West Virginia University Press
J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien and Carl F. Hostetter - Sir Orfeo: A Middle English Version By J.R.R. Tolkien - Tolkien Studies 1:1 Tolkien Studies 1.1 (2004) 85-123

Sir Orfeo:

A Middle English Version By J.R.R. Tolkien


In 1944, the Academic Copying Office in Oxford published an unknown (but presumably small) number of copies of an anonymous, twenty-page booklet titled Sir Orfeo. The first sixteen pages of this booklet comprise a version of the Middle English poem that, while based for the most part on the text of the fourteenth-century Auchinleck Manuscript, has been altered and emended throughout in accordance with the grammar of the earlier South-Eastern dialect of Middle English. The result is a Middle English version of the poem that is not only, as the booklet's author observes, "much more metrical" than that of Auchinleck, but that—if the author's theory that the poem was composed in Essex in the thirteenth century is accurate—is closer to what must have been the original form of the poem than are any of the three surviving manuscripts, which have been "infected . . . with the forms of later language and different dialect."

Although the booklet itself does not bear its author's name, it has been identified as a work by J.R.R. Tolkien. In their J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, Wayne G. Hammond and Douglas A. Anderson note of this booklet that one of the five known copies, held by the English Faculty library at Oxford, "contains a note, reported to be in Tolkien's hand, which states that this edition of 'Sir Orfeo' was prepared for the naval cadets' course in English, which Tolkien organized in January 1943 and directed until the end of March 1944" (209). Hammond and Anderson further report the existence of three other copies of the booklet in which the lines of the poem have been numbered in pencil, by tens, in what appears to be Tolkien's hand. Two of these copies have in addition a few textual emendations in pencil, again apparently in Tolkien's hand. It is upon one of these two emended copies that the present edition is based. [End Page 85]

J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle English version and Modern English translation

The attribution to Tolkien of this Middle English version of Sir Orfeo and its brief accompanying note is further supported by certain similarities with Tolkien's Modern English verse translation of Sir Orfeo and its brief accompanying note, published posthumously in the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo (23, 123-37).1 Both notes locate the composition of the poem in "the South-East of England,"2 and both notes use precisely the same phrase in describing the transmission of the poem as having been subject to "the corruptions of error and forgetfulness."

Comparison of the poems themselves reveals, in addition to striking correspondences of formatting and punctuation,3 a number of instances in which Tolkien's translation departs from the texts of the surviving manuscripts in precisely the same manner that the Middle English version does:

(In the following comparisons, V = the Middle English version of the booklet, T = Tolkien's translation, A = Auchinleck MS, H = MS Harley 3810. Both V and T use A as the source for all lines except 1-24 and 33-46, which are supplied by H.)

l. 4:— H has frely þing where V has ferly thing. In his note on this line Sisam glosses frely as "goodly," and remarks that the Lai le Freine (a poem of the Auchinleck MS that has essentially the same opening lines as the H version of Sir Orfeo) has here ferly, which he glosses as "wondrous" (209). In his companion Vocabulary, Tolkien glosses frely in Sisam's text as "pleasant" (deriving it from Old English frēolic of the same meaning) and ferly in Sisam's note as "wonderful" (< OE fær-lice "suddenly"), corresponding to a noun of the same form that he glosses as "marvel." T has "marvellous thing," suggesting that the ME form underlying the translation is ferly, and hence agreeing with V against the MS.

l. 82:— A has out of hir witt "out of her wit" where V (correcting a defective rhyme) has out of mende "out of mind." T has "out of mind."

ll. 241, 245, 249:— A has He þat hadde ywerd "He that had worn," He þat hadde had castels "He that had had castles," and He þat had yhad kniDESCRIPTIONtes "He that had had knights," respectively, each a relative construction employing the pronoun þat. V has He hadde ywered "He had worn," He hadde had castels "He had had castles," and He hadde yhad kniDESCRIPTIONtes "He had had knights," respectively, in each case dropping the relative pronoun (presumably to improve the meter). T has "He once had . . . worn," "He once had castles," and "He once had many a . . . knight," respectively, like V omitting the relative "that." [End Page 86]

l. 265:— A has His here of his berd, blac "His hair of his beard, black" where V has His her and berd, all blake "His hair and beard, all black." T has "His hair and beard all black."

l. 368:— A has was all of burnist gold "was all of burnished gold," while V has was maked al of burnissed golde "was made all of burnished gold." T has "was builded all of burnished gold."

l. 381:— A has what he wold haue ydo "what he would have done," while V (correcting a defective rhyme) has what his wille were "what his will were." T has "what might be his will."

l. 392:— A has non armes nade "no arms had," while V has no fet no armes nadde "no feet nor arms had." T has "[had] no arms, nor feet."

Other examples could be cited, but these are the most striking. It should be noted that there are instances where the translation agrees with the MS against the Middle English version (e.g., in l. 419, A has "'O lord,' he seyd, 'DESCRIPTIONif it þi wille were'" where V has "and seide: 'O lord, if thi wille were'"; while T has "'O lord,' said he, 'if it be thy will'"), and it must be allowed that a verse translation necessarily makes concessions to language and meter that may obscure or falsely emphasize details of the relationship between the source(s) and the translation. Nonetheless, these examples strongly suggest that Tolkien's translation of Sir Orfeo was based at least in part on the booklet's emended Middle English version.

The date of Tolkien's Modern English translation of Sir Orfeo does not appear to have been established with much precision. Christopher Tolkien wrote, in his Preface to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo only that it was, like the c. 1944 Pearl and the c.1950 Sir Gawain, "also made many years ago" (7). Concerning Basil Blackwell's ultimately unrealized plans of c. 1942-44 to publish Tolkien's translation of Pearl, see Hammond and Anderson's Bibliography (321-23). The Bodleian Library catalogue of its Tolkien manuscript holdings has the following entry: "A33/1 Typescript and manuscript transcripts and translations of Sir Orfeo [fols. 1-47], with . . . various drafts of the translation of Pearl, with . . . letters from (Sir) Basil Blackwell about the translation, 1942-4"; but while it may be more than mere archival accident that Tolkien's "transcripts and translations of Sir Orfeo" are located with letters of 1942-44 concerning his work on another Middle English poem, this evidence is circumstantial at best. Humphrey Carpenter's statement that "Tolkien had originally translated [Sir Orfeo] for a wartime cadets' course at Oxford" (141) would, if accurate, seem to demonstrate that Tolkien produced both his Middle English version and his translation of Sir Orfeo for the naval cadets' course, i.e., c. 1943-44. But it may be that Carpenter has simply confused Tolkien's translation with the present Middle English version. [End Page 87]

However, that Tolkien's translation appears to be based at least in part on his Middle English version of 1944 strongly suggests that it was made in or after 1944. There is in addition one piece of evidence internal to the translation that suggests very strongly that it was made before 1945: lines 363-64 of the translation ("The vault was carven and adorned / with beasts and birds and figures horned") show that when he translated them Tolkien still read animal "animal" in l. 364 for a form that was corrected to aumal "enamel" in a 1945 revision to his Middle English Vocabulary (see the Appendix below for details). If the translation was in fact based on his 1944 Middle English version of the poem, it is then very likely that the translation was likewise made in, or not long before, 1944.

Tolkien's version and Sisam's edition

In 1922, Tolkien published A Middle English Vocabulary, his first book, which comprised a complete glossary of the Middle English poems included by his colleague and former tutor Kenneth Sisam in his Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, which was first published the previous year. (Tolkien's Vocabulary was intended to be published together with Sisam's collection as a single volume, but delays in the Vocabulary's preparation resulted in their separate initial publications.) Among the poems in Sisam's collection is an edition of Sir Orfeo. Tolkien's version follows Sisam's edition very closely, not only in formatting and punctuation, but also in sharing certain readings that, according to Bliss, are original to Sisam's edition, as well as in adopting most of Sisam's editorial revisions and suggestions.

(In the following comparisons, V = Tolkien's Middle English version of the booklet, S = Sisam's edition, A = Auchinleck MS, H = MS Harley 3810. Both S and V use A as the source for all lines except 1-24 and 33-46, which are supplied by H.)

