The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Under A Forest That Was So Long

For Christmas

Words and Music: Traditional English

Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed, From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (London: The Percy Society, 1847), Song #23, printed verbatim from a manuscript probably owned by a professional musician, and apparently written in the latter half of the fifteenth century, circa 1471-1485.

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    Man, beware and wyse in dede,
    Asay thi frend or thou hast nede.

Under a forest that was so long,
    As I me rod with mekyll dred,
I hard a berd syngyng a song,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

I ther stod and hoved styll,
    To a tre I teyd my sted;
Ever the byrd sang full shyll,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

Me thou3t it was a wonder noyse,
    Alwey ner and ner I 3ed;
And ever she song with loud voys,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

I behyld that byrd full long.
    She bad me do as I the rede;
Whether that thou do ry3t or wrong,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

The byrd sat upon a tre,
    With fethers gray than was hyr wed;
She seyd, and thou wylt do after me,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

Of me I trow she was agast,
    She tok hyr fly3th in len3th and bred;
And thus she sang whan she show...last,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

Away full fast she gan hyr hy3e;
    God graunt ujs well our lyves to lede;
For thus she sang, what she gan flye,
    Asay thy frend or thou hast ned.

Editor's Note:

The version of this song found in Richard Greene, ed., A Selection of English Carols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1962), #78, pp. 140-141, is from Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. Poet. e. 1. XV Century.

Songs of this nature, warning humankind to be watchful of their behavior, were commonly printed during the Christmas-tide in the 15th Century. Those centuries emphasized both the First Advent (the birth of Christ) and the Second Advent (the Second Coming of Christ, i.e., the final judgment).

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