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On-Mad-Songs-art - 5/26/10


"On Mad Songs" by Lady Ingeborg bildsbriótr Ulfsdottir.


NOTE: See also the files: medvl-poetry-lnks, poetry-msg, p-songs-msg, P-Polit-Songs-art, song-sources-msg, Bardic-Guide-art, Iambic-Pent-art, per-insanity-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This article was first printed in the _The Barge_, the monthly publication of the Barony of Three Rivers, Calontir.


On Mad Songs

by Lady Ingeborg bildsbriótr Ulfsdottir


Our chronicler requested the bizarre.  How about a crypt-sleeping, chicken-buggering Bedlamite?





From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
All the spirits that stand
By the naked man,
In the book of moons defend ye!
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken;
Nor travel from
Yourselves with Tom
Abroad, to beg your bacon.




Nor never sing any food and feeding,
Money, drink, or cloathing;
Come dame or maid,
Be not afraid,
For Tom will injure nothing.


Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enraged;
And of forty been
Three times fifteen
In durance soundly caged
In the lovely lofts of Bedlam,
In stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong,
Sweet whips ding, dong,
And a wholesome hunger plenty.


With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruise of cockle pottage,
And a thing thus—tall,
Sky bless you all,
I fell into this dotage.
I slept not till the Conquest;
Till then I never waked;
Till the roguish boy
Of love where I lay,
Me found, and stript me naked.


When short I have shorn my sow's face,
And swigg'd my horned barrel;
In an oaken inn
Do I pawn my skin,
As a suit of gilt apparel:
The morn's my constant mistress,
And the lovely owl my morrow;
The flaming drake,
and the night-crow, make
Me music, to my sorrow.


The palsie plague these pounces,
When I prig your pigs or pullen;
Your culvers take
Or mateless make
Your chanticleer and sullen;
When I want provant with Humphry I sup,
And when benighted,
I repose in Paul's,
With waking souls
I never am affrighted.


I know more than Apollo;
For, oft when he lies sleeping,
I behold the stars
At mortal wars,
And the wounded welkin weeping;
The moon embraces her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior;
While the first does horn
The stars of the morn,
And the next the heavenly farrier.


With a host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander:
With a burning spear,
And a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander;
With a knight of ghosts and shadows,
I summoned am to Tourney:
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey!


(Isn't the last stanza wonderfully romantic?  Fans of Mercedes Lackey's Bedlam's Bard series may recognize the source of several titles, and I've seen it show up in a couple other author's works as well.)


As one of my judges at kingdom A&S, the lovely Mistress Yvaine suggested a glossary, which had somehow never occurred to me.  Hooray! (no, I was not being facetious; I'm just actually that nerdy.  But if I can't let my nerdiness out around you guys, where?) Underlined words are defined at the end of the article.


               Paul Fussell Jr. dates the above lyric as sixteenth century, and says that for three centuries the mad-song stanza "connoted immediately a happy, harmless, and verbally inventive brand of insanity"(Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, New York: Random House, 1965).  There's some argument that the poem may be seventeenth century, but since I couldn't find anything conclusive either way I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.


               Tom of Bedlam was a name used for crazy begging Englishmen, the name coming from those who were (or claimed to be) released from the madhouse Bethlehem Royal Hospital; "Bedlam" in slang.  A "Poor Tom"'s popularity as a literary persona may be due to Shakespeare's Edgar of King Lear, who disguises himself as a Tom-a-Bedlam.  Regardless, the idea of a colorful roving loony caught on, and "Poems composed in the character of a Tom o' Bedlam appear to have formed a fashionable class of poetry among the wits; they seem to have held together poetical contests, and some of these writers became celebrated for their successful efforts," (Curiosities of Literature by Isaac D'Israeli, 1766-1848.)


               Another mad song stanza that's modernly popular, to the same tune as the "Tom-A-Bedlam Song" above, is one written in reply over a century later—it's from Thomas D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth: or, Pills to Purge Melancholy.  It's post-period (early 1700's) but since some folk singers intermix the two, and it's a good example of the mad-song's form, I'll beg your leave to print it here as well.


               The name Maudlin, also mentioned in the third verse of the "Tom-A-Bedlam Song," could have come from a nickname for the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, which may also have held mental cases. (They weren't "patients" at the time, as there wasn't much to actually be done about madness.)


(all capitals and italics are D'Urfey's own, as best I can tell)

Mad Maudlin,

To find out Tom of Bedlam


To find Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Ten thousand years I'll travel.
Mad Maudlin goes with dirty toes,
To save her shoes from gravel.


