Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

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In the Castle of the Holly King

Nou Is Yole Comen: A 15th-Century Yule Carol

 

The “secular” carol is no new thing. Most of the oldest surviving Yule carols are thoroughly non-religious, describing the earthy joys of the season with little (if any) religious content.

What follows is a 15th-century English carol, set to music by Early Musicologist Shira Kammen on her stunning 2003 album The Castle of the Holly King: Secular Songs for the Yuletide. For those of you who didn't happen to grow up speaking Middle English, a modern English rendering follows.

Note that personifying holidays as guests who come to visit is an ancient Indo-European poetic trope with its roots in deepest antiquity. Note also the playful AAAB rhyme-scheme, and that the poet uses only two rhymes through the entire song. That's a pretty bravura performance.

 

Nou is Yole Comen

 

Hay, ay, ay, ay:

make we merry as we may.

 

Nou is Yole comen with gentil chere,

of mirth and gomen he has no pere;

in every londe where he comes nere

is merthe and gomen, I dar wele say.

 

Now is comen a messingere

of your lorde, Ser NuYere—

biddes us all be merie here

and make as merie as we may.

 

Therefore every mon that is here

singe a carol on his manere;

if he con non we schall him lere,

so that we be merie allway.

 

Whosoever makes hevy chere,

were he never to me dere,

in a diche I wolde he were

to dry his clothes till it were day.

 

Mend the fire, and make gud chere!

Fill the cup, Ser Botelere!

Let every mon drink to his fere!

Thys endes my carol, with care awaye.

 

 

Now Yule Is Come

 

Now Yule is come with gentle cheer,

of mirth and play he has no peer;

in every land where he comes near,

is mirth and play, I dare well say.

 

Now is come a messenger

of your lord, Sir New Year:

[he] bids us all be merry here,

and make as merry as we may.

 

Therefore, let every man here

sing a carol in his own fashion;

if he knows none, we will teach him [some],

so that we can be merry all the time.

 

Whoever is being a downer,

though he were never so dear to me,

I wish he were lying in a ditch,

drying his clothes all night.

 

Mend the fire, and make good cheer!

Fill the cup, Sir Bottler [= wine steward]!

Let every man drink to his companion!

So ends my carol, without a care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tagged in: carols Yule carols
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak Tuesday, 03 December 2019

    Excellent pointer! I still cherish my 'Pro Dea' Winter Solstice songbook you all published so many years ago.

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