Middle English Lyric

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Middle English lyrics are short poems, almost all anonymous, written in English during the 13th, 14th and early 15th centuries. Their themes are generally love, nature or religious devotion.


  • Adam lay ibounden,
    Bounden in a bond;
    Four thousand winter
    Thoght he not too long;
    And all was for an appil,
    An appil that he tok.
    • Adam lay bound,
      Bound up in a bond.
      Four thousand winters
      He thought not too long.
      And all was for an apple,
      An apple that he took.
    • "Adam lay ibounden", line 1; Sir Edmund K. Chambers and Frank Sidgwick (eds.) Early English Lyrics ([1907] 1972) p. 102. Translation: Joseph Glaser Middle English Poetry in Modern Verse (2007) p. 85.


  • Nis no fur so hot in helle
    All to mon
    That loveth derne and dar nout telle
    Whet him is on.
    • There is no hotter flame in hell
      Than lover's fire
      When secret lover dare not tell
      His strong desire.
    • "A waile whit ase whales bon", line 41; Reginald Thorne Davies (ed.) Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology (1963) p. 82. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 205.


  • An hendy hap ichabbe y-hent,
    Ichote from hevene it is me sent;
    From alle wymmen my love is lent
    Ant lyht on Alisoun.
    • A happy hap has come to me.
      I know it came by God's decree.
      From other girls my love must flee,
      And light on Alison.
    • "Bytuene Mershe ant Averil", line 9; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900 ([1900] 1912) p. 2. Translation: Joseph Glaser Middle English Poetry in Modern Verse (2007) pp. 6-7.


  • Hand by hand we shule us take,
    And joye and blisse shule we make;
    For the devel of helle man hath forsake,
    And Godes Son is maked our make.
    A child is boren amonges man,
    And in that child was no wam:
    That child is God, that child is man,
    And in that child oure lif bigan.
    • Let us gather hand in hand
      And sing of bliss without an end:
      The Devil has fled from earthly land,
      And Son of God is made our friend.
      A Child is born in man's abode,
      And in that Child no blemish showed.
      That Child is God, that Child is Man,
      And in that Child our life began.
    • "Hand by hand we shule us take", line 1; Celia Sisam and Kenneth Sisam (eds.) The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse (1970) p. 183. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 30.


  • Icham of Irlaunde
    Ant of the holy londe
    Of Irlande.
    Gode sire, pray ich the,
    For of saynte charite,
    Come ant daunce wyt me
    In Irlaunde.
    • I am from Ireland,
      And from the holy land
      Of Ireland.
      Good sir, I beg of you,
      For holy charity,
      Come and dance with me
      In Ireland.
    • "Icham of Irlaunde", line 1; Theodore Silverstein English Lyrics Before 1500 (1989) p. 82. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 98.


  • For hire love in slep y slake,
    For hire love al nyht ich wake,
    For hire love mournynge y make
    More then eny mon.
    Blou northerne wynd!
    Send thou me my suetyng!
    Blou northerne wynd! blou, blou, blou!
    • For her love in sleep I slake,
      For her love all night I wake,
      For her love mourning I make,
      More than any man.
      Blow, northern wind,
      Send thou me my sweeting,
      Blow, northern wind, blow, blow, blow!
    • "Ichot a burde in boure bryht", line 49; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 7. Translation: William Henry Schofield English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer (1906) p. 444.


  • She sente me the cherye
    Withouten ony ston;
    And so she dede the dove
    Withouten ony bon;

    She sente me the brer
    Withouten ony rinde;
    She bad me love my lemman
    Withoute longing.
    • She sent me a cherry
      Without any stone;
      She sent me a dove
      Without any bone;

      She sent me a briar
      Without branch or leaf;
      She bade me love my lover
      Without any grief.
    • "I have a yong suster", line 5; Reginald Thorne Davies (ed.) Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology (1972) p. 164. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 102.


  • I sing of a maiden
    That is makeles;
    King of all kings
    To her son she ches.
    • I sing of a Maiden,
      A matchless one;
      King of all Kings
      She chose for her Son.
    • "I sing of a maiden", line 1; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 34. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 25.


