Still on the search for good ol’ formal poems, and by ol’ I mean OLD. Now I had a pretty traditional curriculum in high school and college, including requirements of poetry in middle English, which kind of is, and kind of isn’t a foreign language. Personally, I like the odd spellings and strange vocabulary, and while I find the twisted syntax of renaissance and Victorian poems cheap and arch, the weird word orders of some middle English poems tend to strike me instead as rhythmically challenging, and in some ways “modern.”
But I swear I never came across the name John Lydgate (1370-1449) until now. I mean, sure, it sounds familiar, but I couldn’t have told you when he lived or what he was known for. The thing that forced my hand in selecting him this week was the appraisal from the poetry foundation, “Readers with an open mind might actually find that they like him.” It’s as if the editors put their arm around and you and said, Good god, this soda tastes awful–here, try this.
Lydgate composed huge reams of verse, most of it in the form of long, rhymed religious poetry. He also wrote tons of shorter pieces, and here is one that from a glance at the title seems to be a tempus fugit lyric, but I think is actually about heaven. Need some help here–particularly with some of the vocabulary. Scholars will be pleased to know that an envoi or envoy, is a short concluding stanza to some French forms like a ballade or sestina; here Lydgate seems to use the addition to hammer home his theme. -ed.
THAT NOWE IS HEYE SOME-TYME WAS GRASE
Who clymbeth hyest gothe ofte base,
Ensample in medowes thow mayst se
That nowe is heye some tyme was grase.
Go forth anon, thou short dite,
Bydde folke not trust this worlde at all,
Bydde theme remembre on e cite
Which is a-bove celestiall;
Of precious stones bylt is the wall,
Who clymbeth theder gothe nevar base,
Out of that place may be no fall,
Ther is no heye but all fresh grase.