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Mosti ryden by Rybbesdale: notes
London, British Library, Harley MS 2253, f. 66v

1. Rybbesdale: the valley of the river Ribble, in Lancashire.

6. in boure: a sign of the lady's status (see Ichot a burde in a boure, note on line 1).

10. The lylie lossum is: Bennett and Smithers (1968), pp. 321-2, read the as a relative pronoun (referring back to heo line 8 or bleo line 7), and lylie lossum as a compound adjective, 'beautiful as a lily.' However, the (as Bennett and Smithers note) is an anomalous form of the relative pronoun for Harley 2253, and the compound adjective does not sound right to me; I have followed Brook (1968), p. 78 in taking the as a demonstrative adjective 'that', and lylie as a metaphorical reference to the lady herself. For other instances of the conventional linking of roses and lilies in the description of female beauty, and the metaphorical description of people as lilies, see MED s.v. lilie n.

16. gray: when this word is used of eyes in Middle English, it is often found in the phrase grei as glas, and MED cites one example (from Sir Eglamour line 861) of eyen grey as crystalle stone; I have followed MED s.v. grei adj. 2.(b) in translating it as 'bright' rather than 'grey'.

30. spredeth: the apparent false rhyme here is the result of the scribe's oscillation between the Southern -eth ending and the Northern -es  ending in the present 3rd singular form of the verb (see Notes on translating Middle English).

32. murthes monge: probably 'exchange pleasantries'; see Bennett and Smithers (1968), pp. 322-3.

44. sponne: defined by OED, s.v. span n. 1. a., as 'the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, or sometimes to the tip of the forefinger, when the hand is fully extended; the space equivalent to this taken as a measure of length, averaging nine inches'.

47. Then beon Pope ant ryde in Rome: the choice of this particular fantasy (like the debt of the poem to Latin rhetoric) may suggest clerical authorship; cf. the thirteenth-century anchoritic rule Ancrene Wisse, where the anchoresses are invited to imagine 'astounding and cheering' events, as if, for instance, the man dearest to them 'through some miracle, such as a voice from heaven, were elected as Pope' (Part 4; Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402, f. 65v). But the following line clothes the Papal procession through Rome in the language of secular romance (cf. MED s.v. stith(e adj. 3.(a)); and the late-twelfth-century troubadour Arnaut Daniel says in his love-lyric En cest sonet that he would not want the empire of Rome, or to be made Pope, if he could not return to his lady (No vuoill de Roma l'emperi, /Ni c'om m'en fass' apostoli . . .).

48. stythest: MS stythes, normally emended, as here, to the superlative form stythest.

50. The lylie-white, lef on lond: a problematic line, which seems to apply to the lady in general rather than (as one would have expected from the previous line) her hand in particular. Bennett and Smithers (1968), p. 323, argue that both lylie-white and lef are functioning here as nouns ('When I gaze on her hand, the lily-white (one), she might well seem the best mistress in the land'); but I have followed Brook (1968), p. 78, in reading lef as an adjective.

52. elne: the English ell measured 45 inches.

75.  Ase feynes withoute fere: i.e., the lady is unique. According to Greek legend, there was only ever one phoenix at a time; after a certain number of years the bird would build a nest, set it on fire, burn itself to death, and rise again from the ashes.

77. Whittore then the moren-mylk: the image was probably a poetic commonplace; it is used twice by Chaucer (also rhymed with silk) in the Canterbury Tales (General Prologue, A 358, and Miller's Tale, A 3236).

82. He myhte sayen that Crist him seghe: the apparently blasphemous assumption that God might be prepared to smooth the course of carnal passion is quite common in secular love-poetry; cf. the refrain of Bytuene Mersh ant Aueril, and (more explicitly) lines 15-16 of Dum ludis floribus.

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 30 July 2003 .