  • Wymmen waxeth wounder proude
    So wel hit wol hem seme,
    Yef me shal wonte wille of on,
    This wunne weole y wole forgon
    Ant wyht in wode be fleme.
    • Women flaunt their pride above –
      The spring becomes them well.
      If none of them can burn for me,
      Then, lost to fortune, I shall flee
      And in the wild wood dwell.
    • "Lenten ys come with love to toune", line 32; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 5. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 200.


  • Louerd, þu clepedest me,
    An ich nagt ne ansuarede þe,
    Bute wordes scloe and sclepie:
    "Þole yet! þole a litel!"
    Bute "yiet" and "yiet" was endelis,
    And "þole a litel" a long wey is.
    • Lord, you called to me,
      And I gave no reply
      But slowly, sleepily:
      "Wait a while yet! Wait a little!"
      But "yet" and "yet" goes on and on,
      And "wait a little" grows too long.
    • "Louerd, þu clepedest me", line 1; Carleton Brown (ed.) Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century ([1924] 2003) p. 3. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 72.


  • Middel-erd for mon wes mad.
    • This middle-earth was made for man.
    • "Middel-erd for mon wes mad", line 1; Thomas Wright (ed.) Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages (1841) vol. 4, p. 22. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 182.


  • Mirie it is while sumer ilast
    With fugheles song,
    Oc nu necheth windes blast
    And weder strong.
    Ej! Ej! what this nicht is long,
    And ich with wel michel wrong
    Soregh and murne and fast.
    • Merry it is while summer lasts,
      With birds in song;
      But now there threaten windy blasts
      And tempests strong.
      Ah, but the night is long,
      And I, being done such wrong,
      Sorrow and mourn and fast.
    • "Mirie it is while sumer ilast", line 1; Theodore Silverstein English Lyrics Before 1500 (1989) p. 39. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 62.


  • Of on that is so fayr and bright
    Velut maris stella,
    Brighter than the day is light,
    Parens et puella:
    Ic crie to the, thou see to me,
    Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
    Tam pia,
    That ic mote come to thee,
    Maria.
    • One that is so fair and bright,
      Velut maris stella; [as a star of the sea]
      Brighter than the day's light,
      Parens et puella. [mother and maiden]
      I cry to thee, then look on me.
      Lady pray thy Son for me,
      Tam pia, [thou gracious one]
      That I may come to thee,
      Maria.
    • "Of on that is so fayr and bright", line 1; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 8. Translation: W. Edwards A Medieval Scrap Heap (1930) p. 48.


  • Sumer is icumen in,
    Lhude sing cuccu!
    Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
    And springth the wude nu–
    Sing cuccu!
    • Summer has come in,
      Loudly sing cuckoo!
      The seed grows
      And the meadow blooms,
      And the wood sprouts anew–
      Sing cuckoo!
    • "Sumer is icumen in", line 1; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 1. Translation: Lewis Turco The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics ([1968] 2000) p. 209.


  • Were beth they biforen vs weren,
    Houndes ladden and hauekes beren
    And hadden feld and wode?
    • Where are those who lived before?
      Who chased with hawk and hound of yore,
      Possessing fields and woods?
    • "Were beth they biforen vs weren", line 1; Theodore Silverstein English Lyrics Before 1500 (1989) p. 30. Translation: Brian Stone Medieval English Verse (1964) p. 67.


  • When Adam dalf and Eve span, go spire – if thou may spede –
    Where was than the pride of man that now marres his mede?
    • When Adam delved and Eve spun, go ask – if you may succeed –
      Where then was the pride of man, which now deprives him of his reward?
    • "When Adam dalf and Eve span", line 1; Celia Sisam and Kenneth Sisam (eds.) The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse (1970) p. 617. Translation: ibid. p. 404.
    • Sometimes attributed to Richard Rolle. Adapted by John Ball during the Peasants' Revolt as "When Adam dalf, and Eve span, who was thanne a gentilman."


  • Wynter wakeneth al my care,
    Nou this leves waxeth bare;
    Ofte I sike ant mourne sare
    When hit cometh in my thoht
    Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.
    • Winter wakeneth all my care;
      Now the leaves wax dry and bare;
      Oft I mourn and in despair
      Sigh when comes into my thought
      How this world's joy it goeth all to nought.
    • "Wynter wakeneth al my care", line 1; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.) The Oxford Book of English Verse ([1900] 1912) p. 7. Translation: Richard Garnett English Literature: An Illustrated Record Vol. 1 (1903) p. 125.


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