Saturday, December 21, 2013

An Ensample that the Fox Told to the King

"MY worthy and dear Lord the King," said the Fox, "I am well agreed and paid therewith. But when I came first into your Court there were many that were fell and envious to me, which never had hurt ne cause of scathe by me. But they thought that they might best over me, and all they crieden with mine enemies against me and would fain have destroyed me, because they thought that the Wolf was better withholden and greater with you than I was, which am your humble subject. They knew none other thing, why ne wherefore. They thought not as the wise be wont to do, that is what the end may happen.

"My lord these ben like a great heap of hounds which I once saw stand at a lord’s place upon a dunghill, whereas they awaited that men should bring them meat. Then saw they an hound come out of the kitchen and had taken there a fair rib of beef ere it was given him. And he ran fast away withal; but the cook had espied or he went away, and took a great bowl full of scalding water and cast it on his hips behind; whereof he thanked nothing the cook, for the hair behind was scalded off and his skin seemed as it had be through sodden. Nevertheless he escaped away and kept that he had won.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Caxton's History of Reynard the Fox

In 1481, England's first printer, William Caxton, published a work translated from the Dutch under the title Historie of Reynart the Foxe. It is a book which weaves together several stories of the archetypal trickster of medieval Dutch folklore, Reynard (who is also found throughout the European continent, though nowhere as popularly as in France and the Low Countries), and the other beasts who inhabit his world: Isengrim the wolf, Bruin the bear, Tybert the cat, and others.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Medieval Germanic Riddles

Swings by his thigh / a thing most magical!
Below the belt / beneath the folds
Of his clothes it hangs / a hole in its front end,
stiff-set and stout / it swivels about.
Levelling the head / of this hanging tool, 
its wielder hoists his hem / above his knee;
it is his will to fill / a well-known hole
that it fits fully / when at full length
He's oft filled it before. / Now he fills it again.

 - Anonymous riddle, from the Red Book of Exeter (10th c.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We Hope in a Short Time to See You Again

"Spanish Ladies" is one of the oldest known sea songs in the English language, with the first reference to it appearing in 1624 (and that on dry land, suggesting the song itself was likely older). We don't know what it sounded like until the 18th century. But at that time, it had a minor-key version of the melody that would become familiar from later versions, probably sounding something like in this video.

If that melody sounds oddly familiar, don't be too surprised - like "The Unfortunate Rake," versions of "Spanish Ladies" have been collected all across the globe, and indeed the melodies are closely related. (I would say they are precisely the same, but there are many small variations from one version of the tune to another; even within either family of lyrics, the precise tune is not constant.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Now I'm a Young Man Cut Down in My Prime

"The Unfortunate Rake" is a song first known from the late 18th century which is notable in large measure for its truly massive number of derivatives. It may be one of the most widely-transmitted songs in the pre-revival Anglophone folk repertoire, and at least two well-known songs with completely different melodies appear to be derived from it also. Variants appear not only in English, Scottish, and American folk music, but in country, jazz, and punk versions as well. It is, in other words, one of the world's great folksong families.