Adam lay ybounden
"Adam lay ybounden", originally titled Adam lay i-bowndyn, 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 the 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".
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. Wright speculated that the lyrics originated in Warwickshire, and suggested that a number of the songs were intended for use in mystery plays. However, more recent analysis of their dialect places them within the song tradition of East Anglia and more specifically Norfolk; two further carol MS from the county contain songs from Sloane 2593.
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"). 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)."
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, and thus the song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas' concept of the "felix culpa" (blessed fault). Paul Morris suggests that the text's evocation of Genesis implies a "fall upwards. 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."
|Middle English original spelling||Middle English converted (Edith Rickert)|
Adam lay i-bowndyn,
Fowre thowsand wynter
Adam lay ybounden,
Four thousand winter
And al was for an appil,
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
And all was for an apple,
As clerkës finden written
Ne hadde the appil take ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
Ne had the apple taken been,
Ne had never Our Lady,
Blyssid be the tyme
Therefore we mown syngyn
Blessed be the time
Therefore we may singen
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, John Ireland, Boris Ord, Philip Ledger, Howard Skempton  and Benjamin Britten (titled Deo Gracias in his Ceremony of Carols). 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.
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.
- Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856)
- Medieval lyrics[permanent dead link] at the British Library Online, URL accessed December 31, 2009
- Thomas Wright, Songs and carols printed from a manuscript in the Sloane collection in the British museum (London: W. Pickering, 1836), vi
- Palti, K.R.; (2008) ‘Synge we now alle and sum’: three Fifteenth-Century collections of communal song: a study of British Library, Sloane MS 2593; Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. e.1; and St John’s College, Cambridge, MS S.54. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London), 104
- Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), p.109
- John Speirs, Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), pp.65–66
- 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
- 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
- Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), pp.32–33
- Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400–1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p.163
- Peter Warlock, lay ybounden[permanent dead link], Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
- John Ireland, Adam lay ybounden, Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
- A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2003, Retrieved 22 November 2010
- Philip Ledger published works Archived 2011-04-14 at the Wayback Machine., Retrieved 22 November 2010
- OUP Skempton, "Adam lay y-bounden"
- Corinne Saunders, A Companion to Medieval Poetry, p. 272 (London : John Wiley and Sons, 2010) ISBN 978-1-4051-5963-0
- A Service For Advent With Carols, Live From The Chapel Of St John's College, Cambridge, Sunday 29 November