The anonymous hand: Lullay, mine liking
“Lullay, mine liking” is a Middle English lyric poem or carol of the 15th century which frames a narrative describing an encounter of the Nativity with a song sung by the Virgin Mary to the infant Christ. The refrain is an early example of an English lullaby; the term “lullaby” is thought to originate with the “lu lu” or “la la” sound made by mothers or nurses to calm children, and “by” or “bye bye”, another lulling sound (for example in the similarly ancient Coventry Carol).
There are a number of surviving medieval English verses associated with the birth of Jesus which take the form of a lullaby, of which this is probably the most famous example. Written by an anonymous hand, the text is found singularly in the Sloane Manuscript 2593, a collection of medieval lyrics now held in the British Library.
Originally intended to be sung, no evidence of the work’s musical setting survives, and since its rediscovery and popularisation it has formed the basis for a number of modern choral and vocal works including The New Christy Minstrels in 1966 from their second Christmas album entitled Christmas with the Christies (Columbia CL 2556/CS 9356). The musical possibilities suggested by the text have led to diverse interpretations by numerous composers including Edgar Pettman, Peter Warlock, R. R. Terry, Gustav Holst, Ronald Corp, David Willcocks, Philip Lawson and Richard Rodney Bennett. These are sometimes titled “I saw a fair maiden” whereas “Myn Lyking” is used in the versions by R.R. Terry and Ronald Corp (as the first of the latter’s Three Medieval Carols).
Lullay, mine Liking, my dear Son, mine Sweeting,
Lullay, my dear heart, mine own dear darling.
I saw a fair maiden, sitting and sing,
She lulled a little child a sweet lording:
That very lord is He that made all things
Of all lords He is Lord (and) King of all king.
There was mickle (much) melody at that Child’s birth,
All that were in heaven’s bliss, they made mickle mirth.
Angels bright they sang that night and saiden to that Child,
“Blessed be Thou, and so be she that is both meek and mild.”
Pray we now to that Child, and to His mother dear,
Grant them His blessing that now maken cheer.