Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafeetta

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Origins: Bird on a Briar / Bryd one Brere (12c)

Stower 15 Dec 06 - 08:31 PM
Peace 15 Dec 06 - 08:49 PM
Peace 15 Dec 06 - 09:29 PM
Stower 16 Dec 06 - 04:11 AM
NormanD 16 Dec 06 - 05:45 AM
leeneia 16 Dec 06 - 03:44 PM
Allan C. 16 Dec 06 - 06:53 PM
Anglo 17 Dec 06 - 02:41 AM
masato sakurai 17 Dec 06 - 07:20 PM
Paul Burke 18 Dec 06 - 04:31 AM
Stower 18 Dec 06 - 01:10 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:



Subject: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Stower
Date: 15 Dec 06 - 08:31 PM

Here's a conundrum for those with a greater knowledge of early music and music history than me, about a song I am currently learning: 'Bird on a briar', or 'Bryd one brere' in the original Middle English.

Bryd one brere was found written on the back of a papal bull – an edict of the pope with his seal affixed – dated 1199 and from Pope Innocent III. It was written in – or at least belonged to – the Priory of Saint James, near Exeter. When it was written, c.1290-1320, the papal bull was about a century old. It seems extraordinary to me that a secular song should have been written on the back of a religious document from no less than the pope; more extraordinary still that it should have been written on a document already of some antiquity. This nameless monk did us a great favour, as Bryd one brere is the earliest extant English love song, and one of the earliest English songs of any description to have survived intact.

The original Middle English playfulness with words, with their multi-layered meanings, is impossible to recreate in modern English. For instance, to translate "byrd", "brid", "biryd" literally as 'bird', 'bright', 'woman', destroys the poetry and word-play.

One commentator has suggested that "brid" in the first line of the first verse is Saint Bride, or Saint Brighid, the fair one. In this case, this would be an example of the imagery of being in love, the yearning for physical closeness to a beautiful woman, as a metaphor for spiritual yearning, the quest for union with the divine. This would make sense of the fact that a monk wrote it down on the back of a papal bull(!); and it would be a further use of word-play. But such an explanation does seem unnecessary to me, and perhaps even a little far fetched.

Does anyone know different? At what point in the history of religious song did Christians start using human love-matches as a metaphor for divine union? The earliest I know of this is John Donne, but I am quite ignorant of this aspect of religious history / poetry / imagery, and would welcome some knowledgable advice, if this isn't too esoteric or off the beaten track. I am sure someone on Mudcat has an idea.

Here's my attempt at putting the song into singable modern(ish) English. Parts such as 'crave-ah' are a device to make the syllables fit the original notes. To me, it sounds acceptable when sung, though it may seem a little odd written down:

Bryd one brere, brid, brid one brere                 Bird on a briar, bird, bird on a briar        
Kynd is come of love, love to crave                 We are born of love, love to crave-ah
Blythful biryd, on me thu rewe                 Blissful bird, on me have pity
Or greyth, lef, greith thu me my grave         Or dig, love, dig thou me my grave-ah

Hic am so blithe, so bryhit, brid on brere        I am so blithe, so bright, bird on a briar
Quan I se that hende in halle                        When I see that handsome one in the hall-ah
Yhe is whit of lime, loveli, trewe                 She is white of limb, lovely, true
Yhe is fayr and flur of alle                         She is fair and flower of all-ah

Mikte ic hire at wille haven                         Might I have her at her own will-ah
Stedefast of love, loveli, trewe                 Steadfast of love, lovely, true-ah
Of mi sorwe yhe may me saven                 Of my sorrow she may me save
Ioye and blisse were ere me newe                Joy and bliss would ever me renew-ah


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Peace
Date: 15 Dec 06 - 08:49 PM

Just in case you haven't seen this site . . . .


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Peace
Date: 15 Dec 06 - 09:29 PM

BRYD ONE BRERE (Anon., late 13th or early 14th C.)

1. Bryd one brere,            (Bird on a briar)
Brid, brid one brere,         (Bird, bird on a briar,)
Kynd is come of loue          (Nature has come from love)
Loue to crave.                (To beg love.)
Blithful biryd,               (Happy lady, [pun on bird?])
On me thu rewe.               (You have pity on me.)
Or greyth, lef,               (Or prepare, beloved,)
Greith thu me my graue.       (You prepare me my grave.)

2. Hic am so blithe,          (I am so happy,)
So bryghit brid on brere,    (So bright bird on a briar,)
Quan I se that                (When I see that)
Hende in halle                (Handsome [one] in the hall)
Yhe is quit of lime,          (She is white of limb,)
Loueli, trewe,                (Lovely, true,)
Yhe is fayr and               (She is fair and)
Flur of alle.                ([the] Flower of all.)

