of imagery and Mariology.

Until the late fourth century, when Christianity was experiencing a surge of growth and expansion to become the primary religion of the Roman Empire, Marian devotion focused mainly on Mary the Virgin. But in the early fifth century, Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, challenged Mary's commonly-accepted title Theotokos (god-bearer or mother of God), 14 prompting lively and widespread debate before the issue was settled at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. 15 The attention drawn by this controversy led to increased devotion to Mary as Mother of God, a focus that may also, Geoffrey Ashe suggests, reflect "the Catholic world's spiritual response to the barbarians" as Christians sought comfort in their faith (p. 193). The fifth century, then, marks the beginnings of steady growth in Marian devotion. 16

Such growth was reflected in Christian liturgical practices. Hilda Graef remarks that litanies to the saints became so unbalanced with petitions to Mary that separate litanies to her were introduced (p. 232); these litanies gave way to feast days. In the seventh century, Rome recognized four Marian feasts: the Purification, Annunciation, the Assumption, and the Nativity of Mary. After some early inconsistencies in practice, the English church adopted these feasts by the late eighth century (Clayton, pp. 30-38). By the end of the Anglo-Saxon era, England was full of Marian shrines, chapels, and relics (many of which were later destroyed during the Reformation). The number of Marian feasts and masses had increased substantially, and Mary Clayton argues that Anglo-Saxon Marian devotion was sufficiently strong to provide inspiration for the rest of Europe.

The twelfth century saw the beginnings of a trend toward emphasis on the human, emotional aspects of faith, and Mary provided both a focus and a model for affective devotion. Through his widely circulated prayers and such works as the Cur Deus Homo, St. Anselm of Canterbury advanced the belief that redemption depended upon Christ's humanity. Among the twelfth-century Cistercians, Mary's most influential champion was St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Rejecting the controversial doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (that is, the idea that Mary was herself free of original sin), he argued that what made her union with God significant was not her extraordinary virtue, but her simple humanity. This idea, of course, made it possible to regard Mary with empathy as well as awe, and such empathy inspired renewed devotion. Bernard's influence was widely felt, and his Marian meditations provided the models for many later works.

By the early Middle Ages, the Church had prescribed that Saturdays and several feast days be devoted to Mary. The Lateran Council of 1215 made the Ave Maria compulsory learning for every layman. Among the oldest English Marian lyrics are rhymed translations of that prayer which appear alongside the Pater Noster (the Lord's Prayer) and the Creed as basic learning materials. But as this volume attests, the Ave Maria was soon augmented with hundreds of other verses devoted to Mary. Throughout the Middle Ages, English pilgrims visited Marian shrines and Lady chapels at Winchester, Ely, Walsingham, and elsewhere. Artistic depictions of religious scenes were everywhere during the Middle Ages: in paintings, statues, windows, rood-screens, and books -- illuminated manuscripts for the literate and block books like the Biblia Pauperum (see Plate A) for those who preferred or depended upon pictures. Mary was a key figure in such art; again, Pannenberg's characterization of Mariology as the attempt to embody the theological significance of historical events suggests that Mary is primarily important as a symbol. The visual iconography (owing much to Jacobus de Voragine and his scriptural and apocryphal sources) carried over into the literature, where a shorthand symbolism of images often conveys a host of associations. The figure of Mary signified many things to many people; her position in the culture was complex, which helps to explain the wealth of art created in her honor. But three roles dominate devotional and artistic depictions of Mary: she is recognized primarily as Maiden, Mother, and Queen.

To focus on Mary as Maiden is to celebrate her purity, her beauty (internal and external), her pristine worthiness to participate in God's redemptive plan. Mary was identified as Virgin through Matthew's account of the Nativity of Jesus (1:23). In order to explain the significance of the birth, Matthew invokes Isaiah's prophecy: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Isaias 7:14). Since Matthew's source was the Septuagint rather than its Hebrew source, he used the Greek translation of the Hebrew 'almah (young woman), which was parthenos (virgin). 17 Luke also identifies Mary as a virgin (parthenon, 1:27). The point was no doubt initially made in order to emphasize her son's divinity. But it had further implications for Mary herself; it was perhaps a recognition of the virgin birth as a symbol of her union with the Holy Spirit that led later Christians to ponder the possibility of her perpetual virginity. In the apocryphal Protevangelium, the midwife who delivers Jesus announces that Mary is a virgin; when the doubting midwife Salome checks, her hand withers (20:1 ff.). In the later Pseudo-Matthew, the midwife Zelomi declares, "as there is no defilement of blood on the child, there is no pain in the mother. A virgin hath conceived, a virgin hath borne, and a virgin she hath continued." 18 Mary's perpetual virginity was proclaimed dogma at the Second Council of Constantinople in 381. 19 Church Fathers Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), Jerome (d. 420), and Augustine (d. 430) wrote extensively on Mary's virginity, setting forth the definitive arguments that came to inform medieval theology. 20

The lyrics which celebrate Mary's virginity emphasize her beauty and goodness, often comparing her to a lily, a burning bush, the enclosed garden, or a spotless mirror. They often focus on the wonder she must have felt, and so there is a combination of veneration and empathy in the songs that celebrate the Annunciation. The Virgin Mary is not simply the paragon of human goodness; she is the embodiment of the union of God and humankind.

Ambrose identified six virtues in Mary: "The secret of modesty, the banner of faith, the secret of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry [of Christ], the Mother at the temple." 21 Jaroslav Pelikan observes that the second triad of virtues allows Ambrose to go beyond Jerome's emphasis on virginity to focus on the complex image of Mary as Mother (p. 120).

In the earliest biblical reference to Mary, Mark identifies Jesus as the son of Mary (6:3). Matthew twice names her as Jesus' mother (1:16 and 13:55). That Mary was the mother of Jesus was never questioned. That she was theotokos, mother of God, was a debated point which drew particular attention in the fifth century (see above). Once so designated, she was sometimes figured as well as "chamber of the Trinity" (as in §88, line 2, or in Plate C), the earthly dwelling place of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 22

She was also a human mother, and the natural affections between mother and child, Ashe argues, were the roots of Marian devotion. Yet she was not simply the prototypical maternal goddess through which motherhood is venerated. As mother of God, she was the human mother through which God was human, through whom Christ received his "coat" of flesh (see §60, line 18: "My robe he haveth opon"), 23 to be treasured as the means through which Christ understands humanity. And thus she is the one through whom everyone who has known a mother/child relationship might come to understand the events of Christ's life.

In the humble circumstances of the Nativity -- the poor travelers forced to seek shelter in a cave or barn -- the emphasis in medieval artistic depictions of the Nativity is nevertheless celebratory; the event is commemorated as the birth of the savior, and his mother is portrayed as joyful. Only a very few lyrics deviate from this tone. The notion of her painless childbirth (see note to §15, line 3) is frequently alluded to in the lyrics. But Mary came to know the pain of motherhood at the Crucifixion, and so she participates fully in the human maternal experience. Lyrics which focus on Mary's motherhood often juxtapose the Nativity and the Crucifixion to reflect the full range of the maternal experience, both joy and pain.

Mary's designation as Queen of Heaven depends primarily on belief in Christ's resurrection and ascension, through which he claims the throne of heaven. In Luke's account of the Annunciation, Gabriel promises that Mary will give birth to one who is to be "king over the house of Jacob forever" (Luke 1:32). As mother of the king, then, Mary is elevated to royal status. Metaphorically, moreover, Mary reigns in the sense of being preeminent in Christian virtue. Medieval theologians argue that as a perfect follower of Christ, Mary has won the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8), the "crown of life" (James 1:12, Apocalypse 12:10) and the "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Typological readings of Psalm 44:10, 3 Kings 2:19, and Esther 2:17 and 5:3 reinforce the image of Mary as queen as well. Thus, though Mary's queenship was not proclaimed doctrine until 1954, 24 images of Mary wearing a crown begin to appear in Christian art as early as the sixth century. In the seventh century the writings of St. Martin and St. Agatho refer to Mary as queen; in the next century liturgies employ the title, and Gregory II calls her "ruler of all Christians" (Schmidt, pp. 502-03). Clayton argues that in Anglo-Saxon England, the regal imagery coincides with societal rise of queenship and "enhances the position" of Anglo-Saxon queens (p. 165). It is a particularly important image in the feudal Middle Ages; Marina Warner writes that "the image of the Virgin as queen is scored so deep in western imagination that many Catholics still think of her as a medieval monarch" (p. 115). 25 Certainly the image receives unparalleled attention in the Middle Ages.

