Medieval Poetry: When the Nightingale Sings

Very little is known of When the Nightingale Sings other than that it dates back to roughly 1310.  It is a love poem lamenting lost love.  The observant reader might recognize this as the poem to which Angus listens, which leads him to one of his realizations, in The Water is Wide.  In fact, it was no doubt this very video he was watching.

Given the dates, it's possible Niall himself was familiar with this poe

Harley MS. c. 1310. 

When the nyhtegale singes,
    The wodes waxen grene,
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes
    In Averyl, Y wene ;
Ant love is to myn herte gon
    With one spere so kene,
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes
    Myn herte deth me tene.

Ich have loved al this yer
    That Y may love na more;
Ich have siked moni syk,
    Lemmon, for thin ore,
Me nis love neuer the ner,
    Ant that me reweth sore;
Suete lemmon, thench on me,
    Ich have loved the yore.

Suete lemmon, Y preye thee,
    Of love one speche;
Whil Y lyve in world so wyde
    Other nulle Y seche.
With thy love, my suete leof,
    My blis thou mihtes eche;
A suete cos of thy mouth
    Mihte be my leche.

Suete lemmon, Y preye thee
    Of a love-bene:
Yef thou me lovest, ase men says,
    Lemmon, as I wene,
Ant yef hit thi wille be,
    Thou loke that hit be sene;
So muchel Y thenke vpon the
    That al y waxe grene.

Bituene Lyncolne ant Lyndeseye,
    Norhamptoun ant Lounde,
Ne wot I non so fayr a may,
    As y go fore ybounde.
Suete lemmon, Y preye the
    Thou lovie me a stounde;
Y wole mone my song
    On wham that hit ys on ylong.

When the nightingale sings,
    The trees grow green,
Leaf and grass and blossom springs,
    In April, I suppose;
And love has to my heart gone
    With a spear so keen,
Night and day my blood it drains
    My heart to death it aches.

I have loved all this past year
    So that I may love no more;
I have sighed many a sigh,
    Beloved, for thy pity,
My love is never thee nearer,
    And that me grieveth sore;
Sweet loved-one, think on me,
    I have loved thee long.

Sweet loved-one, I pray thee,
    For one loving speech;
While I live in this wide world
    None other will I seek.
With thy love, my sweet beloved,
    My bliss though mightest increase;
A sweet kiss of thy mouth
    Might be my cure.

Sweet beloved, I pray thee
    For a love token:
If thou lovest me, as men do say,
    Beloved, as I think,
And if it be thy will,
    Make sure that others see;
So much I think upon thee
    That I do grow all pale.

Between Lincoln and Lindsey,
    Northampton and London,
I know no maiden so fair
    As the one I'm in bondage to.
Sweet loved-one, I pray thee
    Thou love me for a while;
I will moan my song
    To the one on whom it is based.

And here is part of the poem in even more original English:

When þe nyhtegale singes þe wodes waxen grene.
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes in aueryl y wene,
Ant love is to myn herte gon wiþ one spere so kene
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes myn herte deþ me tene.
Ich have loved al þis er þat y may love namore,
Ich have siked moni syk lemmon for þin ore.
Me nis love never þe ner ant þat me reweþ sore.
Suete lemmon þench on me—ich have loved þe ore.
Suete lemmon y preye þe of love one speche,
Whil y lyve in world so wyde oþer nulle y seche.
Wiþ þy love my suete leof mi blis þou mihtes eche,
A suete cos of þy mouþ mihte be my leche.
Suete lemmon y preȝe þe of a love bene
ȝef þou me lovest ase men says lemmon as y wene,
Ant ȝef hit þi wille be þou loke þat hit be sene,
So muchel y þenke upon þe þat al y waxe grene.
Bituene Lyncolne ant Lyndeseye, Norhamptoun ant Lounde,
Ne wot y non so fayr a may as y go fore ybounde.
Suete lemmon ypreȝe þe þou lovie me a stounde!
Y wole mone my song
On wham þat hit ys on ylong.

  • January 28: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Watch for details.
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