My lefe is faren in londe

My lefe is faren in londe
(14th century)
   One of the many anonymous MIDDLE ENGLISH lyrics dating from the 14th century is “My lefe is faren in londe” (that is, “My love has gone [traveled] far away [into the country]”). Like many Middle English lyrics, the poem deals with a conventional love theme—that of the narrator’s longing caused by a separation from his beloved—but does so in a simple, fresh, and spontaneous way. The lyric is a single stanza of seven trimeter (three-stress) lines, rhyming ababcbc. The speaker says he is parted from his lover, and simply asks “Why is she so?” (Davies 1964, l. 2). He is not able to go to her because he is cruelly bound where he is. But his heart, he says, is bound to her, wherever she is (literally wherever she rides or walks). He ends by saying he has true love for her, a “thousandfold” (l. 7). Like many such lyrics, it is generalized, with only the broad outlines of a situation behind the emotion of the speaker, so that the poem might be seen to have a universal application to anyone separated from the one he or she loves. Some Middle English lyrics were set to music, and it is quite possible that “My lefe is faren in londe” was sung as early as the 14th century. Although the text of the lyric survives in a late 15thcentury manuscript (Trinity College Cambridge, MS. R. 3. 19), it is almost certainly older than that document. Presumably it is the song that CHAUCER has his cock and hen, Chaunticleer and Pertelote, sing “in sweet accord” (i.e., harmony) in the NUN’S PRIEST’S TALE. The song must have been popular enough that Chaucer expected his audience to recognize it and possibly even know the melody.
   ■ Davies, R. T., ed. Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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