The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Lordings, Listen To Our Lay

Anglo-Norman Carol

 

Words: English Traditional, Translated by F. Douce

Source: Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pp. 134-5.

1. Lordings, listen to our lay
We have come from far away
    To seek Christmas;
In this mansion we are told
He his yearly feast doth hold;
    'Tis t-day!
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

2. Lordings, I now tell you true,
Christmas bringeth unto you
    Only mirth;
His house he fills with many a dish
Of bread and meat and also fish,
    To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

3. Lordings, through our army's band
They say who spends with open hand
    Free and fast,
And oft regals his many friends
God gives him double what he spends
    To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

4. Lordings, wicked men eschew,
In them never shall you view
    Aught that's good;
Cowards are the rable rout,
Kick and beat the grumblers out,
    To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

5. To English ale and Gascon wine,
And French, doth Christmas much incline
    And Anjou's, too;
He makes his neighbour freely drink
So that in sleep his head doth sink
    Often by day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

6. Lords, by Christmas and the host
Of this mansion hear my toast
    Drink it well
Each must drain his cup of wine,
And I the first will toss off mine:
    Thus I advise.
Here then I bid you all Wassail,
Cursed be he who will not say, Drinkhail.1
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

Note from Joshua Sylvester:

1. Wassail and Drinkhail are both derived from the Anglo-Saxon. They were the common drinking pledges of the age. Wassail is equivalent to the phrase " Your health," of the present day. Drinkhail, which literally signifies " drink health," was the usual acknowledgment of the other pledge.

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), who had this note:

This Carol, we are informed by the antiquaries, is the earliest known to have been written in our island. The thirteenth century is believed to be the period of its composition. The original is in the Anglo-Norman language. Some years ago it was discovered on a blank leaf in the middle of one of the manuscripts in the British Museum. The editor of Christmas with the Poets supposes this Carol to have been one of those in use among the bands of professional minstrels half vagrants, half troubadours who wandered from one to the other of the different castles of the Norman nobility, " discoursing sweet sounds " for the gratification of the assembled guests, and who were certain of a ready welcome on so festive an occasion as the celebration of the Christmas feast. The late Mr. Douce made an English version, inserted in Brand's Antiquities; but the following, from the pen of the editor previously alluded to, is preferred.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), who omits the final couplet.

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