Sunday, May 22, 2005

This One's A Cracker

Via Majority Rights, the wonderful Luminarium, a treasure-trove of ancient English literature.

As a native of Worcestershire, I'm drawn to William Langland's ploughman, who falls asleep on the Malvern Hills and dreams a dream of social justice in the days when those words didn't mean "a heavily subsidised underclass".

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.
Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles
Me bifel a ferly, of Fairye me thoghte.
I was wery forwandred and wente me to reste
Under a brood bank by a bourne syde;
And as I lay and lenede and loked on the watres,
I slombred into a slepyng, it sweyed so murye.
Thanne gan I meten a merveillous swevene,
That I was in a wildernesse, wiste I nevere where.

In modern translation :

IN a summer season · when soft was the sun,
I clothed myself in a cloak as I shepherd were,
Habit like a hermit's · unholy in works,
And went wide in the world · wonders to hear.
But on a May morning · on Malvern hills,
A marvel befell me · of fairy, methought.
I was weary with wandering · and went me to rest
Under a broad bank · by a brook's side,
And as I lay and leaned over · and looked into the waters
I fell into a sleep · for it sounded so merry.
Then began I to dream · a marvellous dream,
That I was in a wilderness · wist I not where.

Lawyers don't seem to have changed much since the fourteenth century :

Yet hoved ther an hundred in howves of selk --
Sergeants, it semed, that serveden at the Barre,
Pleteden for penyes and pounded the lawe,
And noght for love of Oure Lord unlose hire lippes ones.
Thow myghtest bettre meete myst on Malverne Hilles
Than get a "mom' of hire mouth til moneie be shewed!

There hovered an hundred · in caps of silk,
Serjeants they seemed · who practised at Bar,
Pleading the law · for pennies and pounds,
And never for love of our Lord unloosing their lips.
You might better measure the mist on the Malvern hills,
Than get a sound out of their mouth · unless money were showed.

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