Medieval Beginnings: Middle English Lyrics

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley

From the first recorded instance of the word ‘fart’ in English, to nuanced vignettes of sexual power dynamics, the numerous Middle English lyrics that have survived down the centuries, often scribbled in the margins of more ‘serious’ texts, offer a vivid snapshot of everyday medieval life. In the tenth episode of Medieval Beginnings, Irina and Mary analyse several of these short, fleeting verses, probably set to music, and consider their possible origins and purpose, their delicious ambiguity, and their equivocal relationship to the sacred manuscripts in which they've been found.

Further reading in the LRB:

Barbara Newman: 'I was such a lovely girl'

Listen to 'Sumer is icumen in' sung by The Hilliard Ensemble

Some of the lyrics discussed in this episode can be found online:

Sumer is icumen in

I Have a Yong Suster

Maiden in the mor

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