Sisam notes that the "original text preserved final -e better than the extant MSS" (208), and provides the following examples of "restored" readings:

l. 119:— And seyd<ė> þus þe king<ė> to

l. 172:— Þat no þing help<ė> þe no schal

l. 357:— Al þe vt<ė> mast<ė> wal

l. 466:— So, sir, as DESCRIPTIONe seyd<ė> nouþ

Tolkien's version of these lines agrees with Sisam's restoration of final -e precisely. It seems possible to suppose that Tolkien's impetus to produce an emended version of Sir Orfeo originated in this note. [End Page 88]

l. 4:— H, S have frely "goodly," but Sisam notes that "Lai le Freine has ferly 'wondrous'" (208). V has ferly.

l. 12:— H has moost to lowe, which S emends to moost o loue based on the corresponding line of the Lai le Freine (208). V has moost of loue.

l. 20:— H, S have Maden layes and DESCRIPTIONaf it name. Sisam remarks that the "curious use of it after the plural layes is perhaps not original" (209). V has sg. lay.

l. 46:— H, S have Suche ioy and melody in his harpyng is. Sisam remarks that "ioy and overload the verse, and are probably an unskilful addition to the text" (209). V has such melodie. . . .

l. 82:— S has reuey<se>d but Sisam suggests that "some such form of ravished is probably right" (209). V has rauissed.

ll. 157-8: A, S have the rhymes palays: ways. Sisam suggests that the original rhyme was "perhaps palys: wys 'wise.'" V has palise: wise.

l. 247:— A, S have comensi. Of this line, Sisam notes that "the metre points to a disyllabic form . . . comsi" (209 n. 57). V has cŏmsi.

l. 285:— S, V have dim. Bliss notes that Sisam was the first to print dim, where earlier editors had written dun (53).

l. 333:— A has wroche, which S emends to wreche (and was apparently the first to do so, judging by Bliss's note [53] in which he takes Sisam to task for emending what he notes is a genuine form). V has wreche.

l. 363:— A has auowed, which S emends to anow<rn>ed, a reading adopted by Tolkien as V's anourned.

l. 419:— A, S have '"O lord,' he seyd, 'DESCRIPTIONif it þi wille were.'" Sisam remarks that this line is too long metrically, and suggests that it may once have been: "And seyd 'Lord, DESCRIPTIONif þi wille were'" (210 n. 382). V has "and seide: 'O lord, DESCRIPTIONif thi wille were.'"

l. 483:— A has "Bot wiþ a begger ybilt ful narwe," which S emends to "Bot wiþ a begger y<n> bilt ful narwe." Sisam explains that "ybilt of the MS. and editors cannot well be a pp. meaning 'housed.' I prefer to take bilt as sb. = bild, build "a building"; and to suppose that y has been miswritten for ý, the contraction for yn" (211). V has "but with a begger in bilt ful narwe."

Taken together, these comparisons indicate that Tolkien's Middle English version of Sir Orfeo was based on Kenneth Sisam's edition, while his Modern English translation was based on his own Middle English version; and further that the translation was, like the version, made in 1944. [End Page 89]

