Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Floral face-off

A belatedly festive post now that I've dug out my copy of RT Davies's Faber anthology of Medieval English Lyrics. We all know that in the bitter conflict between the holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood the holly bears the crown. Or do we?

That carol seems to be based on an older lyric, which has very similar versions listed under the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Faber book. The first verse and chorus run:

Holly stond in the hall
Faire to behold:
Ivy stond without the dore–
She is full sore acold.

Nay! Ivy, nay!
It shall not be, iwis:
Let Holy have the maistry,
As the maner is.

(A full text version is available here.)

Two-nil to holly. But Davies also includes a fifteenth-century lyric 'In Praise of Ivy':

Ivy, chefe of trees it is,
Veni, coronaberis [i.e. Come, you shall be crowned]

The most worthye she is in towne–
He that seith other do amiss–
And worthy to ber the crowne.
Veni, coronaberis.

Ivy is soft and mek of spech,
Ageinst all bale she is bliss.
Well is he that may her rech.
Veni, coronaberis.

Ivy is green with colour bright,
Of all trees best she is,
And that I preve well now be right.
Veni, coronaberis.

Ivy bereth beris black.
God graunt us all his bliss,
For there shall we nothing lack.
Veni, coronaberis.

So now you know.


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