Monday, April 03, 2006

Adam Lay Bound

Mary, Queen of Heaven, c. 1485-1500

I was so longwinded yesterday that I've made myself promise to be brief today.

In that spirit, I offer this short lyric from the late fourteenth or fifteenth century, borrowed from my Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th edition, 2000):
Adam Lay Ybounden

Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond,
Four thousand winter thoughte he not too long;
And al was for an apple, an apple that he took,
As clerkes finden writen, writen hire book.
Ne hadde the apple taken been, the apple taken been,
Ne hadde nevere Oure Lady ybeen hevene Queen.
Blessed be the time that apple taken was:
Therefore we mown singen Deo Gratias. (354)

I think that this little poem is fairly clear, but just in case not:

Adam Lay Bound

Adam lay bound, bound in a bond,
Four thousand winter thought he not too long;
And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,
As clerks find written, written in their book.
Had not the apple taken been, the apple taken been,
Never had Our Lady been heaven's Queen.
Blessed be the time that apple taken was:
Therefore we may sing Deo Gratias.
My Norton Anthology says: "Adam Lay Bound cheerfully treats the original sin as though it were a child's theft of an apple, which had the happy result of making Mary the queen of Heaven" (350).

I think "cheerfully" the wrong word. Perhaps "gratefully"? And I don't quite sense the original sin here as a sort of "child's theft of an apple." The "happy result" seems on the mark, though, for this little poem presents an interesting variant on the Medieval Christian belief in the "fortunate fall," or "felix culpa." Ordinarily, the theology expressed by the felix culpa view presented our fall (culpa) as happy (felix) because it resulted in God becoming man. By contrast, this little poem presents woman becoming ... well, sort of a 'goddess.'

Ironically, it seems, Eve got her way, for through her did woman "become as gods."

That, after all, is the somewhat obscured message behind even the usual felix culpa idea, that by taking the apple, mankind got the godhood that it desired, for the Son became man so that man might become god (cf. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54.3).

For a somewhat different version, probably modernized, of Adam Lay Ybounden, see Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), Page # 163. Also, a somewhat modernized version can be heard online at a site sponsored by Mallard Music.

And so, my duckies, that's it for today...


At 11:21 PM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

And yet, the funny thing is the tradition of believing the fruit was an apple (a product of northern climes) when it was more likely a tropical fruit such as a pomegranite. ;o)

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hadn't thought about that.

I'm not sure when the apple interpretation entered the tradition, but it's convenient that the Latin "malum" can mean both "apple" and "evil."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's interesting about the apple/evil thing, but I think it actually had to have been the Hatch, New Mexico green chile, as that is God's most perfect fruit...

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James, wouldn't that be the fruit of the tree of life instead?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tree of life. Yes. After dipping into my reserves of last year's harvest, I see that you are correct.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger wardean said...

The use of the apple was meant to make the story of Adam and Eve more universal. Most common folk had seen an apple and could picture it clearly, unlike a tropical fruit.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose it was fairly common.

Jeffery Hodges

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