Mary and Medieval Christians

Popular medieval religious beliefs were often understood through secular analogies. Individuals sought sympathetic mediators to defend them to judges. To the medieval Christian, Christ was both human and divine; he was Mediator, but also Judge, and therefore to be feared. As virtuous virgin, queen of heaven, and loving human mother, Mary was perceived as a powerful and accessible intercessor.

In the Fasciculus morum, a typical fourteenth-century preaching handbook, the sinner is counseled to appeal to Christ through his mother: "We can be assured of [Christ's] grace and forgiveness if we will go confidently to [Mary] while he is with her." One who is afraid to pray to Christ is compared to one who has angered his king; he "goes secretly to the queen and sends her some gift so that she may pray and intercede with the king her lord for him." So the sinner should
go to the Mother of Mercy, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and send her as a gift something special, such as waking, fasting, prayer, or almsgiving. At this she will certainly, like a loving mother, hasten to come between you and Christ your father who wants to chastise you for your failing, and she will stretch her mantle between you and his rod. And he will surely relinquish all punishment or at least soften it to a large extent, so that we will go free without grief. 26
This is a rather pragmatic description of the relationship between Mary and the sinner. Though St. Bernard of Clairvaux was also aware of her function as mediatrix, his words give a fuller description of the relationship evident in Marian lyrics:
Let us therefore venerate Mary in the very marrow of our hearts, with all the feelings in our breasts, and with all our devotion; for this is the will of Him who has ordained that we should have all through Mary. . . . In all things and in all ways she provides for us in our wretchedness: she soothes our agitation, she stirs our faith, she strengthens our hope, she dispels our mistrust, and gives strength to us in our faint-heartedness. . . . The Son hears the prayer of His mother, and the Father hears the prayer of His son. My little children, this is the sinners' ladder, this is the firm ground of my confidence, this is the whole reason of my hope. 27
For Bernard, Mary provides comfort and inspiration; she serves as a model for his own devotional life.

Three centuries later, Margery Kempe shows a similar -- if more intense -- emotional orientation. When she falls into despair, near the beginning of The Book of Margery Kempe, Jesus appears in her mind and says, "Dowtyr, thynke on my modyr, for sche is cause of alle the grace that thou hast." 28 Margery immediately begins to meditate upon the life of Mary, first through a vision of St. Anne, then of Mary's birth, her childhood until she is twelve, her dress, the Annunciation, the visitation, the Nativity, and the flight into Egypt. To all these glimpses Dame Margery responds from the perspective of the Passion, weepingly. Subsequently, Mary appears again and again to Margery as her comforter and intercessor. Her understanding of Mary, clarified through meditation, has little to do with politics, far more to do with affective concerns and personal relationships. For her, identification with the physical, sensory details of Mary's life enriches her appreciation of Christ's life and God's love. Her meditative methods illustrate a key principle in medieval religious art: meditation, a right heart, is inspired by sensory stimuli. The visual or verbal image provides a catalyst for inward contemplation. For Margery, Mary mediates by providing her with the very language of meditation.

Mary in the Middle English Lyrics

Mary's prominence in the medieval mind is evident from her prominence in Middle English literature. When the first collections of miracle stories (the Golden Legend and the South English Legendary, for example) were compiled in England in the twelfth century, Mary figured in numerous legends. She is a central figure in the mystery cycles, particularly the N-Town plays. The Pearl poet was particularly fond of Mary: in Cleanness (lines 1069 ff.), Mary is presented as an example of purity; in Pearl the title character is herself a lesser Mary; Sir Gawain too is devoted to Mary and stops to observe her feast before discovering Bercilak's castle. Countless romances and secular poems begin or end with invocations to Mary. And of course she is the subject of hundreds of medieval poems, songs, carols, and prayers which survive today. 29

The characteristics of these religious lyrics range widely in form, tone, and aesthetic quality. Some of the poems survive in commonplace books, on flyleaves, or as incidental pieces in longer works. Many appear in liturgical manuscripts, hymnals, and sermon notebooks. Others are preserved in private devotional materials -- "closet hymnals," books of hours, and fifteenth-century presentation books. Still more occur in portable collections. 30 Most of the poems printed in this anthology survive in single manuscripts, but a few appear in dozens of sources. In some cases, as with Lydgate's use of Chaucer's ABC, early poems are revised and adapted to reflect new purposes. The thirteenth-century Nativity poem "Nu this fules" (§16) is transformed into a fifteenth-century courtly allegory of the Annunciation (§13). Taken together, these diverse expressions of Marian devotion reflect the intertwined development of poetic techniques and devotional practices.

The Franciscans played a significant role in the making of early lyrics of and to Mary. St. Francis had called his disciples joculatores Dei or "God's minstrels." Rossell Hope Robbins and David L. Jeffrey believe that they were the principal authors of religious lyrics until the Black Death, Robbins suggests, broke their spirit. Their contributions are among the earliest; in fact, Jeffrey points out that "what appeared to be the seven earliest religious carols were from Franciscan manuscripts of preaching materials" (p. 7). Though others give more credit to the influence of the Dominicans 31 (Robbins attributes only forty percent of the early lyrics to the Franciscans [p. 44]), Jeffrey goes so far as to claim that before 1350 "the existence of the popular short-verse genre in England" is a "particular phenomenon of Franciscan spirituality" (p. 261).

The Franciscan order, which first reached England in the thirteenth century, was committed to evangelism and the revitalization of Christianity. Franciscan preachers relied on appeals to the heart as well as the intellect, and the religious lyric -- hymn, prayer, or sermon tag -- was a particularly effective tool for reaching the sensibilities of popular audiences. The Franciscans focused on awakening the individual believer rather than promoting the institution or the fine points of doctrine. They emphasized meditation on the human, physical details of the Nativity and the Crucifixion, and they stressed emotional rather than logical engagement. Mary, through whom "the Word became flesh," was a natural and favorite point of focus for such devotion, for she provided human access to the divine.

The Franciscans wrote for two kinds of audiences: the educated religious and the illiterate lay folk. Some lyrics were used for private devotion among members of the order. Franciscans and others also prepared materials for lay catechism and inspiration. Among the earliest lyrics are verse translations of the basic teachings of the Church, including the Ave Maria. Preaching tags, often short verses, appeared in preaching handbooks like the Fasciculus morum or John Grimestone's commonplace book and were used as illustrations to reinforce sermon themes. 32 These verses might be translations, parodies, adaptations of hymn lyrics, or original verses. Carols and vernacular hymns offered further opportunities for instruction or meditation and for celebration. The lyrics incorporated themes and materials from various sources -- the Bible, patristic writings, and the liturgy -- as well as earlier songs, prayers, poetry, and meditations.

Until the fifteenth century, medieval vernacular religious lyrics were composed primarily for functional, not aesthetic, purposes. In general, the intent of the lyrics is usually either homiletic or reflective (Jeffrey, p. 260); the purposes are related and often overlap. In both cases, the poetry tends to be unselfconscious and honest, and the lines are simple and straightforward. Jeffrey characterizes the verse as
more often physical than metaphysical, immediate than reflective, roughly simple than elaborately careful. It is usually characterized by emotion rather than thought, by force of style rather than by elaboration of argument, and by a dramatic movement toward radical identification of the "subject" with the object of the poem. (p. 2)
Of the authors (usually anonymous), Douglas Gray comments: "They are not primarily concerned with the construction of an enduring object for other people to admire, but rather for other people to use" (Themes, p. 60). Art is intended as a means rather than an end. The value of the reflective lyric is that it "directs the reader's mind to the memoria of an event in the divine scheme, to the understanding of it, and urges his will to action" (Gray, Themes, p. 60).

Contrition, the first act of penance, is essentially a change of heart, a spiritual sorrow growing out of love for God and hatred for one's sin. The Franciscans strove to effect this change of heart through the experience of emotional identification with the speaker in a lyric. Thus the poet often begins by locating the speaker (and the reader) in a familiar setting, perhaps with some reference to the weather, the season ("Nou skrinketh rose ant lylie flour"), or the time of day ("Als I lay upon a nith"). Such a setting could evoke a predictable mood from which the speaker might turn to contemplation of spiritual concerns. Because affective devotion depends upon the ability to "understand" or internalize religious beliefs through association with personal experience and emotion, Mary is a favorite and familiar focus. By meditating on Mary's experience at her son's birth or death, the reader finds human access to divine events, moving from the concrete reality of the immediate world toward the abstract and transcendent significance of events. Though it is less true of fifteenth-century lyrics, the earlier Marian lyrics tend to celebrate her earthly experiences and concerns, those with which the believer could most easily empathize.

