3 minutes reading time (615 words)

WESTRON WYNDE WHEN WILT THOU BLOW?

There are old poems and there are new poems. But some of the new ones feel old and some of the old ones feel new.

Why should it be that even the funny spelling in the old ones doesn’t get in the way? In fact, when you come to them, it’s almost the other way round. The odd rendition is an attraction.

All this because I woke thinking about the westron wynde. When I first read the poem (and I can’t remember when that was) I knew westron was western. It never presented any kind of a problem, even though we had a maths teacher (this comes back to me only this minute) who was called Miss Rostron.

I can’t remember when I first read it. I only feel like I’ve always known it. Which is precisely how I felt when I first read it. Here it is:

Westron wynde, when wylt thow blow
The smalle rayne downe can rayne?
Cryst yf my love were in my armys
And I yn my bed agayne!

I’ve just googled it to find out what I could. One scholar thinks it’s a lament for someone who’s dead. Just as the seeds grow when the spring rain comes, he says, so the lover wishes his love can come back to life (she’s dead).

Not what I thought.

I suppose at least we agree on the yearning. The lyric (put on paper when set to music in the 16th century, though it’s older than that) is the epitome of yearning. But I’ve always heard the speaking voice as someone who is stuck somewhere away from home, somewhere very dry.

Perhaps I’ve read it wrong. If it’s ‘westron wynde, when wylt thow blow [so that] the smalle rayne downe can rayne’, that does sound like a longing for spring. I have always read it as a longing for the wind to blow, the wind to change – and the sea was in my mind. If the wind came, I thought, the ship could move and get him back. Back home and back to some lover far away. Perhaps it’s during the Crusades, when a man might well never get back. And hence the small rain would be something not to mind, but to long for – and characteristic of these islands. It's ‘smalle’ kindly rain, not a tempest or a battering.

So in my mind the speaker is in a hot place – unable to get home. Somewhere hot and windless: a baked desert. He’s longing for England, or Scotland, or Ireland or Wales, where it rains, but it’s home.

Why is there something lovely in ‘the small rain down can rain’? Is it the monosyllables, like raindrops? Or the ‘rain’ both as noun and verb? Or the fact of four words in a row with an ‘n’ sound at the end of them? Perhaps a combination of all these things. And then ‘Cryst’ both as prayer and desperate outcry – in the way a secular voice could say it right now – and the universal snapshot of safety: in bed with your loved one. Rain on the roof outside. Not sex. Safety. And, of course, absolutely not to be had in the confines of the poem, except in the mind.b2ap3_thumbnail_WESTRON-WYNDE.jpg

The photo is of a piece of artwork on marble done by Christina Fletcher, the poem etched without wordbreaks and without linebreaks. I love it. It slows you down as you read. The lyric emerges letter by letter. Like an old friend reaching through the ages, the poem bursts through.

Whatever the magic, it’s timeless. What – in this age of print and electronic files – will endure like this?

 

THINGS ARRANGED IN THREES
WHAT DO PAMPHLET PUBLISHERS LOOK FOR?
 

Comments 4

Guest - Elizabeth Barrett on Sunday, 28 September 2014 11:16

The small rain, and the arms, and your mention of Spring put me in mind of the e.e. cummings poem which ends 'nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.' What I love about the old and the new is the way they cast chimes and echoes of each other in the head of the reader - thank you for this one!

The small rain, and the arms, and your mention of Spring put me in mind of the e.e. cummings poem which ends 'nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.' What I love about the old and the new is the way they cast chimes and echoes of each other in the head of the reader - thank you for this one!
Guest - jenny galton-fenzi on Sunday, 28 September 2014 18:25

Thank you, Nell, for reminding about this magic poem, so full of longing for home.
Another of my favourites:
'Grey goose and gander
Waft your wings together
And carry the good king's daughter
Over the one-strand river.'

Who was the good king? And where was the one-strand river? Does anyone know?

Thank you, Nell, for reminding about this magic poem, so full of longing for home. Another of my favourites: 'Grey goose and gander Waft your wings together And carry the good king's daughter Over the one-strand river.' Who was the good king? And where was the one-strand river? Does anyone know?
Guest - Brian on Saturday, 03 October 2015 03:43

Please translate : westron and cryst
What I read is "western" and "criest" as in "cry's out".
What is the meaning of "The small raine down can raine".
I read "the gentle rain can get stronger"
or
"No matter how hard the rain falls, it matters not, if, in my bed, my true love is in my arms".
What do you understand from this?
Could it be "Christ is risen in my bed when my true love is in my arms"?

Please translate : westron and cryst What I read is "western" and "criest" as in "cry's out". What is the meaning of "The small raine down can raine". I read "the gentle rain can get stronger" or "No matter how hard the rain falls, it matters not, if, in my bed, my true love is in my arms". What do you understand from this? Could it be "Christ is risen in my bed when my true love is in my arms"?
Guest - Nell Nelson on Saturday, 03 October 2015 08:46

Brian 'Westron' is western. 'Cryst' is Christ. Here it's like saying 'By God', adding intensity to the words. The speaker wants the rain: it signifies something, as does wind from the west. Movement. Spring. Whatever. An easing of his present stuckness. An end to winter, perhaps. The poem is about longing. It's 'if only my love were in my arms', if only he was in his bed at home. But he isn't. And won't be, I fear.

Brian 'Westron' is western. 'Cryst' is Christ. Here it's like saying 'By God', adding intensity to the words. The speaker wants the rain: it signifies something, as does wind from the west. Movement. Spring. Whatever. An easing of his present stuckness. An end to winter, perhaps. The poem is about longing. It's 'if[i] only[/i] my love were in my arms', if[i] only[/i] he was in his bed at home. But he isn't. And won't be, I fear.
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Tuesday, 15 October 2019