Current Issues in Medieval England

by Letizia Vezzosi (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 308 Pages


This book is a selection of papers presented at the 11th International Conference on Middle English (ICOME11), held at the University of Florence, Italy from 5 to 8 February 2019. The papers, organised under three headings “Textual Interlacing,” “Borrowing and the Lexicon,” and “Language at Different Levels,” interface different fields of linguistics, literature and philology in the context of Medieval England and offer a holistic view of current research within Middle English studies. The contributors employ a wealth of different new and traditional approaches and methodologies, and deal with materials ranging from canonical literary works to scientific and practical texts, including electronic corpora and databases.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Preface
  • Part I: Textual Interlacing
  • A Re-assessment of Poema Morale and its Influence on Penitence for Wasted Life (Claudio Cataldi)
  • The Soul a City: Margery meets Julian (Gabriella Del Lungo Camiciotti – Julia Bolton Holloway)
  • Patronage, Print and the Education of the Gentry in Late Medieval England: The Case of Earl Rivers’s Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers (Omar Khalaf)
  • On the Trail of Bibbesworth (Patrizia Lendinara)
  • The Construction of the European Intellectual: Petrarch, Humanism, and Middle English Literature (Alessandra Petrina)
  • Part II: Borrowing and Lexicon
  • Changes of Political Rule and the Changing Use of OE Gærsum(a) ‘Treasure’ (< ON Gersemi) in Middle English (Angelika Lutz)
  • The Rise of the Verb Happen in Middle English (Rafał Molencki)
  • Patterns of Borrowing, Obsolescence and Polysemy in the Technical Vocabulary of Middle English (Louise Sylvester – Harry Parkin – Richard Ingham)
  • Part III: Language at Different Levels
  • Rhetorical Re-analysis of Metadiscourse Items in Henry Daniel’s Middle English Prologue to Liber Uricrisiarum (Martti Mäkinen)
  • The Evidentiary Status of Back Spellings and English Historical Phonology (Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden)
  • What, If Anything, Are Middle English Dialects? Some Thoughts on a Changing Concept (Merja Stenroos)
  • The Demise of Ambiguous Adverb/Conjunctions and Manuscript Variation: A Case Study of Tho, Then and When in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester (Brita Wårvik)
  • The Loss of Negative Concord with Negative PPs (Richard Zimmermann)
  • Index of terms and names
  • Series index

←6 | 7→

List of Contributors

Julia Bolton Holloway

University of Colorado

Claudio Cataldi

University of Bristol

Gabriella Del Lungo

University of Florence

Omar Khalaf

University of Padova

Richard Ingham

Birmingham City University

Angelika Lutz

University of Erlangen

Patrizia Lendinara

University of Palermo

Martti Mäkinen

Hankel School of Economics – Helsinki

Harry Parkin

University of Westminster

Alessandra Petrina

University of Padova

Rafał Molencki

University of Silesia

Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden

University of Oslo – Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences

Merja Stenroos

University of Stavanger

Louise Sylvester

University of Westminster

Brita Wårvik

Åbo Akademi University – Turku

Richard Zimmermann

University of Manchester


“Middle English […] is a very convenient term denoting […] “the transition period in the history of English between Old and Modern English”. “It was preceded by a period, during which the linguistic changes visible in the thirteenth and the following centuries must have begun to operate (c. 1050–1150) and was followed by a similar period of transition between Middle and Modern English (c. 1450–1500). “The term itself might suggest a linguistic entity, which it was not” (Fisiak 1968: 10–11).

At this point I would like to recall Prof. Jacek Fisiak, who launched the series of International Conferences on Middle English and who was unable (for the first time) to attend the one in Florence for reasons of health, and this unorthodox quotation from his A short grammar of Middle English to give an idea of the complexity the term Middle English still entails. An iconic simile for Middle English could be the lenticular mosaic: changing perspective, one sees different images which still communicate and interrelate to one another; looking from afar, one gets a defined and sharp picture which inevitably shatters into a multitude of tiles, i.e. linguistic and literary items, projecting into the past and the future, whose meaning can only be understood if they are seen within their “mosaic frame”.