Sir Orfeo

      We reden ofte and finde ywrite,
as clerkes don us to wite,
the layes that ben of harping
ben yfounde of ferly thing.
Sum ben of wele, and sum of wo,
and sum of ioye and merthe also;
sum of trecherie, and sum of gile,
and sum of happes that fallen by while;
sum of bourdes, and sum of ribaudrie,
10 and sum ther ben of the fairie.
Of alle thing that men may se,
moost of loue forsothe they be.
      In Britain thise layes arn ywrite,
first yfounde and forth ygete,
of aventures that fillen by dayes,
wherof Britouns made her layes.
When they owher mighte yheren
of aventures that ther weren,
they toke her harpes tho with game,
20 maden lay and DESCRIPTIONaf it name.
      Of aventures that han befalle
I can sum telle but nouDESCRIPTIONt alle.
Herkne, lordinges that ben trewe,
and I wol DESCRIPTIONou telle of Sir Orphewe.
      Orfeo was yore a king,
in Ingelond a heiDESCRIPTION lording,
a stalworth man and hardi bo,
large and curteis he was also.
His fader was cŏmen of King Pluto,
30 and his moder com of King Iuno,
that sum time were as godes holde
for auentures that thai dede and tolde.
[Orpheo most of onything
loued the gle of harping;
siker was euery god harpour
of him to haue moche honour.
Himselue loued for to harpe
and laide theron his wittes scharpe. [End Page 90]
He lerned so, ther nothing was
40 a better harpour in no plas;
in the world was neuer man yborn
that euer Orpheo sat beforn,
and he miDESCRIPTIONte of his harping here,
he schulde thinke that he were
in one of the ioyes of Paradis,
suche melodie in his harping is.]
      This king soiourned in Traciens,
that was a citee of noble defens;
for Winchester was cleped tho
50 Traciens withouten no.
He hadde with him a quen of pris,
that was ycleped Dame Heurodis,
the fairest leuedi for the nones
that miDESCRIPTIONte gon on bodi and bones,
ful of loue and godenesse;
ac no man may telle hir fairnesse.
      Bifel in the cŏmessing of May,
when miri and hot is the day,
and oway beth winter-schoures,
60 and eueri feld is ful of floures,
and blosme breme on eueri bouDESCRIPTION
oueral wexeth miri anouDESCRIPTION,
this iche quen, Dame Heurodis,
tok to hir maidenes two of pris
and wente hir in an vndrentide
to playe bi an orchard-side,
to se the floures sprede and springe,
and to yhere the foules singe.
      Thai sette hem doune alle thre
70 vnder a fair ympe-tre,
and wel sone this faire quene
fel on slepe opon the grene.
The maidnes durste hir nouDESCRIPTIONt awake,
but lete hir ligge and reste take.
So sche slepe til afternon,
that vndertide was al ydon.
Ac as sone as sche gan awake,
sche cride and lothli bere gan make,
sche froted hir honden and hir fet,
80 and crached hir visage, it bledde wet;
hir riche robe hye al torende, [End Page 91]
and was rauissed out of mende.
The two maidnes hir biside
no durste with hir leng abide,
but ourne to the palais riDESCRIPTIONt
and tolde bothe squier and kniDESCRIPTIONt
that her quen awede wolde,
and bade hem go and hir atholde.
KniDESCRIPTIONtes and leuedis ourne tho
90 sexti damiseles and mo;
in the orchard to the quen hye come,
and her vp in her armes nome,
to bed hye brouDESCRIPTIONte hir atte laste,
and helde hir there fine faste;
ac euer sche held in one cri,
and wolde vp and wende owy.
      When Orfeo herde that tiding,
neuer him nas wers for no thing.
He com with kniDESCRIPTIONtes tene
100 to chaumbre riDESCRIPTIONt biforn the quene,
and biheld, and seide with grete pitee:
"O leue lif, what is tee,
that euer DESCRIPTIONet hast ben so stille,
and now gredest wonder schille?
Thi bodi, that was so whit ycore,
with thine nailes is al totore.
Allas! thi rŏde, that was so red,
is now al wan as thou were ded;
and also thine fingres smale
110 beth al blodi and al pale.
Allas! thi louesome eyDESCRIPTIONen two
loketh so man doth on his fo.
A! dame, ich biseche merci.
Let ben al this rewful cri,
and tel me what the is, and hou,
and what thing may the helpe now".
      Tho lay sche stille atte laste,
and gan to wepe swithe faste,
and seide thus the kinge to:
120 "Allas! mi lord, Sir Orfeo,
seththen we first togider were,
ones wrothe neuer we nere,
but euer ich haue ylŏued the
as mi lif, and so thou me. [End Page 92]
Ac now we mote dele atwo;
do thi beste, for I mot go".
      "Allas!" quath he, "forlorn icham.
Whider wiltow go, and to wham?
Whider thou gost, ichil with the,
130 and whider I go, thou schalt with me".
      "Nay, nay, sir, that nouDESCRIPTIONt nis.
Ichil the telle al hou it is:
as ich lay in this vndertide,
and slepe vnder our orchard-side,
ther come to me two faire kniDESCRIPTIONtes
wel y-armed al to riDESCRIPTIONtes,
and bade me cŏmen an hiDESCRIPTIONing
and speke with her lord the king.
And ich answerde at wordes bolde,
140 I durste nouDESCRIPTIONt, no I nolde.
Thai priked oDESCRIPTIONain as thai miDESCRIPTIONte driue;
tho com her king also bliue,
with an hundred kniDESCRIPTIONtes and mo,
and damiseles an hundred also,
alle on snow-white stedes;
as white as milk were her wedes:
I no seiDESCRIPTION neuer DESCRIPTIONet bifore
so faire creatures ycore.
The king a croune hadde on his molde,
150 it nas of siluer, no of rede golde,
ac it was al on precious ston,
as briDESCRIPTIONte so the sŏnne it schon.
And as sone as he to me cam,
wolde ich, nolde ich, he me nam,
and made me with him ride
opon a palfray bi his side,
and brouDESCRIPTIONte me to his palise
wel atired in iche wise,
and schewed me castels and tours,
160 riuere, forest, frith with flours,
and his riche stedes ichon;
and seththen me brouDESCRIPTIONte oDESCRIPTIONain hom
into our owen orchard,
and seide to me thus afterward:
"Loke, dame, that tow be
to-morwe her vnder this ympe-tre,
and than thou schalt with ous go, [End Page 93]
and liue with ous euermo;
and DESCRIPTIONif thou makest ous ylet,
170 whar thou be, thou worst yfet,
and totore thine limes al,
that nothing helpe the no schal;
and theiDESCRIPTION thou best so totorn,
DESCRIPTIONet thou worst with ous yborn'."
      When King Orfeo herde this cas,
"O we!" quath he, "allas! allas!
Leuer me were to lete mi lif
than thus to lese the quen mi wif!"
He asked conseil at iche man,
180 ac no man helpe him no can.
      Amorwe the vndertide is cŏme,
and Orfeo hath his armes nŏme,
and wel ten hundred kniDESCRIPTIONt with him,
ich y-armed stout and grim;
and with the quene wenten he
riDESCRIPTIONt vnto that vmpe-tre.
Thai made scheltrŏm in iche side,
and saide thai wolde ther abide,
and die there euerichon,
190 er the quen schulde fram hem gon.
Ac DESCRIPTIONet amiddes hem ful riDESCRIPTIONt
the quene was oway ytwiDESCRIPTIONt,
with faierie was forth ynŏme;
men niste wher sche was bicŏme.
      Tho was ther crying, wep and wo.
The king into his chaumbre is go,
and ofte swoned opon the ston,
and made swiche diol and swiche mon
that neiDESCRIPTION his lif was al yspent:
200 ther was non amendement.
      He cleped togider his barouns,
erles, lordes of renouns;
and when thai alle ycŏmen were,
"Lordinges", he saide, "biforn DESCRIPTIONou here
ich ordainy min heiDESCRIPTIONe steward
to wite mi kingdom afterward;
in mi stede ben he schal,
to kepe mi londes oueral.
For now ichaue mi quen ylore,
210 the fairest leuedi that euer was bore, [End Page 94]
neuer eft I nil no woman se.
Into wildernesse ichil te,
and liue ther euermore
with wilde bestes in holtes hore.
And when DESCRIPTIONe vnderstonde that I be spent,
make DESCRIPTIONou than a parlement,
and chese DESCRIPTIONou a newe king.
Now doth DESCRIPTIONour best with al mi thing.
      Tho was ther weping in the halle
220 and gret cri among hem alle;
vnnethe miDESCRIPTIONten olde or DESCRIPTIONŏvnge
for weping speke a word with tŏnge.
Thai kneled adoune alle yfere,
and praide him, DESCRIPTIONif his wille were,
that he no schulde fram hem go.
"Do way!" quath he, "it schal be so".
      Al his kingdom he forsok;
but a sclauine on him he tok;
he nadde no kirtel, no no hod,
230 scherte, no non other god.
But his harpe he took algate,
and dede him barfot out of DESCRIPTIONate;
no man moste with him go.
      O way! what ther was wep and wo,
when he that er was king with croune
wente so pouerlich out of toune!
Thurgh wode and ouer heth
into the wildernesse he geth.
Nothing he fint that him is aise,
240 but euer he liueth in gret malaise.
He hadde ywered fow and gris,
and on bedde purpre bis;
now on harde hethe he lith,
with leues and with gresse him writh.
He hadde yhad castels and tours,
riuere, forest, frith with flours;
now theiDESCRIPTION it cŏmsi snewe and frese,
this king mot make his bed in mese.
He hadde yhad kniDESCRIPTIONtes of pris
250 bifore him knelande, and leuedis;
now seth he nothing that him liketh,
but wilde wormes bi him striketh.
He that hadde yhad plentee [End Page 95]
of mete and drink, of ich deintee,
now may he al day digge and wrote
er he finde his fille of rote.
In sŏmer he liueth bi wilde frute
and berien but gode lite;
in winter may he nothing finde
260 but rote, grasses, and the rinde.
Al his bodi was oway ydwine
for misaise, and al to-chine.
Lord! who may tellen al the sore
this king suffred ten DESCRIPTIONer and more?
His her and berd, al blake and rowe,
to his girdelstede were growe.
His harpe, whereon was al his gle,
he hidde in an holwe tre;
and when the weder was cler and briDESCRIPTIONt,
270 he took his harpe to him wel riDESCRIPTIONt,
and harped at his owen wille.
Into alle the wode the soun gan schille,
that alle the wilde [bestes] that ther beth
for ioie abouten him thai teth;
and alle the foules that ther were
come and sete on ich a brere
to here his harping a-fine,
so miche melodie was therine;
and when he his harping lete wolde,
280 no best bi him abide nolde.
      He miDESCRIPTIONte se him bisides
oft in hote vndertides
the king o Faierie with his route
cŏmen hunten him al aboute,
with dim cri and blowinge,
and houndes also berkinge;
ac no best thai neuer nome,
no neuer he niste whider thai bicome.
And other while he miDESCRIPTIONte him se
290 as a gret ost bi him te
wel atourned ten hundred kniDESCRIPTIONtes,
ich y-armed to his riDESCRIPTIONtes,
of cuntenaunce stout and fers,
with manie desplayed baners,
and ich his swerd ydrawen holde;
ac neuer he niste whider thai wolde. [End Page 96]
And other while he seiDESCRIPTION other thing:
kniDESCRIPTIONtes and leuedis come dauncing
in queinte atire, gisely,
300 queinte pas and softely:
tabours and trumpes DESCRIPTIONede hem bi
and al manere menstraci.
      And on a day he seiDESCRIPTION him biside
sexti leuedis on horse ride,
gentil and iolif as brid on ris:
nouDESCRIPTIONt o man amonges hem nis.
