Now Goeth Sun Under Wood or Pity Mary (Anonymous Old English/Anglo-Saxon Lyric
Poem, circa early 13th
loose translation by
Michael R. Burch
Now the sun passes under the wood:
I rue, Mary, thy face—fair, good.
Now the sun passes under the tree:
I rue, Mary, thy son and thee.
In the poem above, note how "wood" and "tree" invoke the cross while "sun" and
"son" seem to invoke each other. Sun-day is also Son-day, to most Christians. The
anonymous poet who wrote the poem above may have been been punning the
words "sun" and "son." The poem is known as "Pity Mary,"
"Rue Mary," "Now Goeth Sun Under Wood" and "Now Go'th Sun Under Wood."
The University of Toronto's "Representative Poetry Online" gives the poem's
composition date as 1240 and states:
The quatrain belongs to the text of Archbishop Edmund's Speculum Ecclesie,
composed 1239-40 probably at [the abbey in] Pontigny, France and occurs at a
point in the text where the Virgin Mary is given over to St. John at the cross.
The date 1240, then, can only be the latest possible date for its composition.
Presumably, it dates earlier since, being an anonymous poem, the good archbishop
did not himself write it. Interestingly, it first surfaced in France, where
Edmund retired, but this shouldn't surprise us since the French Norman kings
ruled England, having conquered it in 1066.
Here is the original poem:
Nou goth sonne under wode:
nou=now, goth=goeth, sonne=sun/son, wode=wood
Me reweth, Marye, thy faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre:
Me reweth, Marye, thy sone and thee. sone=sun/son (it is
not clear if the different spelling from lines one and three is intentional or
meaningful; see the note below)
The poem seems to be punning and/or creating double entendres out of rode
(face/cross), wode (wood/tree), and sonne (son/sun). The
different spelling of sonne/sone could be intentional and meaningful,
with the first spelling meaning "sun" and the second spelling meaning "son," or
it could be a copyist error.