I’ve started reading Michael Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets as light relief after the academic rigours of my research dissertation. Lots of good things in it, not least of which is the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in my reading. Like William Dunbar – apart from ‘Lament for the Makars’, he’d scarcely registered on my poetic radar before. But prompted by Schmidt’s enthusiasm (the essential ingredient in any literary criticism worth bothering with) I picked up The Golden Targe this morning and this is what I found:
Quhen gone to bed war vesper and lucyne
I raise and by a rosere did me rest
Wp sprang the goldyn candill matutyne
With clere depurit bemes cristallyne
Glading the mery foulis in thair nest
Or phebus was in purpur cape reuest
Wp raise the lark the hevyns menstrale fyne
In may / in till a morow myrthfullest
Full angellike thir birdis sang thair houris
Within thair courtyns grene in to thair bouris.
Apparalit quhite and rede wyth blomes suete
Anamalit was the felde wyth all colouris
The perly droppis schake in silvir schouris.
Quhill all in balme did branch and leuis flete
To part fra phebus did aurora grete
Hir cristall teris I saw hyng on the flouris
Quhilk he for lufe all drank vp wyth his hete
For mirth of may wyth skippis and wyth happis.
The birdis sang vpon the tender croppis
With curiouse note as venus chapell clerkis
The rosis yong new spreding of thair knopis
War powderit bryt with hevinly beriall droppis
Throu bemes rede birnyng as ruby sperkis.
The skyes rang for schoutyng of the larkis
The purpur hevyn our scailit in silvir sloppis
Ourgilt the treis branchis lef & barkis
Magical, isn’t it? I can’t remember the last time I was so entranced by a poetic sunrise. All those sparkling ‘cristall teris’, ‘ruby sperkis’ and ‘clere depurit bemes cristallyne’. And then the wonderfully twee medieval domesticity of ‘Glading the mery foulis in thair nest’.
Apparently there’s plenty more where that came from, but I almost daren’t read the whole thing as it’s bound to disappoint. Allegory usually does – sugaring the pill with poetry, then leaving you with a nasty doctrinal aftertaste.
If you’re prepared to risk it, there’s a beautiful online edition of The Golden Targe, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
PS I learn from Wikipedia that Dunbar was responsible for the first appearances in print of both the ‘F’ word AND the ‘C’ word! Nobody’s perfect though – apparently he was a bit of a miserable queynte.