3. Mikte hic hire             (Might I have her,)
At wille haven,               (By her will have her,)
Stedefast of loue,            (Steadfast of love,)
Loueli, trewe,                (Lovely, true,)
Of mi sorwe                   (Of my sorrow)
Yhe may me sauen;             (She may save me;)
Loye and blisse were          (Joy and bliss would be)
Ere me Newe.                  (Ever new for me.)


from http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/filk.and.the.sca.html about 40% down the page.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Stower
Date: 16 Dec 06 - 04:11 AM

Thanks, Peace, I have seen those sites. Any takers on the central question? Any Middle English scholars who could judge whether, in this context, there could be a play on words for Saint Bride, or Saint Brighid, or is this, as most suggest, a purely secular song? (I know we'll never know for sure, but I'd value opinions from those in the know more than I on such matters.)

It occurs to me as odd, in a way, that the monkish religion that saw women largely as either whore temptresses, destructive daughters of Eve, or as the impossible virgin mother, should use sexual attraction as a metaphor for yearning for the divine. On the other hand, plenty of scope for Freudian theories here.

Thinking further, in the book of the prophet Hosea, Israel's relationship with God is likened to that of a whoring wife. I suppose that this answers my question (unless you know otherwise): the metaphor of human sexual relations for the relationship with the divine was there way back in the Tenakh, so the 13th/14th century song could be rather late example of the genre, rather than an early one, as I first thought.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: NormanD
Date: 16 Dec 06 - 05:45 AM

What about the "drunk in a midnight choir"?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: leeneia
Date: 16 Dec 06 - 03:44 PM

Verse two sounds like love for an actual woman. Verse 3 sounds like lines about Mary.

The bird theme is very common. How long have lovers been asking birds to carry messages, etc, to their loved ones, I wonder?

I believe the poem was assembled from pre-existing lines. I agree that it doesn't seem quite right to pen it upon the back of a papal bull, but perhaps the writer had less respect for the pope than we do.

Re: "monkish religion that saw women largely as either whore temptresses, destructive daughters of Eve, or as the impossible virgin mother..."

I don't think the situation was actually that simple.

As for how far back the metaphor goes, I don't know. Certainly it's very obvious in pietistic works re-worked by Bach. I believe the earliest date for those would be late 17 century. Fortunately that trend was short-lived.

Thanks for posting this fine poem and the info about its source.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Allan C.
Date: 16 Dec 06 - 06:53 PM

NormanD asks: "
What about the 'drunk in a midnight choir'?" I wonder if this is the connection I was seeking for the film, "Bird on a Wire"? Sorta makes sense to me now.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Anglo
Date: 17 Dec 06 - 02:41 AM

Well, Peace, I went to your site, found the music, played the tune, and the beginning is remarkably similar to "I Only Have Eyes For You." Leads me to believe that song is older than we thought...

On the other hand, I never thought anyone could make sense out of Leonard Cohen...


:-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Dec 06 - 07:20 PM

"Bryd one brere" is on English Songs of the Middle Ages by Sequentia (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77019). A detailed annotation & score of "Brid one breere" are in E.J. Dobosn & F.Ll. Harriosn's Medieval English Songs (Faber, 1979, pp. 183-188 & p. 269).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Paul Burke
Date: 18 Dec 06 - 04:31 AM

I don't think it's a surprise to see a papal bull being used as just writing material at that date; the Papacy was disputed, and widely seen as a nakedly political tool, and thus lost much of its glamour.

I suspect that the last verse runs "have her at MY will", it's no fainting detatched love but a good mediaeval healthy desire. It's not at all uncommon at that date for secular love to be used as a metaphor for the spiritual, but I'm not sure this is one of them. It would be surprising to find a cult of St. Brigit in England- the English church rather looked down on their Irish colleagues, as evidenced by Gerald of Wales' story about the exchange between English and Irish bishops concerning the lack of Irish martyrs. The cult did travel ouside Ireland, but I believe mostly to areas influenced by Irish missionaries,   like France and Germany.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Bird on a briar / Bryd one brere
From: Stower
Date: 18 Dec 06 - 01:10 PM

Thanks, Paul, that's just the sort of information I was looking for.
Masato, I have Sequentia's 'English Songs of the Middle Ages'. Great recording - beautiful, haunting, flowing rendering of Bryd one brere. Saw them perform Icelandic early music a few years ago - fantastic!

Ian


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 31 October 12:43 PM EST

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.