Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Auchinleck paternoster

This is actually a bit off topic, but I found it quite delightful and wanted to share it.

The Auchinleck manuscript contains a large collection of Middle English poetry from a period when relatively few Middle English texts survive. It offers (says the website where I found it) "a rare snapshot of the kind of English literary texts which were in circulation in England in the period before Chaucer. Its texts provide important information about English dialects at an early stage (the 1330s)." The manuscript is housed in the National Library of Scotland, which has put a number of its holdings online.

One of the poems is referred to as the Auchinleck Paternoster. It's about the prayer that begins "Pater noster, qui es in caelis..." and not about the "paternoster" string of beads, which is why I say it's a bit off topic. But I find the poem utterly charming and wanted to share a bit of it. Here are the first few stanzas, with a rough translation (though I actually find it pretty readable as it stands):

Of alle the clerkes vnder sonne,
ther nis non of hem that conne
A beter oreisoun, iwis,
thanne the Pater noster is.
thus seggey thise clerkes wise
that mochel connen of clergise.

("Of all the clerics under the sun, there is none of them that knows a better orison [prayer], I'm sure, than the Pater Noster. Thus say these wise clerks that know much of what the clergy is supposed to know.")

Seuen oreisouns ther bey inne
that helpe men out of dedli sinne
And yif ye wille a while dwelle,
Al on Englissch ich wille you telle
the skile of hem alle seuene,
With help of Godes might of heuene.

("Seven prayers there are that help men out of deadly sin. And if you will stay awhile, I will tell you in English the skill of them all seven, with the help of God's might of heaven.")

Pater noster, qui es in celis,
that is to segge this:
Oure fader in heuene-riche,
thi name be blessed euere iliche.
this is the ferste oreisoun of seuene.
We clepen oure fader the kyng of heuene,

("Pater noster, qui es in caelis: that is to say this -- Our father in the heavenly kingdom, thy name be blessed everywhere. This is the first prayer of seven: we call our father the king of heaven.")

And yif he houre fader is,
thanne be we hise children, iwis,
And Ihesu is ful of alle godnesse,
With him nis no wikkednesse.
thanne mote we, so mote ich the,
yif we willen hise children be,

("And if he is our father, than we are his children, you know. And Jesus is full of all goodness: with him is no wickedness. So must we be, so I say you must be, if we want to be his children.")

Fonden to liuen in god lif,
Withouten contek, withouten strif,
Withouten pride and enuye,
Coueitise and glotonye.
thanne mowe we seggen, iwis,
that Ihesu Crist oure fader is.

("Yearning to live a good life, without contention or strife, without pride or envy, covetousness or gluttony, then may we say that Jesus Christ is our father.")

Yif we wile be clene isschriue
And in clene lif liue,
thanne mowe we whan we bey of age
Claymen oure fader heritage,
the blisse that lasteth withouten ende.

("If we want to be clean shriven [forgiven], and live a clean life, then may we, when we come of age, claim our father's heritage, the bliss that lasts without end.")