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Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)

lonnie@powerup.com.au 25 Jul 97 - 07:55 AM
wfoster@unanov.una.edu [Bill in Alabama] 25 Jul 97 - 11:40 AM
Nonie Rider 16 Oct 97 - 07:11 PM
Bruce 16 Oct 97 - 09:41 PM
Susan of DT 16 Oct 97 - 09:46 PM
Bill in Alabama 17 Oct 97 - 12:51 PM
Nonie Rider 17 Oct 97 - 03:50 PM
GUEST 16 Jan 19 - 03:23 AM
Steve Gardham 16 Jan 19 - 04:57 PM
Steve Gardham 16 Jan 19 - 05:26 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 16 Jan 19 - 06:10 PM
Steve Gardham 16 Jan 19 - 06:40 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 17 Jan 19 - 12:53 PM
Steve Gardham 17 Jan 19 - 02:50 PM
Helen 17 Jan 19 - 03:56 PM
Helen 17 Jan 19 - 06:27 PM
GUEST,Jon Bartlett 18 Jan 19 - 01:21 AM
Mr Red 18 Jan 19 - 03:34 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 18 Jan 19 - 09:59 AM
Steve Gardham 18 Jan 19 - 12:42 PM
Helen 18 Jan 19 - 02:09 PM
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Subject: fowles in the frith
From: lonnie@powerup.com.au
Date: 25 Jul 97 - 07:55 AM

We are trying to find information about a "Middle English Lyric" called Fowles in the Frith, with lines including:

"Fowles in the frith
The fisshes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood
Much sorwe I walke with
For beste of boon and blood"

Any ideas anyone??
'Ta,
Maree Robertson & Lonnie Martin
Brisbane Australia


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: wfoster@unanov.una.edu [Bill in Alabama]
Date: 25 Jul 97 - 11:40 AM

Maree & Lonnie: "Fowles in the Frith" is a Medieval English poem in the genre known as Lyric. The lines you quoted comprise the entire text of the poem as it has survived. Such lyrics were written during the literary/linguistic period known as Middle English (c.1150-c.1500), and were the result of the increasing popularity of the wandering minstrel during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries in England. The music for this particular one has survived. I could go on, but I'm not sure about exactly what information you want. Let me know if you require more information.


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: Nonie Rider
Date: 16 Oct 97 - 07:11 PM

It's also well known for being ambiguous. Birds are in the forest, fish in the water, and I have to go crazy. I walk in great sorrow for the best (a beast?) of bone and blood.

Average guess seems to be that it's the usual springtime theme: All of nature's happy but me, because she doesn't love me.

However, it's also been interpreted as a hatred of the flesh: Fish and birds are where they're supposed to be, but here I have to go crazy for the goddamned mortal body of a human animal.

And it's ALSO been interpreted as a Christian lyric, of the kind where male/female love is a metaphor for love of Christ: Fish and birds are following their natures, and similarly I must go crazy for the best creature that ever lived (beautiful woman, or the incarnate Christ who himself walked with the greatest sorrow...)

Hey, if it weren't for this sorta stuff, how could English majors EVER make a living?


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: Bruce
Date: 16 Oct 97 - 09:41 PM

[Some thorns expanded to 'th']

Foweles in the frith |birds/wood
The fisses in the flod |fishes/river
And I mon waxe wod |must/mad
Mulch sorw I walke with |sorrow
For beste of bon and blod.

Mid-14th century lyric from and Eton College MS.
Another interpretation is given on p. 278, by Stephen Manning, in Maxwell Luria and Richard Hoffman's 'Middle English Lyrics', Norton, N.Y., 1974.


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: Susan of DT
Date: 16 Oct 97 - 09:46 PM

According to EK Chambers and F Sidgewick in Early English Lysics, what you quoted is the entire song. They quote two earlier books "Early Bodlian Music" with songs from 1185-1505 and Stafford Smith, "Collection of Enflish Songs" of songs of around 1500


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 17 Oct 97 - 12:51 PM

There was a tendency, in the ME lyrics, to edge into a kind of ambiguous referential state in which adoration for the Virgin Mother was treated in the form of a kind of love poem, confusing the spiritual and physical longings which one usually associates with springtime.


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Subject: RE: fowles in the frith
From: Nonie Rider
Date: 17 Oct 97 - 03:50 PM

And ditto adoration for Christ. A heckuvalotta lyrics portray a man's soul as female, in love with her lover/bridegroom Christ.

(Why female? Because the soul was the passive, adoring, frail thing trembling and waiting for her Lord and Love, who would raise her even though she didn't deserve it.)


