A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
Here is a lovely winter lyric (c. 1310) in its original Middle English spelling, followed by a modern English paraphrase.
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.
Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Al so hit ner nere, ywys;
That moni mon seith, both hit ys:
Al goth bote Godes wille:
Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle.
Al that gren me graueth grene,
Nou hit faleweth albydene:
Jesu, help that hit be sene
Ant shild us from helle!
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.
Winter awakens all my sorrow; now these leaves grow bare. Often I sigh and mourn to think of this world’s joy, and how it all goes to nothing. Now you see it, now you don’t — as though it had never truly been. Many men say this, and it is so: everything goes except God’s will, and we all shall die, though we don’t like to think so. All the grass which grows green, now fades altogether. Jesus, help us understand, and shield us from hell! For I don’t know where I shall go, nor how long I shall dwell here.
An enclosure surrounds a farm comprising a sheep pen and, on the right, four beehives and a dovecote. Inside the house, a woman and a couple of young man and young woman warm themselves in front of the fire. Outside, a man chops down a tree with an axe, bundles of sticks at his feet, while another gets ready to go inside while blowing on his hands to warm them. Further away, a third drives a donkey, loaded with wood, towards the neighbouring village.
(Medium illumination on vellum. Height: 22.5 cm. Width: 13.6 cm. From Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg brothers, early 15th century)