Yet while the lyrics of the period speak convincingly to the individual, they maintain a universal quality:
The medieval poet speaks not only for himself, but in the name of the many; if he uses the poetic "I" it will be in a way which may be shared by his readers. It is a poetic stance which cannot be accurately described either as "personal" or as "impersonal." (Gray, Themes, p. 60)
Perhaps this is due to the fact that writers were not, as Rosemary Woolf puts it, concerned with their own particular moods, but "only with what kind of response their subject should properly arouse in Everyman" (p. 6). Contrition was held to be essential to conversion and penance (reunion with God), and many theologians held that a contrite sinner was justified even without the full sacrament of penance (i.e., confession and satisfaction). Thus the authors had a definite focus in mind for the audience's meditation: "they concern themselves more with eliciting emotional response [to produce an appropriate spiritual response of contrition] than with describing or analyzing emotional experience on the assumption that the experience is valuable in and of itself" (Woolf, p. viii).

Mary, for her humanity, her virtue, and her unique role as point of connection of human and divine, was a natural focus for meditation and petition. In English literature of the thirteenth century, Woolf observes, "there are no poems which consist solely of praise, nor are there any which, like many French poems to the Virgin, reserve the prayer until the last stanza" (p. 124). Mary is valued primarily as intercessor, and even poems like §8, "Edi beo thu, hevene quene," are essentially petitions for mercy. But in the fourteenth-century mood of affective piety, lyrics like Ave maris stella (§58) appear which place more focus on the contemplation of Mary's life and the praising of her virtues. Mary is valued as a model for Christian living.

The earliest English Marian lyrics are often simple translations from Latin -- basic Christian teachings or hymns. Woolf seeks to establish Latin and French roots for the English religious lyric tradition, though others place less emphasis on such influences. G. L. Brook explains that sometimes "religious lyrics were written to amplify single lines from the liturgy, and the Latin line which suggested the lyric was often incorporated into the poem either as a refrain or as an integral part of each stanza" (p. 15). He suggests that Latin hymns may have served as models for stanza form -- yet secular lyrics, he adds, offer similar models. He notes instances where the phraseology of a religious lyric closely imitates that of a secular one and probably used the same tune (p. 16). In discussing the English carol's ties to Latin poetry, Richard Leighton Greene comments that "behind them [both] is the song of the unlettered people"; he finds the ultimate roots of the English carol in popular dance-song (EEC, p. cxvii). And Jeffrey explicitly disagrees with Woolf on the importance of Latin sources. Because affective devotion emphasizes and affirms the human, it is essentially popular and therefore, Jeffrey argues, most readily expressed in the vernacular. Greene discusses the influence of Latin hymns in macaronic carols, but notes that even when an English lyric borrows several lines from the same Latin piece,
This is not necessarily a sign that the carol is in any sense a partial translation or even an imitation of that hymn, although often it celebrates the same occasion. It may merely indicate that the lines of the particular hymn were fresher or firmer in the memory of the carol-writer than were others. (EEC, p. lxxxviii)
Jeffrey finds the native connections to secular poetry far more significant than Latin influences, arguing that to write in English at all during the Anglo-Norman period had strong implications (p. 1). Ultimately, both sources -- the English secular tradition and the Latin -- are evident as important influences: direct translations and macaronic lyrics are intermingled with echoes of popular ballads and folk songs.

Though the authors borrowed freely from a variety of literary traditions (the chanson d'aventure, complaint, debate, hymn, carol, or the ballade), the language and style of popular, rather than courtly, literature seemed most appropriate for their intentions in pre-fifteenth century lyrics. Woolf notes that the relative absence of "technical or imaginative flourish" prevents disruption of the reader's meditation (p. 8). Gray also comments:
Simplicity and unaffectedness are the characteristic features of the style. Paradox and word-play are not avoided, and verbal decoration is by no means totally absent. . . . The majority, however, either avoid self-conscious or complex figurative expressions altogether, or are content with traditional metaphors and images. (Selection, p. ix)
To describe the relative plainness of the early lyrics is not, however, to imply either a general lack of skill or a lack of concern with aesthetics. Artistic awareness was well-developed among some authors and audiences. St. Thomas Aquinas defended the use of poetic technique by preachers (Wenzel, p. 65); many medieval artists were well aware that, as St. Bonaventure had realized, art might provide the "mystical possibility of comprehending the harmony of Creation" (Jeffrey, p. 99). Through art one might realize the Imago Dei, and, in the subject of Mary, one might best recognize and celebrate the perfection of human potential to reflect God's image. Thus even the most pragmatic composer of Marian verse would make use of some art. The function of imagery evolved from the simple, usually visual uses during the early period -- Gray mentions how frequently the reader is invited to "look" or "see" (Themes, p. 41) -- into more artistically self-conscious, even aureate, approaches in the fifteenth century. Since the medieval poet associated imagery with the intellect, with the imagination, its primary use in devotional poetry was to stimulate the reader to imagine himself part of the scene so that he might experience personally the appropriate emotions. Unusual visual images might engage attention and aid the memory. The imagery of the early lyric is often characterized as "vivid." Brook adds "homely" and "picturesque," noting the freedom and "lively imagination" apparent in the coining of new words (p. 21).

The fifteenth century would bring more aesthetic sophistication, "some new awareness of the potentialities of imagery" (Woolf, p. 13). Yet the earlier lyrics seem to benefit from the absence of what would appear in the late Middle Ages. Brook writes:
Their excellence is largely due to the fitness of Middle English to be a lyrical language. It is more sonorous than modern English, which is clogged with unstressed words and with long words of Latin origin, valuable for the expression of abstract ideas but of little use to a lyric poet. The Middle English vocabulary is rich in words for the common things of life, and most of these words are short and expressive. (p. 21)
Brook also comments that much of the strength of these lyrics comes from the vitality of a vocabulary free of predictable associations.

However secondary aesthetic considerations may have been, some of the lyrics achieve remarkable poetic effectiveness. Gray characterizes them as maintaining an admirable balance of tone:
Many of the English lyrics have the intimate tenderness and pathos which are characteristic of the best works produced by this [affective] tradition. A tough realism, a sense of man's inadequacy, a precise and delicate use of language save them from the emotionalism and cloying sweetness into which affective devotion may degenerate. The best of them avoid the dangers, on the one hand of an arid formalism, and on the other of an unrestrained popular enthusiasm, to achieve a remarkable dignity, moderation, and clarity. (Selection, p. xi)
In her examination of the lyrics which focus on Mary, Woolf makes similar observations, characterizing the tone as a "direct and dignified intimacy" suggested by the balance of formal descriptions "which make the Virgin noble and remote" and the "simple pleas in English, which suggest a direct and dignified intimacy" (p. 127). Siegfried Wenzel compares the early lyrics with their Latin counterparts and finds that "much of the intellectual vigor and verbal sophistication of medieval Latin sequences and hymns" are lost but are "compensated by gains in simplicity and the creation of a more intimate tone with the help of an everyday vocabulary and the dialogue form" (pp. 59-60).

The preservation of a medieval religious lyric is, of course, no guarantee of poetic merit. What we have represents a wide range of literary abilities. Gray reminds us that
The devotional lyric was one of the many expressions of medieval religious experience. It . . . was an integral part of the religious life of contemporary society. This can give an immediacy and an emotional urgency which is not found in some forms of medieval literature, but it also means that it was sometimes fatally easy to write verses which were ephemeral, with devotional or didactic material not transformed into poetry. (Themes, p. 37)
As interest in religious poetry (good and bad) grew beyond the early influence of the Franciscans, the religious "professionals" continued to use devotional lyrics for private meditation, but now pious educated laypeople might also learn hymns for devotional use with the mass. Gray writes, "It is important to remember the extent and the variety of the audience of late medieval devotional literature -- it was in fact virtually the whole of contemporary literate society, from the high nobility to the humblest who could read (and even those who could be read to)" (Themes, p. 33). Such diversity in audience led, of course, to greater diversity in styles, forms, and attitudes toward subject matter.

