Lullay, mine liking

Madonna and Child in a 14th century wall painting, Oxfordshire.

"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.[1] 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).[2]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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. 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).


Middle English original spelling[4] Middle English converted[5] English modernisation[6]

Lullay, myn lykyng, my dere sone, myn swetyng,
Lullay, my dere herte, myn owyn dere derlyng.

Lullay, mine Liking, my dere sone, mine sweting,
Lullay, my dere herte, mine own dere derling.

Lullay, mine Liking, my dear Son, mine Sweeting,
Lullay, my dear heart, mine own dear darling.

I saw a fayr maydyn syttyn and synge,
Sche lullyd a lytyl chyld, a swete lordyng,

I saw a fair maiden, sitten and singe,
Sche lulled a litel child, a swete lording.

I saw a fair maiden, sitting and sing,
She lulled a little child a sweet lording:

That eche lord is that that made alle thinge,
Of alle lordis he is lord, of alle kynges kyng.

That eche lord is that that made alle thinge;
Of alle lordes he is Lord, of alle Kinges kings.

That very lord is He that made all things
Of all lords He is Lord (and) King of all kings.

Ther was mekyl melody at that chyldes berthe,
Alle tho wern in hevene blys thei made mekyl merthe,

There was a mekel melody at that childes berthe;
Alle tho wern in hevene bliss, they made mekel merthe.

There was a mickle (much) melody at that Child's birth,
All that were in heaven's bliss, they made mickle mirth.

Aungelebryt thei song that nyt and seydyn to that chyld,
"Blyssid be thou, and so be sche that is bothe mek and myld".

Aungele bright they song that night, and seiden to that child,
"Blessed be thou, and so be sche that is bothe meke and mild."

Angels bright they sang that night and saiden to that Child,
"Blessed be Thou, and so be she that is both meek and mild."

Prey we now to that chyld, and to his moder dere,
Grawnt hem his blyssyng that now makyn chere.

Prey we now to that child, and to his moder dere,
Graunt hem his blessing that now maken chere.

Pray we now to that Child, and to His mother dear,
Grant them His blessing that now maken cheer.


  1. ^ Mary Gertrude Segar, A mediæval anthology: being lyrics and other short poems, chiefly religious (London: Longmans, Green and co., 1915), p.66
  2. ^ a b H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 326.
  3. ^ Douglas Gray, Themes and images in the medieval English religious lyric (London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1972) p.111
  4. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), pp.94-95
  5. ^ Edmund K. Chambers, F. Sidgwick, Early English Lyrics - Poetry Amorous, Divine, Moral and Trivial, (Manchester: Ayer Publishing, 1973) ISBN 9780405083471 p.131
  6. ^ Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 66.

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