Grosseteste and the Harp

IMG_2828OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver dinner on Thursday, Mike treated us to a reading a 14th century moralising poem, celebrating Grosseteste’s love of the harp, the virtues with which he associated it, and the symbolism to which it was ascribed. The poem appeared in the 1303 Handlyng Synne, by Robert Manning of Bourne/Robert de Brune. De Brune, was a Gilbertine Canon (the only native English monastic order of the medieval period) and spent most of his life in the Priory at Sempringham, 30 miles south of Lincoln.  His Handlyng Synne was a translation into Middle English of the Anglo-Norman Manuel des Peches, written originally by William of Waddington. As Robert de Brune relates, and as Mike performed, the poem taken here from the marvellous Samuel Pegge’s (1704-1796) Life of Robert Grosseteste (1793) – the first major modern biographical study, Pegge himself a canon at Lincoln late in life:*

Y shall you tell as I have herd
Of the bysshop seynt Roberd, 
His toname [surname]  is Grosteste, 
Of Lyncolne, so seyth the geste.
He lovede moche to here the harpe, 
For mans witte yt makyth sharpe; 
Next hys chamber, besyde his study, 
Hys harper’s chamber was fast theby. 
Many tymes, by nightes and dayes, 
He hadd solace of notes and layes. 
One askede hem the resun why 
He hadde delyte in mynstrelsy? 
He auswerde hym on thys manere 
Why he helde the harpe so dere : 
“The virtu of the harp, thurgh fkyle and ryght 
Wyll destrye the fends [devil’s] myght
And to the cros by gode skeyl 
Ys the harpe lykened weyl. 
Thirefore, gode men, ye shall lere, 
When ye any gleman here, 
To worshepe God at your power,  
And Davyd in the sauter, 
Yn harpe and tabour and symphan glee 
Worship God in trumpes and sautre:
Yn cordes, yn organes, and bells ringyng, 
Yn all these worship the hevene kyng, &c.”

Grosseteste allegorised the harp in his commentary on Psalms (McEvoy, Grosseteste, p.100), using it powerfully to present his thought on how the Psalter should be interpreted. For Southern de Brune’s poem speaks to the cheerful and joyful nature of Grosseteste’s character, and the strength of that memory in the later Middle Ages.

* For the modern critical edition: Robert de Brunne, Handlying Synne, ed. F. J. Furnivall, Early English Text Society (1901), pp. 158-159, ll. 4739-74.

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