Some fifteenth-century writers took a path away from the simplicity of the earlier lyric. Woolf comments on this shift:
There can, perhaps, never have been a poetry which was more exclusively written in the language of the common people -- at least until the fifteenth century, when the religious lyric was caught by the fashion for aureate diction. At that period a different criterion of stylistic propriety was used, and the style sought for became one sufficiently dignified to suggest the magnitude of the subject. (p. 8)
Though the aureate style and its "artifices of diction and metre" (Woolf, p. 274) appealed to the noble, educated audiences of the fifteenth century, some modern readers express a real distaste for the trend. Those who, like Woolf, praise the "unstudied freshness" of earlier works tend to dislike the results of increased artistic consciousness. Carleton Brown comments that while hymns and songs grow in volume, they "show a certain loss of fervour and tend to become formal exercises" (B15, p. xx). Though the style associated with the fifteenth-century Lydgate group must be at least partially an attempt to give new life to an old tradition, Woolf finds in it an "artificiality and straining for effect that may be called stylistic insincerity" (p. 8) and remarks that some of the poems convey "an impression of aridity" (p. 239). Only Audelay, she believes, "encouraged by the theme [of the five joys], is able to break through ornateness and formality to the affective meditation of the earlier poetry" (p. 297).

There does seem to be a general shift in orientation, well-illustrated by the poems on the Joys of the Virgin. Writers like Chaucer and Lydgate engender a linguistic self-consciousness in vernacular writers, an unprecedented awareness of stylistic possibilities. As Brown notes:
Whereas in the fourteenth century these, with their recital of the Annunciation, Nativity, and Resurrection, concerned themselves with the terrestrial joys, the scene in almost all the fifteenth-century pieces is transferred to heaven, and the praises of the Virgin are sung by cherubim and celestial choirs. One misses the touch of human reality also in the Songs of the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin, in which the sense of artificiality is increased by the pomposity of the aureate style. (B15, p. xx)
While the scene moves from an earthly, familiar setting to heaven, stylistic and tonal concerns seem to shift in focus from the reader to the subject matter itself -- and sometimes to the author's artistic abilities. Both ways, the later lyrics often seem less geared to the reader's experience and emotional engagement.

But it is unfair to judge fifteenth-century poetry in terms of thirteenth- or fourteenth-century expectations. "Affective meditation" was perhaps no longer the purpose of much religious poetry; in the case of Mary, appeals to her humanity gave way to celebrations of her glory as Queen of Heaven. The religious art lyric, best represented by John Lydgate's work, is generally, in Derek Pearsall's words, "expository and celebratory; there is comparatively little penitential or devotional writing." 33 Pearsall describes the aureate style as "florid Latinate diction, with the Latin barely digested into English" (Lydgate, p. 262); it is frequently employed in poems about Mary, especially in poems of the five (or seven, or fifteen) joys because such lyrics "rely for their structure on the accumulation of recondite allusions and images" (p. 262). The intended effect is, unlike that of the typical fourteenth-century lyric, more one of intellectual than emotional engagement. 34 Pearsall says of Lydgate's Mary poems:
They are totally lacking in the tenderness, intimacy, fervour, and pseudo-eroticism of the Bernardine and Franciscan traditions, and concentrate on the celebration of the mystery and splendour of the Virgin. The heaping-up of invocation, epithet, image, and allusion is meant to overwhelm with excess, hardly to be comprehended. The aim is not to stir to devotion, but to make an act of worship out of the elaboration of the artefact. The extraordinary vocabulary, the strained imagery, the alliteration, and the hypnotic repetition of invocatory sentence-patterns have much the same effect of assault on the sensibilities as the flamboyant decoration of late Gothic. (p. 268)
The imagery of Lydgate's poetry, he continues, "means more than it says, and means it in a special way -- not in terms of a sensuous association which is apparent to all, but in terms of intellectual and conceptual associations which have to be learnt" (p. 271). Such an orientation must have appealed to an audience of educated nobility by encouraging a very different kind of meditative process than that suggested by older lyrics. But the Franciscans' affective influence did continue during the fifteenth century, most notably in the carol.

Richard Leighton Greene claims the carol form originated in a well-known ring-dance tradition. 35 The carol -- sung and danced -- was performed at feasts and celebrations (hence its association today with Christmas). By the fifteenth century, the word was associated simply with the song form consisting of a burden before the first stanza, repeated after each stanza. Greene calls the genre "popular, that is, one degree removed from traditional folk-song, and yet lower in the scale of education and refinement than the courtly lyric or scholarly Latin poem" (EEC, p. cxxxiii). The Franciscans were "probably the most active group of carol-writers and carol-singers, the >professional class' whose interest and activity propagated and preserved the texts of the carols" (Greene, EEC, p. clvii). James Ryman alone contributed 163 carols to a single manuscript.

Again, Mary is a popular focus: the subject is most often either the Nativity or the five joys. Macaronic lyrics are common, appearing more in carols (where the repetitive stanza form encourages the alternation of elegant or solemn foreign phrases with their translations) than in any other English form (Gray, Themes, p. xxxi). Woolf cautions, "It is difficult to judge the carols as literature, for the discrepancy between style and content appears a radical defect when they are read, but largely disappears when they are sung" (p. 294). The familiarity of the form, like the clichJ phrases and familiar images, must have allowed even the most derivative carol to evoke worshipful responses.

The purpose of this volume is to present the full range of medieval culture's effort to voice itself -- its joys and its anxieties -- through Mary. The English lyricists wrote of Mary in devotion and celebration; they addressed her in prayer and in praise; they allowed her to speak in lullabies and dialogues with Jesus at the cross; they envisioned Mary in a stable or on a heavenly throne. In the medieval lyrics of Mary we hear many voices, the scholarly and the popular, the solemn and the jubilant. We respond to a range of emotions: admiration, wonder, joy, sorrow, fear, compassion, penitence, reverence, and gratitude. In the Marian canon we find most of the styles and forms of medieval religious lyric and many traces of the secular tradition.

The tradition represented by the lyrics suggests that what was most important about Mary was her unique identity as the point of connection between the divine and the human, the intersection of spirit and flesh. Through her Christians might learn to comprehend the mysteries of God become human. Through her they might experience the emotional magnitude of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. In her they might find the ultimate model of faithfulness and hope, along with a precious means of seeing their way feelingly to sanctity.

The early poems in this volume are arranged according to the events of Mary's life; they are followed by poems which address Mary in prayer and praise. There is, however, a great deal of overlap in the subjects treated in individual poems. What follows is a general introduction to each section.

The Annunciation
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 36
Louis Althusser has described the phenomenon of interpellation, or "hailing," as the means by which ideology "recruits" or "transforms" the individual into a subject. 37 Certainly the Annunciation is an epitome of this gesture. In Luke 1:26-38, the angel Gabriel greets Mary by name and delivers the news which defines her role: she will conceive the son of God. Her response signifies Mary's recognition of her place in the world, her part in God's plan for the redemption of humankind, her "always-already" defined role. In echoing Gabriel's greeting, Ave Maria (Hail Mary), the poets reaffirm the Christian ideology of reception.

The story of the Annunciation does not appear in the earliest accounts of Jesus' life; it seems to have been recorded later in response to curiosity about his background. Medieval Christians knew the story of the Annunciation from Luke (written c. A.D. 85) and from the apocryphal Protevangelium of James (c. A.D.150). It became a fundamental part of medieval Christianity, an event dramatized in every cycle of the Corpus Christi plays and celebrated during every Saturday mass. The Annunciation provides the foundation for all Marian devotion; the frequency with which the lyrics repeat Gabriel's greeting testify to its importance. Traditionally the first of the Five Joys, the Annunciation is mentioned in nearly all of the extant medieval Marian lyrics. Commentators such as Jacobus de Voragine, after Irenaus and Jerome, saw in Gabriel's visit to Mary a reversal of the Fall: Eva (Eve), who was visited by a serpent and cast out by the Archangel Michael, is redeemed (reversed) through Gabriel's Ave as Mary, visited by her angel, is filled with the grace Eva lost (see note to §9, line 8). This emissarial visit promises that the tree of Jesse, long blighted by the Fall, will again bear fruit; the Fall associated with the tree of Eden is redeemed through the Christ-bearing tree, the cross.

