“Mi Pilkoc Pisseþ on Mi Schone”! Dripping Noses, Impotence, and Other Symptoms of Medieval Old Age.

Well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? Getting old can be a drag! Whatever people say about ‘eighty being the new thirty’ or similar, there is little satisfaction to be found in the physical effects of the ageing process, from finding your first grey hair, to being unable to run for the bus as quickly as you used to, to …. erm… what the title of this blog post describes! In my relative youth, I can enjoy getting older as a process of acquiring wisdom, having new life experiences, and seeing myself change in pleasing ways. However, whilst leafing through a medieval manuscript book, I found a rather more dissatisfied customer of the ageing process. This disatisfaction was probably because the writer had reached the point where he had ceased to grow older and wiser and was now finding himself just getting older and creakier. The manuscript is British Library, Harley 913, The Kildare Lyrics, an Anglo-Irish book that was probably written around the middle of the Fourteenth Century. The manuscript also contains the much more famous verse item, ‘The Land of Cockaygne’ which is a jaunt through an imaginary paradise (below, begins folio 3):

I have not transcribed the ‘on old age’ poem  myself, I scarcely have the time when the hours that I spend in the British Library are directed towards my research assistant role. Therefore, I can credit Frederick Furnivall’s 1862 edition of the manuscript’s contents for the transcription. This also means that I certainly do not guarantee that the transcription is accurate. There are certain words that I’d like to check, given time. The rendering into modern English is my own, and may also need some tweaking, especially given my relative lack of knowledge about  Anglo-Irish Middle English! I’ve split it into artificial stanzas, so that I can present the modern English clearly.  But enough of the talk…  here it is for your delectation (and perhaps anticipation and dread!):

Elde makiþ me geld. and growen al grai.
when eld me wol feld. nykkest þer no nai.
eld nul meld. no murþes of mai
when eld me wold aweld. me wele is a wai
eld wold keld. and cling so the clai
when eld blowis he is blode [bolde]. his ble is sone abatid.
al we wilniþ to be old. wy is eld ihatid.
moch me anueþ. Pat mi dribil druiþ. and mi wrot wet.

Old age makes me gelded (impotent) and grow all grey.
When old age will fell me, there is no denying it,
Old age will not bring any joys of May.
When old age conquers me, my wellbeing being goes away
Old age will get cold and cling like clay.
When old age blows in he is bold, his condition is soon diminished
When we all want to be old (in the sense of wisdom), why is old age hated?
I am greatly annoyed that my saliva dries up and my nose leaks.

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An elderly man in prayer. The Gorleston Psalter.

eld me awarpeþ. þat mi schuldern scharpiþ.and 3ouþe me haþ let.
Ihc ne mai no more
grope vnder gore          þoȝ mi wil wold ȝete
y-ȝoket ic am of 3ore
wiþ last an luþer lore    an sunne me haþ bi-set
iset ic am wiþsunne
þat i ne mai no3t munne   non murþis wiþ mude
eld me haþ amarrid
ic wene he be bi-charred  Pat trusteþ to ȝuþe
Al þus eld me for-dede
þus he toggiþ vte mi ded     and drawiþ ham on rewe.
Y ne mai more of loue done
mi pilkoc pisseþ on mi schone   vch schenlon me bischrew
Mine hed is hore & al for-fare
i hewid as a grei mare       Mi bodi wexit lewe
When i bi-hold on mi schennen
m’in dimmiþ al for dwynnen      Mi frendis waxiþ fewe

Old age warps me, so my shoulders become sharp, and youth has left me.
I can no longer grope under women’s skirts, though I would like to.
I have been yoked, for a long time,
with lust and sinful behaviour and sin has beset me
Beset I am with sin
So that I may not talk of any mirths with my mouth.
Old age has marred me.
I think he will be misled, he who trusts youth.
All the following old age has done to me:
I may no longer make love,
my penis pisses on my shoe, every rascal beshrews me!
My head is grey and all misshapen,
I am coloured like a grey mare,
I have begun to stoop.
When I look at my shins
my eyes grow dim, because they are so diminished. My friends become fewer…

Noo mor of thys!  BL Royal E.iv f. 139

And so it goes on… for your wellbeing and mine, I will leave off now, and may make a second blog post containing the final half of the poem. Be warned, it gets worse!

Until later: don’t grow too old in the meantime!

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One comment

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