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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XI. The Middle Scots Anthologies: Anonymous Verse and Early Prose

§ 14. The Murning Maiden

Here, certainly, is the reserve of the professional makar. The Murning Maiden is on a higher level, in respect of directness and technical accomplishment; and, though it is not without traces of alliterative and allegorical convention, it is never artificial. It is no exaggeration to say that, in all our Middle English literature, there is no poem more plainly human and simple. A folorn maiden, wandering in a wood in “waithman weir,” encounters a man (the writer of the lyric) who, after listening to her soliloquy of sorrow, asks her why she trespasses with bow and arrows. She answers:

  • Thocht I walk in this forest fre,
  • Withe bow, and eik with fedderit flane,
  • It is weill mair than dayis thre
  • And meit or drink [char]3 it saw I nane.
  • Thocht I had neuer sic neid
  • My selffe to wyn my breid,
  • [char]3 our deir may walk, schir, thair alane:
  • [char]3 it wes never na beistis bane;
  • I may not se thame bleid.
  • Sen that I neuer did [char]3 ow ill,
  • It wer no skill [char]3 e did me skaith.
  • [char]3 our deir may walk quhair euir thai will:
  • I wyn my meit be na sic waithe.
  • I do bot litill wrang.
  • Bot gif I flowris fang.
  • Giff that [char]3 e trow not in my aythe,
  • Tak heir my bow and arrowis bayth,
  • And lat my awin selffe gang.
  • She refuses the frank terms which he offers, and insists on remaining in the forest, a “woful weycht,” with her bed
  • full cauld,
  • With beistis bryme and bauld.
  • The forester, touched by her sorrow, vows he will not consent to her wild plan.
  • In to my armes swythe
  • Embrasit I that blythe,
  • Sayand, “sweit hairt, of harmes ho!
  • Found sall I neuer this forrest fro,
  • Quhill [char] e me confort kyth.”
  • Than knelit I befoir that cleir,
  • And meiklie could hir mercye craiff,
  • That semlie than, with sobir cheir,
  • Me of hir gudlynes forgaif.
  • It wes no neid, I wys,
  • To bid us vther kys;
  • Thair mycht no hairtis mair joy resaif,
  • Nor ather could of uther haif;
  • This brocht wer we to blis.

  • Of other pieces of this genre mention may be made of The Luvaris Lament (ascribed by Bannatyne to Fethe or Fethy), with the burden—
  • Cauld cauld culis the lufe
  • That kendillis our het,
  • and In May in a Morning, reminiscent, in its form, of the riming alliterative poems. Though Welcum to May continues the traditional “courtly” amnner and the aureate diction of the makars (e.g. “saufir firmament,” “annammellit orient,” “beriall droppis,” and the like), it shows a change in the point of view. It may be extravagant to discover more than a renascence appreciation of nature in the poem, yet these lines are not merely conventional:
  • Go walk vpoun sum rever fair,
  • Go tak the fresch and holsum air,
  • Go luk vpoun the flurist fell,
  • Go feill the herbis plesand smell.
  • Another lyric, beginning Quhen Flora had ourfret the firth, works up the commonplaces about the merle and mavis, and does not shrink from aureation.
  • Scho is sa brycht of hyd and hew,
  • I lufe bot hir allone I wene;
  • Is non hir lufe that may eschew
  • That blenkis of that dulce amene.
  • So, too, O Lusty May, with Flora quene proclaims its kinship in such a phrase as “preluciand bemis.” The Song of Absence which Pinkerton wrongly attributed to James I, is more lively in its verse. Its irregular lines recall the movement of the “rustic” stanza; but these are steadied by the ballast of such phrases as the “hait canicular day” or the “sweet mow redolent” of the beloved. Evidence of this “aureate” habit is so persistent in the minor love poems in the collections that they must be grouped with the courtly poetry of the period.