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I'm looking for a middle English poem, written in the 13th-15th centuries, which I only have in translation (to Hebrew).

The translated poem is found in a chapter that contains three additional poems, and one of them is Adam lay ybounden.

  • Here is the English index page of the book. Note that it's listed under Geofrey Chauser, but most probably he didn't write this poem (nor Adam lay ybounden).

Translated back to modern English (by me, pardon the style and grammar), it goes something like this:

Mock Song

Have you left? Welcome!
Have you arrived? Goodbye!
Indeed there is no prettier woman than you,
Pure as a scarlet strawberry.
I crave to be near you
Of all girls.
I feel so sad when you come,
And once you're gone - my face brighten up!

Once you're away five hundred miles,
I'll pray, for sure,
that no man, nor horse or mare,
would get you back here.
Your beauty I will not praise,
for what will everyone say? have pity!
Farewell, I despise you,
But please don't mock this song!

Note that though some words here seem to look promising (i.e., Googling them should have resulted in helpful results), like "strawberry", "mare", "five hundred miles", I couldn't find anything.

Here is also the Hebrew translation (added Nikkud only where needed):

שיר-לעג

הָלַכְתְּ? - ברוך בואךְ!
בָּאת? - להתראות!
הן אין אישה יפה ממך,
בָּרָה כְּתוּת בָּרֹד.
אני חושק בקרבתך
מכל הנערות.
כל-כך עצוב לי בבואךְ,
הלכתְּ - פניי אורות!

כשאת נוסעת ת"ק פרסה,
לָךְ אתפלל, מובן,
ששום אדם, סוס או סוסה
לא יחזירוךְ לכאן.
את רוב יופייךְ לא אקלסה,
כי מה יאמרו? לִצְלַן!
שלום, עליי את מאוסה,
אך אל נא תלעגי לשיר דְּנָן!

EDIT:

  • To make it clear: the title "Mock Song" is my own translation.

  • I discovered that the poem was republished, and probably retranslated (can't confirm, because I don't have a copy of it) by the same Hebrew translator, under the name "A Song of Scorn" (see here).

  • Although the Hebrew translation has a rhyme scheme (1st verse is ABAB, 2nd is CDCD), and is written in the Common Meter. I'm not sure at all that the original has these as well, since the translation for Adam lay ybounden has an AABB CCDD rhyme scheme, while the original is completely different in that manner. This is why I didn't bother to rhyme my English "translation".

    However, the Hebrew wordage is very close to the English for Adam lay ybounden, except for maybe three times where a "non-immediate" word was chosen.

  • The following are my "translations" (titles and content) for the other two poems that appear alongside that "Mock Song" and Adam lay ybounden (denoting a line break with \).

A song of complaint

Ho! Hey! Have no doubt:
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

Listen, young man, beware,
An old woman do not take.
I have, therefore I know what's it like.
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

Once I'm back from the field
She'll serve a stew in a punctured pot,
I have no courage to ask for the tiniest thing.
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

If from the lady I'll demand a bread,
She'll break my head with a stick,
Under the bed I'll go.
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

If for a meat I will call,
She'll break my head with a cauldron,
"You worth less than a barley!"
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

If some cheese I'll crave,
She, calmly: "Listen, you toddler,
You're just a weared dust!"
She: "Quiet!" - And I shut up.

Once my eyes weaken

Once my eyes weaken,
and my ears deteriorate,
and my nose frozen,
and my tongue folden,
and my face blanched,
and my lips blacken,
and my mouth distorted,
and my saliva drooling,
and my hair bristled,
and my heart trembled,
and my hand shaken,
and my leg stiffen,
late, late
the coffin at the gate;
then I'll step down from a bed,
lay down,
wrapped in shrouds
onto the coffin,
from a coffin to grave,
and the grave will be covered.
Above my nose my home shall rise,
and this world will be nothing for me.

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  • Middle English spelling often means that Google searches fail to find the desired target. The OED says that strawberry in Middle English was spelled straubery, strebere, straibere, strawbere. – Peter Shor Jan 18 at 13:13
  • What are the other 2 poems in the section? How close was the Hebrew translation to the English for Adam lay ybounden? I tried searching the Middle English Dictionary (among other sources) but I couldn't find anything remotely similar to any of "Mock Song". – Laurel Jan 19 at 4:21
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    Does the translation rhyme and scan? – Old Brixtonian Jan 23 at 9:16
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    The other two are A Henpecked Husband and Whan mine eyen misten. Neither of these were particularly hard to find as it was easy to match parts to their Middle English equivalents (“hou hey” is used as “a burden in carols” (MED), “tongue folds” is a ME idiom meaning “speech fails”). No luck yet on the main question though. – Laurel Jan 25 at 1:13
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After spending way too much time on this, I finally found it!

Welcom be ye whan ye go,
And farewell whan ye come;
So faire as ye there be no mo
As brighte as bery broune.
I love you verrily at my to,
Nonne so moche in all this toune;
I am right glad when ye will go,
And sory when ye will come.

And whan ye be other fare,
I pray for you sertaine,
That never manner horsse ne mare
Bringe you to town agein.
To praise youre beute I ne dare,
For drede that men wille seyn;
Farewelle, no more for you I care,
But pray you of my songe have no desdein

So as it turns out, strawberry was a red (scarlet?) herring. I’m not quite sure what it means to be “brown as a berry”, but this expression was used twice in Chaucer’s writing as well.

So the list of all the poems in your book are:

  1. Adam lay ybounden
  2. A Henpecked Husband (original may have been untitled like the others)
  3. Whan mine eyen misten
  4. Welcom be ye whan ye go

I found it in Early English Lyrics.

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    Wow, fantastic work! how did you finally manage to find it? share your secret sauce! – HeyJude Feb 5 at 0:09
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    @HeyJude After a lot of searching, I looked for books that had most or all of the other poems (though I tried this before). I found one (see bottom of answer) and read through the index of all the first lines of the poems and there it was. – Laurel Feb 5 at 0:21
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    Great job, and congrats on 1k reputation! I feared this might forever remain unanswered. – Rand al'Thor Feb 5 at 3:09
  • Well sniffed out, Laurel! That's a great relief! – Old Brixtonian Feb 5 at 11:06
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I can't find it mentioned anywhere.

Bridgett Begg's "Medieval Nonsense Verse: Contributions to the Literary Genre" doesn't mention anything like it. (It's an honors thesis but it includes poems found in plays.)

His publishers' website says you can contact the author through them:

Shimon Sandbank
c/o Schocken
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

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  • This address is strange, where did you get it from? Sandbank lives in Israel. – HeyJude Jan 24 at 22:22
  • @HeyJude: this is the publisher's New York address. If you send something there, the publisher presumably frward it to Sandbank in Israel. – Peter Shor Jan 24 at 22:39
  • @Peter Shor, I see, I only knew of the Israeli publishing house, I didn't know they have a New York branch. According to the Hebrew Wikipedia, they are actually two separated entities. – HeyJude Jan 24 at 22:49
  • I'm afraid I didn't know of either of them. Schocken seem to be part of Knopf Doubleday [knopfdoubleday.com/contact-us/] - in the US at least. I agree with Peter Shor: they probably forward any mail. If you get an answer I hope you'll post it. – Old Brixtonian Jan 25 at 15:53

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