According to the simile, the papers selected in this volume from the 11th International Conference on Middle English (ICOME11), held at the University of Florence from 5 to 8 February 2019, constitute each a single tile of different images in the bigger mosaic of Middle English. One hundred and fifteen scholars from several countries, i.e., from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA and Italy participated in the conference. Sixty-four papers were presented and thirteen have been selected for publication in the volume. The papers presented at the Florence conference ask new research questions about Medieval England: starting from traditional topics in historical linguistics and literature from different perspectives, extending ongoing debates to new kinds of material and/or through new tools, i. e. new corpora, and new approaches, questioning traditional categories of inquiry and theory, and detecting the interwoven contribution of each topic to the development of English language and English literature through the network of influences and references in which the relevant linguistic, literary or cultural phenomenon is placed. The volume reflects the scope of these new approaches ←9 | 10→and views within the field. The traditional subdivision into “Language” and “Literature” of ICOME volumes is supplemented by a third section “Borrowing and the Lexicon”, which is devoted to one of the most intensively investigated linguistic field in Middle English studies, bridging the literary section, named “Textual Interlacing”, and the linguistic section, “Language at Different Levels”.

The first section “Textual Interlacing” includes five papers focussing on the influential relations between texts, personalities and international authors. The opening chapter by Cataldi re-assesses the debt of influence of Penitence for Wasted Life to Poema Morale in terms of both content and metre through a detailed philological, metrical and linguistic analysis. Similarly, Lendinara’s careful philological study follows the influence of the Tretiz by Walter of Bibbesworth in Middle English and French literature, and multilingual glossaries over the two centuries. The attention of the author shifts from the literary work to its society in Khalaf’s paper, which investigates the production and circulation of Earl River’s Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers as part of a precise cultural plan of dissemination of moral and educational literature outside the court. The interplay between orality and written medium is at the centre of the paper by Del Lungo Camiciotti and Bolton Holloway on the encounter of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich and shows how analyses carried out from different perspectives can reveal more on the meaning of such event than is textually attested. This section concludes with Petrina’s inspiring paper, which traces the influence of Petrarch’s works in courtly, aristocratic poetry in England, leading to the early-sixteenth-century flourishing of northern humanism, and thus, challenges the traditional idea of a divide between the late Middle Ages and the early modern period in English literature.

The society and literature of Medieval England provide the background to the papers in the second part “Borrowing and the Lexicon”, which deals with loanwords in the Middle English lexicon. The three papers do not concentrate on the most frequently studied feature, that is, French influence, but largely focus on Old Norse borrowings: Lutz traces the attestations of the Old English word gærsum(a) ‘treasure’ of Norse origin, replaced with synonymous tresor but still, though more restrictedly, used in Middle English fictional and religious texts until the fifteenth century; whereas Molecki analyses the gradual lexical replacement of the verbs inherited from Old English (ge)limpan and befeallan) by the new formations from the Norse root happ-, i.e., happe(n) and happen(en), in the late fourteenth and in the fifteenth century. The conclusive paper by Sylvester, Parkin and Ingham reports how changes in semantics and lexicon differ at the various levels of the lexical hierarchy, with a particular focus on technical language, in particular, on terms for Building, Domestic activities, Farming, ←10 | 11→Food preparation, Manufacture, Trade, and Travel by water, through a quantitative analysis of the data collected for the Bilingual Thesaurus of Everyday Life in Medieval England.

The five papers in the third section “Language at different levels” analyse different phenomena pertaining to different levels and functions of language structures. Mäkinen proposes a method of remapping linguistic items from different meta-discourse classes onto the Aristotelian rhetorical concepts, through a qualitative-quantitative analysis of the Middle English translation of Henry Daniel’s Latin prologue to his English translation of Liber uricrisiarum. Stenbrenden examines back spellings (analogical spellings) in the history of English, applying the concept of “literal substitution sets”, and shows that the motivations for such spellings include not only phonemic merger, but also analogy, calligraphic changes and orthographic extensions, phonetic as well as phonological innovations, and that the phenomenon cannot be completely understood if scribal behaviour and clashes between scribal and authorial systems, both written and spoken, are not taken into account. From a more theoretical perspective, Stenroos reflects on how the implications of applying the dialect area and dialect continuum on Middle English language variation in writing, as different ways of inquiry, bring about different dialect maps, and suggests that an alternative approach to linguistic variation based on real historical contexts might reveal unexpected patterns. These patterns do not delineate a “pure dialect”, but socio-linguistic facts, such as peoples’ geographical movements, and literary texts in a different light. The last two contributions go back to the phenomena of morphological loss and replacement during the Middle English period (1100–1500), with Wårvik concentrating on the substitution of the Old English ambiguous adverb/conjunctions þa and þonne for the adverb then and the conjunction when and the consequent redistribution of their syntactic and discourse-pragmatic functions. Finally, Zimmermann investigates the disappearance of the negative particle ne in its function as a sentential negator and in negative concord structures, on the bases of to a quantitative analysis of data from three syntactically parsed Middle English corpora.

