A Festschrift in Honour of A.V.C. Schmidt
Edited By Nicolas Jacobs and Gerald Morgan
Proverbs in Middle English Alliterative Poetry
← 168 | 169 → THORLAC TURVILLE-PETRE
Remarking on the English fondness for alliteration, Gerald of Wales cites three English proverbs.1 The first two, ‘God is togedere gamen and wisdom’ and ‘Ne halt nocht al sor isaid, ne al sorghe atwite’, are regular lines of alliterative verse, and the latter appears earlier as ‘Ne deah eall soþ asæd ne eall sar ætwiten’ (that is, don’t tell the whole truth all the time, and don’t take offence at every slight).2 The third, ‘Betere is red thene rap and liste thene lither streingthe,’ appears in Laȝamon’s Brut3 as uttered by Merlin in the form ‘Þat betere is liste. þene ufel strenðe’ (8590). Although ufel is the reading of both manuscripts, the line neither alliterates nor rhymes, and emendation to luðer is surely warranted. The first part of this proverb is recorded in the Proverbs of Hendyng, in which a wise saying of the mysterious Hendyng acts to confirm the precepts of each six-line stanza:
If men doþ þe shame an scaþe,
Rape þou nohut al to raþe
To resen and to wreken.
Folu God and Godes redes,
Þan þe muen þine dedes
To þi wille rechen.
‘Betere is red þen res’, quad Hending.4
Alliteration is often one of the features that make proverbs memorable, together with a pair of balanced statements sometimes enhanced by regular rhythm and rhyme, as...
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