Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Midsummer!

oberon titania I love seasonal changes! In fact, I love them so much that I even teach a class about them at my university, called (admittedly a bit awkwardly) “A Midsummer Night’s Weirdness.” This class chronicles in particular the liminal moments of the seasonal year as celebrated in traditional societies, for long before Shakespeare wrote his play, strange things have been happening on the longest day of summer and the longest day of winter in Medieval European literature. Portals to other realms open up, lovers fall in and out of love, strange fairy women appear to choose a mate or a victim, and magic boats materialize at the shore, waiting to take an adventurous hero away on a voyage he’ll never forget—and from which he may never return. My class examines some of the texts which describe the otherworldly effects of these weirdest of nights, including Celtic, French, and Spanish romance, including works by Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, British ballads, fairy and folk tales, and of course, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

One of my favorite bits of literature about midsummer to teach is La Misa de amor (the Mass of Love), a traditional late-medieval Spanish ballad, in which a supernatural being enters the church on a Midsummer morning, throwing the worshipers into confusion. I include the original for you Spanish speakers out there, then follow it with my own rough translation (sorry, don’t have my dictionary with me, so some of the vocab might be a little off—especially some of the archaic terms for the Lady’s wardrobe):

La Misa de Amor :

Mañanita de San Juan, 245px-Morgan,_Evelyn_de_-_Flora_-_1894
mañanita de primor,
cuando damas y galanes
van a oír misa mayor.

Allá va la mi señora,
entre todas la mejor;
viste saya sobre saya,
mantellín de tornasol,
camisa con oro y perlas
bordada en el cabezón.
En la su boca muy linda,
lleva un poco de dulzor;
En la su cara tan blanca,
un poquito de arrebol,

en los sus ojuelos garzos
lleva un poco de alcohol;
así entraba en la iglesia,
relumbrando como el sol.
Las damas mueren de envidia
y los galanes de amor.
El que cantaba en el coro,
en el Credo se perdió;
el abad que dice misa,
ha cambiado la lición;
monaguillos que le ayudan,
no aciertan responder, non.
Por decir: "Amén, amén",
decían: "Amor, amor".

Collected by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Flor Nueva de Romances Viejos.

My translation:

It was the morning of St.  John’s Day (Midsummer)

early in the morning,

when gentlemen and ladies

go to hear mass.

In then came the lady,

among all the very best,

With a bunch of piled up petticoats (?),

and a mantle the color of a sunflower,

A dress with gold and pearls,

embroidered at the hem.

In her little mouth so lovely,

she sucked on a little sweet,

and on her lovely face, a little bit of blush.

Her hazel eyes sparkled as if with alcohol. (?)

thus she entered the church

shining like the sun.

The ladies were dying of envy,

and the gentlemen of love.

Anyone who sung in the choir,

forgot the words of the creed.

The abbot who is reading the gospel,

has messed up the readings

and the little acolytes who aid him,

they don’t know how to respond.

When they mean to respond: ‘amen, amen’,

they can only say: ‘amor, amor’!

Thus the wild spirit of Midsummer and love messes with staid reality in the most pleasant ways! I wish you all a very pleasant Midsummer Night's Eve!

CREDITS: Evelyn de Morgan’s Flora and Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s Titania and Oberon courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



  1. what a wonderful poem! you say it's late medieval, are we talking 16th century? was it sung all over the place or just in a particular region?

  2. thanks, yo. Hope the translation wasn't too spotty...
    I am not sure when it was collected, although I do know it was popular--you are more familiar w/dialectical differences than I--

    I don't own the flor nueva, alas, so can't check the biblio. record for you, but wouldn't be surprised if RMP didn't fiddle w/the verse a wee bit--typical of these notorious ballad collectors.

    I'd say it's pretty late medieval, if not Siglo de oro, myself. It seems awfully literary to me. But I still like it.

    How're things? I hope the wedding is coming along.


what thinkest thou?


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