It is my pleasure and duty to express my deep gratitude to the colleagues at the University of Florence as well as to the students, whose collaboration significantly contributed to the success of ICOME11. Moreover, I would like to thank all the colleagues involved in the peer review process, both at the conference abstract stage and all later stages, for their invaluable contribution. I would like to thank the University of Florence, the City Council of Florence and the Regione Toscana for their sponsorship, the Rector of the University of Florence for offering the venue.←11 | 12→

I am grateful to the department of Education, Language, Interculture, Literature and Psychology (FORLILPSI) at the University of Florence for providing general encouragement for this book project and financially supporting its publishing through the project ICOME11.

I would also like to thank the series editor, Professor Magdalena Bator, as well as Adam Gorlikowski and Łukasz Gałecki at Peter Lang, for their help, assistance and patience.

Above all, I would like to thank the authors, both for their stimulating papers and for their collaboration during the various phases of the editing of this volume.

Florence, March 2021
The Editor

Claudio Cataldi

A Re-assessment of Poema Morale and its Influence on Penitence for Wasted Life

Abstract: The aim of this study is to re-assess the possible influence of Poema Morale on the slightly later lyric Penitence for Wasted Life. The intention is to consider both the content and metre of the two works. Previous scholarship has noted that Penitence for Wasted Life is thematically close to the early Middle English poem; as I shall show, this debt extends to metre as well. A wise old man’s reflection on the transience of worldly things, Poema Morale displays a fondness for proverbial sayings and vivid descriptions of heaven and hell – all elements that must surely have appealed to the Early Middle English readership. This appeal is attested to not only by the nine manuscripts in which the poem is preserved, but also by several textual borrowings from Poema Morale in a number of thirteenth-century lyrics, which were noted by previous scholarship. In this study, I shall suggest that, amongst these lyrics, Penitence for Wasted Life seems inspired by a specific section of Poema Morale, and that several previously unnoticed metrical correspondences between the two works actually indicate that the author of Penitence for Wasted Life possessed a first-hand knowledge of the twelfth-century poem.

Keywords: Early Middle English poetry, religious poetry, Early Middle English literature, Poema Morale, metre

1. Introduction

The twelfth-century Poema Morale has been frequently regarded by scholars as a text that exerted a remarkable influence on medieval English religious literature.1 This supposed influence is twofold. On one level it involves themes (such as the transience of worldly wealth and the visions of heaven and hell) that are often developed in twelfth- and thirteenth-century poetry. On another level, it is reflected by the metre employed in Middle English religious poems and lyrics, which sometimes combine the septenary (that is, the metre of Poema Morale) with other metres. In this essay, I shall attempt to show that at least one lyric (whose modern title is Penitence for Wasted Life) can be considered to be inspired by Poema Morale beyond doubt, because its contents and prosody are modelled ←15 | 16→after the twelfth-century poem. To do so, I shall first introduce Poema Morale and its manuscript tradition; I shall then re-assess the various correspondences between the poem and other texts of the period. Finally, I shall discuss the textual and metrical analogies between Poema Morale and Penitence for Wasted Life.

2. Poema Morale: Manuscript Context

Poema Morale is the title commonly given to a religious poem from the late twelfth century. Also known as A Moral Ode or The Conduct of Life, the poem is a reflection of a wise old man on his life, on the twin themes of sins and redemption, as well as on the transience of earthly things. This verse meditation is reinforced by a vivid description of the torments of hell and the joys of heaven. Poema Morale survives in nine manuscripts:2

1.Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McLean 123 (Nuneaton, West Midlands, s. xiii/xiv). The text of Poema Morale in MS McLean 123 (fols 115r–120r) is prefaced by two lines from another early Middle English poem, known as Sinners Beware!; along with names of English graphs on fol. 114v, this is the sole English material in a codex otherwise preserving French and Latin works.3

