Wessex Parallel WebTexts


introductionthe manuscripttext/translationnotesglossary

about the project
Harley lyrics
list of lyrics
index of first lines


A wayle whyt as whalles bon: notes
London, British Library, Harley MS 2253, f. 67r

8. bad: on the levelling of indicative and subjunctive forms in the past tense of strong verbs (which took place during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Midlands, earlier in the North), see Mustanoja (1960), p. 452.

9. myn one: for this construction (originally with the pronoun in the dative, followed by an intensifying one), see Mustanoja (1960), p. 294.

19. that lefly: a problematic line. Is that, as Brook (1968), p. 79, prefers to take it, a pronoun used in the sense 'he who', and lefly an adverb 'gladly, willingly, well'? Or is lefly here an adjective functioning (uniquely) as a noun, and that the demonstrative adjective qualifying it? MED (s.v. lefli adj. 1 b)) tentatively suggests the translation 'beloved person'; but this is impossible in context, since the poet's complaint is precisely that he is unloved. Lefly could perhaps here have its more general sense 'worthy of love / respect'; but I have followed Brook's reading in the translation, since it gives rather stronger sense.
23. eyen: MS e3enen.

48. syte: MS syke gives a poor rhyme with whyte 50. It is probable that it is a scribal substitution, influenced by the alliterative collocation sike and sorwe (see MED s.v. sike n.), for the ON borrowing site 'grief, distress' , mostly found in the North and the North-East Midlands, which is also often collocated with sorwe (see MED s.v. site n.).

51. Ich wolde Ich were a threstelcok: the image of the pet bird's enviable intimacy with the beloved goes back to classical times; cf. Catullus's address to Lesbia's sparrow,
Passer, deliciae meae puellae,
Quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere
. . . solet . . . 
(lines 1-2, 4)
('O sparrow, my girl-friend's delight, which she often plays with and holds in her breast . ..').

52. bountyng: the name covers a variety of small seed-eating birds, belonging to the same order (Passeriformes) as sparrows and larks.

52. lauercok: normally laueroc (OE laferce), as in Ichot a burde line 24. Brook (1968), p.80, suggests it may be an error influenced by threstelcok in the previous line. He says the form is 'recorded by NED from the fifteenth century', but this seems to be an error of reference in OED's list of spellings, since no fifteenth-century citation is given; the form does not appear to be recorded elsewhere in Middle English. MED, however, accepts it as a separate word (s.v. laver-cok n.), meaning 'male lark'.  

54. Bituene hire curtel ant hire smok: the curtel was an overgarment, the smok a linen undergarment.

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 24 July 2003 .