Merry It Is!

This has nothing to do with anything, but I’m sharing it with you nonetheless. I truly love listening to old English music, and I’ve been listening to it a lot recently, whenever I have the chance (it’s times like these when I wonder how I can love music like this, and then also love electronic stuff like Owl City. It couldn’t be more opposite if it tried!) Anyway, I wanted to show you a song. But while I’ve been listening to this song today, it suddenly made me think back to my days as an English Language student. And I realised just how much I love the history of the English language, and the development of it, and how engrossed I become when studying and analysing lyrics and poems and letters! I haven’t felt this buzz for English Language in a long while. In a way, I can’t believe I forgot about how much I love it.

This particular song is called ‘Miri It Is While Sumer Ilast’, and it’s from the early 13th Century. It’s quite a relevant song really, since summer has recently ended and we are moving ever deeper into the time of autumn, and ever closer to bitter winter.

This is from the time of Middle English, if I recall correctly from my student days. If anyone thinks I’m a bit strange for having such a love, or is not even remotely intrigued about history and/or language, I suggest you stop reading now, since I am only going to ramble on about language and reveal how passionate I am on the matter.

Here are the Middle English lyrics for the song:

Miri it is while sumer ilast 

with fugheles song.

Oc nu neheth windes blast 

and weder strong.

Ei! What this nicht is long, 

and ich with wel michel wrong,

soregh and murne and fast.

And what is that in Contemporary English?

Merry it is while summer lasts

with the song of birds.

But now draws near the wind’s blast

and harsh weather.

Alas! How long this night is,

and I, most unjustly wronged,

sorrow and mourn and fast.

Middle English is probably my favourite stage in the development of the English Language, purely because it looks and sounds rather different to the English of today, but if you actually sit down and look, most of it is surprisingly recognisable! Maybe not everyone thinks so, but I certainly do. I just love studying the words, the speech, of a bygone time. Is that not fascinating? I think so. I think it’s enchanting and mysterious: after all, if you can decipher olden talk and texts, what secrets may you find? Isn’t the mere thought of that enticing?

I don’t claim to be knowledgeable on this subject, nor do I claim to be able to accurately translate anything, but analysing and studying it always was, and always is, a joy for me. Middle English is the oldest form of English that can actually pass for being English. What am I talking about?, you may be wondering.

Trust me when I say this: Middle English is the easiest thing in the world to translate if comparing it to Old English. Seriously. I am talking from deep experience here. When I studied English Language, I once had to do a presentation on a little passage from the poem ‘Beowulf’. All I can say is that I was so, so glad we were put with a partner, otherwise I genuinely think I would have leapt out the window of the classroom. Let me just show you a tiny sample of what my partner and I had to work with:

Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,

þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Yep… I feel my point has been made. I believe we actually managed to very roughly translate that snippet (after about an hour), and I also believe I still have it somewhere. I hope I do, anyway. If anyone is actually wondering: no – no, we did not choose to do Beowulf or Old English; our teacher just landed us with it. The stages were: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Late Modern English, and Contemporary English. I remember when my partner and I were told that we were doing Old English, we both looked at each other with an expression that spoke a million words. I’m sure you can probably guess what that expression was. And the pair that got Contemporary English… Well, I’m sure you can imagine how smug they were about it. They had to work with text messages. Yes, that’s right! Text messages. My partner and I were quite envious of everyone else, for they had it so much easier than us! As I said, even the Middle English stage was ten times easier than ours. The Middle English pair had to do a presentation on work by Geoffrey Chaucer. I wish I got to do Chaucer. But, in a way, I’m kind of glad I was given Old English, because I never would have chosen it myself, and although it was hard work to get even the tiniest bit of information on anything, it was incredibly rewarding.
Sometimes in life, you’ve got to dig deep. It’s hard, slow, painstaking work, but when all is done, you are left with a golden treasure long since forgotten, yet more precious than anything the surface could bestow.

"What does your heart tell you?" - ToO, chpt. 32

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