2.Cambridge, Trinity College, MS 335 (B.14.52) (East Midlands, late s. xii). The text of Poema Morale (fols 2r–9v) precedes the collection of anonymous homilies known as Trinity Homilies.4

3.Durham, University Library, MS Cosin V.III.2 (England, early s. xiii). MS Cosin V.III.2 mostly includes Latin sermons, along with two lines from Poema Morale on fol. 127va/5–7:5 “suete bet swines brede ant of wilde dere. harde ye hus abiet hat haruore gift hiis swire” (grilled meat of swine and wild deer is sweet, but he who gives the neck for it pays it too dearly),6 corresponding to lines 145–146 of the poem (Laing 1993: 53).

4.London, British Library, MS Egerton 613 (South-West, early s. xiii). A religious miscellany, MS Egerton 613 includes two versions of the poem (fols ←16 | 17→7r–12v and 64r–70v, respectively), which can be considered as two separate witnesses.7

5.London, British Library, MS Royal 7 C.iv (Christ Church, Canterbury, s. xi med/ s. xii/xiii). The manuscript features late Old English continuous interlinear glosses to Defensor’s Liber scintillarum (Kato 2010–2013). On fols 106v–107v, originally blank, a later hand added some glosses and a two-line quote in MS Royal 7 C. iv, partly erased today: “elde me is bestolen on er [...] Ne mæg ic geseo before me” (Ker 1957: 323), which corresponds to lines 17–18 of Poema Morale: “Elde me is bistolen on ar ich hit iwiste | Ne mai ich isien bifore me for smeche ne for miste” (Old age has sneaked upon me before I was aware of it, and I cannot see before me because of smoke and mist) (Hall 1920: 31).8

6.London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 487 (West Midlands, late s. xii/early s. xiii). The codex of the early Middle English homiletic collection known as Lambeth Homilies; the text of Poema Morale is found at fols 59v–65r (Sisam 1951).

7.Maidstone, Maidstone Museum, MS A.13 (Northampton, East Midlands, s. xiii). On fol. 93r of the manuscript is found the same couplet of Poema Morale as in MS Cosin v.iii.2, along with a shortened version of the Proverbs of Alfred.9 This couplet from Poema Morale also appears in two other folios of the manuscript, 46v and 253r (cf. Laing 1993: 120 and Laing 2013b).

8.Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 4 (Kent/Surrey? early s. xiii). The text of Poema Morale (fols 97r–110v) is the sole English material in a manuscript otherwise preserving Latin texts (see Laing 1993: 127).

9.Oxford, Jesus College, MS 29, part II (South-West Midlands, s. xiii). A collection of mostly Middle English poems that, besides one of the two surviving copies of The Owl and the Nightingale, features the Proverbs of Alfred, Poema Morale (169r–174v) and religious poems such as Passion of Our Lord, Sinners, Beware!, Doomsday, and Latemest Day, all of which will be discussed below (see Hill 1963 and Laing 2013c).

The versions of Poema Morale recorded in these manuscripts vary in length, spanning from the nearly 400 lines in MS Trinity College 335 to the two lines ←17 | 18→in MSS Cosin V.III.2, Royal 7 C iv, and Maidstone Museum A.13 – which may be better described as quotes rather than witnesses of the text. The tradition of the two-line quotes suggests that excerpts of the poem were used as proverbs of their own. The nine versions of Poema Morale also differ in variant readings and line order. These differences presumably account for the relative scarceness of critical editions and secondary literature on the poem. Lewin (1881) attempted at a critical edition based on the six manuscripts known at the time; Marcus (1934) published a critical text based on seven versions (including the two different witnesses in MS Egerton 613). However, Hill (1977: 100–101) considers Marcus’ edition to be unsatisfactory, calling it a “personal reconstruction of a text whose place and date of origin is not proved”. The main manuscript versions have also been printed separately. Morris included the Jesus College 29 version in his Old English Miscellany (Morris 1872: 58–71) and the versions from MSS Trinity College 335 and Lambeth Palace 487 in his editions of the Trinity Homilies (Morris 1873: 220–232) and the Lambeth Homilies (Morris 1867: 158–183), respectively. Hall (1920: 30–53, 312–354) prints the Trinity and Lambeth versions and offers detailed notes on the poem. Given that it represents a full copy of the poem, and one close to the archetype – as discussed by Hill (1977: 114–115) in what is perhaps the most complete study of the poem to date – I shall use the Trinity College 335 version of the poem as a base text for my discussion.10