And ich a faucoun on honde bere,
and riden on hauking bi o riuere.
Of game thai founde wel god haunt:
310 maulard, hairoun, and cormeraunt.
The foules of the water ariseth,
the faucouns hem wel deuiseth;
ich faucoun his praye slouDESCRIPTION.
"Parfay!" quath he, "ther is fair game,
thider ichil, bi Godes name!
Ich was ywŏne swiche werk to se".
He aros and thider gan te.
To a leuedi he was ycŏme,
320 biheld, and hath wel vndernŏme,
and seth bi al thing that it is
his owen quen, Dame Heurodis.
Õerne he biheld hir, and sche him ek,
ac noither to other a word no spek.
For misaise that sche on him seiDESCRIPTION,
that hadde ben so riche and heiDESCRIPTION,
the teres felle out of hir eiDESCRIPTIONen.
The other leuedis this yseiDESCRIPTIONen,
and maked hir oway to ride,
330 sche most with him no leng abide.
      "Allas!" quath he, "now me is wo.
Whi nil deth now me slo?
Allas! wreche, that I no miDESCRIPTIONte
die now after thisse siDESCRIPTIONte!
Allas! to longe last mi lif,
when I no dar nouDESCRIPTIONt with mi wif,
no hye to me, o word speke.
Allas! whi nil min herte breke!
Parfay!" quath he, "tide what bitide, [End Page 97]
340 whider so thise leuedis ride,
the selue way ichille strecche;
of lif no deth me no recche".
      His sclauine he dede on also spac,
and heng his harpe opon his bac,
and hadde wel god wil to gon:
he no spared noither stub no ston.
In at a roche the leuedis rideth,
and he after, and nouDESCRIPTIONt abideth.
      When he was in the roche ygo
350 wel thre milen other mo,
he com into a fair cuntraye,
as briDESCRIPTIONt so sŏnne on sŏmeres daye,
smothe and plain and al grene,
hille no dale nas non ysene.
Amidde the londe a castel he seiDESCRIPTION,
riche and real and wŏnder heiDESCRIPTION.
Al the vtemaste wal
was cler and schene as cristal;
an hundred tours ther were aboute,
360 degiseliche, and batailed stoute;
the butras com out of the diche,
of rede golde y-arched riche;
the vousour was anourned al
of ich manere diuers animal.
Withinne ther were wide wones
alle of preciouse stones.
The werste piler on to biholde
was maked al of burnissed golde.
Al that lond was euer liDESCRIPTIONt,
370 for when it was the therke niDESCRIPTIONt,
the riche stones liDESCRIPTIONte gŏnne,
as briDESCRIPTIONt as doth at none sŏnne.
No man may telle, no thenche in thouDESCRIPTIONt,
the riche werk that ther was wrouDESCRIPTIONt;
bi alle thing him thinkth it is
the proude court of Paradis.
      In this castel the leuedis liDESCRIPTIONte;
he wolde in after, DESCRIPTIONif he miDESCRIPTIONte.
Orfeo knokketh atte gate,
380 the porter redi was therate,
and asked what his wille were.
"Parfay!" quath he, "icham harpere, [End Page 98]
thi lord to solace with mi gle,
DESCRIPTIONif his swete wille be".
The porter vndede the DESCRIPTIONate anon,
and let him in the castel gon.
      Than gan he biholde abouten al,
and seiDESCRIPTION ther liggeand within the wal
folk that thider were ybrouDESCRIPTIONt,
390 and thouDESCRIPTIONte dede and nere nouDESCRIPTIONt.
Sum ther stode withouten hadde,
and sum no fet no armes nadde,
and sum thurDESCRIPTION bodi hadde wounde,
and sum ther laye wode, ybounde,
and sum y-armed on horse sete,
and sum astrangled as thai ete,
and sum in water were adreinte,
and sum with fire were forschreinte.
Wiues ther laye on childbedde,
400 sum were dede and sum awedde;
and wŏnder fele ther laye bisides,
riDESCRIPTIONt as thai slepe her vndertides.
Eche was thus in this warld ynŏme
and thider with fairie ycŏme.
Ther he seiDESCRIPTION his owen wif,
Dame Heurodis, his leue lif,
slepen vnder an ympe-tre:
bi hir wede he knew that it was he.
      When he biheld thise meruailes alle,
410 he wente into the kinges halle.
Than seiDESCRIPTION he ther a semly siDESCRIPTIONt,
a tabernacle blissful, briDESCRIPTIONt;
therinne her maister king him sete,
and her quene, fair and swete.
Her crounes, her clothes, schine so briDESCRIPTIONte
that vnnethe biholden hem he miDESCRIPTIONte.
      When he hadde biholden al that thing,
he kneled adoune biforn the king,
and seide: "O lord, DESCRIPTIONif thi wille were,
420 mi menstraci thou schulde yhere".
The king answerde: "What man artow
that art hider ycŏmen now?
Ich, no non that is with me,
no sente neuer after the;
seththen that ich her regni gan, [End Page 99]
I no fond neuer so hardi man
that hider to ous durste wende,
but that ichim walde ofsende".
"Lord", quath he, "trowe ful wel,
430 I nam but a pouer menestrel;
and, sir, it is the manere of ous
to seche mani a lordes hous;
theiDESCRIPTION we nouDESCRIPTIONt welcŏme be,
DESCRIPTIONet we mot proferi forth our gle".
      Biforn the king he sat adoune,
and tok his harpe miri of soune,
and tempreth it as he wel can,
and blissfule notes he ther gan,
that alle that in the palais were
440 come to him for to here,
and liggeth adoune to his fete,
hem thenketh his melodie so swete.
The king herkneth and sitt ful stille,
to here his gle he hath god wille;
god bourde he hadde of his gle,
the riche quen also hadde he.
      When he hadde stint harping,
seide to him than the king:
"Menstrel, me liketh wel thi gle.
450 Now aske of me what it be,
largeliche ichil the paye.
Now speke, and tow miDESCRIPTIONt assaye".
"Sir", he seide, "ich biseche the
thattow woldest DESCRIPTIONiue me
that iche leuedi briDESCRIPTIONt on ble
that slepeth vnder the ympe-tre".
"Nay", quath the king, "that nouDESCRIPTIONt nere!
A sori couple of DESCRIPTIONou it were,
for thou art lene, row, and blac,
460 and sche is louesum withouten lac;
a lothlich thing it were forthi
to sen hir in thi cŏmpaini".
      "O sir", he seide, "gentil king,
DESCRIPTIONet were it a wel fouler thing
to here a lesing of thi mouthe,
so, sir, as DESCRIPTIONe seide nouthe,
what ich wolde aski, haue I scholde,
and nedes thi word thou most holde". [End Page 100]
The king seide: "Seththen it is so,
470 take hir bi the hond and go;
of hir ichil thattow be blithe".
He kneled adoune, and thonked him swithe;
his wif he tok bi the honde,
and dede him swithe out of that londe,
and wente him oute of that thede:
riDESCRIPTIONt as he com the way he DESCRIPTIONede.
      So long he hath the way ynŏme,
to Winchester he is ycŏme,
that was his owen citee;
480 ac no man knew that it was he.
No forther than the tounes ende
for knoweleche no durste he wende,
but with a begger in bilt ful narwe
ther he tok his herbarwe
to him and to his owen wif,
as menestrel of pouer lif,
and asked tidinges of that londe
and who the kingdom held in honde.
The pouer begger in his cot
490 tolde him euerich a grot:
hou her quen was stole owy
ten DESCRIPTIONer ygon with faiery;
and hou her king en exile DESCRIPTIONede,
but no man wiste in whiche thede;
and hou the steward the lond gan holde;
and other mani thing him tolde.
      Amorwe, oDESCRIPTIONain the none-tide,
he maked his wif ther abide;
the beggeres clothes he borwed anon,
500 and heng his harpe his rigge opon,
and wente him into that citee,
that men miDESCRIPTIONte him biholde and se.
Erles and barounes bolde,
buriais and leuedis gunne him biholde.
"Lo!" thai seide, "swiche a man!
Hou long the her hongth him opan!
Lo, hou his berd hongth to his kne!
He is yclŏnge also a tre!"
      And as he DESCRIPTIONede bi the strete,
510 with his steward he gan mete,
and loude he sette on him a cri: [End Page 101]
"Sir steward", he seide, "merci!
Icham an harpour of hethenesse;
help me now in this destresse!"
The steward seide: "Cŏm with me, cŏm!
Of that ichaue thou schalt haue sŏm.
Euerich harpour is welcŏme me to
for mi lordes loue Sir Orfeo".
      In castel the steward sat atte mete,
520 and mani lording was bi him sete.
Ther were trŏmpours and tabourers,
harpours fele and crouders.
Miche melodie thai maked alle,
and Orfeo sat stille in halle,
and herkneth. When thai ben al stille,
he tok his harpe and tempred schille,
the blisfulest notes he harped there
that euer man yherde with ere;
ich man liked wel his gle.
530       The steward biheld and gan y-se,
and knew the harpe also bliue.
"Menstrel", he seide, "so mote thou thriue,
wher haddestow this harpe and hou?
I praye thattow me telle now".
"Lord", quath he, "in vncouthe thede,
thurDESCRIPTION a wildernesse as I DESCRIPTIONede,
ther I founde in a dale
with liouns a man totore smale,
and wolues him frete with tethe scharpe.
540 Bi him I find this iche harpe;
wel ten DESCRIPTIONer it is ygo".
"O", quath the steward, "now me is wo!
That was mi lord Sir Orfeo.
Allas! wreche, what schal I do,
that haue swiche a lord ylore?
A way! that euer ich was ybore!
that him was so harde grace yDESCRIPTIONarked,
and so vile deth ymarked!"
Adoune he fel aswon to grounde.
550 His barouns him tok vp in that stounde
and telleth him hou it geth ...
it is no bot of mannes deth.
      King Orfeo knew wel bi than
his steward was a trewe man [End Page 102]
and loued him as he auDESCRIPTIONte do,
and stont vp and seith thus: "Lo,
Steward, herkne now this thing:
DESCRIPTIONif ich were Orfeo the king,
and hadde ysuffred ful DESCRIPTIONore
560 in wildernesse miche sore,
and hadde ywŏnne mi quen owy
out of the londe of faiery,
and hadde ybrouDESCRIPTIONt the leuedi hende
riDESCRIPTIONt here to the tounes ende,
and with a begger her in ynŏme,
and were miselue hider ycŏme
pouerliche to the, thus stille,
for to assaye thi gode wille,
and DESCRIPTIONif ich founde the thus trewe,
570 no schulde thow it neuer rewe:
sikerliche, for loue or aye,
thou schulde be king after mi daye.
And DESCRIPTIONif of mi deth thou hadde ben blithe,
thou schulde haue voided also swithe."
      Tho alle that therinne sete
that it was King Orfeo vnderDESCRIPTIONete,
and the steward him wel yknew;
ouer and ouer the bord he threw,
and fel adoune to his fete;
580 so dede euerich lord that there sete,
and alle seide at o crying:
"DESCRIPTIONe beth our lord, sir, and our king!"
Glade thai weren of his liue.
To chaumbre thai ladde him also bliue,
and bathed him and schof his berd,
and tired him as king apert.
And seththen with gret processioun
thai brouDESCRIPTIONte the quen into the toun
with al manere menstracie.
590 O lord! ther was gret melodie!
For ioie thai wepe with her eiDESCRIPTIONen
that hem so sounde ycŏmen seiDESCRIPTIONen.
      Now Orfeo newe corouned is,
and eke his quen Dame Heurodis,
and longe liued afterward,
and seththen king was the steward. [End Page 103]
      Harpours in Bretaine after than
herde hou this meruaile bigan,
and made herof a lay of god liking
600 and nempned it after the king:
that lay is "Orfeo" yhote,
god is the lay, swete is the note.
Thus com Sir Orfeo out of care.
God graunte ous alle wel to fare.