The poets know Mary to be worthy of praise because Gabriel has proclaimed her status and purpose in the world -- good news, indeed. Mary's response, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), affirms her ideological compliance and worthiness. She is the means by which the culture reinscribes its truth. Bernard of Clairvaux composed a series of four homilies on Mary; 38 in his estimation, her obedience is a crucial factor in the redemption plan. He insists that Mary's "virginity is a praiseworthy virtue, but humility is by far the more necessary" (Homily 1, p. 9; see also Homily 4, pp. 54-55). She sets the pattern for even God himself to become humble and obedient in taking on himself human form. Mary's submissiveness to God is, then, a quality to be desired not only in women, but in all individuals.

The liturgy adopts the passage from Luke as the Gospel reading for the first Mass in Advent and for the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25). In the Sarum Missal, it also appears as a sequence for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Warren, Sarum, Part 2, p. 78). One of the earliest Marian feasts, "Lady Day," was widely celebrated in the western Church from the seventh century on.

In Luke and the Protevangelium, the Annunciation is followed with an account of Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist; when John leaps in her womb at the recognition of Mary's greeting, Elizabeth proclaims Mary blessed, and Mary responds with the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), a canticle based on Hannah's song (I Samuel 2:1-10). I have included James Ryman's translation of the Magnificat (§6) in this section because the Visitation and Mary's song echo and reflect upon the importance of the Annunciation by dramatizing Mary's joyful and faithful response.

The visual iconography of the Annunciation comes primarily from the Protevangelium. In this account (reminiscent of the story of Isaac and Rebekah), Gabriel meets Mary at a well where she has gone to draw a pitcher of water, and then follows her to her room, where she has been spinning purple and scarlet wool for a veil for the Temple. Artists often depict the conception with a dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) entering or speaking into Mary's ear; the trope illustrates conception by the word of God. Illustrations incorporate other traditional symbols as well, e.g., a lily, a rose, or some other flower symbolizing Mary's purity, or a psalter (recalling David and the tree of Jesse, of which Mary is the flower).

The section begins with a fourteenth-century verse translation of the Annunciation Gospel, followed by three poems which incorporate retellings of the event into prayers and longer narratives. In "Mary moder, meke and mylde" (§5), we imagine ourselves addressing Mary as she wonders about the future; it is an unusual, but not incongruous, situation in that the speaker forgoes the usual petitions for Mary's blessing in favor of offering assurance to Mary that all will be well. Ryman's version of the Magnificat (§6) translates expansively the passage from Luke; §7 takes us beyond the Gospel passage to imagine in chanson d'aventure form Mary's thoughts as she waits for the birth of her son. "Edi beo thu" [Blessed art thou] (§8) and the lyrics which follow echo Gabriel's greeting and introduce many of the standard images of Mary and the immaculate conception. "Edi beo thu" mixes lines from various Latin hymns with courtly love conventions and provides an introduction to one facet of the courtly cult of Marian devotion. The Ave maris stella poems ('s 9 and 10; see also §58) are more general poems of praise, yet in recalling the Annunciation they remind us that this event is the beginning of all devotion to Mary. "I syng of a myden" (§13) and "At a spryng wel" (§14) represent more consciously artistic and more abstract responses to the event; the latter sets the story in the context of a romance, perhaps reflecting the popularity of the chivalric cult of Mary, homage to which recurs in so many fourteenth- and fifteenth-century chivalric romances.

The news of the Annunciation invites joyful anticipation of Jesus' birth, and many of the lyrics in this section were composed as celebratory carols or songs.

The Nativity

With the Nativity comes the wonder of the incarnation of God in human form, through which Mary becomes mother, daughter, and sister of God. Here lies a paradox: Mary shows herself to be most human, as a mother, yet most divine, as mother of God. Most of the Nativity poems mention Mary; the poems selected for this volume emphasize her place in the event. These prominently echo the songs of the Annunciation in defining Mary's place in human salvation as mediatrix and supplicator, her blessedness, and her purity. Some poems simply narrate events from the Nativity to the Epiphany, relying on information from the Gospels and the apocryphal Protevangelium and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew for crucial detail. Others focus on the significance of those events. The occasion offers opportunities for affective speculation: some imagine the thoughts of Mary and Joseph at the birth of Jesus. There are several lullabies, some of them prophetic dialogues between Mary and the infant Jesus. In §29, "Als I lay upon a nith," a dreamer meets Joseph, who describes the mystery of the Nativity from his unique perspective: he may more easily believe that a virgin would give birth to a child than that Mary would be unfaithful. Many of the Nativity poems are carols, an appropriate form for the celebratory nature of the event.

Judging by the lyrics which survive today, interest in the Nativity as a specific focus for meditation developed relatively late in the Middle Ages. Before the late fourteenth century, with the exception of "Nu this fules" (which Woolf classifies as an Annunciation lyric), the Nativity is treated only in poems of the five joys, and there formally (see, for example, §76). John Grimestone's commonplace book, dated 1372, provides seven of the earliest extant Nativity lyrics, and in that collection, as Rosemary Woolf notes, "The newness of the subject is perhaps there indicated in the fact that, although this is an alphabetical preaching-book, the poems are not copied under a heading of the Nativity, but are included in some preliminary material or under the heading of the Passion" (p. 143). But beginning in the late fourteenth century, the story of Jesus' birth is addressed in a variety of ways. Woolf attributes this new interest to the phenomenon of the cycle plays, "in which the Nativity became detached from its liturgical season, and in which the relevant human sentiments were thoroughly explored" (p. 148). 39 Carols like §26 and §27 reflect what became a particularly English tradition, an emphasis on the mother/child relationship that is treated less formally than in other traditions. In Latin and European poetry of the age, as Woolf points out, "the subject of the second joy was usually taken as an opportunity to reiterate the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary rather than for meditation on the Mother and Child" (p. 147). But in England, the event is explored from a variety of angles. §15 tells the story of the Nativity with, as it were, a closeup lens focused on Mary's place in the story. Every stanza is anchored by this focus. In §18, on the other hand, the poet chooses a wide-angle lens, using the occasion as the center of the story of humankind's redemption.

The lullaby is an important form here. Woolf comments:
The lullaby is in fact the predominant form of the Nativity poem, and it is able to draw directly on the homely and familiar, for both the form and the words, >lull', >lullay', >lullaby', lowly and onomatopoeic in origin, seem only to have entered literature and the written language with the Nativity poems. There is, however, a difficulty here in that the medieval conception of a lullaby cannot be defined from outside the Nativity poems themselves, as traditional homely lullabies survive only from many centuries later. (p. 151)
In these expressions of mother/child intimacy, the poet often imagines a dialogue between Mary and the infant Jesus. Such dialogues often foreshadow the events to follow, the events of the Crucifixion.

Mary at the Foot of the Cross

John's gospel reports that Mary was present at her son's Crucifixion and that Jesus bequeathed her to John's care. The circumstance of Mary's presence at the foot of the cross has captured the imagination of countless artists and meditators. 40 But the situation raises several basic theological questions. If Mary is the mother of Christ and shares his knowledge of the divine plan, why does she sorrow at his suffering? In the Liber de Passione Christi et Doloribus et Planctibus Matris Eius (the Book of the Passion of Christ and the Sorrows and Laments of his Mother), commonly attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 41 the author imagines a dialogue with Mary in which she explains that she prayed to take on some of her son's pain -- perhaps simply a mother's willingness to make a sacrifice for her child. The explanation that best justifies the outpouring of meditational lyrics on Mary's sorrows is that she participated voluntarily in her son's fully human suffering in order to empathize with his experience and the experience of all humanity. 42 Some theologians held that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain (see note to §15, line 3). If so, then, as a witness to his Crucifixion, she shares the motherly suffering she was spared earlier: "Nu thu fondest, moder milde, / Wat wyman drith [suffer] with hir childe, / Thei thu clene maiden be" (§32, lines 37-39). Having come to undestand this pain, Mary is able to guide others into a fuller appreciation of the Crucifixion; in §39, she advises the observer: "Who cannot wepe come lerne at me" (line 11).

In Bernard's dialogue, the speaker asks Mary to tell the story of her experience at the foot of the cross so that he can share her sorrow. She describes the pain she felt watching her son suffer and recounts her plea to die with him. Jesus says that her sorrow wounds him most of all, but Mary cannot help grieving. Jesus explains the purpose of his suffering, commends her to the care of John, and dies. Mary mourns as her son is placed in the tomb. The dialogue is punctuated by Bernard's interruptions and Mary's exclamations of sorrow, details frequently rehearsed in the lyrics.

