Poem of the Day

 

The Bridal Morn

The maidens came
When I was in my mother’s bower;
I had all that I would.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
The silver is white, red is the gold:
The robes they lay in fold.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
And through the glass window shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

I am looking for poems I have not read before in The Oxford Book of English Poetry and this was the one I stopped at and stayed with today. Something about it seemed mournful and I got interested in that, given that it is ‘The Bridal Morn’. At first the bride seems content, her maidens – girlfriends –  coming to her in her mother’s room, and ‘I had all that I would.’

The refrain – chorus, as we might call it now in a song – seems to be about the stuff the wedding day – bells, flowers…

The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

I think ‘the bailey’ is the bailiff – the  operations manager of the castle where this young woman lives – so I’m reading the first line of the chorus as  ‘the bailiff’s getting the bell rung…’   That might not be right – could ‘beareth the bell away’ mean really pealing it, really chiming it out? – mainly I’m reading bell and hearing the chiming. It’s a church bell.

The flowers are real but they also symbolic – lilies for purity, roses for love, sex. And she lays them down? Handles them?  Lays them on the bed?  Does the line move from the flowers to her – she’s a lily, she’s a rose?

The silver is white, red is the gold:
The robes they lay in fold.

All the material stuff is there – silver and gold, but that too seems to  chime with the flowers  -when she looks at the money, she’s sees maidenhood (white) and sexual knowledge (red): the dowry is connected to the love, to the physical passion that will come. I’m suddenly thinking of all the young girls – perhaps this girl in this poem is twelve, thirteen, fourteen – in arranged marriages, as marriages once all were… thinking too of girls now, in arranged marriages. Some working out happily,others not. Some developing into love, others a sort of purchased slavery. This girl, or her family,  is rich, – she has silver and gold, and robes and roses as well as glass in her windows… but is she happy?

How should I love, and I so young?

I read and read again, mouthing the words. It feels a private moment, perhaps the very moment before the maidens enter the room, when she is just looking at the stuff of wedding, hearing the bell insistently chiming, and her feeling – is this happening, and now, to me? A moment of gathering reflection. Happy or scared? ‘How should I love, and I so young?’ that question loomed over the poem for me. Everything is about to change. I wonder if she is afraid.

This poem grew so much bigger as I read it. I was  glad I had set aside half an hour for it. I imagined reading it in a shared reading group.

Later I googled it and found Carol Rumens’ (an excellent poet, whom we have  published in The Reader magazine) reading it in Poem of the Week in The Guardian.  As I read Carol’s account  I felt something of the power of reading with another – hers was a happier  reading than mine and I was glad to get her thoughts into my head. Her reading changed mine. Read her here.

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