I Syng of A Mayden – Analysis – 1

We continue this week with our transcription of Allen’s January 7, 1980 “Basic Poetics” class, which starts off with some detailed (one might even argue, obsessive) attention to prosody (to meter and language and sounding and emphasis), specifically with regard to the early English anonymous lyric –“I Syng of A Mayden” (Allen’s confession – “I’m still trying to get that poem sounding right”). Always with these transcriptions we try to provide a link to the original audio, in this case, something that’s especially important. 
It’s one thing to read these words, but transcription can only go so far. You need to actually hear the subtle distinctions here that he’s making.  

[Audio for the following can be heard here, beginning at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-four minutes in]  

AG: So how would this go finally? – “I syng of a mayden that is makeles” – “makeles”? – “King of alle kinges/To here son che ches” – “Sone” also? – we got “son”. Now, okay, “”To her son she ches” – The version here on (page) 1306 in (the) Norton (Anthology) is almost identical with the version in the Oxford book (Oxford Book of English Verse) but the Oxford book also has an “e” at the end of “son” (S-O-N-E). Does anybody know how to interpret that one? . So it’d be “to her sone” that she chose – “Son”? or “Sone”?
Student: It used to be “son”
AG: Son. The “e” on the end wouldn’t change it?
Student: Normally, if the “e” comes directly before a vowel sound it’s not pronounced. In this case it’s (aspirated “e”) – That’s normally, but over-ruling that…
AG: Well, it might be alright either way. See, I don’t know. That’s why (I was wondering) is there an expert in the house? – “I syng of a mayden that is makeles/king of alle kinges/to here son she ches..” – that’s alright – “for here son as she ches” – “to her son..” – “king of alle kings/to here son as she ches” – “king of alle kings/to here son as she chus” – it’s fine. In fact “king of alle kings/to here son she ches” cuts it a litle too short at that point, so I don’t know. Alas, I’m not scholar enough to teach you correctly on this but I’m inquisitive enough to arouse curiosity (at least in myself) – So, “I syng of a mayden that is makeles/king of alle kinges/to here son she ches/He cam also stille/Ther his moda was..” (Mother – M-O-D-A?) – He cam also stille/Ther his moda was/As dew in Aprille/ That fallith on the gras/
He cam also stille/To his modas bower,/As dew in Aprille/That fallith on the flower,/He cam also stille/There his moda lay/As dew in Aprille/That fallith on the spray.” –
“Moda” and “Myden” (no, Muda and Mayden (M-A-Y-D-E-N)) Muda and Myden? Mother and Myden?“Moder and Myden was..” – “Moder and mayden/Was never non but che/Wel may swich a lady/Godes moder be” – “Godes moder be (G-O-D-E-S) – [to Student] – Do we have “God his mother be'” here?
Student: Yes
AG: In the original..
Student:  G-O-D-E-S
AG: Yes. “Godes moder be” – I guess the editors here had to make all these different choices and try and get it straight, working at a different language, but the original really sounds good.
So I wanted to, once all the way through now. If I can get it straight – I’ll try and remember all the.. (It’s like interpreting a symphony, you know).  Get ready – Okay – “Mayden”..”I..” – What about syng” (S-Y-N-G)? – How would John Lennon say it? (“I sang of a maiden”)  – “syne“? “sing“? – “sing”, I guess.
Student: What about “was”?
AG:  (The) line’s sense ?
Student; “He was”?
AG: Yes? – Well “was”, G-R-A-S here (it’s spelt G-R-A-S here). By the way, “falleth” – the “f” here – F-A-L-L-Y-T in the spelling in this book, spelling in the Oxford Book – “that fallyt..” – That’s why I was saying that fallyt  on the gras“,”that fallyt on the flower“, “that fallyt on the spray“. It’s is not “falleth, butfallyt”, apparently – You know that one?
Student: Yes, as in the “thorn(s) of death”, and it’s pronounced “t”
AG: It is pronounced “t-h”? (the “t” is pronounced “t-h”?),  so we can state…
Student: It’s crossed, it’s not a straight letter “t”.
AG: Well, no, I guess it’s not Old English, it’s Old English printed in the Oxford books with the English typeface. So I’m baffled beyond that. [to Student] -Do you know Old English well enough to…  Where did you study it?
Student:  (I’ve just been reading a lot)
AG: Could you get a book that has the original .. in the original..
Student: It’s in Carleton Brown’s Religious Lyrics of the Fifteenth Century
AG: Could you get a hold of that?
Student:  I have a copy. Oddly enough it’s printed not in short lines but in a split line..
AG: Oh!
Student: (the) Anglo-Saxon, and I’m not sure, but that’s probably how it occurs in the manuscript. You normally do (take from) the manuscript, unless the manuscript’s in prose, or something)
AG:  Okay. Could you bring that in?
Student: Sure
AG: So the next stage of our examination of this poem, we’ll get back, further and further back to the original. It’s like unravelling of a woolen sleeve, it’s like… great… I always liked this poem but I’ve never understood. So now it’s a way of getting around, getting into it. So bring that in next time. Maybe we’ll get it up on the (black)board (because it’s short enough), if it’s in, like, the Anglo-Saxon’s split-line (that we did) so, put it up on the board with the right spelling. Okay?

