Abecedarius (NPE 1)

A Medieval Latin term for an ABC primer, and first topic in the NPE.

An alphabetic acrostic. Plural: abecedarii.

So, it could be something as simple as the old "A is for ____, B is for ____" archetype. This is an abecedarius because each line begins with the appropriate letter of the alphabet.

However, it might be something as complex as Psalm 119 (Ashrei temimei derech), the "best known" example, wherein each line begins with the appropriate letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But it's certainly not a mere mnemonic: [i]n divine poetry not only the Word but even letters and sounds, given pattern, bear mystical significance and incantatory power (NPE). There are numerous other aleph-betic acrostics throughout the Psalms, as well as the in the book of Lamentations. I would post an example, but, sadly D. hasn't started Biblical Hebrew yet, so I don't have access to a Hebrew Bible. Once I do, however, I am determined to learn to read these acrostics in the Hebrew.

Not surprisingly, the abecedarius form was picked up by my main man, Chaucer. In "An ABC," the first line of each stanza begins with the appropriate letter, the stanzas themselves being eight lines each. It may be long, but don't say he didn't know how to work it:

An ABC (or, properly, "La priere a Nostre Dame")

Incipit carmen secundum ordinem litterarum alphabeti
(Here begins a poem following the order of the letters of the alphabet)

Almighty and al merciable queene,
To whom that al this world fleeth for socour,
To have relees of sinne, of sorwe, and teene,
Glorious virgine, of alle floures flour,
To thee I flee, confounded in errour.
Help and releeve, thou mighti debonayre,
Have mercy on my perilous langour!
Venquisshed me hath my cruel adversaire.

Bountee so fix hath in thin herte his tente,
That wel I wot thou wolt my sucour bee;
That canst not warne him that with good entente
Axeth thin helpe, thin herte is ay so free.
Thou art largesse of pleyn felicitee,
Haven of refut, of quiete, and of reste.
Loo, how that theeves sevene chasen mee!
Help, lady bright, er that my ship tobreste!

Comfort is noon but in yow, ladi deere;
For, loo, myh sinne and my confusioun,
Which oughten not in thi presence appeare,
Han take on me a greevous accion
Of verrey right and desperacioun;
And, as bi right, thei mighten wel susteene
That I were wurthi my dampnacioun,
Nere merci of you, blisful hevene queene!

Dowte is ther noon, thou queen of misericorde,
That thou n'art cause of grace and merci heere;
God vouched sauf thurgh thee with us to accorde.
For, certes, Crystes blisful mooder deere,
Were now the bowe bent in swich maneere
As it was first, of justice and of ire,
The rightful God nolde of no mercy heere;
But thurgh thee han we grace, as we desire.

Evere hath myn hope of refut been in thee,
For heer-biforn ful ofte, in many a wyse,
Hast thou to misericorde receyved me.
But merci, ladi, at the grete assyse,
Whan we shule come bifore the hye justyse!
So litel fruit shal thanne in me be founde
That, but thou er that day me wel chastyse,
Of verrey right my werk wol me confounde.

Fleeinge, I flee for socour to thi tente
Me for to hide from tempeste ful of deede,
Biseeching yow that ye you not absente,
Thouh I be wikke. O help yit at this neede!
Al have I ben a beste in wil and deede,
Yit, ladi, thou me clothe with thi grace.
Thin enemy and myn - ladi, take heede! -
Unto my deth in poynt is me to chace!

Glorious mayde and mooder, which that nevere
Were bitter, neither in erthe nor in see,
But ful of swetnesse and of merci evere,
Help that my Fader be not wroth with me.
Spek thou, for I ne dar not him ysee,
So have I doon in erthe, allas the while!
That certes, but if thou my socour bee,
To stink eterne he wole my gost exile.

He vouched sauf, tel him, as was his wille,
Bicome a man, to have oure alliaunce,
And with his precious blood he wrot the bille
Upon the crois, as general acquitaunce,
To every penitent in ful creaunce;
And therfore, ladi bright, thou for us praye.
Thanne shalt thou bothe stinte al his grevaunce,
And make oure foo to failen of his praye.

I wot it wel, thou wolt ben oure socour,
Thou art so ful of bowntee, in certeyn.
For, whan a soule falleth in errour,
Thi pitee goth and haleth him ayein.
Thanne makest thou his pees with his sovereyn,
And bringest him out of the crooked strete.
Whoso thee loveth, he shal not love in veyn;
That shal he fynde, as he the lyf shal lete.

Kalenderes enlumyned ben thei
That in this world ben lighted with thi name;
And whoso goth to yow the righte wey,
Him thar not drede in soule to be lame.
Now, queen of comfort, sith thou art that same
To whom I seeche for my medicyne,
Lat not my foo no more my wounde entame;
Myn hele into thin hand al I resygne.

Ladi, thi sorwe kan I not portreye
Under the cros, ne his greevous penaunce.
But for youre bothes peynes I yow preye,
Lat not oure alder foo make his bobaunce
That he hath in his lystes of mischaunce
Convict that ye bothe have bought so deere.
As I seide erst, thou ground of oure substaunce,
Continue on us thi pitous een cleere!

Moises, that saugh the bush with flawmes rede
Brenninge, of which ther never a stikke brende,
Was signe of thin unwemmed maidenhede.
Thou art the bush on which ther gan descende
The Holi Gost, the which that Moyses wende
Had ben a-fyr; and this was in figure.
Now, ladi, from the fyr thou us defende
Which that in helle eternalli shal dure.

