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I Take My Leave

Now Lords and Ladies blithe and bold,
    To bless you here now am I bound:
I thank you all a thousand-fold,
    And pray God save you whole and sound;
    Wherever you go on grass or ground,
        May he you guide that nought you grieve,
    For friendship that I here have found
        Against my will I take my leave.

For friendship and for favours good,
    For meat and drink you heaped on me,
The Lord that raised was on the Rood
    Now keep you comely company.
    On sea or land where’er you be,
        May he you guide that nought you grieve
    Such fair delight you laid on me
        Against my will I take my leave.

Against my will although I wend,
    I may not always tarry here;
For everything must have an end,
    And even friends must part, I fear;
    Be we beloved however dear
        Out of this world death will us reave,
    And when we brought are to our bier
        Against our will we take our leave.

Now good day to you, goodmen all,
    And good day to you, young and old,
And good day to you, great and small,
    And grammercy a thousand-fold!
    If ought there were that dear ye hold,
        Full fain I would the deed achieve—
    Now Christ you keep from sorrows cold
        For now at last I take my leave.

Text: Unknown 14th century English author,
translated by J.R.R Tolkien

Music ©2009 by Richard Schletty

       Notes

Melody, singing and music are by Richard Schletty.

The words are from "Gawain's Leave-Taking," a partial translation by J.R.R. Tolkien of a medieval poem found in a group of 14th-century lyrics with refrains in the Vernon manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The original poem has no connection with Sir Gawain, although Tolkien, by assigning this title to the poem extract, is clearly referencing Gawain's departure from the castle of Sir Bertilak to go to the tryst at the Green Chapel.

Source: page 165, Sir Gawain and the Black Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien. Published 1980 by Ballantine Books, ©1975 George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

The unknown author of this poem uses the same ancient English alliteration or "head-rhyme" that is found in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." It is typical of the failed "Alliterative Revival" of the 14th century. This particular form of alliteration is not so much concerned with initial letters and spelling as it is with the "ear-sounds" of stressed syllables within a line. For a detailed analysis, see "Appendix on Verse-forms" in the book cited above.

Vocabulary

Rood: the cross on which Christ was crucified
comely: pleasing appearance; beautiful
wend: proceed on or along; go
reave: seize, carry off forcibly
bier: portable coffin
grammercy: fr. Old Fr. grant merci: great thanks
ought: var. of aught: anything
fain: happily; gladly