AG:[to Student] What’s your name? [Student answers] – Are you in the class also?
[Student: Yes] – Are you in the class regularly? -[Student: Yes] – Okay. Great
AG: Where did you study Anglo-Saxon? – 
[Student:  Anglo-Saxon I studied on my own..]
AG: Where did you get your..?
[Student: London, Ontario] – Where? – Ontario]
AG: Yeah –  Where’s Wilfred Laurier University?  near Toronto.
Student (2):  (Is it in) Guelph?
AG: Uh?
Student (2): I think it’s in Guelph  [Editorial note – Wilfred Laurier University is a public university based in Waterloo, Ontario. It has several other campuses, including Brantford, Kitchener, and Toronto, Ontario]

AG: That reminds me. I will be absent  the first week of February. Peter (Orlovsky) and I and Steven Taylor, a musician, are going to play,do a night club tour – Philadelphia and.. main point, Philadelphia, and then Passims on Harvard Square for that week, and also Wilfred Laurier University. So I’ll do the class on the 30th and 31st, and then Friday, the first of February, I leave, and then I’ll be back (so I’ll miss two classes), and be back for the Monday class the following week – on the 11th, is that? — I think so – yes – We’ll figure (out) something.. I’ll figure a substitute, or we’ll figure some project to do over that week, some reading project, or else a substitute teacher. Actually, it might be interesting if we can get somebody that knows some older English to go… or some angle that I don’t know, to work with that.

So, I’m still trying to get that poem sounding right.

Shall we try it again – in unison? – again – Remember the Cockney – “mayden”, (remember) the”e’s are pronounced – We’re going to pronounce the “sone”? – what was it? – what was that word that I was going to…. “sone“! – I think we’re going to put it as sort of .. [to Student, regarding the editors of the Norton anthology] – What do they do? –  They don’t do anything with that. They left the “e” off,  so they haven’t really decided themselves – Okay (Allen leads a group unison reading)

Ah! I didn’t get it right in the end! I… “Wel may swich a lady/Godes modere” – Is that right? “Godes moder be” – Wel may swich a lady/Godes moder be”“Wel may such a lady..“, “Wel may such a lady – Right! -“Wel may /such a lady/Godes moder be” (that makes it sound right) “Wel may a lady/Godes moder be”. (So, if you say “such”…)

Student: That’s like “Wel..”

AG: Okay,”Wel may swich a lady/Godes moder be” – “Wel may swich a lady/Godes moder be” – That would be great that way. See, it’s just like if you’re developing a photograph, like you’re developing a negative, developing a photograph. If you develop the signification, the significance of what’s being said, you begin developing all sorts of  more interesting accents, and also you begin developng more all sorts of interesting tones – tones – all sorts of interesting tones – which leads on to another subject to pick up on (but I just want to get the accent enriched) –“Wel may swich a lady/Godes moder..” (Well may such a lady..),yeah, I thought of it the other day. Yes?

Student: It’s “mayden“? Would it be ‘maiden..”?

AG: Okay..Well, except it says “lady” here, even. Is that the one… but they do say “lydie” in there  – “Lords and Lydies”, “Lydies and Gentlemen..” – Well, it might be. It could be endless. I mean, you’d really have to know more English than I know – “Moder and mayden/Was never non but che..” – O, “Moder and mayden” was never.. there was never such a mother and maiden as..she – “Moder and mayden/Was never non ..

Student:  “but che”

AG: Yeah – “Moder and mayden“.. “Moder and mayden” – You see? Mother and Virgin – Mother and Virgin – “Mother and maiden/Was never non..” “Mother and mayden/Was never non., but she?” no – “Moder and mayden/Was never non but che” –how would you say that? -there was never anyone but her – “Moder and maiden/Was never non – but che” (I would say) “but never” – “was never non but che” – Yeah, “Moder and mayden/Was never non, but che” 
It really begins to make sense that way  – “Moder and mayden/Was never..”,  “Moder something like that. Does that make sense? –
Moder and mayden/Was never non but..” “…Was never non but che” (yeah, “never” would be heavier than “none” “Moder and mayden/Was never non but che”  (never one)

Student: They say “none”

AG: There was never no-one but her, you know.  What?

Student: You could accent the “non

AG: Well, I would say, the “never” is more heavier.. It’s like “was never one but.. one.. there was never a mother and maiden like her. There never was a mother and a maiden but that one. So. Mother and mayden would never.. there was never none.. there was never none but she.. They choose it, but it could be.. but, anyway, you would have to fill it with flavor of accent of some sort. Yeah?

Student: I thought it was saying that mother and she were never..none but mother and baby

AG: Well, okay, what does it mean then? – You see, in order to know how to pronounce it, you’ve got to figure out what it means!

Student: (You were saying it was mother and a maiden?)

AG: Now, wait. I assumed it was a mother that is someone who gave birth, (or someone who was pregnant and became mother)  and maiden (virgin). Mother and virgin..is “makeles“, right (“makeles” is without a mate ). Mother and maiden..

Student:  Therefore none but mother and maiden.

AG: Well then, how would you accent it if you wanted to give it your significance then? – Mother and Maiden..

Student: Never none but she

AG: Never none but she?

Student (2): She wasn’t…   (She was the only one)

AG: Right!  – That would be (better). Mother and Maiden was never one but she -“Mother and Mayden was never one but she” – if you really want to… That’s pretty good – “was never none but she”. But then, when you get it that way, “Mother and mayden was never none but she”, it really gets pretty. It gets prettier and prettier. That is, the more you find out what it means, and the more you pronounce the.. the more you accent it according to what it means, the prettier the rhythmic subtlety comes and the prettier the whole construction, the whole machine becomes (particularly if you’re then considering what you do to set it to music – “Moder and mayden/ Was never non but che” [Allen makes up a melody and sings it] – it suggests all sorts of things. And if “but” is accented, then that would mean, if you were making it into melody, it would be a higher pitch – “Was never non but che” – because there is also this consideration.

[Audio for the above can be heard – and should be heard – here, beginning at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-four minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *