“The Corpus Christi Carol”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1537 (Hill MS., Balliol Coll. Oxf. 354, folio 165b)
Keywords: injury religious carol knight
Found in: Britain(England)

Description

We find ourselves looking into a bower in a high hall. In the bower lies a sorely wounded knight surrounded by odd symbols -- dogs licking the blood, a stone on which "Corpus Christi" is written, etc.

Supplemental text

Corpus Christi Carol, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Maxwell S. Luria and Richard L. Hoffman, Middle English Lyrics, #230,
p. 221. From Balliol College (Oxford) Ms. 354 (the Richard Hill MS.),
folio 165b.

I have at least three editions of the text in the Hill Manusript
(Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, #164 p. 272; Luria/Hoffman;
Stevick, One Hundred Middle English Lyrics, #99, p. 171). No two
agree precisely, though the differences are essentially a matter
of modernized orthography. This appears to have the text closest
to the original, though the punctuation is very suspect.

[refrain:]
Lully, lulley, lully, lulley;
The faucon hath born my mak away.

He bare him up, he bare him down;
He bare him into an orchard brown.

In that orchard ther was an hall,
That was hanged with purpil and pall.

And in that hall ther was a bede;
It was hanged with gold so rede.

And in that hall ther lithe a knight,
His woundes bleding day and night.

By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
And she wepeth both night and day.

And by that beddes side ther stondeth a ston,
Corpus Christi wreten thereon.

Notes

"Corpus Christi" is Latin for "(the) body of Christ"

The feast of Corpus Christi (not necessarily connected with this ballad) occurs on Thursday of the week after Whitsuntide

Most of the symbols in this song seem to come from pagan (or, at best, late Christian) myths, but in John 19:34 we read that, when Jesus's side was pierced, "immediately [there came out] water and blood." (Compare also 1 John 5:6-8.)

Many other speculations about this song have been proposed. One source (cited anonymously in J. B. Trapp, _Medieval English Literature_, p. 425), apparently following Greene, argues that it has to do with Henry VIII abandoning Catherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn. This seems more than somewhat farfetched, given that the last dated entry in the Hill Manuscript are from 1536 and the songs thought to be much older.

Another theory connects the song with the grail legend. This makes somewhat more sense; the wounded knight is then the Fisher King, whose wounds would not heal until a hunter for the grail came. That, perhaps, ties into Celtic legend.

Another theory connects it with the "body and blood" of Christ in the Eucharist. - RBW

References

  1. Leach, pp. 691-692, "Over Yonder's a Park (Corpus Christi)" (2 texts)
  2. OBB 100, "The Falcon" (1 text)
  3. OBC 61, "Down in Yon Forest" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Hodgart, p. 38, "Corpus Christi" (1 text)
  5. Stevick-100MEL 99, "(Lully, Lullay, Lully, Lullay)" (1 text)
  6. Darling-NAS, pp. 42-43, "All Bells in Paradise (Corpus Chisti)" (1 text)
  7. Silber-FSWB, p. 382, "Down In Yon Forest" (1 text)
  8. ADDITIONAL: Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #1132
  9. Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #480, "Lully, Lulley" (1 text)
  10. ST L691 (Full)
  11. Roud #1523
  12. BI, L691