Mudcat Café message #3971897 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #2386   Message #3971897
Posted By: Helen
17-Jan-19 - 03:56 PM
Thread Name: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
See the list of some of the many possible interpretations proposed on this website. It's a bit unclear who has written this part of the page but there are two links higher up to a Michael Burch, so he probably wrote this:

Fowles in the Frith

An alternate interpretation is that "beste" is not "beast" but "the best." In this interpretation the last line might mean something like "for the best of bone and blood" or "the best creature living." The "best creature living" could be a lover, a saint or Jesus Christ. Or the ambiguity could be intentional. In any case, it's marvelous little poem?one with attributes of Anglo-Saxon poetry (alliteration) and Modern English poetry (meter and rhyme).

Interpretation #1: The speaker, taken literally, sympathizes with the plight of birds, fish and other living creatures.
Interpretation #2: The speaker sees all the suffering around him and it makes him think of his lover.
Interpretation #3: The speaker is thinking of the "best creature" he knows?perhaps a saintly person, the Virgin Mary, or Jesus Christ.
Interpretation #4: The speaker is going mad and rejects his own flesh.
Interpretation #5: The speaker has been spurned by his lover, in an early example of a "courtly love poem."
Interpretation #6: The speaker envies the natural state of other creatures and regrets his "unnatural" lust and fallen state.
Interpretation #7: The speaker empathizes with Christ, who, unlike the foxes, had nowhere to lay his head.
Interpretation #8: The speaker feels alienated from the natural world and its creatures.
Interpretation #9: The "bone" and "blood" are phallic and the poem is sexual in nature.
Interpretation #10: The speaker is Adam, walking through the fallen Garden of Eden.
Interpretation #11: All nature is upset by the speaker being separated from his lover.
Interpretation #12: The "best of bone and blood" is the speaker's beloved.
Interpretation #13: The speaker is Merlin, who has gone mad and is living like "sylvan man" or animal.
Interpretation #14: The speaker belongs to the Celtic wild man tradition.
Interpretation #15: The speaker is a vegetarian or early PETA-type, in a world full of carnivores!

Or perhaps this little poem's power lies ultimately in its ambiguity: we don't know exactly what the speaker means, but we can sense and feel his grief, dismay and powerlessness.


My comments, from an ex English Major, who (40 years ago) studied Old English/Anglo Saxon and Middle English, which this poem is written in.

Note: I don't make any living from my English studies and haven't for some decades. I had to find a real job.

My preference in interpretation is for the link to the quotes from Jesus in the Luke and Matthew texts. The convoluted breast-beating, clothes-tearing, ambiguously expressed, unrequited love were not as simply expressed as this poem/lyric.

By simply expressed, I mean that it uses words which are close to the Anglo Saxon words and their language which reflected their lives and their social environment: animals, plants, woods, fields, rural implements, fighting implements, buildings, people.

My inexpert guess, and that is all it is, is that it is a religious lyric created from the Luke and Matthew texts. My guess is also based on the music - Thanks Mick Pearce for your interpretations and the ABC notation!! - and that reminds me of the religious music like that of Hildegard von Bingen.


My 2c worth. As I said, an inexpert guess only, but seeing the biblical text, hearing the music, and looking at the language used and especially the spelling, e.g. foweles, frith, fisses, flod, waxe, wod, beste (I would guess = beast), bon, blod.

I have a really interesting book which is here somewhere but can't lay my hands on it, and in each chapter, chronologically, the author examines the words in the English language based on which language they originated from, and shows how they reflected the life and society of that time, e.g. Anglo Saxon, Roman, French, etc. The French influence is where the breast-beating, unrequited love stuff started cropping up, and this was usually in the courtly environment.

When I find the book or remember the author or title I'll let you know. (When I find my Hildegard von Bingen CD I'll be very happy too. I haven't seen it for 10 years because we moved house in 2009 and I packed that particular bit of stuff in a rush. Never seen it since.)