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Middle English Lyrics: Women

manuscript image from the Romance of the Rose
Bodleian Ms. Douce 195, f. 118


[Lambeth MS. 306, leaf 135.]

Women, women, loue of women,
Make bare purs1 with some men,
Some be nyse as a nonne hene,2
     Yit al thei be nat soo.
          some be lewde,
          some all be schrewde;
     Go schrewes wher thei goo.

Sum be nyse, and some be fonde,3
And some be tame, y vndirstonde,
And some can take brede of a manes hande,
     Yit all thei be nat soo.
          some be lewde,
          some all be schrewde;
     Go schrewes wher thei goo.

Some cane part with-outen hire,4
And some make bate in eueri chire,5
And some cheke mate with oure Sire6,
     Yet all thei be nat so.
          Some be lewde,
          and sume be schreuede,
     go wher thei goo.

Som be browne, and some be whit,
And some be tender as a tripe,
And some of theym be chiry ripe,7
     Yet all thei be not soo.
          Sume be lewde,
          and some be schrewede,
     go wher thei goo.

Some of them be treue of love8
Beneth the gerdell, but nat above,9
And in a hode aboue can chove,10
     Yet all thei do nat soo.
          Some be lewde,
          and some be schreude,
     go where thei goo.

Some cane whister11, & some cane crie,
Some cane flater, and some can lye,
And some cane sette the moke awrie,12
     Yet all thei do nat soo.
          Sume be lewde,
          and sume be schreuede,
     go where thei goo.

He that made this songe full good,
Came of the north and of sothern blode,
And some-what kyne to Robyn Hode,13
     Yit all we be nat soo.
          Some be lewde,
          and some be schrewede,
     go where thei goo.

Some be lewde, some be schrwde,
Go where thei goo.

1 Make bare purs, i.e. clean out a man's purse.
2 nyse as a nonne hene, i.e. nice (prudish) as a nun's hen.
3 fonde, foolish, or in this case, easy.
4 Some...hire, some will part with their goods, i.e. "put out," without getting paid.
5 make bate...chire, bait men in every shire.
6 cheke...Sire, some are "checkmating", i.e., "doing" our lord.
7 chiry ripe, red as a ripe cherry; also, ripe for "plucking."
8 treue of love, faithful.
9 Beneth...above, below the skirt, but not above it.
10 hode...chove; "Hode" has a very specific definition
                      in the MED, and stands for rank; "chove" = "shove."
                      I will quote a medievalist friend of mine, who goes under
                      the pseudonym of "Dr. Virago", and who explained it to me thus:

                             "The whole stanza is punning — she's faithful
                             "below the girdle" means both the literal sense, at
                             least at first (she doesn't have sex with other men),
                             but then comes to mean she doesn't cheat with men of
                             her station or lower, but is able and willing to "in
                             a rank above." The whole thing relies on the metaphor
                             of the body politic — where lower ranks equal
                             the lower regions of the body."

11 whister, whistle.
12 sette... awrie, set a mock (joke, jest) awry; i.e., "the joke's on you, buddy."
13 kyne to Robyn Hode, kin, or akin, to Robin Hood. It is to be remembered
                       that the medieval idea of Robin Hood is little like our modern,
                       noble conception. In the Middle Ages, the gestes and ballads
                       of Robin Hood were bawdy tales in which Maid Marian was not
                       much short of a harlot; so, what the songster is saying is that he's
                       like the writer of those bawdy tales of debauchery.

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