A Selection of English Carols

A Selection of English Carols

A Selection of English Carols

A Selection of English Carols

Excerpt

The carol is now universally accepted as one of the important forms of Middle English poetry. It is generally recognized on the basis of musical as well as literary and historical evidence that in England in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries the word 'carol' denotes a poem for singing, on whatever subject, in uniform stanzas and provided with a burden, a choral element which is sung at the beginning of the piece and repeated after every stanza. The acceptance of this definition results in the recognition of a well-defined corpus of some five hundred preserved carols, of which many are found in more than one version and about a quarter are provided with written music. Within this general verse-form many variations occur, but one formula is particularly prominent, that of a couplet burden rhyming with the last line of a tail-rhyme stanza of the form a a a b and with four measures to the line, as in this example (E.E.C., No. 27B):

Mane, be glad in halle and bowre;
This time is bore oure Saviour.

Al on this tyme God hath ows ysent
Hys oune Son on a present,
To dwell wyt ous in verement,
To be owre help and oure socoure.

It is this metrical form, rather than, as in modern usage, a content in some way or other connected with the Christmas season, that is the mark of the carol for the Middle Ages, as is clearly shown by the concluding stanzas of some of the poems of the fifteenth-century chaplain John Audelay, for example, a piece invoking a blessing on the young Henry VI (E.E.C., No. 428):

I pray youe, seris, of your gentre,
Syng this carol reverently,
Fore hit is mad of Kyng Herre;
Gret ned fore him we han to pray.

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