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Jan 19 - 03:23 AM


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jan 19 - 04:57 PM

Or perhaps the writer was just hungry. Something akin to 'water , water everywhere and not a drop to drink'.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jan 19 - 05:26 PM

Or perhaps, 'plenty of birds and fish but I'm buggered if I've seen any deer to shoot all day!'


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 16 Jan 19 - 06:10 PM

The poem can be seen in several ways: a courtly love allegory, a poem about man's state in the world, a Christian allegory.

Dobson and Harrison Medieval English Songs see it as a poem of unrequited love: This apparently artless little song is playing on the convention of medieval love lyric. It is spring, when the birds in the woodland and even the fishes in the stream mate and are happy; but the poet is suffering the pangs of unrequited love.

Stephen Manning in Luria and Hoffman Middle English Lyrics (mentioned by Bruce above) gives a similar interpretation: One likely interpretation of this rather cryptic little poem, is that it exhibits the cliches of courtly love, it is filled with cliches of diction, yet it succeeds admirably in depicting the speaker's sense of isolation, of distance between himself and his beloved (best of bone and blood). He continues about the use of the rhyme scheme (abbab) to, in the first half, mark the separation of man from on earth from the birds and fish, but by rhyme link earth with sea to suggest that it's just as natural for man to become mad; and as man is separate from birds and fish in the first half, the rhyme in the second half separates the man from his beloved.

Edmund Reiss in the same publication (MEL) sees some religious connection to Matthew viii,20 and Luke ix, 58 Foxes have their holes, the birds their roosts, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. He sees fowls and fishes content in their environment, but man deranged and out of harmony with the world around him. He also comment on the madness not being a temporary state, but the result of living after original sin. He also makes use of ambiguity of beste as beast/best in the senses To be beast (beste) of bone and blood means, as it were, to experience "mulch sorw". Or to be the "best" of bone and blood, to be man, is to "waxe wod" and to be the most sorrowful of creatures.

How they missed the obvious - Lots of birds and fishes, but bugger all to shoot - Steve, passeth understanding!

A lot to fit in so few lines!

This of one of the only 30-odd medieval English songs for which we have the tune (a two-part song in this case). I haven't time to put it up just now, but I'll do it tomorrow.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jan 19 - 06:40 PM

Clarified as ever, Mick.

There's the fox and the hare, the badger and the bear,
And the birds on the greenwood tree,
And the pretty little rabbits so engaging in their habits,
And they all have a mate but me.

Joe Geoghegan, 1860s.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 17 Jan 19 - 12:53 PM

Some things never change Steve!

Here's the tune as promised.
Mick


X: 1
T:Fuweles In The Frith
L:1/8
Q:1/8=176 " freely"
N:' before word indicates stress
B:E J Dobson & F Ll Harrison: "Medieval English Songs", Faber and Faber, 1979
B:Facimile of original in H E Wooldridge: "Early English Harmony", i, London 1897, pl 7
B:Image of original also in Luria and Hoffman "MIddle English Lyrics", 1974, p8
S:Original from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 139, f.5
K:F
V:1 clef=treble name="Alto" sname="Alt"
V:2 clef=treble name="Baritone" sname="Bar"
%
V:1
(FG)A (ABAG) (FG) (FEF) G|(AGFA) G G2 (FGA) (GFGFE) F|
V:2
"^' marks stress"(FE)D (F3 G) (AB) (AGA) G| (FGAG) GGA (B2 F) (GA G3) F|
w: 'Fu_we-les_ 'in_ the__ 'frith,| the___ 'fi-shes_ 'in_ the__ 'flood|
V:1
F FF G(AGF) G|D (FD) (FGA) (GFG) (FA) F|
V:2
B BB c(ABA) G|B (cd) F3 (GAG) G2 F|
w:and 'I mon 'wa- xe__ 'wood.|Much 'sorw_ I 'wal__ ke 'with|
V:1
G2 G(FGA) (GFG) (FE) F |]
V:2
(GA) B F3 (GAG) (FG) F |]
w:for_ 'best of 'bon__ and_ 'blood |]


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Jan 19 - 02:50 PM

Mick
Have you thought about presenting a paper at the June conference on folk tunes in Sheffield?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Helen
Date: 17 Jan 19 - 03:56 PM

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.)


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Helen
Date: 17 Jan 19 - 06:27 PM

I finally remembered the name of the book I mentioned: History in English Words by Owen Barfield

Now I just have to find where I left it. I started re-reading it about a year ago and do you think I can remember where I put it??!! No!!


