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Mick Pearce (MCP) Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English) (21) RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English) 16 Jan 19


The poem can be seen in several ways: a courtly love allegory, a poem about man's state in the world, a Christian allegory.

Dobson and Harrison Medieval English Songs see it as a poem of unrequited love: This apparently artless little song is playing on the convention of medieval love lyric. It is spring, when the birds in the woodland and even the fishes in the stream mate and are happy; but the poet is suffering the pangs of unrequited love.

Stephen Manning in Luria and Hoffman Middle English Lyrics (mentioned by Bruce above) gives a similar interpretation: One likely interpretation of this rather cryptic little poem, is that it exhibits the cliches of courtly love, it is filled with cliches of diction, yet it succeeds admirably in depicting the speaker's sense of isolation, of distance between himself and his beloved (best of bone and blood). He continues about the use of the rhyme scheme (abbab) to, in the first half, mark the separation of man from on earth from the birds and fish, but by rhyme link earth with sea to suggest that it's just as natural for man to become mad; and as man is separate from birds and fish in the first half, the rhyme in the second half separates the man from his beloved.

Edmund Reiss in the same publication (MEL) sees some religious connection to Matthew viii,20 and Luke ix, 58 Foxes have their holes, the birds their roosts, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. He sees fowls and fishes content in their environment, but man deranged and out of harmony with the world around him. He also comment on the madness not being a temporary state, but the result of living after original sin. He also makes use of ambiguity of beste as beast/best in the senses To be beast (beste) of bone and blood means, as it were, to experience "mulch sorw". Or to be the "best" of bone and blood, to be man, is to "waxe wod" and to be the most sorrowful of creatures.

How they missed the obvious - Lots of birds and fishes, but bugger all to shoot - Steve, passeth understanding!

A lot to fit in so few lines!

This of one of the only 30-odd medieval English songs for which we have the tune (a two-part song in this case). I haven't time to put it up just now, but I'll do it tomorrow.

Mick


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