For Good Friday, I wanted to share a fourteenth-century Middle English lyric that I have been working on recently (from Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson poet. 175). It’s written in the voice of Christ in three stanzas and addresses the reader directly from the cross:
Abyde, gud men, & hald yhour pays
And here what god him-seluen says,
Hyngand on þe rode.
Man & woman þat bi me gase,
Luke vp to me & stynt þi pase,
For þe I sched my blode.
(Abide, good men, and hold your peace, / And hear what God himself says, / Hanging on the rood./ Man and woman that by me goes, / Look up to me and cease your pace, / For you I shed my blood.)
Christ accosts the man and woman who are on the point of passing by the cross and commands them to look up at him. This address constructs the reader as a viewer of the crucifixion, present at the scene, in the very manner encouraged by Nicholas Love in the popular fifteenth-century devotional text, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. In the meditation for the crucifixion, Love urges the reader to ‘take hede now diligently with alle þi herte’ and ‘make þe þere present in þi mynde, beholdyng alle þat shale be done a3eynus þi lorde Jesu’ (‘take heed diligently with all your heart’ and ‘make yourself present in your mind [at the crucifixion], beholding all that shall be done against your Lord Jesus’). The Rawlinson lyric is insistent that the reader/viewer do this as Christ commands:
Be-hald my body or þou gang,
And think opon my payns strang,
And styll als stane þou stand.
Biheld þi self þe soth, & se
How I am hynged here on þis tre
And nayled fute & hand.
Read it all.