3. Poema Morale and the Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Religious Poetry

The fact that versions of (or quotes from) Poema Morale are preserved in nine manuscripts is an obvious measure of its popularity amongst Middle English readers. This is hardly surprising, because the poem exhibits a combination of elements that must surely have appealed to a late twelfth-century audience: exhortations to the perfect Christian life, a vivid vision of Hell, and a concluding overview of the joys of eternal life, along with a fondness for words of wisdom and proverbial sayings, all of which are frequently found in other religious poems of the same period (Hill 1977: 116–126). The popularity of Poema Morale seems also proven by a number of analogues to the poem. Previous scholarship has noted the resemblance between Poema Morale and Le romaunz de temtacioun de secle, an early twelfth-century verse sermon (attributed to an Anglo-Norman ←18 | 19→author, Guischart de Bealiau), which is preserved in four manuscripts of English provenance.11 The Romaunz and Poema Morale share a remarkable number of parallels, which have been included in a study by Gabrielson (1912) and in the notes to the edition of the early Middle English poem by Hall (1920: 329–354). That some sort of textual relationship between the two works exists seems to this author to be beyond reasonable doubt; the nature of this relationship is, however, far from certain. Gabrielson (1912: 311–312) argues that certain ideas point towards a shared background from the two authors, rather than direct influence; however, he also suggests that the poet of the Romaunz may have recalled verses from Poema Morale from memory.12 Scholars such as Lewin (1881), Patterson (1911), Brown (1932), and Marcus (1934) have identified several occurrences of verses apparently drawn from Poema Morale amongst the corpus of early Middle English poetry. In particular, these occurrences are found in the following texts:

1.Doomsday, which survives in four manuscripts: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.14.39; London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.ix; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86; and Jesus College 29;13

2.On God Ureisun of Ure Lefdi, a lai, related to the Wooing Group, preserved in Cotton Nero A.XIV; printed by Morris (1867: 190–199), Hall (1920: 132–137), and Brown (1931: 3–8); first line: Cristes milde moder seynte marie;

3.Latemest Day, preserved in the same manuscripts as Doomsday and, according to Brown (1932: 187), written by the same author;14

4.The Passion of Our Lord, a long poem printed by Morris (1872: 37–57) from MS Jesus College 29, first line: Ihereþ nv one lutele tale;

5.Penitence for Wasted Life, a lyric preserved in London, BL, MS Additional 27909, first line: Leuedi sainte marie, moder and meide; modern title given by Brown (1932: 1–2);15

6.←19 | 20→Sinners, Beware!, also known as Sayings of St Bede, an early tail-rhymed penitential poem that survives in two manuscripts, MS Jesus College 29 (where it follows Poema Morale) and MS Digby 86 (one of the manuscripts of Doomsday and Latemest Day);16

7.This World’s Bliss Will Not Last, from London, British Library, MS Arundel 248; another lyric printed and titled by Brown (1932: 78–82), first line: Worldes blis ne last no throwe.

