Fowles in the frith,
The fisses in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood
Much sorwe I walke with
For beste of bon and blood.
|Wodewose being tamed by a lady,|
15th-century tapestry, Basel
Wikipedia, public domain
Is it a courtly lyric in the voice of the lover in spring, thinking of his lady, to him the best of bone and blood, the best of all mortals? Is his unrequited love what sends him mad, to "waxe wood"?
Or has he suffered a great loss (death of the beloved lady, loss of a loved child, death of loved friends in battle?) Does he flee to the wild wood to be a wodewose, waxing mad in grief?
Or is he thinking of the Fall of Man and how all walk in sorrow because mortals are but beasts of bone and blood, mortal and sinful? (I'm remembering Chaucer's "Balade de Bon Conseyl," where a man is a kind of beast in a stall: "Forth, pylgryme, forth! forth, beste, out of thi stal!")
Or is the writer thinking of the Fall, sorrowing and thinking of Christ as the union of God and earthly man, the best of bone and blood? The fowls and the fish have no such need for reflection and are so without his sorrow.
Or, could it even be in the voice of Christ, so often portrayed as retreating in the wilderness? Could it be Christ, reflecting on Creation's fifth-day birds and fish and grieving for the human beast of bone and blood?
Is the poem somehow, mysteriously, all of these things at once, braided together, all those riches compacted? It's such a simple little abbab stanza, tied beautifully together by alliteration, jotted down in the midst of facts and numbers, with a bit of musical notation.
And somehow, also mysteriously, drifting in my mind.
A few notes
And [Merlin] mourns the [three brothers lost in battle], nor ceasing to pour out tears, he sprinkled his hair with dust and ripped off his clothes and lying flat on the ground he rolls now this way now that. Peredur comforts him, as do the nobles and dukes, but he desires neither solace nor to endure their supplicatory words. By now he had lamented for three days entire and had refused food, such great grief had consumed him. From that time on, after he had filled the air with so many and such great laments, he suffered a new madness and stealthily withdrew and fled to the woods, nor does he wish to be seen while fleeing, and he enters the forest and rejoices to skulk beneath the ash trees and marvels at the beasts grazing on the grass of the glade; now he follows them, now he passes by them at a run. He consumes the roots of plants, he consumes the plants, he consumes the fruit of the trees and the blackberries from the bramble bush; he becomes a man of the woods as though devoted to the woods. From then on during the whole summer he was discovered by no one and forgetful of himself and of his own kindred he hid himself in the woods, clothed in the manner of a wild beast. But when winter came and it had carried off the plants and all the fruits of the trees and he could not enjoy what he had, he poured forth such complaints as these in a pitiable voice: “O Christ God of heaven, what shall I do? In which part of the earth will I be able to remain since there is nothing here that I can eat?”
(Man when he was in honour did not understand: he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them.)