But Mary's motherly suffering takes on an added dimension in the lyrics that call attention to her son's identity as God: what she fears is both the universal experience of human loss and the loss of God himself. And in this awareness lies the full impact of the lyrics. Sarah Appleton Weber comments on such mother/son dialogues as §25:
The poet uses Mary's limited human view as the source of drama in the poems on the compassion of Mary. In these poems, the poet will focus on the pains of Christ and exclude the implications of the future joyful outcome of the crucifixion, until the suffering portrayed reaches a great degree of intensity. In this way his poem can reflect the immensity of the consequences of sin which cause such pain, and through this knowledge it can turn man's heart toward Christ. (pp. 71-72)
Christians meditate on the dark hours of the Crucifixion in order to apprehend the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice; the more deeply the sorrow is felt, the more joyfully the Resurrection may be celebrated.

The lyrics in this section augment the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion with material from Bernard's dialogue; Anselm's Beatae Mariae et Anselmi de passione Domini provides a similar model in which Anselm asks Mary to narrate the events of the Passion, and she does so, using the words of the Gospels and the Psalms. From such models, the poets develop a variety of approaches. The Latin sequence Stabat juxta Christi crucem is paraphrased in §32 and is used as the basis for a dialogue between mother and son in §33. In variations on this theme, poets imagine dialogues between Mary and Jesus, his tormenters, the poet, and even the Cross. In still others, the speaker meditates on Mary's sorrows, sometimes speaking to her; the best known example is §38, "Nou goth sonne under wod." In §31, a narrator recounts the events of the Passion, emphasizing visual images of Mary's presence at each moment; thus the hearer's attention is focused through Mary on her son's suffering. As in other poems on the Passion in which we are prompted to contemplate Christ's wounds, visual iconography provides imaginative stimuli for meditation.

A particularly effective strategy in evoking contemplation is to juxtapose scenes from the Crucifixion with Nativity scenes, drawing on the contrast of moods to emphasize the intensity of Mary's sorrow. §35, for example, while not, strictly speaking, a lyric, introduces §36 with a series of ironic reversals rich in imagery. Dialogues at the foot of the cross recall lullabies and dialogues with the infant Jesus; as those dialogues hinted at the sorrows to come, so do these remind us of the somber joy that follows this dark time.

Context shapes these lyrics: those in which Mary seems mired in despair are often found in sermons. These lyrics evoke an intense moment of reflection, of affection, but they function in a greater context, as moments in salvation history. The lyrics which appear in meditational collections inevitably end in joy, for the Christian commemoration of Mary's sorrowing makes sense only insofar as the sorrowing finally gives way to the Easter celebration.

And in fact Mary's maternal pain at the Crucifixion is doubly significant in light of Jesus' words to his disciples at the Last Supper:
Amen, amen, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman about to give birth has sorrow, because her hour has come. But when she has brought forth the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for her joy that a man is born into the world. And you therefore have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you. (John 16:2-22)
In this group of Crucifixion lyrics we find Mary sorrowful, angry, even bitter -- moods rarely associated elsewhere with the Mary of the Immaculate Conception. In §43, a long dialogue between Mary and the Cross, Mary's progress from anger to understanding is designed to guide the meditator through a psychological process of healing and spiritual growth. Here she is most fully identifiable as one of the human race; identification with her emotional trauma becomes a means through which the reader/meditator may grow from despair or anger into an understanding of the fuller significance of the Crucifixion and its place in the redemption story.

The Assumption and Mary as Queen of Heaven

Though only one of the poems here deals directly with Mary's Assumption into heaven, the story has a direct bearing on poems which address Mary as Queen of Heaven. The story, recorded in the apocryphal book of John the Evangelist and in Dionysius' Book of the Names of God, is an attempt to solve the mystery surrounding Mary's later days. Since there was no account of her death and no known burial place, some Christians reasoned that she must not have died (see Clayton, pp. 8-9). According to the creation accounts in Genesis, death is a consequence of sin; according to medieval doctrine, Mary was sinless. Another line of argument reasoned that if Mary had died, Jesus would not have allowed the blessed womb to decay in obscurity. Jacobus de Voragine treats the matter in detail, first relating an account of the Assumption from John the Evangelist, then reporting the writings of St. Jerome and St. Augustine on the matter (Golden Legend, vol. 2, pp. 77-97). St. Augustine argues that Aputrescence and the worm are the shame of the human condition. Since Jesus has no part in that shame, Mary's nature, which Jesus, as we know, took from her, is exempt from it" (Golden Legend, p. 83); furthermore, "the throne of God, the bridal chamber of the Lord, the tabernacle of Christ is worthy to be kept in heaven rather than on earth" (p. 84). Finally, he reasons, since "God has willed to preserve incorrupt the modesty of his mother's virginity, why would he not wish to save his mother from the foulness of putrefaction?" (p. 96).

Though it was not proclaimed dogma by the Roman Catholic Church until 1950, belief in the Assumption of Mary was widespread in the Middle Ages (see note to §77, lines 50-51), and the feast of the Assumption was celebrated on August 15 beginning in the seventh century. 43 At this feast, Mary is recognized as Queen of Heaven. The liturgy suggests several sources for the iconography of this poetry. The introit comes from Apocalypse (Revelation) 12:1, which describes the woman clothed with the sun; the gradual, Psalm 44:11-12, 14, describes the king's daughter with golden robes and the woman who will, with her son, defeat the serpent. The epistle (Judith 13:22-25, 15:10) invokes praise originally addressed to Judith: "Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honor of our people" (15:10). The readings also commemorate the fulfillment of Mary's prophecy in the Magnificat -- "all generations shall call me blessed" (Gospel: Luke 1:41-50, or Communion: Luke 1:48). The imagery in these poems is glorious and apocalyptic. Macaronic and aureate language seem created for the purpose, as attempts to make a new language suitable for praising the heavenly queen. In §50 the poet imagines Mary's coronation, finally asking her intercessory blessings. The writer of §51 protests his inadequacy -- "The aureat beames do nat in me shyne" (line 7) -- but of course they do, and the poet proceeds to recall the Queen's past mercies. §52, "Lefdy blisful, of muchel might," offers pure praise without petition; it is unusual in that regard, as the next section demonstrates.

Mary Mediatrix and Penitential Poems

Many medieval English penitential prayers are addressed to Mary rather than to Christ. Woolf comments: "An appeal to Mary was a sign of sincere remorse, for, once the idea of a hierarchy of appeal had been accepted, a direct and immediate invocation of Christ might suggest a presumptuous unawareness of one's own sinfulness rather than a theologically correct recourse to the only and ultimate source of forgiveness" (p. 113). As Mary first mediated between God and humankind when she bore Christ, medieval Christians perceived her as a natural intercessor. Graef summarizes the argument of the fourteenth-century theolo-gian Theophanes of Nicaea:
She is likened to the earth, because Christ's flesh was taken from her, therefore she is the source of benediction for all men, and she herself is the centre that unites all creatures with one another and with God. For she has borne her Son and God in her motherly womb; therefore she is the receptacle of the divine fullness, from which God's gifts and graces flow out to all rational creatures. She alone has access to all these treasures, because Christ can be approached only through her. (p. 335)
The poems in this section address Mary as compassionate queen. The purpose is specific: to ask for Mary's help. In all these selections, the speaker begs Mary to intercede, to "pray for us." The process of penance (discussed fully in Chaucer's The Parson's Tale) involves three stages: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. The penitential poems observe this pattern, emphasizing the speaker's sinful condition and desire to repent, in order to guide the reader through a similar process.

Meditations on the Joys of Mary

Organized meditation -- on the rosary, for example -- guided Christians in structured spiritual exercises. Meditation on Mary's "joys" recalls the events of Mary's life in terms of their spiritual significance; her experiences symbolize the story of all humankind's redemption, from faithfulness on earth to heavenly reward. The desire to structure such meditations in fives (recalling the five letters in the name "Maria" and the stigmata, the five wounds Christ received on the cross -- also a popular focus for meditation) produced variations. The Franciscan tradition of the five joys included the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection of Christ, the Ascension of Christ into heaven, and the Assumption of Mary into heaven. §75 and §76 demonstrate this tradition. But sometimes the Epiphany (the visit of the Magi) is included and the Ascension omitted, as in §74 and §77. The poet who composed §73 combined both traditions to describe six joys; Crowne notes that the number five was "neither peculiar to England nor absolute there" (p. 308). A related tradition of describing the heavenly joys -- often seven (as in §72) or even fifteen (as with Lydgate) -- is represented by §72. While the poems in this section tend toward formality rather than personal engagement, they reflect, perhaps, a complete sense of Mary's significance in the world.