[Tolkien's editorial note]

There are three MSS. of this poem: A (Auchinleck, before 1350); H (Harley, fifteenth century); B (Bodleian, Ashmole, fifteenth century). The introduction, lines 1-24, and also lines 33-46, are from H. The rest of this version is based on A, though the spelling has in a few points been altered, and final -e has been restored or omitted in accordance with the grammar of earlier Southern English. In a few cases the lines have been emended by small changes, especially of word-order. The result is a much more metrical version than that offered even by MS. A, though several lines (as e.g. 96) remain obviously defective and corrupt. The defective rhymes of the MSS. in lines 81-2 (torett ... witt); 149-50 (on hed ... gold red); 157-8 (palays ... ways); 381-2 (he wolde haue ydo ... a minstrel, lo!) have been remodelled in accordance with evidence supplied by other poems of the same MS. (A) or of similar date and origin. Some rhymes, however, remain defective, as for instance 413 sete (for the sg. sat) with 414 swete.

Sir Orfeo appears to be a translation or adaptation made from a now lost Old French original in the thirteenth century in the South-East of England (that is probably in Essex); but it passed through several hands of copyists, or the mouths of reciters, between the author and the oldest surviving MS., and these, in addition to the corruptions of error and forgetfulness, have infected it with the forms of later language and different dialect: the influence of Northern and (probably) South-Western dialect can be detected in MS. A. The original appears to have used the old native form hye or he for sche and they (thai), though these are the forms used in the MS. in all but a few cases (note the rhyme in 185-6). MS. A uses þ throughout for the th that is here substituted. DESCRIPTION is used for gh in the middle or ends of words; at the beginning of words it is the equivalent of modern y, as also in compounds: as vnderDESCRIPTIONete = underyete, 576.

Comparison of readings

With the exception of Tolkien's substitution of th for þ throughout, his indications of short ŏ, and differences of single vs. double quote, all [End Page 104] differences of orthography, form, word-order, and punctuation between Tolkien's version and Sisam's edition (imprint of 1928) are indicated, as of course are all additions by Tolkien. These notes, therefore, when used in conjunction with Tolkien's Middle English Vocabulary, provide a key to Tolkien's own gloss for nearly all forms. In the few cases where Sisam's edition differs in a significant manner from Bliss's edition (1954), this is also indicated. In these indications citations from Tolkien's version are given in bold before a square bracket; those from the editions follow in italics. Readings from Bliss's edition are preceded by an abbreviation indicating the source MS: A = Auchinleck; B = Ashmole 61 (Bodleian 6922); H = Harley 3810; L = Lay le Freyne (Auchinleck f.261a ff.).

Lines 1-24:— These lines, and ll. 33-46, corrupt in A, are provided by H. Sisam also gives these lines from H.

