Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Medieval Easter Carols

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We think of carols in association with Christmas, but in times long gone, carols were also sung at Easter. A carol, by it simplest definition, is a song of religious nature not necessarily connected to worship, with a lively or dance-like tune. It was originally a circle dance accompanied by singers, and from the 1150's to 1350's, they were popular as dance songs.
In the Middle Ages, a song was also required to have a certain structure to the lyrics to be considered a carol. They must have uniform stanzas and a 'burden,' or what we would call a refrain, which was sung at the beginning of the song and between the verses.

A medieval Easter carol, then, would focus on the Resurrection of Christ, and some of the earliest examples left were written by monks. Two very earliest come to us from St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the 4th Century, and from Venantius Fortunatas two centuries later.



Hail, day of days, in peals of praise,
Throughout all ages owned,
When Christ our God,
Hell's empire trod,


And high o'er heaven was throned.
This glorious morn, the world newborn,
In rising beauty shows;
How, with her Lord to life restored,
Her gifts and graces rose.


As star by star He mounts afar,
And hell imprisoned lies,
Let stars and light and depth and height
In Alleluias rise.


(Venantius Fortunatas)



St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived from 1090 to 1153, one of six sons born to a lord and lady of Burgundy. He was given the best education due to his destiny being foretold while he was yet unborn. He devoted himself for a time, early in his education, to poetry. He particularly valued the study of literature as an avenue to study the Scriptures. In 1115, the young Bernard was sent at the head of a group of monks to found a new house for his order. In addition to many other accomplishments and writings, this carol is credited to him.



Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.


With Mary to Thy tomb I'll haste,
Before the dawning skies,
And all around with longing cast
My soul's inquiring eyes.



Beside Thy grave will make my moan,
And sob my heart away;
Then at Thy feet sit trembling down,
And there adoring stay.



Nor from my tears and sighs refrain,
Nor those dear feet release,
My Jesus, till from Thee I gain
Some blessed word of peace.



At roughly the same time, Peter the Venerable, was the head of the monastery at Cluny. He was born in 1092 and died on Christmas Day in 1156. He made his profession at age seventeen and at 20 became professor and prior of the monastery of V├ęzelay. At age thirty, he was elected general of the order, which included 2,000 houses. He wrote extensively on theological matters, but also left us an Easter carol.



Lo, the gates of death are broken,
And the strong man armed is spoiled;
Of his armor which he trusted,
By the Stronger Arm despoiled.
Vanquished is the prince of hell,
Smitten by the Cross he fell.



Then the purest light resplendent
Shone those seats of darkness through,
When, to save whom He created,
God willed to create anew.


That the sinner might not perish,
For him the Creator dies;
By whose death our dark lot changing,
Life again for us doth rise.

Adam of St. Victor lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He was a prolific composer of hymns, believed to have been influential in expanding the repertoire of the Notre Dame school (a group of composers working at or near Notre Dame Cathedral). He was known for his strong rhythms and the imagery that filled his poetry. He left over one hundred hymns, including this Easter carol.



Now the world's fresh dawn of birth
Teems with new rejoicing rife;
Christ is rising and on earth
All things with Him rise to life.
Feeling this memorial day,
Him the elements obey,
Serve and lay aside their strife.




Gleamy fire flits to and fro,
Throbs the everlasting air;
Water without pause doth flow,
And the earth stands firm and fair;
Light creations upward leap,
Heavier to the center keep,
All things renovation share.



And finally, two untitled carols by unknown composers. The first is from either the fourteenth or sixteenth centuries:



Smile praises, O sky, soft breathe them, O air,
Below and on high and everywhere.
The black troop of storms has yielded to calm;
Tufted blossoms are peeping, and early palm.

Awake thee, O Spring, ye flowers, come forth,
With thousand hues tinting the soft green earth;
Ye violets tender and sweet roses bright,
Gay Lent lilies blended with pure lilies white.


Sweep, tides of rich music, the world along,
And pour in full measure, sweet lyres, your song,
Sing, sing, for He liveth, He lives as He said;
The Lord has arisen, unharmed from the dead.




Clap, clap your hands, mountains, ye valleys, resound.
Leap, leap for joy, fountains, ye hills, catch the sound.
All triumph; He liveth, He lives as He said;
The Lord has arisen unharmed from the dead.


