The Parliament of the Three Ages
This is my modernisation of an anonymous 14th century poem in Middle English. I haven't made too much effort with the rhyme and scansion, but hopefully no one will mind too much. The source I used, with a prose translation by Sir Iain Gollancz, can be found in Life on the English Manor, by H.S. Bennett (Cambridge, 1937). Although I have found Sir Iain's translation a useful guide, I disagree with his interpretation on several points. Modernisation aside, I haven't tinkered with the lyrics - there's no filking here.
However, the version in Bennet appears to be corrupt and fragmentary. A better source can be found at the TEAMS Middle English texts site. The introduction to Parliament is here, and the full text here.
Note that the poacher in the poem is using a crossbow. Liam-hounds and brachetts are types of hunting hounds.
In the month of May when pleasure is felt
And in the season of summer when the weather is mild
I went to the woods my worth for to try
Into the groves to get me a shot
At any hart or any hind, happen as it might:
And as dawn brought the day from heaven
I abode on a bank down by a brim side.
There the grass was green and covered with flowers -
The primrose, the periwinkle and the rich pennyroyal -
The dew upon the daisies twinkled most fair
Buds and blossoms and branches so sweet
And the miry mists so gently did fall:
The cuckoo, the pigeon, so keen did they call,
And the throstles eagerly sang in the banks,
And each bird in the wood seemed happier than the next
That the darkness had gone and the daylight was come.
Harts and hinds to the hills they did go
The fox and the polecat did flee to their earths.
The hare huckled down in the hedge and ran here and there
Then made fast to her form and made ready to rest.
And as I stood in that wood, on stalking I thought.
Both my body and my bow I covered with leaves
And turned towards a tree and hid there a while.
And as I watched a glade close by me
I saw a hart with antlers so high
Their base was rough and the middle was strong.
He was full grown, with five and six tines.
He was burly and broad and his body was great
Fit for a king, catch him who might.
But behind him a buck followed with zeal
To wake him and warn him when the wind failed
That no-one so sly should slay him by stealth
And he stepped in front of him when danger was near.
My liam-hound I gently pressed to the ground
And in the bole of a birch my brachett I hid
I wisely noted the wind by the fluttering of the leaves
I stalked very carefully no sticks for to break
And crept to a crab-tree and hid underneath.
Then I wound up my bow and prepared to shoot
I drew up the tiller and aimed at the hart
But the buck which guarded him raised up his nose,
Carefully looked around and eagerly sniffed.
Then I stood very still and stirred not my feet
For had I mounted or moved or made any signs
All my luck would be lost which for so long I had waited.
But gnats grieved my greatly and gnawed at my eyes
And he stood and he watched and he stared all around
But at last he bent down and he started to feed
And I pulled on the trigger and the hart I smote.
And it happened I hit him behind the left shoulder
And his blood burst out upon both his flanks
And he bucked and he brayed and he brushed though the groves
As though all in the wood was hurled in one heap
And soon the buck which guarded him returned to his herd
And they, for fear of his manner, fled to the fells
And I went to my hound and hauled him up quickly
And loosed my liam and let him cast about
The briars and bracken with blood were a-dripping
And he scented the hart and after him ran.
He had crept into a cave and crouched to the earth
Dead as a door-nail down he had fallen.