Noble princesse, that nevere haddest peere,
Certes, if any comfort in us bee,
That cometh of thee, thou Cristes mooder deere.
We han noon oother melodye or glee
Us to rejoyse in oure adversitee,
Ne advocat noon that wole and dar so preye
For us, and that fo litel hire as yee,
That helpen for an Ave-Marie or tweye.

O verrey light of eyen that ben blynde,
O verrey lust of labour and distresse,
O tresoreere of bountee to mankynde,
Thee whom God ches to mooder for humblesse!
From his ancille he made the maistresse
Of hevene and erthe, our bille up for to beede.
This world awaiteth ever on thi goodnesse,
For thou ne failest nevere wight at neede.

Purpos I have sum time for to enquere
Wherefore and whi the Holi Gost thee soughte,
Whan Gabrielles vois came to thin ere.
He not to werre us swich a wonder wroughte,
But for to save us that he sithen boughte;
Thanne needeth us no wepen us for to save,
But oonly ther we dide not, as us oughte,
Doo penitence, and merci axe and have.

Queen of comfort, yit whan I me bithinke
That I agilt have bothe him and thee,
And that my soule is worthi for to sinke,
Allas! I caityf, whider may I flee?
Who shal unto thi Sone my mene bee?
Who, but thiself, that art of pitee welle?
Thou hast more reuthe on oure adversitee
Than in this world might any tonge telle.

Redresse me, mooder, and me chastise,
For certeynly my Faderes chastisinge,
That dar I nouht abiden in no wise,
So hidous is his rightful rekenynge.
Mooder, of whom oure merci gan to springe,
Beth ye my juge and eek my soules leche:
For evere in you is pitee habondinge
To ech that wole of pitee you biseeche.

Sothis that God ne granteth no pitee
Withoute thee; for God, of his goodnesse,
Foryiveth noon, but it like unto thee.
He hath thee maked vicaire and maistresse
Of al this world, and eek governouresse
Of hevene, and he represseth his justise
After thi wil; and therfore in witnesse
He hath thee corowned in so rial wise.

Temple devout, ther God hath his woninge,
Fro which these misbileeved deprived been,
To you my soule penitent I bringe.
Receyve me - I can no ferther fleen!
With thornes venymous, O hevene queen,
For which the eerthe acursed was ful yore,
I am so wounded, as ye may wel seen,
That I am lost almost, it smert so sore.

Virgine, that art so noble of apparaile,
And ledest us into the hye tour
Of Paradys, thou me wisse and counsaile
How I may have thi grace and thi socour,
All have I ben in filthe and in errour.
Ladi, unto that court thou me ajourne
That cleped is thi bench, O freshe flour!
Ther as that merci evere shal sojourne.

Xristus, thi sone, that in this world alighte
Upon the cros to suffre his passioun,
And eek that Longius his herte pighte,
And made his herte blood to renne adoun,
And al was this for my salvacioun;
And I to him am fals and eek unkynde,
And yit he wole not my dampnacioun -
This thanke I yow, socour of al mankynde!

Ysaac was figure of his deth, certeyn,
That so fer forth his fader wolde obeye
That him ne roughte nothing to be slayn;
Right soo thi Sone list, as a lamb, to deye.
Now, ladi ful of merci, I yow preye,
Sith he his merci mesured so large,
Be ye not skant; for alle we singe and seye
That ye ben from vengeaunce ay oure targe.

Zacharie yow clepeth the open welle
To wasshe sinful soule out of his gilt.
Therfore this lessoun oughte I wel to telle,
That nere thi tener herte, we were spilt.
Now, ladi bryghte, sith thou canst and wilt
Ben to the seed of Adam merciable,
Bring us to that palais that is bilt
To penitentes that ben to merci able. Amen.

Explicit carmen.
(The End.)

Notice that there are no J, U, or W stanzas. In Latin, there is no J or W, and V stood in for U. Middle English being very chummy with Latin, takes up its official alphabet, though the letters themselves are in regular use. They just hadn't earned their place above the blackboard as of yet. Don't ask me why.

The Mariology of the poem is pretty typical for the period. Chaucer, however, has a way of subverting even the unsubvertable. We cannot deign to know exactly how sincere he was when he wrote this (actually a rather loose translation of Deguilleville's "Pelerinage de la Vie Humaine"). I can't put down my postmodern goggles when I think of Chaucer the translator, the transliterator, the plagiarizer (yes, he did, they all did). Many scholars goo and gaa over the frequent conflating of blazonry and Marian veneration that occurs in this and other of his poems - the mixing of the secular (and oft profane) and the sacred was a huge trope for Chaucer, no doubt. But, he most often employed the trope to criticize the corruption of the Medieval Church, not really to make a statement about the dual nature of the feminine (Virgin-Whore complex, anyone?). Chaucer, though a great innovator, was of his time entirely, for which I cannot fault him. After all, who can't remove her PoMo goggles?

And that cigar: just a cigar. Keep it away from my husband.

But - the topic at hand:

My project and challenge for the droves of poets reading this: write an abecedarius! Take after Chaucer if you like, or be a whanny why don't you and write a single stanza:



I'll write mine and post it here for everyone to laugh at. I think I'm having a flashback to Forms class. Somebody bring me some smelling salts.


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