An untitled Easter Carol:

verse 1


Cheer up, friends and neighbors, now it's Easter tide
Stop from endless labors worries put aside
Men should rise from sadness evil folly strife
When god's mighty gladness brings the earth to life.

verse 2


Out from snowdrifts chilly,
Roused from drowsy hours,
Bluebell wakes, and lily;
God calls up the flowers!

Into life he raises
All the sleeping buds;
Meadows weave his praises,
And the spangled woods.

verse 3




All his truth and beauty,
All his righteousness,
Are our joy and duty,
Bearing his impress:


Look! The earth waits breathless
After Winter's strift:
Easter shows man deathless,
Spring leads death to life.

Verse 4


Ours the more and less is;
But, changeless all the days,
God revives and blesses,
Like the sunlight rays.


'All mankind is risen,'
The Easter bells do ring,
While from out their prison
Creep the flowers of Spring!



Happy Easter! May it be a day of many joyous songs!



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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something a Little Different

The middle ages are often condemned as a time when people rushed to judgment, rather than having compasssion and understanding, for people suffering with various mental illnesses and disorders.  I would say, unfortunately, that despite our knowledge and awareness campaigns, that even in our modern world, too many people still jump to conclusions and judgments about those who seem a little different. 

Bullies abound in today's world, and the sad fact is, I have known people who would never, ever regard themselves as bullies, yet label, judge and criticize others who, in fact, are not displaying the character flaws of which they are accused, but are struggling with disorders beyond their control.  It's like criticizing someone for coming in last in a race, and failing to realize they were running with a ten pound weight on each leg.

Asperger's is a prime example.  Although it has no doubt afflicted people throughout history, the understanding of it is relatively new.  It is high-functioning autism, and after knowing several people with it, I believe the particular cruelty of it is that the person with Asperger's appears 'normal' enough that they get no leeway, no compassion, such as anyone with a recognized disability would get; yet they appear just 'off' enough that they are often judged, condemned, or ridiculed.

Typical of Asperger's is difficulty in social interactions and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviors.  These may show up as difficulty developing empathy and making friends, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in the way of eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and posture.  A child with Asperger's will not have serious language delays, but is prone to taking things literally, talking a great deal, and having limited intonation and inflection of speech.  They may miss social cues, and do things outside standard social etiquette, unaware they are breaching unspoken rules of society.

Like earlier periods, there is often a great deal of judgment, both on children with Asperberger's, and on their parents.  We have made such strides in learning about so many other conditions and disorders, and developing compassion as a society.  It is my hope Asperger's will soon join the growing list of issues understood and treated with a little more kindness and understanding.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Medieval Hair Dye and Blog Hop Winner!

Today was the last day for the Lucky Leprechaun Blog Hop Giveaway, and the winner has just been drawn, and the notice sent out.  Please check your e-mail!

The last couple of weeks, have been busy with Night Writers and Gabriel's Horn events, including putting together a writing class that will be held this August in Maple Grove, MN, and attending the Minnesota Book Awards in March, where we heard from some wonderful authors.

My continued research has taken me from the greatest hits of the 1200's to standing stones to the world of medieval hair dye and on to re-reading sections of John Barbour's The Brus, in search of medieval vocabulary and rhymes. 

And quhen he a lang qhile had bene thar
He herknyt and herd as it war
A hundis questyng on fer
That ay come till him ner and ner.
And in modern English, it goes something like this:
When he had stayed there a long while,
He listened and heard what sounded
Like a hound's baying in the distance,
Always coming nearer and nearer to him.
Apart from the arts, I acquired some practical knowledge, such as that long, black hair can be achieved by removing the head and tail of a lizard, boiling it in oil, and anointing my head with that oil.  I'm guessing several of my boys would be more than happy to catch a lizard for me if it were warm enough outside.  Luckily for me, it isn't.  So I'm going to settle for mostly-long hair that isn't really black at all, in lieu of boiling headless lizards.

More about standing stones and medieval music later.  They're both fascinating subjects.  I'm sure I'll have an easier time selling standing stones as fascinating, but trust me, polyphony and neumes are exciting stuff!  The real challenge is writing about them in small enough bites for a blog post.

Keep an eye open on Wednesday for a link to my post at the lit blog, Yamina Today, an article springing from a discussion with Yamina about researching in person.  On April 9, I will be guest blogging for Kati Lear, and still in the works are guest blogs with Dr. Sarah Woodbury and J. R. Tomlin.  Wrapping up tonight was the Dynamic Story Writing Contest at Pia Bernardino's blog, with 39 entries telling the story of Bill and Kate, and the mysterious Giovanni.