  1. reden] redyn. finde ywrite] fynde ywryte.
  2. us] H vs. wite] wyte.
  3. harping] harpyng.
  4. ferly] frely. Cf. Sisam's note: "Lai le Freine has ferly 'wondrous'" (208).
  1. ioye] H joy; L ioie.
    Lines 7-8:— These lines follow ll. 9-10 in H. Sisam likwise transposes these lines. This ordering agrees with that of the corresponding lines of L:
    "Sum beþe of wer and sum of wo,
    and sum of ioie and mir
    þe al-so,
    and sum of trecherie and of gile,
    of old auentours
    þat fel while."
  2. trecherie] trechery. gile] gyle.
  3. while] whyle.
  4. bourdes] bourdys. ribaudrie] rybaudry; H rybaudy.
  5. fairie] feyré.
  1. of loue] o loue; H to lowe; L o loue.
  2. Britain thise] Brytayn þis. arn] arne. ywrite] ywryte; H y-wrytt.
  3. first] furst. forth] forþe.
  4. fillen] H fallen.
  5. Britouns] Brytouns.
  6. owher mighte yheren] myght owher heryn; H myDESCRIPTIONt owher heryn.
  7. weren] weryn.
  8. harpes tho with] harpys wiþ.
  9. lay] layes. Cf. Sisam's note: "The curious use of it after the plural [End Page 105] layes is perhaps not original. Lai le Freine has: And maked a lay and yaf it name" (209).
  1. I] Y. telle ] telle, . alle] all.
  2. Herkne, lordinges] Herken, lordyngys.
  3. I] y. Sir] H Syr.
  4. was yore a king] was a king; A was a kinge.
  5. Ingelond a heiDESCRIPTION] Inglond an heiDESCRIPTIONe.
  6. curteis] curteys.
  1. moder com of] moder of.
  2. holde ] yhold, .
  3. auentures] auentours. tolde] told.
    Lines 33-46:— These lines, corrupt in A, are provided by H. Sisam also gives these lines from H.
  • onything] ony þing.
  • loued] louede; H lovede. harping] harpyng.
  • siker] syker. god] gode.harpour] harpoure; H harpure.
  • him] hym. honour] honoure; H honour.
  • Himselue] Hymself. harpe ] harpe, .
  • laide] layde.
  • lerned] lernyd; H lerned.
  • harpour] harper.
  • yborn] born.
  • euer] H onus. Bliss notes that "All editors except Ritson [Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceës, 1802] have printed euer for the onus of the manuscript" (55). beforn] byforn.
  • miDESCRIPTIONte] myDESCRIPTIONt. harpyng] harping. here] H her.
  • were] H wer.
  • ioyes] ioys. Paradis] Paradys.
  • harping] harpyng. suche melodie] suche ioy and melody. Cf. Sisam's note: "ioy and overload the verse, and are probably an unskilful addition to the text" (209).
  • soiourned] soiournd.
  • citee] cité.
    1. He hadde with him] Þe king hadde. pris] priis. With Tolkien's metrically improved version cp. the corresponding lines of H: "He haþ a quene, ful feyre of pris"; and of B: "And with hym hys quen off price."
    2. Heurodis] Herodis; A Heurodis.
    3. leuedi for the nones] leuedi, for þe nones, [End Page 106] .
    5. and godenesse] and of godenisse.
    6. fairnesse] fairnise.
    7. Bifel in] Bifel so in.
    1. schoures] schours.
    2. floures] flours.
    1. iche] ich.
    2. tok to hir maidenes two of pris ] Tok to maidens of priis,. With Tolkien's metrically improved version cp. the corresponding line of H:"Toke with hur ii. maydenes of pris."
    3. wente hir in] went in.
    4. playe] play. orhcard-side] orchard side.
    5. springe] spring.
    6. yhere] here. singe] sing.
    7. sette] sett. doune alle] doun al.
    1. faire] fair.
    2. maidnes durste] maidens durst.
    1. but] bot. reste] rest.
    2. afternon] afternone.
    3. ydon] ydone.
    1. cride] crid.
    1. bledde wet] bled wete.
    2. torende] torett.
    3. rauissed] reuey<se>d; A reueyd. Cf. Sisam's note: "reuey<se>d or some such form of ravished is probably right" (209); and cp. B ravysed. out of mende] out of hir witt.
    4. two] tvo. maidnes] maidens.
    5. durste] durst. hir leng] hir no leng.
    6. but ourne] bot ourn. palais riDESCRIPTIONt] palays ful riDESCRIPTIONt.
    7. tolde] told.
    8. wolde] wold.
    9. bade] bad. atholde] athold.
    10. KniDESCRIPTIONtes and leuedis ourne tho] KniDESCRIPTIONtes vrn, and leuedis also, .
    11. sexti damiseles] damisels sexti. mo;] mo,.
    12. quen] A quene.
    1. to bed hye brouDESCRIPTIONte hir] and brouDESCRIPTIONt hir to bed. laste] last.
    2. helde] held. faste] fast. [End Page 107]
    3. one] o.
    4. wolde] wold. and wende owy] and owy.
    5. herde] herd.
    1. com] come.
    2. chaumbre] chaumber. biforn] bifor.
    3. seide] seyd. pitee] pité.
    4. leue lif] lef liif. Cf. Sisam's note concerning this line: "O lef liif (where the metre indicates leuē for the original)" (287). tee] te.
    1. whit] white.
    1. is now al] is al.
    1. louesome] louesom. two] to.
    1. Let] Lete. rewful] reweful.
    1. helpe] help.
    2. laste] last.
    3. faste] fast.
    4. seide] seyd. kinge] king.
    1. wrothe] wroþ.
    2. but] bot.
    3. lif] liif.
    4. mote] mot. dele atwo] delen ato.
    5. beste] best. I] y.
    1. I] y.
    2. nis.] nis;.
    1. lay in this] lay þis.
    1. two faire] to fair.
    2. wel] wele.
    3. bade] bad. hiDESCRIPTIONing] heiDESCRIPTIONing.
    4. king] A kinge.
    5. answerde] answerd. bolde] bold.
    6. I durste] Y durst; A Y no durst. I nolde] y nold.
    1. damiseles] damisels.
    2. alle] al. snow] snowe.
    3. milk] milke.
    5. faire creatures] fair creatours. [End Page 108]
    6. a croune hadde on his molde] hadde a croun on hed.
    7. rede golde] gold red.
    8. al on] of a.
    9. briDESCRIPTIONte so] briDESCRIPTIONt as.
    10. sone] son.
    11. wolde] wold. nolde[ nold.
    1. palfray] palfray,.
    2. brouDESCRIPTIONte] brouDESCRIPTIONt. palise] palays.
    3. wel atired in iche wise] wele atird in ich ways. With ll. 157-58 cf. Sisam's note: "The original rime was perhaps palys: wys 'wise'" (209); and cp. H palys: y-wys.
    1. riuere, forest] riuers, forestes. Cf. l. 246.
    2. owen] owhen.
    3. seide] said.
    4. dame, that tow] dame, to-morwe þatow. Cf. Sisam's note to l. 102: "assimilation of unlike sounds, as þatow 165 for þat þow" (209).
    5. to-morwe her] riDESCRIPTIONt here. With Tolkien's metrically improved version of ll. 165-66 cp. the corresponding lines of B:"And seyd, 'Madam, loke þat thou be / to-morow here, vnder þys tre."
    1. helpe] help.
    2. theiDESCRIPTION ] þei.
    4. herde] herd.
    1. lif] liif.
    2. wif] wiif.
    3. conseil] conseyl. iche] ich.
    4. helpe him] him help. With Tolkien's metrically improved version cp. the corresponding line of B:"Bot no man helpe hym ne canne."
    1. nŏme] ynome. Cp. H name, B nam.
    2. wel] wele. kniDESCRIPTIONt] kniDESCRIPTIONtes. him,] him.
    1. quene] quen.
    1. iche] ich a.
    2. saide] sayd. wolde ther] wold þere.
    3. die there] dye þer.
    4. schulde] schuld. Cf. l. 225.
    6. quene] quen. ytwiDESCRIPTIONt] ytuiDESCRIPTIONt; A y-tviDESCRIPTIONt. [End Page 109]
    7. faierie was forth] fairi forþ.
    8. niste wher] wist neuer wher. With Tolkien's metrically improved
      version cp. the corresponding line of B:"The ne wyst wer sche was com."
    9. crying] criing. wep] wepe.
    10. chaumbre] chaumber.
    11. ofte] oft.
    1. neiDESCRIPTION ] neiDESCRIPTIONe. lif] liif. was al yspent] was yspent.
    1. erles] erls.
    2. alle] al.
    3. saide] said. biforn] bifor.
    1. oueral] ouer al.
    2. For] For,.
    1. I] y.
    2. wildernesse] wildernes.
    1. vnderstonde] vnderstond. I] y.
    1. thing. A þinge.
    2. weping] wepeing. halle] halle,.
    3. gret] grete.
    5. weping] wepeing. tŏnge] tong.
    6. adoune alle] adoun al.
    7. praide] praid.
    8. schulde fram] schuld nouDESCRIPTIONt fram. Cf. l. 190.
    1. forsok] forsoke.
    2. but] bot. sclauine] sclauin. tok] toke.
    3. nadde no kirtel, no no hod] no hadde kirtel no hode.
    4. scherte, no non other god] schert, <no> no noþer gode.
    5. But] Bot. harpe] harp. took] tok.
    6. of] atte.
    7. moste] most.
    8. wep] wepe.
    9. he that er was king] he, þat hadde ben king. croune] croun,.
    10. wente] went. toune] toun.
    11. Thurgh] Þurch; A Þurth.
    12. wildernesse] wildernes.
    13. aise] ays. [End Page 110]
    14. but] bot. malaise] malais.
    15. He hadde ywered fow and gris] He þat hadde ywerd þe fowe and griis.
    16. bedde purpre bis;] bed þe purper biis,.
    17. harde] hard.
    18. and with gresse him] and gresse he him.
    19. He hadde yhad] he þat hadde had.
    20. riuere] riuer. Cf. l. 160.
    21. now theiDESCRIPTION] now, þei. cŏmsi snewe] comenci to snewe. Cf. Sisam's note to l. 57: "The metre points to . . . comsi in l. 247" (209).
    1. He hadde yhad] He þat had yhad. pris] priis.
    2. bifore] bifor. knelande] kneland. leuedis;] leuedis,.
    1. but] bot.
    2. hadde] had. plentee] plenté.
    3. deintee] deynté.
    1. wilde frute] wild frut.
    2. but] bot.
    1. but] bot. grasses] grases.
    2. ydwine] duine.
    3. misaise] missays. to-chine] tochine.
    4. tellen al the] telle þe.
    5. suffred] sufferd. DESCRIPTIONer] DESCRIPTIONere.
    6. her and berd, al blake] here of his berd, blac.
    7. were] was.
    8. harpe] harp.
    1. and when] and, when. cler] clere.
    2. took] toke. harpe] harp.
    3. owen] owhen.
    1. It is unclear why Tolkien has bracketed "[bestes]." It appears in A, and has no brackets in Sisam.
    1. brere] brere,.
    2. a-fine] afine.
    3. melodie] melody. therine] þerin.
    4. wolde] wold.
    5. nolde] nold.
    7. hote] hot. [End Page 111]
    8. Faierie] fairy. route] rout.
    9. cŏmen hunten] com to hunt. aboute] about.
    10. blowinge] bloweing.
    11. berkinge] wiþ him berking.
    12. neuer] no.
    13. niste] nist.
    1. wel] wele.
    1. manie desplayed] mani desplaid.
    2. ydrawen holde;] ydrawe hold,.
    3. niste] nist. wolde] wold.
    5. come dauncing] com daunceing.
    6. queinte] queynt.
    7. queinte] queynt. softely:] softly;.
    8. trumpes] trunpes. bi] bi,.
    9. manere] maner.
    11. horse] hors.
    12. ris:] ris,—.
    13. nis] þer nis.
    14. honde] hond.
    15. hauking] haukin.
    16. god] gode. haunt:] haunt,.
    17. maulard, hairoun] maulardes, hayroun. cormeraunt.] cormeraunt;.
    18. The] þe.
    19. wel] wele.
    20. praye] pray.
    21. seiDESCRIPTION] seiDESCRIPTIONe. Orfeo] Orfeo,.
    1. ywŏne] ywon.
    2. aros ] aros,.
    1. wel] wele.
    1. owen] owhen. Dame] Dam.
    2. Þerne] Þern. ek] eke.
    3. spek] speke.
    4. misaise] messais. seiDESCRIPTION] seiDESCRIPTIONe. [End Page 112]
    5. hadde] had. heiDESCRIPTION] so heiDESCRIPTIONe.
    6. felle] fel. hir eiDESCRIPTIONen] her eiDESCRIPTIONe.
    1. leng] lenger.
    1. wreche] A wroche. I] y. miDESCRIPTIONte] miDESCRIPTIONt.
    2. die] dye. thissesiDESCRIPTIONte] þis siDESCRIPTIONt.
    3. longe] long. lif] liif.
    4. I] y. wif] wiif.
    1. herte breke!] hert breke?
    2. what] wat.
    3. thise] þis.
    4. ichille strecche] ichil streche.
    5. lif] liif. recche] reche.
    6. sclauine] sclauain.
    7. heng] henge. harpe] harp.
    8. hadde] had. god] gode. gon:] gon,—.
    9. spared] spard.
    1. wel] wele. milen] mile.
    2. cuntraye] cuntray.
    3. sŏmeres daye] somers day.
    1. nas non] nas þer non.
    2. londe] lond. seiDESCRIPTION] siDESCRIPTIONe.
    3. real and] real, and. heiDESCRIPTION] heiDESCRIPTIONe.
    4. vtemaste] vtmast.
    5. cler] clere. schene] schine (cf. the entry Schene in Tolkien's Vocabulary).
    6. aboute] about.
    7. degiseliche] degiselich. batailed stoute] bataild stout.
    1. golde] gold.
    2. anourned] anow<rn>ed. A auowed. Cf. Bliss's note that "Sisam's emendation to anow[rn]ed fails to carry conviction" (54).
    3. manere] maner. animal] A aumal; see the Appendix.
    4. Withinne] Wiþin. were] wer.
    5. alle] al. preciouse] precious.
    6. werste] werst.
    7. maked al] al. burnissed golde] burnist gold.
    1. was the therke] schuld be þerk and. [End Page 113]
    3. none sŏnne] none þe sonne.
    1. alle] al. thinkth] þink þat.
    2. wolde] wold. miDESCRIPTIONte] miDESCRIPTIONt.
    1. redi was] was redi.
    2. his wille were] he wold haue ydo.
    3. harpere,] a minstrel, lo!Cf. Sisam's note to this line): "The line is too long" (210).
    4. thi lord to solace] To solas þi lord.
    1. let] lete. in] into.
    2. gan he] he gan. biholde] bihold. abouten] about.
    3. seiDESCRIPTION ther] seiDESCRIPTIONe†ful†. Sisam indicates with daggers that ful in this line is a corruption; he suggests that perhaps "ful should be deleted as a scribe's anticipation of folk in the next line" (210-11).
    4. folk] of folk (see previous note). thider were] were þider.
    5. thouDESCRIPTIONte dede] þouDESCRIPTIONt dede,. nere] nare.
    6. ther stode] stode. hadde] hade.
    7. no fet no armes nadde] non armes nade.
    8. thurDESCRIPTIONþurch; A þurth.bodi] þe bodi.
    9. ther laye] lay.
    10. y-armed] armed. horse] hors.
    1. in water were adreinte] were in water adreynt.
    2. were forschreinte] al forschreynt.
    3. laye] lay.
    4. were dede] ded,.
    5. laye] lay.
    1. and thider with fairie] wiþ fairi þider.
    2. seiDESCRIPTION] seiDESCRIPTIONe. owen wif] owhen wiif.
    3. leue liif] lef liif.
    4. slepen] slepe.
    5. hir wede] her cloþes. knew] knewe.

