Friday, June 8, 2012

Corpus Christi

... Was actually yesterday, so I am a day late on this post. However, I meant to do a post, and was excited about the post I meant to do, so you are getting it today instead. I present to you, The Corpus Christi Carol. Hayley Westenra sings this on her Christmas album, and that is where first I heard it. Obviously, it is not really a Christmas carol, even though the word carol is almost exclusively associated with Christmas these days.

Lulley, lully, lulley, lully,

The faucon hath born my mak away.

He bare hym up, he bare hym down,
He bare hym into an orchard brown.

In that orchard ther was an hall,
That was hanged with purpill and pall.

And in that hall ther was a bede,
Hit was hangid with gold so rede.

And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght,
His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.

By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
And she wepeth both nyght and day.

And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston,
"Corpus Christi" wretyn theron.

The medieval imagery is intensely allegorical. Most obviously are the symbols of the Wounded Knight, Who is a figure of Christ Crucified, and the weeping may (maiden) who is a figure of His most holy Mother. The barren, brown orchard is open to numerous interpretations: the desolation of the world after the fall of Adam; the emptiness of a soul in sin; death itself, perhaps. The colours too suggest meanings. Purple is the liturgical colour for Lent, and days of penance. Red is used for feasts of martyrs and symbolises blood. Gold is used for high feasts, such as Easter. The word mak here, is an old word for mate, or more specifically, love. The phrase itself is ambiguous, and lends itself to numerous interpretations, but it reminiscent of Mary Magdalene's cry, "They have taken away my Lord; and I do not know where they have laid Him".

The figure of Christ as a knight, or a warrior was very common in medieval allegory. So does he appear in the Old English poem, The Dream of the Rood. In The Vision of Piers Plowman, He appears as a knight, jousting for men's souls. There is a very old poem by William Herbert, Quis est iste qui uenit de Edom contains the line 'what is he, this lordling, that cometh in from the fight?' The imagery is particularly vivid - the Young Hero who dies love - and ties in very beautifully with the Sleeping King/Sleeping Hero myths that abound in mythology.


Molly said...

Do you know whether the tune HW is singing is a traditional one, or if she just got something likely to match the words? Any road, that's beautiful.

Mahri said...

I'm not sure. This is the most common version. I know that there are at least two other tunes associated with it, and most the commentaries are concerned with the allegory, rather than the tune. The music printed here seems to be for a different setting. However, this version *sounds* the oldest to me.

Molly said...

It does sound very old. (Indeed, when I tried to sight-sing it, it sounded downright primative.) Thanks eversomuch for pointing me to that setting.