The main problem with assuming a direct influence of Poema Morale on these works (as well as on other lyrics) is that the poet of Poema Morale makes use of a variety of stock themes.17 Therefore, it is not easy to decide whether textual similarities indicate direct influence or rather point towards a similar treatment of the same theme. For example, this is the case of Poema Morale, v. 6: “Þan ibiðenche me þar on wel sore ime adrade” (when I think about it I become very afraid), which echoes the opening line of Doomsday – “wenne hi þenche on domes-dai ful sore I me adrede” (when I think about Doomsday I become very afraid) – (cf. Brown 1932: 188 and Marcus 1934: 6). The topos of ineffability developed in Poema Morale, vv. 289–290: “Nemai non herte hit þenche ne tunge hit ne mai telle | hwu muchele pine ne hwu fele senden in helle” (no heart can think nor tongue can tell how much pain and how many torments are in hell), recurs in Latemest Day, vv. 29–30 (cf. Brown 1932: 191 and Marcus 1934: 9) and Sinners, Beware!, vv. 38–41 (cf. Marcus 1934: 9). These latter two poems deserve particular attention. Latemest Day is a poem in mono-rhyme quatrains that can be divided in two parts: the first part is based on the theme of the “Address of the Soul to the Body” – a staple of Old and early Middle English religious literature – and borrows motifs and specific lines from the Soul’s Address to the Body in MS Worcester Cathedral F.174; the second part of the poem is a description of hell that seems to have been inspired by the analogous passage in Poema Morale, vv. 220–290.18 Similarly, the poet of Sinners, Beware! may well have had at hand a variety of penitential lyrics to draw inspiration from (as shown by the passage related to the theme of the “Soul’s Address to the Body” at vv. 331–336), so that resemblances between Poema Morale and Sinners, Beware! probably ←20 | 21→result from analogous treatments of the same stock themes.19 Parallels between Poema Morale on the one hand and Doomsday20 and The Passion of Our Lord21 on the other are not conclusive enough to prove a direct textual relationship. With regard to This World’s Bliss Will Not Last, Brown (1932: 201) has noted that “one hardly expects a direct literary source for a poem on such an oft-handled theme as the transitoriness of worldly joy, but it is interesting to note a few lines which seem to be distinct echoes of the twelfth-century Poema Morale” (cf. also Marcus 1934: 7). I find two of the parallels noted by Brown particularly convincing: This World’s Bliss, vv. 51–52, “Scal no gud ben unforiolden, | ne no qued ne wrth unbout” (No good will be uncompensated nor wickedness will be unrewarded) echoes Poema Morale, v. 59, “Ne sal þar non euel ben unboht ne god unforȝolden” (No evil will be unrewarded nor good uncompensated); even more striking is the correspondence between Poema Morale, vv. 319–320, “We wilnieð after wereldes wele þe longe ne mai ilaste | 7 legeð mast al ure swinc on þing unstedefaste” (we seek for the world’s wealth, that may not last long, and devote most of our work to transitory things), and This World’s Bliss, vv. 31–34:

Man, wi sestu þout and herte

o werldes blis þat nout ne last?

Wi þolstu þat þe softe ismerte

for þing þat is unstedefast? (Brown 1932: 79)

‘O man, why do you set your thought and heart on worldly bliss that won’t last? Why do you endure to suffer so often for a thing that is transitory?’

The treatment of the theme of the transience of worldly goods – framed by the rhyme last/unstedefast – suggests that the poet of This World’s Bliss may have had Poema Morale in a corner of his mind; by contrast, some differences in wording (“wereldes wele” / “werldes blis”; the “softe ismerte” passage) seem to exclude direct quotation but rather indicate – as in the case of the Romaunz – that these verses are the product of a poet who recalled verses of Poema Morale from memory.←21 | 22→

4. Penitence for Wasted Life and Poema Morale

As I now aim to show, Penitence for Wasted Life is indeed a very promising candidate for a work directly informed by Poema Morale. Penitence for Wasted Life is a thirteenth-century prayer to the Virgin that recalls other Marian invocations of the period, for example the aforementioned On God Ureisun of Ure Lefdi.22. Surviving in a single manuscript (London, British Library, MS Additional 27909, fol. 2r) and written out as prose (Laing 1993: 63), it is a lyric in mono-rhyme quatrains. So far, Penitence for Wasted Life has not received a great deal of scholarly attention; however, its commentators have almost universally noted its resemblance to Poema Morale.23 I now wish to focus on the fact that Penitence for Wasted Life seems to borrow from a specific portion of Poema Morale – that is, the opening section of the poem; moreover, the metre of Penitence for Wasted Life often imitates that of Poema Morale. Defined as “a personal lament of an old man looking back on a wasted and sinful life” by Duncan (1992: 109), Penitence for Wasted Life is to all intents and purposes a variation on the same meditative themes of Poema Morale, and almost an expansion of its first twenty-one verses. I quote the relevant parallels in Table 1, grouping together all references to previous scholarship.24

←22 | 23→

Table 1: Correspondences between Poema Morale and Penitence for Wasted Life

Poema Morale

Penitence for Wasted Life

Noted by


5–6: Vnnet lif ic habbe ilad 7 ȝiet me þincheð ilade | Þan ibiðenche me þar on wel sore ime adrade

Biographical notes

Letizia Vezzosi (Volume editor)

Letizia Vezzosi is professor of Germanic Philology at the University of Florence, Italy. Her research interests include historical linguistics, philology, and medieval studies, especially concerning Old and Middle English and Middle Dutch language and literature.


Title: Current Issues in Medieval England