1400c.1

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Savior Son Wants "To Go Play at Ball"

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Famous
City/State/Country: England
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Age of Players Juvenile
Text

 

A well-known and still-sung medieval English carol (in this case, not a Christmas carol), is The Bitter Withy (withy is the willow tree).  The carol is dated to around 1400.

 

As it fell out on a holy day.

 The drops of rain did fall, did fall,

Our Saviour asked leave of his mother Mary

  If he might go play at ball.

 

"To play at ball, my own dear son,

   It's time you was going or gone,

But be sure let me hear no complain of you

   At night when you do come home."

. . .

 

John Bowman reports that "The poem then tells how the boy Jesus tricks some boys into drowning and is spanked by his mother with a willow branch.  Although I do not know what scholars have to say about the ball game, it is clear that the upper-class boys regard it as lower-class!"

 

The full selection, and John's email, are shown below.

Sources

Norton Anthology of Poetry (third edition, 1983) page 99. 

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Query

What, if anything, have scholars said about the nature of the game that Jesus played?  A baserunning and/or batting game?  More like soccer or field hockey?  Other?

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Submitted by John Bowman
Submission Note Email of 8/14/2014
Has Supplemental Text Yes



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Supplemental Text

Email from John Bowman August 14, 2014:

 

"I'm an old English Lit major but can't say I ever read these two poems until by chance I have come across  them while browsing in the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

 

"The first is one of (it turns out) best known and still sung medieval English carols (in this case, not a Christmas carol), "The Bitter Withy." (withy is the willow tree) I am writing this while away from my home and libraries, so I do not know if scholars have commented on just what ball game is involved. The carol is dated to around 1400.

 

As it fell out on a holy day.

 The drops of rain did fall, did fall,

Our Saviour asked leave of his mother Mary

  If he might go play at ball.

 

"To play at ball, my own dear son,

   It's time you was going or gone,

But be sure let me hear no complain of you

   At night when you do come home."

 

It was upling scorn and downling scorn,[scorn everywhere, up and down)

   Oh, there he met three jolly jerdins [boys],

Oh, there he asked the jolly jerdins,

   If they would go play ball.

 

"Oh, we are lords' and ladies' sons,

   Born in bower or in hall,

And you are some poor maid's child,

   Borned in an ox's stall."

 

The poem then tells how the boy Jesus tricks the boys into drowning and is spanked by his mother with a willow branch.  Although I do knot know what scholars have to say about the ball game, it is clear that the upper-class boys regard it as lower-class!

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