Poem: A Lyke-Wake Dirge

I’ve been thinking of posting something specific each day just so my blogs are regularly updated, but it’s hard trying to decide on topics that won’t get old, i.e. that I won’t lose interest in very quickly and eventually find a chore – although if that happens, I guess I could just change the topic.

Anyway, I thought I’d post  a poem on this my blog every Thursday, so here goes:

This one is something I first came across in Antonia Forest’s End of Term. Forest is one of my favourite writers and my all-time favourite author of boarding school books. I first encountered her Kingscote School in Autumn Term, the first of twelve books about a family called Marlow (two of these books are set in Elizabethan times, but the rest are post-World War II, and four are set in the school, while the others during various term holidays).

In End of Term, the series’ main protagonist character, Nicola, spends one day during half-term break riding (on horseback) from her home in the countryside to the cathedral town of Wade Abbas, near her boarding school. Her companion is Patrick, who lives next door and whom she hawks with.

On the ride back, over the moors, and in the dark, Patrick suddenly starts saying A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which, as its title suggests, is suitably mournful and gloomy. Nicola is somewhat spooked until Patrick breaks the mood by breaking into a spirited recitation of Robert Browning’s How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.

If you’re nonplussed by the strange spelling and stranger words, or you want to know about 14th century funeral chants, you’ll find this piece in the Guardian helpful. 

A Lyke-Wake Dirge

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

If thou from here our wake has passed,
Every neet and all,
To Whinny Moor thou comes at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest hosen or shoen,
Every neet and all,
Then sit ye down and put them on,
And Christ receive thy saul.

But if hosen or shoen thou ne’er gavest nane,
Every neet and all,
The whinny will prick thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Whinny Moor when thou mayst pass,
Every neet and all,
To Brig o’ Dread thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
Every neet and all,
To Purgatory thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest meat or drink,
Every neet and all,
The fire will never make thee shrink,
And Christ receive thy saul.

But if meat nor drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every neet and all,
The fire will burn thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

~ Anon

P.S. Thank you to Calmgrove for telling me about Pentangle’s musical version of the poem.

Here it is for anyone who is interested …

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4 thoughts on “Poem: A Lyke-Wake Dirge

  1. Thanks for this reminder of a half-buried memory, Daphne. There’s an atmospheric sung version by folk-rock band Pentangle on their 1973 album Pentangling which I remember from my early forays in an electric folk group. (Having checked I see I still have the LP!) Anyway, an extraordinary poem, unusual in its survival but possibly a local version of a more widespread type of dirge then common.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, you’re only the second person I ‘know’ who is familiar with Pentangle. My ex husband was a fan and I quite liked them. I’ve just played the track on youtube. Will add it on to the post. Thank you!

      Like

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