Chansons d'Aventure and Love Quests

E. K. Chambers proposed the term chansons d'aventure (CS, p. 266) to describe those poems which imitate a variety of secular, chivalric French songs known in England as early as 1300. 44 The form reached its peak in England in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. In its secular, amorous manifestation, the song tells of a despondent dreamer/speaker who goes out into the country, where he meets a woman and speaks with her. In the religious adaptations of the form, the distressed dreamer usually discovers Mary (though there are also poems in which the dreamer meets Christ), and by speaking with her or observing her, comes to a fuller understanding of his own circumstance. In §77, the speaker thinks upon Mary's five joys as he rides, and his mind turns from his own immediate pleasures to eternal bliss. The rider in §78 ponders his own "folie" (line 13) as he rides, falling into despair until he recalls Mary's "medicine" (line 30) and prays for mercy. In the well-known Quia amore langueo, §79, the dreamer sees a vision of Mary, who laments humankind's sinful state and implores the dreamer to be mindful of her love for him and for all. This is a love poem; so too is §80, in which the speaker extols the virtues of his lady, whose identity is concealed until the final stanza. The poet combines a love poem with a prayer for intercession in §83. The overlap of religious and amorous secular conventions -- language, imagery, and forms -- leads to the possibility of multiple interpretations. Poems §81 ("Maiden in the mor lay") and §82 ("Lulley, lulley, lully, lulley, / The fawcon hath born my mak away") have stimulated debate: though their origins are probably secular, they may be read as Marian allegories (see notes to these poems). And perhaps they were intended to convey such double meanings. The sense of play is evident throughout this section, as poets venture beyond simple didactic verse to ponder paradoxes and wonders. The dreamer/speaker and the reader share in patterns of adventure and discovery.

Poems in Celebration of Mary

The final poems in this volume, with the exception of §87 and §88, come from the fifteenth century, and as such represent a shift (as discussed above) from the style and emphases of earlier Marian lyrics. Aureate language and highly formalized descriptions produce a kind of poetry very different from the verses composed by the Franciscans and their contemporaries. Walter F. Schirmer's comments on Lydgate's Marian poetry apply as well to the works of his followers:
We no longer sit with the Holy Family at a common table; we are far below them. Christ is no longer "sweet" or "dear", but "mighty" and "heavenly". Mary is no longer the consoling lover or the mother playing with her child; nor is she the courtly lady, Chaucer's "lady brighte". Instead she is the queen of heaven, the image radiating mercy, enshrined in mystical ornamentation. Hence his revelling in her brightness and splendour (where courtly lyrics would have emphasized her beauty); hence his abstraction, his representation of the spiritual or moral essence of images which he no longer visualizes in the flesh. (p. 197)
But while this distanced, formalized conception of Mary occurs frequently, the full picture is something greater. Mary is both humble handmaiden and exalted queen of heaven, familiar mother and noble intercessor, and the lyrics included here demonstrate the full range of that recognition.


The authors of most of the lyrics in this collection are anonymous. John Lydgate (c. 1370-c. 1451) is credited with authorship of §12 and §51, and possibly §19. William Dunbar (c. 1456-c. 1513) is responsible for §91 and possibly §86 and §89. Other identified authors include John Audelay (fifteenth century) for §4, Thomas Hoccleve (c. 1369 -1426) for §68, William Huchen (fifteenth century) for §85, and John Hawghton (fifteenth century) for §28. Marian poems by Chaucer make up the appendices. Three other individuals who figure prominently in the present volume, but who are not widely known, warrant further introduction.

Friar William Herebert (d. 1333) was a lecturer at the Franciscan Convent in Oxford. His commonplace book, MS BL Addit. 46919, contains twenty-three English poems, mostly translations and paraphrases of Latin hymns, liturgical pieces, and scripture. Four Marian poems in the collection appear to be Herebert's own compositions and show authorial revisions. Three of these are included in the present volume; the fourth is a paraphrase of Luke 1:26-38 (printed by Reimer, pp. 135-36). There has been some debate about the purpose for which his lyrics were intended. Brown speculates that they were meant as sermon tags to be used by Franciscan preachers, while others believe they were meant to be sung. 45

The name of James Ryman, a Franciscan friar in Canterbury, appears in a manuscript dated 1492, in which 163 pieces, mostly carols, are recorded. Greene notes that Ryman is thus "responsible for a quarter of all the extant English carols of date earlier than 1550" (EEC, p. clv). Greene speculates that Ryman observed the popularity of the carol form and wrote his poems to be sung by "his preaching brothers and their audiences" (EEC, p. clv). Mary is the subject of about one-fourth of Ryman's compositions. Several of his carols concern the Annunciation and the events preceding the Nativity (see Greene, EEC, nos. 143-55). His work is represented here by §6, §18, §30, §55, and §56.

Friar John Grimestone's commonplace book (MS Advocates 18.7.21), dated 1372, is a compilation of alphabetically-arranged sermon materials, including over 240 English poems. A few of the items in this collection may have been composed by Grimestone (about whom very little is known) himself. His book contributes seven items to the present volume: §24, §25, §29, §34, §37, §41, and §48.

The Texts

In many cases, these poems survive in unique versions. In instances offering multiple texts, I have generally chosen copy text based on three criteria: completeness, readability (e.g., dialects most accessible to inexperienced readers), and aesthetic quality (e.g., superior meter or imagery). Other things being equal, I have chosen the earliest version of a text, but this has not been a primary consideration. Preserving or reconstructing the "original" text was not, it seems, a particular concern for medieval scribes or audiences. Tim Machan suggests that our interpretation of some Middle English texts should depend upon a model of oral composition (p. 241). Vernacular poetry, as Machan demonstrates, shows characteristics of orality, and even when lyrics were not orally transmitted, cultural assumptions about the nature of vernacular texts were applied. The composers of medieval vernacular lyrics were not considered "authors," and the original sources were often unknown even to medieval scribes. The transmission of these texts was much like the oral transmission of folk songs today; scribes, as the evidence of multiple versions of lyrics shows, both worked from memory, producing unintentional variations, and consciously emended grammatical and stylistic forms, words and phrases, and the order of material. Derek Pearsall refers to the transmission of medieval texts as "recomposition" rather than "decomposition." 46 An extreme example occurs in §63 and §64, where two manuscripts offer substantially different versions of the same poem. Each surviving version of a Middle English lyric is in itself a valid social and literary artifact, and I have been more interested in offering a representative collection of pieces medieval audiences might hear and read than in attempting to reconstruct the oldest or "authorial" versions. I have recorded orthographical variants in the Notes only when they are likely to affect the text's meaning.

In keeping with the conventions of the Middle English Texts Series, I have modernized the orthography of yoghs and thorns, regularized j/i, u/v, ff/f, x/sh, and employed modern punctuation and capitalization. I have made one significant deviation from the usual practice of the series. In other Middle English Text Series volumes, pronouns which refer to God are capitalized. That style seems inappropriate for the mother-child dialogues between Mary and Jesus, imposing overly formal overtones on familiar, intimate, and fundamentally human scenes. Since in these poems there is often no clear distinction between references to Jesus as man (Mary's son) and to Jesus as Son of God, this volume uses modern lower-case conventions instead of the series style.

Abbreviations are silently expanded. If final e in a multisyllabic word is a long vowel with syllabic value that is not orthographically distinguishable from schwa, I have added an accent (é). For the second person familiar pronoun, usually written the in the manuscript, I have transcribed thee to differentiate the pronoun from the definite article. Within individual lyrics and among those found in a common source such as MS Harley 2253, I have regularized forms of conjunctions and articles. Nevertheless, the lyrics in this volume display a variety of dialects, style, and quality as various as the emotions and ideas they express.

Citations from the liturgy refer to the Sarum rite, the predominant use in medieval England. For English translations of biblical passages I have relied on the Douai-Confraternity trans-lation of the Vulgate. Where book, chapter, or verse citation differs from other translations, I have supplied the Revised Standard Version citation in parentheses.

Go To The Annunciation
Select Bibliography

The Poems: Editions and Criticism

Auden, W. H., and Norman Pearson, eds. Poets of the English Language. Vol. 1. New York: Viking, 1950.

Bennett, J. A. W., and G. V. Smithers, eds. Early Middle English Verse and Prose. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.

