Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May in the Green-Wood

Today, a short selection from a much longer minstrel ballad, Robin Hood and the Monk, which exists in a manuscript dating from around 1450. The first three stanzas of the longer work are often entitled "May in the Green-Wood". I'm presenting it in the original Middle English, and in an updated translation that, I am sorry to say, loses the music inherent in the original, but at least makes clear what some of the less familiar terms and iterations are about.

May in the Green-Wode
15th c., author unknown

In somer when the shawes be sheyne,
And leves be large and long,
Hit is full merry in feyre foreste
To here the foulys song.

To se the dere draw to the dale
And leve the hilles hee,
And shadow him in the leves grene
Under the green-wode tree.

Hit befell on Whitsontide
Early in a May mornyng,
The Sonne up faire can shyne,
And the briddis mery can syng.

My attempt at a modern-day translation (of sorts - I'd do it verbatim, but it would sound really stilted and awkward, so it's more like an interpretation in some places, for which I beg your pardon):

May in the Green-Wood

In summer when the shaws are light,
and leaves are large and long,
The forest is beautiful, and it's a pleasure
to hear the birds sing.

To see the deer come to the dale
And leave the high hills,
And rest in the green leaves
Under the greenwood tree.

It came to be Whitsuntide
Early in a May morning,
The sun shining on a beautiful day,
And the merry birds singing.

This year, Whitsuntide (or Whitsunday, or Pentecost) is on May 31st (for Western Christian religions; it's on June 7th for Eastern Christian religions). Despite it not being Whitsuntide yet, this morning was a sun-shiny, beautiful sort of day full of birdsong, so it seemed appropriate.


Chris said...

I was just wondering:
Are you sure "feyre" means fair and not fairy? I'd assume since it's a sort of Christian poem (or one written in that time) that it wouldn't mean fairy but the internet was very vague when I tried to figure out what it meant.

Kelly Fineman said...

Chris: I cannot be 100% certain, but it appears to be the word we pronounce as "fair". It's not an acceptable spelling of the variants for "fairy". Not that Christians in that era didn't also sometimes believe in fairy folk, which is why I won't say it's 100% certain, but when read in context, it seems pretty clear that he's saying nice things about the wood and the day, and not trying to make this about mythological creatures (since they don't come up again).