Sunday, 7 August 2016

Medieval Mondegreen

One goes through cycles in listening to music, and I realised that had been ages since I paid attention to any of the lovely output of the Dufay Collective, the early-music ensemble who I once went to see in Leicester. Hiding on my iPod is a slightly less than clear recording of the title theme to a BBC TV programme about the art of the Middle Ages which the Dufays provided and which I taped using the very unsophisticated equipment available to me back in 1991 or thereabouts: it’s a rather luscious, yearning carol in honour of the Virgin Mary of which I have another version too, recorded by the York Waits – that one sounds very different, and probably more authentic. The lyric was one of the things that played on my mind and found its way into the thinking that led to my conversion to Christianity a few years later. ‘Sprong the blossom upon the root, the Holy Ghost he rest upon’ was what I heard. What a beautiful idea: the tree blossom being the sign of the Holy Spirit, a vision of the Incarnation which went beyond Christmas and everything that went along with it, and incorporated the natural world as well.

Yesterday I managed to work out what that song is: it’s a well-known carol which goes under the title of ‘Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene’, which has been recorded by a variety of groups. Once I knew what it was, of course, I could find out what the text actually was:

Spronge blostme of one rote,
The Holi Gost thee reste upon

So the Holy Spirit is not resting on the blossom at all, but on the Virgin herself, which is of course much more sensible and orthodox. The spring blossom itself is the Virgin, sprung of the ‘one root’ which is the ancestry of Jesse.

Of course this mistake of mine doesn’t really matter now. However much in error I may have been about this particular text, I now know the Holy Spirit really does rest on the blossom, as he does everywhere. 

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