Böddekker, Karl. Altenglische Dichtungen des MS. Harl. 2253. Berlin: Weidmannsche, 1878.

Brook, George L., ed. The Harley Lyrics: The Middle English Lyrics of MS. Harley 2253. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1948.

Brown, Carleton, ed. Religious Lyrics of the Fourteenth Century. 1924. Second ed. Rev. G. V. Smithers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.

------., ed. English Lyrics of the Thirteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932.

------., ed. Religious Lyrics of the Fifteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939.

Bullett, G. The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems. London: J. M. Dent, 1933.

Burrow, John. English Verse 1300-1500. Longman Annotated Anthologies of English Verse. Vol. 1. London and New York: Longman, 1977.

Cecil, Lord David. The Oxford Book of Christian Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940.

Chambers, E. K. English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages. Oxford History of English Literature. Vol. 2, part 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945.

------., and F. Sidgwick. Early English Lyrics, Amorous, Divine, Moral and Trivial. London: A. H. Bullen, 1907. Rpt. New York: October House, 1966.

Cook, Albert Stanburrough, ed. A Literary Middle English Reader. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1915.

Coxe, H. O. Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Oxford Colleges. 1852. Vol. 1. Republished Wakefield: EP Publishing and Menston: Scolar, 1972.

Craigie, W. A., ed. The Asloan Manuscript: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse, Written by John Asloan in the Reign of James the Fifth. Vol. 2. STS n.s. 16. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1925.

Davies, R. T., ed. Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.

Dobson, E. J., and F. L. Harrison. Medieval English Songs. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Dronke, Peter. The Medieval Lyric. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1968.

Dunn, Charles W., and Edward T. Byrnes, eds. Middle English Literature. San Diego: Har-court Brace, 1973. Rpt. New York: Garland, 1990.

Fehr, Bernhard. "Die Lieder der Hs. Add. 5665 (Ritson's Folio-Ms)." Archiv 106 (1901), 262-85.

------. "Weitere Beiträge zur englischen Lyrik des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts." Archiv 107 (1901), 48-61.

------. "Die Lieder der Hs. Sloane 2593." Archiv 109 (1902), 33-72.

Furnivall, F. J., ed. Political, Religious, and Love Poems. EETS o.s. 15. 1866. Re-edited, London: Kegan Paul, 1903.

------., ed. Hymns to the Virgin and Christ. EETS o.s. 24. London: N. Trübner, 1867.

------., ed. The Minor Poems of the Vernon MS. Vol. 2. EETS o.s. 117. London: Kegan Paul, 1901.

Gray, Douglas, ed. Themes and Images in the Medieval English Religious Lyric. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.

------. A Selection of Religious Lyrics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Rpt. as English Medieval Religious Lyrics. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1992.

Greene, Richard Leighton, ed. A Selection of English Carols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

CCC, ed. The Early English Carols. Second ed., revised and enlarged. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Heuser, W. "Ave Maria." Anglia 27 (1904), 320-30.

------. "Eine Vergessene Handschrift des Surteespsalters und die Dort Eingeschalteten Mittelenglischen Gedichte." Anglia 29 (1906), 385-412.

Hughes, Dom Anselm, and Gerald Abraham, eds. Ars Nova and the Renaissance, 1300-1540. New Oxford History of Music. Vol. 3. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Kaiser, Rolf. Medieval English: An Old English and Middle English Anthology. Third ed. Berlin: Rolf Kaiser, 1958.

Laing, David, ed. The Poems of William Dunbar. 2 vols. and Supplement. Edinburgh: Laing and Forbes, 1824, 1865 (Supplement).

Luria, Maxwell S., and Richard L. Hoffman, eds. Middle English Lyrics. New York: Norton, 1974.

MacCracken, Henry Noble, ed. The Minor Poems of John Lydgate. Part 1. EETS e.s. 107. London: Oxford University Press, 1911.

Mackenzie, W. Mackay. The Poems of William Dunbar. London: Faber and Faber, 1932.

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

Mason, H. A. Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959.

Mätzner, E. Altenglische Sprachproben, Nebst Ein W'rterbuche. Vol. 1. Berlin: Wiedmann, 1867.

The Myroure of Oure Ladye. Ed. John Henry Blunt. EETS e.s. 19. London: N. Trübner, 1873.

Morris, Richard, ed. An Old English Miscellany. EETS o.s. 49. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1872.

Oliver, Raymond. Poems Without Names: The English Lyric, 1200-1500. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

Owst, G. R. Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England. Cambridge: University Press, 1933.

Padelford, Frederick Morgan. "English Songs in Manuscript Selden B.26." Anglia 36 (1912), 79-115.

Patterson, Frank Allen. The Middle English Penitential Lyrics: A Study and Collection of Early Religious Verse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1911.

Peck, Russell A. "Public Dreams and Private Myths: Perspective in Middle English Litera-ture." PMLA 90 (1975), 461-68.

Reimer, Stephen R., ed. The Works of William Herebert, OFM. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1987.

Reiss, Edmund. The Art of the Middle English Lyric: Essays in Criticism. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1972.

Rickert, Edith, ed. Ancient English Christmas Carols 1400 to 1700. New York: Oxford University Press, 1928. [Modernized spelling.]

Robbins, Rossell Hope. "The Earliest Carols and the Franciscans." Modern Language Notes 53 (1938), 239-45.

------. "The Authors of the Middle English Religious Lyrics." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 39 (1940), 230-38.

CCC, ed. Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries. Second ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

CCC, ed. Early English Christmas Carols. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961.

Sandys, William. Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. London: Richard Beckley, 1833.

Schipper, J. The Poems of William Dunbar. Vienna: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1891.

------. Denkschriften der Kaiserlichen Academie der Wissenschaften in Wien 42 (1894), 67-69.

Segar, Mary G. A Mediaeval Anthology: Being Lyrics and Other Short Poems Chiefly Religious. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1915. [Modernized.]

Silverstein, Theodore. Medieval English Lyrics. London: Edward Arnold, 1971.

Sisam, Kenneth, ed. Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921. Rpt. with corrections, 1955.

Sisam, Celia and Kenneth, eds. The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.
Smith, G. Gregory, ed. Specimens of Middle Scots. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1902.

Speirs, John. Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition. London: Faber and Faber, 1957.

Stainer, J. F. R., and C. Stainer, eds. Early Bodleian Music: Sacred and Secular Songs, Together with other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 2 vols. London and New York: Novello, 1901. Rpt. Farnborough: Gregg Press, 1967.

Stevens, John, ed. Mediaeval Carols. Vol. 4 of Musica Britannica: A National Collection of Music. London: Stainer and Bell, 1952. [Modernized texts.]

Stevick, Robert D., ed. One Hundred Middle English Lyrics. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964. Rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Terry, Sir Richard R. A Medieval Carol Book, The Melodies Chiefly from MSS. in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, n.d. [1931?].

Thérèse, Sister M. I sing of a Maiden: The Mary Book of Verse. New York: Macmillan, 1947. [Modernized texts, providing a good sense of international traditions of Marian verse, from Old Testament passages thought to prefigure her, to modern expressions of devotion.]

Weber, Sarah Appleton. Theology and Poetry in the Middle English Lyric: A Study of Sacred History and Aesthetic Form. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1969. [Discusses form and structure of several Marian lyrics in terms of theological implications.]

Wilhelm, James J., ed. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. New York and London: Garland, 1990.

Wright, Thomas. Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books. Percy Society, vol. 4. London: T. Richards, 1841.

CCC, and J. O. Halliwell, eds. Reliquiae Antiquae, Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts. London: J. R. Smith, 1841-43.

------. Songs and Carols, Now First Printed, from a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century. Percy Society. Vol. 23. London: T. Richards, 1847. [Poems from Bodl. 29734 (English Poet e.1).]

------. Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century. Warton Club no. 4. London: T. Richards, 1856. [Complete edition of Sloane 2593.]

------. "The Burden in Carols." Modern Language Notes 57 (1942), 16-22.

Wülcker, Richard P. Altenglische Lesebuch. 2 vols. Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1874-80.

Zupitza, J. "Die Gedichte des Franziskaners Jakob Ryman." Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Litteraturen 89 (1892), 167-338.

Reference and Background

Ashe, Geoffrey. The Virgin. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976.

Bernard of Clairvaux. Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Trans. Marie-Bernard Saïd. Cistercian Fathers Series no. 18-A. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1993. Pre-viously published in Magnificat: Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Bernard of Clairvaux and Amadeus of Lausanne (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1979).

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