               Yet will I sing, Bonny Boys, bonny Mad Boys,
               Bedlam Boys are Bonny.
               They still go bare and live by the air
               And want no Drink, nor Money.


I now repent that ever
Poor Tom was so disdainèd.
My wits are lost since him I crost,
Which makes me go thus chainèd.


My staff hath murder'd giants,
My bag a long knife carries,
To cut mince pyes from children's thighs,
With which I feast the Faries.


My horn is made of thunder,
I stole it out of Heaven.
The Rainbow there is this I wear,
For which I thence was driven.


I went to Pluto's kitchin,
To beg some food one morning.
And there I got souls piping hot,
With which the spits were turning.


Then took I up a Cauldron,
Where boyl'd ten thousand harlots.
'Twas full of flame, yet I drank the same
To the health of all such varlets.


And when that I have beaten
The Man i'th' Moon to powder,
His dog I'll take, and him I'll make
As could no dæmon louder.


A Health to Tom of Bedlam,
Go fill the seas in barrels.
I'll drink it all, well brew'd with gall,
and Maudling-drunk, I'll quarrel.


               The poetic form "mad song stanza" is loosely iambic and five lines long, though D'Urfey's version puts the third and fourth line together, and the anonymous song makes two stanzas into one verse.


The first, second, and last lines are about six syllables long with three stressed syllables

line 1    da DA da DA da DA

line 2    da DA da DA da DA

line 3

line 4

line 5    da DA da DA da DA


The third and fourth lines (also iambic) are only around four syllables apiece.

line 3    da DA da DA

line 4    da DA da DA


The second and fifth lines rhyme

line 2    da DA da DA da DUM

line 5    da DA da DA da DUM


as do the third and fourth

line 3    da DA da DEE

line 4    da DA da DEE


but the first shouldn't rhyme with anything.


So, in summary,

line 1    da DA da DA da DA

line 2    da DA da DA da DUM

line 3    da DA da DEE

line 4    da DA da DEE

line 5    da DA da DA da DUM

As you might have guessed, the limerick is a direct descendant.




               Poetic form: the way a poem is arranged, including rhythm, rhyme, shape, and often sound.


               Iamb (pronounced EYE-amb): a unit made of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable—one of the da DA's in my example.  The word 'deCLARE' is an iamb.  An iamb could also be made of two words: 'the CAT' is an iambic unit. Sometimes there are even a couple iambs contained in one word, like with 'proPITiaATE.'


               Stanza: What would in a song be called a verse, or a chorus: several lines in a poem arranged on top of each other with a space (or indent) before the next set of lines; a clump of lines in a poem, usually having another clump of equal length following. Stanza may also mean a poetic form that is written in stanzas, as a 'mad song stanza' is.


               Stressed syllable: a word, or part of a word, that is either more important than those sounds around it, or else is just given more oomph.  Have you heard the old joke about "putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle?"  The silliness is that the way we pronounce them is "EMphasis" and "SYLlable," because those are the syllables that are stressed when speaking those words.  (Sometimes it can be hard to tell where a stress is; a former English teacher once told me that if you need help finding it out, put your hand under your jaw, and the part of the word or phrase that makes your jaw move the most is usually the one with the most stress.)  If you're just reading poetry instead of writing it, you don't need to be able to say, "this is stressed and that is unstressed" as long as you know how to pronounce the word.


               Unstressed syllable: a word, or part of a word, that is either less important than those sounds around it, or else is just given less oomph.  The -ten of KITten, com- and -ter of comPUter.  If the vowel sound in the word or syllable is uh, then you can almost bet it's unstressed.


               Within a single word, the stresses are: BEAver, deCLARE, ANthropoMORphic.

               In a phrase: the DIM LIGHT was YEllowish.


Having run across a cool poetic form, I had to play with it a bit myself...





If I were wont to run

The way a bird will do,

In tiring hop

A clumsy flop

Well, I'd be flying too!


In looking down I see

That every angry adder

Has eyes gone dull

Has split his skull

In trying to climb a ladder.


Aye animals are queer,

Their habits passing strange,

I'm glad in full

My coat is wool

And not subject to change!


(note: Thursday is fighter practice for the Barony of Three Rivers)

Thursday Thunderstorm



The pouring rain offends me.

Zeus, I cry, desist!

Unless I pound

Friends to the ground

How can I subsist?


July, Anno Societatis XLII,

2007 Gregorian



Copyright 2007 by Caitlin Johnoff, 2801 Middlebush Dr., Columbia, MO 65203. <alianoraree at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org