Sir Orfeo

We readyn ofte and fynde y-wryte,

As clerkes don us to wyte,

The layes that ben of harpyng

Ben y-founde of noble thing.

Sum are of weal and some of woe,

And sum of joy and merthe also,

Sum of trechery and sum of gyle,

And sum of happes that fallen by whyle,

Sum of bourdys and sum of rybaudry,

And sum there ben of the feyry.

Of alle thing that men may see,

Most to love forsothe they be.

In Brytayn these layes arne y-wrytt,

Furst y-founde and forth y-gete

Of aventures that fellen by dayes,

Wherof Brytouns made ther layes.

When they myght anywhere hear

Of aventures that ther were,

They toke ther harpys with game,

Maden layes and yaf it name.

Of aventures that han befalle,

Y can sum tell, but nought alle.

Herken, lordyngys, that are trewe,

And Y wol you telle of Syr Orfewe.


That’s [mostly the original version, with my glosses put in over some of the more difficult words of] the beginning of Sir Orfeo, an interesting take on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice recast as Orfeo and Heurodis, an English nobleman and his wife, who is stolen away by the fairy host. Orfeo goes into the woods and lives as a wild man for ten years before seeing his wife again with the host, and he follows them in disguise as a minstrel wanting to entertain the fairy king, and thus wins back his wife with his beautiful harping. It’s an interesting text and well worth the read.

don  = make; wyte = know

founde = composed

ben of harpyng = are sung with the harp

y-founde = composed

happes that fallen by while = events that occur now an then (lit. happenings that befall every while)

bourdys = jests

forth y-gete = brought forth

fellen by dayes = happened long ago

yaf = gave

game = pleasure

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