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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century



Middle English Lyrics: As I Lay Upon a Night

Virgin and Child with St. Joseph. French Manuscript, Book of Hours, c1490-1500
Virgin and Child with St. Joseph, c1490.

As I Lay Upon a Night

As I lay upon a nyght,
For soth y sawe a semely syght:
I beheld a berde so bryght,
A child she bare on honde.

Here lokyng was so lovely,
Here semblant was so swete,
Of alle my care & sorwe,
She may my balys bete.

I behelde that swete wyght,
And to my selfe y sayde:
She hadde y-do mankynde unryght,
Yf she were a mayde.

By here sate a servant,
That seide al in his sawe;
He semyd by his semblant
A man of the olde lawe.

His here was hore al on his hede,
His ble began to glyde,
She herde ful wel what y sayde,
& bade me faire abyde.

"Thou wondyrst," he seide skilfully,
"In thynge thou hast beholde.
And so y dyde, trywly,
Tyl talys were me tolde."

And saide, she was alone
Maide and moder y-core,
And withoute wem of man,
A childe she hadde y-bore.

"They that y unworthy be,
She is Mary myn owne wyf;
God wote she hadde never childe by me,
& thyt y love here as my lyf.

"But er ever y wyste,
here womb began to ryse;
y telle thow trywth trywly,
y note in whoche wyse.

"Y trust unto here godenys,
she wolde not mysdoo;
That y wyst ful wel, y-wys,
for ofte y have y-founde hit soo,

"That rather a maide sholde
withoute man conceyve,
than Mary mysdo wolde
an soo Ioseph disceyve."

AJ Notes:

For soth, truly.
y, I.
semely, beautiful.
berde, maiden.
on honde, in her hands.
here, her.
lokyng, appearance.
semblant, countenance; face.
care, worries.
sorwe, sorrows.
She may my balys bete, She may my suffering relieve.
swete, sweet.
wyght, creature.
hadde y-do... unryght, had done... wrong; had wronged.
Yf she were a mayde is corrupt; the line should read either: "Yf she ne were a mayde" or
        "But yf she were a mayde", clearly indicating that she had wronged mankind, if she
        hadn't been a virgin. In the Advocates Library MS version of this song, the line reads:
        "But yif sche were a mayde."
sate, sat.
servant, attendant.
seide, said.
sawe, saw; wise saying.
semyd, seemed.
olde law, Old Law, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "The body of juridical, moral,
        and ceremonial institutions, laws and decisions comprised in the last four books of the
        Pentateuch, and ascribed by Christian and Hebrew tradition to Moses." Presumably,
        this means not just that he looked like a strict follower of Old Testament laws, but also
        that he looked like traditional depictions of Moses holding up the Ten Commandments.
hore al on his hede, hoary (i.e. gray) all over his head.
ble began to glyde, his face began to flush.
bade me faire abyde, bade me sweetly to wait.
Thou wondyrst, you wonder.
skilfully, knowingly; wisely.
In thynge thou hast beholde, about the things you have seen.
And so y dyde, and so did I.
trywly, truly.
Tyl, until.
talys, tales; stories.
And saide, and [he] said.
she was alone, she alone [of all women] was.
Maide and moder y-core, a virgin and a mother. y-core, chosen.
wem, blemish; taint.
hade y-bore, had borne.
They that, though that; even though.
myn owne wyf, my own wife.
God wote, God knows.
thyt, that.
here, her.
lyf, life.
er, ere; before.
wyste, wist; knew.
ryse, rise; grow.
y telle thow trywth trywly, I tell you the truth truly (honestly).
y note, I know not (from "ne wot").
in whoche wyse, in which wise; in what way; how.
godenys, goodness.
wolde, would.
mysdoo, misdo; do wrong.
y wyst, I know.
y-wys, iwis; for certain.
y-founde hit soo, found it [to be] so.
an, and.
Ioseph, Joseph.
disceyve, deceive.

Manuscript Image of Bodleian MS. Arch. Selden B. 26, fol. 18r.
Manuscript Image of Bodleian MS. Arch. Selden B. 26, fol. 18v.

Transcribed and glossed from the manuscript by Anniina Jokinen.


Jokinen, Anniina, ed. "As I Lay Upon a Night." Luminarium.
          2 Jan 2010. [Date you accessed this page].

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