The Fair Maid of Ribbesdale

From the Harley Lyrics

The Fair Maid of Ribbesdale

See the glossary to the Riversaide Chaucer for words not explained in the margins.

















Mosti riden by Ribbesdale
Wilde wommen forto wale
And welde which ich wolde,
Founde were the fairest one
That ever was mad of blod and bone
In boure best with bolde.

As sonnebem hire bleo is bright
In vche londe heo leometh light
Thourh tale as mon me tolde;
The lily lossum is and long
With riche rose and rode among
A fildor fax to folde.

Hire hed when ich biholde upon
The sonnebeem aboute noon
Me thoghte that I seghe;
Hire eyen aren grete and gray ynogh
That lussom when heo on me logh lovely one
Ybend wax either breghe

The mone with hire muchele might
Ne leneth non such light a-night
That is in hevene heghe
As hire forhed doth in day
For whom thus muchel I mourne may;
For duel to deth I dreighe

Heo hath browes bend an high
Whit bitwene and nought too nigh;
Lussum lif heo ledes;
Hire nose is set as hit wel semeth
I deghe, for deth that me demeth;
Hire speche as spices spredeth.

Hire lockes lefly aren and longe
For sone heo mighte hire murthes monge
With blisse when hit bredes;
Hire chin is chosen and either cheke
Whit ynogh and rode on eke
As roser when hit rose redes.

Heo hath a mury mouth to mele
With lefly rede lippes lele
Romauns forto rede;
Hire teth aren white as bon of whal
Evene set and atled al
As hende mowe taken hede.

Swannes swire swithe wel ysette neck
A spanne lengore then I mette
That freoly is to fede;
Me were levere kepe hire come
Then beon pope and ride in Rome be
Stithe upon stede.

When I biholde upon hire hond
The lilye white lef in lond
Best heo mighte beo;
Either arm an elne long ell
Baloygne mengeth al bimong
As baum is hire bleo. balm

Fingres heo hath fair to folde
Mighte ich hire have and holde
In world wel were me;
Hire tittes aren an-under bis
As apples two of Parays
Youself ye mowen seo.

Hire girdel of bete gold is al
Umben hire middel smal
That triketh to the to;
Al with rubies on a rowe
Withinne corven craft to knowe
And emeraudes mo.

The bocle is al of whalles bon
Ther withinne stont a ston
That warneth men from wo;
The water that hit wetes in
Ywis hit wortheth al to win
That seggen seyden so.

Heo hath a mete middel smal,
Body and brest wel made al,
As Feynes withoute fere;
Either side soft as silk
Whittore then the moren milk
With leofly lit on lere.

Al that ich you nempne noght
Hit is wonder wel ywroght
And elles wonder were;
He mighte sayen that Crist hym seghe
That mighte nightes negh hire leghe;
Hevene he hevede here.
If I might
control whichever I wanted

best for a bold one in a chamber

her complexion
everywhere. . . she gleams
as I was told (mon = one)
rosy hue, rednes, mixed in
golden thread a tress to enfold

large and very gray
she. . . smiled
both brows bent

great power
lends, gives

dole. . .draw


She leads a lovely life

die for her who dooms me to death

are lovely
she. . . mingle
an occasion for joy arises
choice, excellent
ruddy also
rose bush. . . reddens with roses

She. . . speak
loyal, admirable

whale bone
set out, arranged
As elegant people will notice

a span (9 inches) longer than I found before
elegant is to feed
I would rather await her arrival


i.e., better than the lily
(a measurement; now 45 inches)
baleen, whale bone mingled therein
balm. . . complexion

under fine linen
(As) you can see for yourself

around her small waist
adorns (her)

skill of carving make known

stands a jewel

changes all [poison] to wine
Those who saw it said so

She. . . suitable

Phoenix without peer

morning milk
color on her cheek

do not specify to you

looked on him (benevolently)
Who could lay by her at night
He would have his Heaven here

This text has been heavily regularized and glossed from the edition by Karl Boeddeker, Altenglischen Dichtungen des Ms. Harl. 2253. Berlin, 1878 [Widener 12414.13]. (Better edition is G.L. Brook, Harley Lyrics. Manchester, 1956 [PR1203 .H34].)