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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

§ 5. The Wyf of Auchtirmuchty

The rustic habit is shown more happily in The Wyf of Auchtirmuchty and The Wowing of Jok and Jynny, both in stanzas of eight lines with four accents, riming respectively ababcdcd and ababbcbc. In the former, a husbandman tired after a wet’s day work at the plough, and out of humour at finding his wife

  • baith dry and clene,
  • And sittand at ane fyre, beikand bawld,
  • With ane fat sowp, as I hard say,
  • arranges that he shall change places with her. Disaster upon disaster falls upon the amateur “housewife,” unitl he declares
  • Quhen I forsuk my plwche,
  • I trow I bot forsuk my seill;
  • And I will to my plwch agane,
  • For I and this howss will nevir do weill.
  • The themme is obviously old, but the treatment by the unknown makar (for the ascription in a later hand in the Bannatyne MS. to Moffat has no warranty) is fresh and lively. The kernel of the tale is the enumeration of the misguided man’s misfortunes, which fulfils the same purpose of cumulative farce as the rushing and sprawling in Peblis to the Play and Christis Kirk on the Grene. In the matter of prosodic relationship to the rimed alliterative poems on the one hand and to the ballads on the other, the text supplies interesting evidence of the “echo” or “iteration” between, and within, the stanzas. We take, for example, the concluding lines of the seventh stanza and the opening lines of the eighth—
  • Bot than or he come in agane,
  • The calfis brak lowss and sowkit the ky.
  • The calvis and ky being met in the lone, etc.
  • Or, in the eleventh and twelfth—
  • The first that he gat in his armis
  • Wes all bedirtin to the ene.
  • The first that he gat in his armis
  • It was all dirt vp to the eine.
  • Or, very fully, throughout the ninth stanza—
  • Than to the kyrn that he did stoure,
  • And jwmlit at it quhill he swatt:
  • Quhen he had jwmlit a full lang houre
  • The sorrow crap of butter he gatt.
  • Albeit na butter he cowld gett
  • [char] it he wes cummerit with the kyrne,
  • And syne he het the milk our hett.
  • and sorrow spark of it wald [char] yrne.
  • In these passages we have the true ballad timbre and the familiar devices.