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: GUEST,Jon Bartlett
Date: 18 Jan 19 - 01:21 AM

a lovely song! I first heard it sung by Sequentia:
English Songs of the Middle Ages Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77019

Jon Bartlett


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Mr Red
Date: 18 Jan 19 - 03:34 AM

'water , water everywhere and not a drop to drink'.

FWIW see Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rime_of_the_Ancient_Mariner

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Such is the Folk process, I guess.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 18 Jan 19 - 09:59 AM

I made a few errors in voice 1 (3 wrong notes in the upper voice) above and give the correct transcription here.


X: 1
T:Fuweles In The Frith
L:1/8
Q:1/8=176 " freely"
N:' before word indicates stress
B:E J Dobson & F Ll Harrison: "Medieval English Songs", Faber and Faber, 1979
B:Facimile of original in H E Wooldridge: "Early English Harmony", i, London 1897, pl 7
B:Image of original also in Luria and Hoffman "MIddle English Lyrics", 1974, p8
S:Original from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 139, f.5
K:F
V:1 clef=treble name="Alto" sname="Alt"
V:2 clef=treble name="Baritone" sname="Bar"
%
V:1
(FG)A (ABAG) (FG) (FEF) G|(AGFG) G G2 (FGA) (GFGFE) F|
V:2
"^' marks stress"(FE)D (F3 G) (AB) (AGA) G| (FGAG) G(GA) (B2 F) (GA G3) F|
w: 'Fu_we-les_ 'in_ the__ 'frith,| the___ 'fi-shes_ 'in_ the__ 'flood|
V:1
F FF G(AGF) G|D (ED) (FGA) (GFG) (FE) F|
V:2
B BB c(ABA) G|B (cd) F3 (GAG) G2 F|
w:and 'I mon 'wa- xe__ 'wood.|Much 'sorw_ I 'wal__ ke 'with|
V:1
G2 G(FGA) (GFG) (FE) F |]
V:2
(GA) B F3 (GAG) (FG) F |]
w:for_ 'best of 'bon__ and_ 'blood |]


A note on this from Harrison. Upper voice: The b flat signature is supplied; it affects one note only and may be disregarded at will (see 2nd transcription below).

They see the form of the song derived from plainchant with likelihood that the lower voice is the melody and the upper is descant.


Here is an alternative transcription from D W Robertson The Literature of Medieval England, 1970. As often the case with early music alternative readings are possible.



X: 2
T:Fowls In The Frith
M:6/4
L:1/4
B:D W Robertson "The Literature of Medieval England", 1970, p348
B:Transcription from Stainer "Early Bodleian Music", Novello, London, 1901
S:Original from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 139, f.5
K:C
V:1 clef=treble
V:2 clef=bass
%
V:1
(F G2 A3)| (A B A G3)| (F G2) (F E2| F3) G2 z|(A G F G3)| G3 G3|
w: Fow__ |eles___ |in_ the_|_ frith,| the___ fi-ses|
V:2
(F, E,2) D,3| (F,3 G,3)| (A, B,2) (A, G,2| A,3) G,2 z|(F, G, A, G,3)|G, G,2 B,3|
V:1
(F G A) (G F2| G3) (F E2)|F2 z F3| F3 F3 |G3 (A G2 |F3) G2 z|D3 (E D2)|
w: in__ the____ flod: and I mon wax-e__ wod, mulch sorw_
V:2
F,3 (G, A,2|G,3) G,3|F,2 z B,3| B,3 B,3| C3 (A, B,2| A,3) G,2 z|B,3 (C D2)|
V:1
(F G A) (G F2| G3)(F E2)| F3 G3| G3 (F G2| A3) (G F2|G3) (F E2)|F3-F2 z|]
w: I__ walk____ e with for beste_ of bon__ and_ blood_ |]
V:2
F,3 (G, A,2| G,3) G,3| A,3 G,3| (G, A,2) B,3| F,3 (G, A,2| G,3) (F, G,2)| F,3 z3 |]



Helen - you'll be happy with Robertson's comment The melody is not popular in character, and the usual view that the text is secular is dubious.

The ms is dated to ca 1270.


Steve - Haven't got any tuney ideas at the moment!

Mick


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Jan 19 - 12:42 PM

Mick,
They're setting the criteria very wide. I'm offering one on recycling of folk tunes through the ages including the songs I've written recently.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Fowles in the Frith (Middle English)
From: Helen
Date: 18 Jan 19 - 02:09 PM

Thanks Mick.

Yay! I am not alone in my analysis!

"The melody is not popular in character, and the usual view that the text is secular is dubious."

Not bad for a non-expert, eh? LOL


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