      409. When he biheld thise meruailes] And when he hadde bihold þis meruails.

    6. wente] went.
    8. blissful, briDESCRIPTIONt;] blisseful and briDESCRIPTIONt.. [End Page 114]
    9. therinne] Þerin. him sete] sete.
    10. quene,] quen.
    12. biholden hem he miDESCRIPTIONte] bihold he hem miDESCRIPTIONt.
    1. adoune biforn] adoun bifor. king,] king..
    2. and seide: "O lord, DESCRIPTIONif thi wille were] "O lord," he seyd, "DESCRIPTIONif it þi wille were." Cf. Sisam's note to l. 382: "l. 419 may once have been: And seyd 'Lord, DESCRIPTIONif þi wille were.'" (210); also note B: "And seyd: 'Lord, and þi wyll were."
    3. schulde] schust.
    4. answerde] answerd. artow] artow.
    1. sente] sent.
    2. her] here.
    3. I] Y. hardi] folehardi.
    4. durste] durst.
    5. but] bot. walde] wald.
    1. I] Y. but] bot. menestrel] menstrel.
    2. manere] maner.
    1. theiDESCRIPTION] þei. welcŏme] welcom no.
    3. Biforn] Bifor. adoune] adoun.
    4. harpe miri] harp so miri. soune] soun.
    5. it] his harp,. wel] wele.
    6. blissfule] blisseful.
    7. alle] al. palais] palays.
    8. come] com.
    9. adoune] adoun.
    10. melodie] melody.
    1. god] gode.
    2. god] gode.
    1. stint harping] stint his harping.
    2. seide to him than] þan seyd to him.
    3. wel] wele; A wel.
    1. largeliche] largelich. paye] pay.
    2. assaye] asay.
    3. seide] seyd.
    4. thattow] þatow. [End Page 115]
    5. iche leuedi] ich leuedi,. ble] ble,.
    6. row] rowe.
    1. louesum] louesome,.
    1. cŏmpaini] compayni.
    2. seide] seyd.
    3. DESCRIPTIONet] DESCRIPTIONete. wel] wele.
    1. seide] seyd.
    2. wolde] wold. I scholde] y schold.
    3. thi word thou most holde] þou most þi word hold.
    4. seide] seyd.
    5. hond] hond,.
    6. thattow] þatow.
    7. adoune] adoun. Sisam begins a new paragraph with this line.
    8. wif] wiif. honde] hond.
    9. londe] lond.
    10. wente] went. oute] out. thede:] þede,—.
    11. com] come.
    1. owen citee] owhen cité.
    2. knew] knewe.
    1. no durste he] <he> no durst.
    2. but] bot. in bilt] y<n> bilt; A y-bilt. narwe] narwe,.
    3. herbarwe] herbarwe,.
    4. owen wif] owhen wiif.
    5. menestrel] a minstrel. lif] liif.
    6. londe] lond,.
    7. honde] hond.
    8. cot] cote.
    9. tolde] told.
    1. ygon] gon. faiery] fairy.
    1. but] bot. wiste] nist.
    2. holde] hold.
    3. thing] þinges. tolde] told.
    4. oDESCRIPTIONain the none-tide] oDESCRIPTIONain nonetide.
    5. wif] wiif.
    6. beggeres] beggers.
    7. harpe] harp.
    8. wente] went. citee] cité. [End Page 116]
    9. miDESCRIPTIONte] miDESCRIPTIONt. biholde] bihold.
    10. Erles] Erls. barounes bolde] barouns bold.
    11. buriais] buriays. gunne him biholde] him gun bihold.
    12. Lo!] Lo,. seide] seyd.
    13. her hongth] here hongeþ.
    14. hongth] hongeþ.
    15. yclŏnge] yclongen.
    16. bi] in. H has by.
    1. sette] sett. cri] crie.
    2. seide] seyd.
    3. hethenesse] heþenisse.
    1. seide] seyd. cŏm!] come;.
    2. sŏm] some.
    3. Euerich harpour] Euerich gode harpour. welcŏme] welcom. to] to,.
    1. In castel] In þe castel.
    1. trŏmpours] trompour<s>.
    2. fele] fele,.
    3. melodie] melody.
    4. in halle] in þe halle.
    1. tok] toke. harpe] harp.
    2. blisfulest] bli<sse>fulest.
    3. euer man yherde] euer ani man yherd.
    4. wel] wele.
    5. y-se] yse.
    6. knew] knewe. harpe] harp. also] als.
    7. seide] seyd. mote] mot.
    8. wher haddestow] where hadestow. harpe] harp,.
    9. I praye thattow] Y pray þat þou.
    1. thurDESCRIPTION] þurch; A þurth. wildernesse] wildernes. I] y.
    2. I] y.
    3. liouns] lyouns. tortore] totorn.
    4. tethe scharpe] teþ so scharp.
    5. I find] y fond. iche harpe] ich harp.
    6. wel] wele. DESCRIPTIONer] DESCRIPTIONere.
    1. I] y.
    1. that euer ich] that ich.
    2. harde] hard. [End Page 117]
    1. Adoune] Adoun.
    2. stounde] stounde,.
    3. geth ...] geþ.
    4. is] nis. mannes] manes; A mannes.
    5. knew wel] knewe wele.
    1. auDESCRIPTIONte do] auDESCRIPTIONt to do.
    2. seith] seyt.
    1. wildernesse] wildernisse.
    2. ywŏnne] ywon.
    3. londe] lond. faiery] fairy.
    1. miselue] miself.
    2. pouerliche] pouerlich.
    3. assaye] asay.
    4. and DESCRIPTIONif ich] and ich.
    5. no schulde thow] þou no schust.
    6. sikerliche] sikerlich. aye] ay.
    7. schulde] schust. daye] day.
    8. of mi deth thou hadde] þou of mi deþ hadest.
    9. schulde] schust.
    10. alle] al þo. therinne] þerin.
    1. wel yknew] wele knewe.
    2. threw] þrewe.
    3. adoune] adoun. fete] fet.
    4. there] þer.
    5. alle seide] al þai seyd. crying] criing.
    1. Glade] Glad. weren] were.
    2. chaumbre] chaumber. also bliue] als biliue.
    3. him] him,. schof] schaued.
    4. as king] as a king.
    1. brouDESCRIPTIONte] brouDESCRIPTIONt. toun] toun,.
    2. manere menstracie] maner menstraci.
    3. O lord!] Lord!gret melodie] grete melody.
    6. Now Orfeo] Now King Orfeo. corouned] coround.
    7. and eke his] and his.
    8. longe liued afterward,] liued long afterward;. [End Page 118]
    9. king was] was king.
    1. herde] herd.
    2. god liking] gode likeing,.
    3. king:] king;.
    4. is "Orfeo"] "Orfeo" is.
    5. god] gode.
    6. out of care] out of his care.
    7. graunte] graunt. wel] wele.

