The thing with being a medievalist is that you never run out of material; since the period covers roughly a thousand years, there’s always something you don’t know. So I’m always running across works I don’t know, especially in the later periods. I do the early stuff — Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse, the people who shout RAHR! and believe that warriors rock.
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
So when I occasionally lift my head from Beowulf and the vikings, I uncover new treasures that are fun, just for a change of pace. I’ve been discovering more works from medieval Scotland and getting into William Dunbar, who wrote a lot of comic and satirical verse, including one called, “A Wooing in Dunfermline” which might sound like a sweet poem, but oh baby, it’s all double entendres. This is how it opens:
This hindir nycht in Dumfermeling
To me was tawld ane windir thing:
That lait ane tod wes with ane lame
And with hir playit and maid gud game,
Syne till his breist did hir imbrace
And wald haif riddin hir lyk ane rame –
And that me thocht ane ferly cace.
The other night in Dunfermline
To me was told a wondrous thing:
That recently a fox was with a lamb
And with her played and made good game,
Then to his breast did her embrace
And would have ridden her like a ram —
And that seemed to me a surprising thing!
I’m not sure what’s weirder: interspecies sexiness is one thing but he’s also planning to make a meal of her! He plays with her as if with a fox pup, the poet says, but she calls out for Mary to protect her. But it may not be for the obvious reason:
He wes ane lusty reid haird lowry,
Ane lang taild beist and grit with all.
He was a lusty red-haired fox
And a long tailed beast and great withal.
The suggestion that he’s well endowed gets deflated in the next part when the poet makes a pun, saying “The silly lame wes all to small” which literally means “the innocent lamb was too small” but it also means “useless lome”; ‘lome’ is another word for penis (and we always need new words, right?). The lamb is portrayed as sexy:”Scho wes ane morsall of delyte” [She was a morsel of delight] and “yung and tender” — again playing on the food/sex confusion. But the poet seems astonished that with all this danger she did not try to defend herself, even though “He grippit hir abowt the west” and “lute him kis hir lusty face.”
However, the fox swears “That he suld nocht tuich hir prenecod” that is he wouldn’t touch her ‘pincushion’; there’s some more sexy vocabulary for you. You can see how it came to be slang for lady parts. Ooh baby, stick a pin in me! Of course the poet points out that she was foolish to believe him. They went behind closed doors, the poet says, so he couldn’t really see what happened yet he knows that “all the hollis wes stoppit hard” [all the holes were stopped hard].
Just when it all seems over, the wolf shows up. Continuing the theme of devourer as lover, the wolf seems to be the rightful lover of the lamb,who shows alarm or maybe pleasure when “cheipit lyk a mows” [squeaked like a mouse]. The fox makes his escape with a bizarre cross-dressing move, slinking away in the sheep’s skin, while the wolf suspects nothing and, as the poet notes, crawls in to take “secound place” like a cuckolded lover.
Ane ferly cace indeed!