Adam lay ybounden

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Single surviving manuscript source of "Adam lay ybounden" in the Sloane Manuscript 2593 held by the British Library.

"Adam lay ybounden", originally titled Adam lay i-bowndyn[1] is a 15th-century macaronic English text of unknown authorship. The manuscript on which the poem is found, (Sloane 2593, ff.10v-11), is held by the British Library, who date the work to c.1400 and speculate that the lyrics may have belonged to a wandering minstrel; other poems included on same page in the manuscript include "I have a gentil cok", the famous lyric poem "I syng of a mayden" and two riddle songs - "A minstrel's begging song" and "I have a yong suster".[2]

The Victorian antiquarian Thomas Wright suggests that although there is consensus that the lyrics date from the reign of Henry V of England (1387–1422), the songs themselves may be rather earlier.[3] Wright continues to speculate, on the basis of the dialect, that the lyrics probably originate in Warwickshire, and suggests that a number of the songs were intended for use in mystery plays.[3]

Analysis[edit]

Adam lay ybounden relates the events of Genesis, Chapter 3. In medieval theology, Adam was supposed to have remained in bonds with the other patriarchs in the limbus patrum from the time of his death until the crucifixion of Christ (the "4000 winters").[4] The second verse narrates the Fall of Man following Adam's temptation by Eve and the serpent. John Speirs suggests that there is a tone of astonishment, almost incredulity in the phrase "and all was for an apple", noting "an apple, such as a boy might steal from an orchard, seems such a little thing to produce such overwhelming consequences. Yet so it must be because clerks say so. It is in their book (probably meaning the Vulgate itself)."[5]

The third verse suggests the subsequent redemption of man by the birth of Jesus Christ by Mary, who was to become the Queen of Heaven as a result,[6] and thus the song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas' concept of the "felix culpa" (blessed fault).[5] Paul Morris suggests that the text's evocation of Genesis implies a "fall upwards.[7] Speirs suggests that the lyric retells the story in a particularly human way: "The doctrine of the song is perfectly orthodox...but here is expressed very individually and humanly. The movement of the song reproduces very surely the movements of a human mind."[5]

Text[edit]

Middle English original spelling[8] Middle English converted[9]

Adam lay i-bowndyn,

bowndyn in a bond,

Fowre thowsand wynter

thowt he not to long

Adam lay ybounden,

Bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter,

Thought he not too long.

And al was for an appil,

an appil that he tok.

As clerkes fyndyn wretyn

in here book.

And all was for an apple,

An apple that he took.

As clerkes finden,

Written in their book.

Ne hadde the appil take ben,

the appil taken ben,

Ne hadde never our lady

a ben hevene quen.

Ne had the apple taken been,

The apple taken been,

Ne had never our ladie,

Abeen heav'ne queen.

Blyssid be the tyme

that appil take was!

Therefore we mown syngyn

Deo gratias!

Blessed be the time

That apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen.

Deo gratias!

Settings[edit]

The text was originally meant to be a song text, although no music survives. However, there are many notable modern choral settings of the text, with diverse interpretations by composers such as Peter Warlock,[10] John Ireland,[11] Boris Ord,[12] Philip Ledger,[13] Carson Cooman,[14] Howard Skempton [15] and Benjamin Britten (titled Deo Gracias in his Ceremony of Carols).[16]

Boris Ord's setting is probably the best-known version as a result of its traditional performance following the First Lesson at the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the chapel of King's College, Cambridge, where Ord was organist from 1929 to 1957.[12] A new setting by Giles Swayne was commissioned for and first performed in 2009 by the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge and their annual broadcast of the Advent carol service on BBC Radio 3.[17] The Mediaeval Baebes regularly perform settings of the work.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856)
  2. ^ Medieval lyrics at the British Library Online, URL accessed December 31, 2009
  3. ^ a b Thomas Wright, Songs and carols printed from a manuscript in the Sloane collection in the British museum (London: W. Pickering, 1836), vi
  4. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), p.109
  5. ^ a b c John Speirs, Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), pp.65-66
  6. ^ Sarah Jane Boss, Empress and handmaid: on nature and gender in the cult of the Virgin Mary (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000) ISBN 978-0-304-70781-2 p.114
  7. ^ Paul Morris, A walk in the garden: biblical, iconographical and literary images of Eden (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1992) ISBN 978-1-85075-338-4, p.33
  8. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), pp.32-33
  9. ^ Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400–1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p.163
  10. ^ Peter Warlock, lay ybounden, Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  11. ^ John Ireland, Adam lay ybounden, Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  12. ^ a b A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2003, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  13. ^ Philip Ledger published works, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  14. ^ Carson Cooman, "Adam Lay Ybounden, for chorus & organ", Op.576 - Sacred Choral Music (Naxos 8.559361)
  15. ^ OUP Skempton, "Adam lay y-bounden"
  16. ^ Corinne Saunders, A Companion to Medieval Poetry, p. 272, (London: John Wiley and Sons, 2010) ISBN 978-1-4051-5963-0
  17. ^ A Service For Advent With Carols, Live From The Chapel Of St John's College, Cambridge, Sunday 29 November
  18. ^ Mediaeval Baebes, [1], Discography, Retrieved 4 October 2013

External links[edit]