    Revisions to the printed text of 1944

    Tolkien's pencilled revisions (incorporated into text)

    l. 75: afternone > afternon

    l. 76: ydone > ydon

    l. 96: and owy > and wende owy

    l. 281: Hi > He

    l. 309: haunt > haunt:

    l. 600: nemoned > nempned

    l. 11: se > se, l. 456: ympe-tre." > ympe-tre".
    l. 70: Vnder > vnder l. 457: "Nay," > "Nay",
    l. 192: ytwiDESCRIPTIONt > ytwiDESCRIPTIONt, l. 521: tabourers > tabourers,
    l. 323: DESCRIPTIONerne > DESCRIPTIONerne l. 533: Wher > wher
    l. 381: were > were. l. 568: wille > wille,
    l. 391: sum > Sum l. 582: DESCRIPTIONe > DESCRIPTIONe
    l. 452: assaye." > assaye". l. 587: and > And
    l. 453: "Sir," > "Sir", Note: Auchinlech > Auchinleck [End Page 119]

    Editorial changes

    Appendix: Revisions to Sisam's Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose due to Tolkien

    The first edition (1922) of Tolkien's Middle English Vocabulary contains the following corrigenda to Sisam's text:

    p. xlv, l. 7: for carat read caret

    p. xlvii: for Jessop read Jessopp

    p. 21, l. 259: for be read he

    p. 28, l. 493: for enn read en

    p. 43, footnote to l. 69: omit "for:"

    p. 62, l. 100: for tyste read t<r>yste (Morris); and adjust note at p. 225.

    p. 103, l. 254: for largeand read large and

    p. 175, l. 1: for Daib. read Diab. [sic; l. 1 of the page, but l. 99 of the poem —CFH]

    p. 214, note to a: for "The best . . . are" read "This poem is largely a translation of sentences excerpted from Rolle's Incendium Amoris, cc. xl-xli (Miss Allen in Mod. Lang. Review for 1919, p. 320). Useful commentaries are"

    p. 226, note to l. 153: in l. 8 for toline read to

    p. 243, n. to ll. 5-6: for "external covering" read "covering over it"

    p. 291, table, last column, 1 sg.: for "-e or (e)s" read "(e) or (e)s"

    Sisam's text was corrected in exact accordance with these corrigenda when it was reprinted in 1923.

    In 1945 (according to Bliss, see below; the earliest example I have seen is in the 1946 impression), the entry Animal (Sir Orfeo l. 364) in the Vocabulary was altered from:

    Animal, n. animal, ii 364. [OFr. animal.]

    in the first edition (1922) to:

    Animal, n. ii 364, a misreading for aumal q.v.

    at the same time adding this entry:

    Aumal, n. enamel, ii 364. [OFr. aumail.]

    Line 364 of Sisam's text of Sir Orfeo was corrected accordingly by 1967 (but not as of 1950). Presumably at the same time animal was emended to aumal, the following was added to Sisam's notes on Sir Orfeo (Sisam 1967 210): [End Page 120]

    364. aumal, "enamel." Holthausen's correction for animal (Anglia, vol. xlii, p. 427) is confirmed by the MS.

    The reference is to the following in Holthausen's 1918 article, "Zum mittelenglischen Romanzen" ("On the Middle English Romances"):

    Animal ist sinnlos, O bietet amell, H metalle. Ersteres wird richtig sein, vgl. das NED. unter amel "email." Natürlich wäre hier emal zu schreiben.

    Animal is senseless, [MS Ashmole 51] offers amell, [MS Harley 3810] metalle. The first would be correct, compare the OED under amel "enamel." It would be natural to write emal here.

    Holthausen's misgivings about animal are apparently motivated solely by a judgment that it yields an inappropriate sense. There is no indication in his article that he based his proferred reading, emal, on an examination of the Auchinleck MS itself.

    By contrast, Bliss, in his first edition of Sir Orfeo (1954), reading directly from the MS, gives the form as aumal (32), noting:

    364.All editors have printed animal for aumal, although there are only five minims in the manuscript, and although the noun animal is not recorded until the end of the sixteenth century (OED s.v.). The correct reading was pointed out by Professor J. R. R. Tolkien (A Middle English Vocabulary, impression of 1945, s.v. animal) .(54)

    However, in the second edition (1966), Bliss revised this note to read:

    364. All editors have printed animal for aumal, although there are only five minims in the manuscript, and although the noun animal is not recorded until the end of the sixteenth century (OED s.v.). The correct reading was first published by Professor C. L. Wrenn, TPS [Transactions of the Philological Society] (1943), 33. See RES [Review of English Studies] N.S. viii (1957), 58 footnote 4 (54).

    (The citation in Wrenn reads: "Auchinlek's anmal, then, may well be an error for aumal (u and n scribal confusion), which is a quite plausible form of amal," that of RES is to Tolkien's student and protégé S.R.T.O. d'Ardenne's review of the first edition of Bliss's Sir Orfeo, to which the RES editor supplied this footnote: "The reading aumal seems to have been published first by Professor C. L. Wrenn in 'The Value of Spelling as Evidence,' Trans. Phil. Soc., 1943, p. 33; but the manuscript had been so read by Miss S. I. Tucker in 1938.") [End Page 121]

    Hence, although Sisam's note correctly refers to Holthausen as first noticing the difficulty with the reading animal, it was not he but Wrenn who first published the correct MS reading aumal. It appears that Wrenn, not Tolkien, was ultimately responsible for the change in the Vocabulary—that Tolkien's Middle English version of Sir Orfeo, printed in 1944, has the reading animal suggests that he did not himself arrive at the correct reading aumal before 1944, and thus after Wrenn—but it may be presumed that it was Tolkien who was proximately responsible for it. It is interesting to note that Tolkien's English translation of l. 364 (Tolkien 1975 131), "with beasts and birds and figures horned," shows that he still read animal when he made the translation, suggesting that he made his translation before 1945.


    I am grateful to Wayne Hammond for providing me with a photocopy of Tolkien's Middle English version of Sir Orfeo, and for suggesting this study of it. I am further grateful to Wayne and to Christina Scull and Arden R. Smith for their assistance in the pursuit of various references and in researching the revisions to Tolkien's Vocabulary and Sisam's reader. I also thank the Tolkien Estate for their very kind permission to republish the complete text of Tolkien's version of Sir Orfeo.


    1. In his preface to Sir Gawain, Christopher Tolkien notes that at that time (1975) he was "not able to discover any writing by my father on the subject of Sir Orfeo" other than the "very brief factual note on the text" that is given in the introduction (8). He was unaware at that time of the existence of his father's Middle English version (private correspondence). (Tolkien did in fact leave some writings on the poem, not seen by this editor, now held by the Bodleian Library.)

    2. A judgment notably not shared by Sisam, who describes its dialect as South-Western (cf. 13, 207).

    3. This despite the restructuring of sentences sometimes required by verse translation. It should be noted, however, that it will be argued below that the formatting and punctuation of the Middle English version is due to that of Sisam's edition; hence that of Tolkien's translation may also be due to Sisam, directly or indirectly. [End Page 122]

    Works Cited

    Bliss, A. J., ed. Sir Orfeo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954.

    ——. Sir Orfeo. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

    Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

    d'Ardenne, S.R.T.O. Review of Sir Orfeo, edited by A. J. Bliss. Review of English Studies, New Series VIII (1957): 57-59.

    Hammond, Wayne G. and Douglas A. Anderson. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1993.

    Holthausen, F. "Zum mittelenglischen Romanzen," sec. VIII. Anglia XLII (1918): 425-29.

    Sisam, Kenneth. Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921. I also make specific reference to the imprints of 1923, 1928, 1946, 1950, and 1967, each of which was (slightly) revised from previous versions. Where no imprint is specified, references apply to any of these imprints.

    Tolkien, J.R.R. A Middle English Vocabulary. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1922. I also make specific reference to the imprint of 1945, which was (slightly) revised from previous versions. Where no imprint is specified, references apply to any of these imprints.

    Tolkien, J.R.R., trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Introduction by J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited with a preface by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.

    [Tolkien, J.R.R., ed]. Sir Orfeo. Oxford: The Academic Copying Office, 1944.

    Wrenn, C. L. "The Value of Spelling as Evidence." Transactions of the Philological Society (1943): 14-39.

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