A brilliant suggestion from one of my patrons – to set Blow, northerne wynd, a beautiful medieval love lyric. It is written in a manuscript dating to the first half of the 14th century – MS Harley 2253, now in the British Library – which contains most of the love lyrics that survive before Chaucer. The lyric was intended to be sung however there is no written music for it, so I have written my own melody inspired by other music of the time.

Here is the manuscript:

Although it can look a little daunting to read at first let me help. The lyric begins at the first red mark and continues in two columns. The first three lines give the chorus, and after that there are ten verses each with eight lines. The structure is made clear through the rhyme – a quick look at the first verse demonstrates this:

Ichot a burde in boure bryht
That fully semly is on syht
Menskful maiden of myht
Feir ant fre to fonde
In al this wurliche won
A burde of blod ant of bon
Never yete y nuste non
Lossomore in londe

You’ll see that lines 1, 2, 3 and 5, 6, 7 rhyme, and also that lines 4 and 8 do to make one verse. The verse also demonstrates another delight about the poetic style – alliteration – it’s everywhere and makes the language so musical to listen to. In creating a song for myself and my group Wilde Roses to sing I decided five verses would be plenty, and it would leave us room for recorder solos etc. So I began looking through the verses to see which to include, this is always a personal decision and of course effects the audience’s perception of the lyric. To give an overview – verse 1 sets the scene – the singer knows a burde (lady) who is beautiful and lovely; verses 2-6 continue to describe her, with verses 2-4 focusing on her physical appearance and 5-6 on her character; in verses 7-8 the singer makes complaints to Love about his love sickness (he’s not sleeping etc.); in verse 9 Love responds urging him to approach the lady for a remedy; and in verse 10 he simply laments. Below I’ll write the five verses I chose and a fairly literal rather than poetic modern translation. I decided to leave out verses 2-4 since we already have a description of the woman in the first verse and many of the other versions people sing focus on these; I really wanted to leave room for the discussion with Love. The fifth verse however really caught my eye because it mentions both birds, singing and musical instruments:

Heo is dereworthe in day
Graciouse stout and gay
Gentil jolif so the jay
Worthliche when heo waketh
Maiden miriest of mouth
Bi est bi west bi north bi south
There nis fiele ne crouth
That such mirthes maketh

Here the fiele is the instrument that I’m playing with the song – medieval fiddle, or vielle – and the crouth I presume refers to the Welsh bowed lyre – crwth – also used like a drone based fiddle. I would love to play one of these. Line four in this verse is also quite sweet, she is even wonderful when she’s just woken up! I’m enchanted by the personification or deification of emotions and ideas so I really wanted to keep the conversation with Love. I did limit the singer to just one verse of complaints though! The first two lines of verse 9 are magic – ‘Love listened to each of words then leaned over to me across the table’ – just imagine, the singer isn’t simply crying out to Love but they’re actually sat down together at a table having a conversation. I wonder what they’re drinking, probably mead!

I wanted to find a melody that is as enchanting as the lyrics. Although it is a lover’s complaint I thought a major mode (mixolydian) would be the most delightful. One of my favourite English medieval songs of that period – Man mai longe lives weene – is also in a major mode with a gentle dancelike lilt to the rhythm despite the content of the song being very moral. Dancing to songs was as popular then as now and so I also chose a nice triple time beat and, I hope, a memorable chorus so we can all sing along.

Below are my chosen verses 1, 5, 7, 9, 10 with translation. I’d love to know your thoughts. This Thursday evening at 7pm the song will premiere on my Folk from the Boat series on YouTube.

Love and light,
Anna xx

Blow northerne wynd
Send thou me my suetyng
Blow northerne wynd
Blow blow blow

Ichot a burde in boure bryht
That fully semly is on syht
Menskful maiden of myht
Feir ant fre to fonde
In al this wurliche won
A burde of blod ant of bon
Never yete y nuste non
Lossomore in londe

Heo is dereworthe in day
Graciouse stout and gay
Gentil jolif so the jay
Worthliche when heo waketh
Maiden miriest of mouth
Bi est bi west bi north bi south
There nis fiele ne crouth
That such mirthes maketh

To love that leflich is in londe
I tolde him, as Ich understonde
How this hende hath hent in honde
An herte that myn wes
And hire knightes me han soght
Syking, Sorewyng and Thoght
Tho three me han in bale broght
Ayain the power of Pees

Love me listened ech word
And begh him to me over bord
And bad me for to hente that hord
Of myn herte hele
And bisech that swetee and swote
Er then thou falle as fen of fote
That she with thee wol of bote
Dereworthliche dele

For hire love I carke and care
For hire love I droupne and dare
For hire love my blisse is bare
And al Ich waxe wan
For hire love in slep I slake
For hire love al night ich wake
For hire love mournyng I make
More than any man

Blow northern wind
Send to me my sweetheart
Blow northern wind
Blow blow blow

I know a lady in a bright bower
That is fully seemly to see
A noble maiden of great wonder
Fair and gracious to know
In all this wonderful world
A lady of flesh and blood
Never have I known anyone
Lovelier in the land


She is precious in the day
Gracious, stout and gay
Gentle, jolly as the jay
Excellent when she wakens
Maiden merriest of mouth (singing)
By east by west by north by south
There is not viele or crwth
That such makes such mirth

To love, who is dear across the land
I told him, as I understand
How this lady has taken
An heart that was mine
And I’ve sought her knights
Sighing, Sorrowing and Thinking deeply
These three have brought me to grief
Against the power of Peace

Love listened to each word
And leaned to me over the table
And bade me to seize that treasure
Of my heart’s salvation
‘And beseech that sweet and gentle one,
Before you fall like dirt from a shoe,
That she will make a remedy for you
and negotiate affectionately

For her love I grieve and care
For her love I pine and despair
For her love my bliss is bare
And throughout I grow pale
For her love sleep I lose
For her love all night I wake
For her love mourning I make
More than any man

Blow, northerne wynd
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3 thoughts on “Blow, northerne wynd

  • 18 May 2021 at 8:16 pm
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    Thank you very much Anna for the extensive research and excellent and very interesting personal explanation of the verses of this beautiful song!
    The melody you composed for it is very appropriate and very well evokes the medieval troubadur atmosphere.
    My compliments and admiration for all the efforts you put in reviving nearly forgotten songs…

    Reply
  • 30 May 2021 at 1:29 pm
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    Nicely done, Anna!
    Your enthusiasm for early (medieval) music and song is infectious. I have also enjoyed listening to your “Anchoress” CD. I look forward to hearing more of your music.

    Reply
    • 30 May 2021 at 2:00 pm
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      Thank you so much Gary! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

      Reply

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