"When the Nightingale Sings" is a Middle English poem by an unknown author, from the British Library's Harley 2253 manuscript.

Notice the way the poet puns on the multiple meanings of several words, for example "lemmon" (to burn, beloved), "ore" (grace, over), "mihte" (can, might). Middle English was a language in a great state of flux, and the poet takes full advantage. Thus we also see multiple forms of words, such as "think," "pray," and "I," that have since been reduced to single forms.

Try deciphering the poem in the original Middle English first. If you get stuck, slide your mouse over the hardlinks to see my translations. Enjoy!

When þe nyhtegale singes þe wodes waxen grene.
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes in aueryl y wene,
Ant love is to myn herte gon wiþ one spere so kene
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes myn herte deþ me tene.

Ich have loved al þis er þat y may love namore,
Ich have siked moni syk lemmon for þin ore.
Me nis love never þe ner ant þat me reweþ sore.
Suete lemmon þench on me--ich have loved þe ore.

Suete lemmon y preye þe of love one speche,
Whil y lyve in world so wyde oþer nulle y seche.
Wiþ þy love my suete leof mi blis þou mihtes eche,
A suete cos of þy mouþ mihte be my leche.

Suete lemmon y pre3e þe of a love bene
3ef þou me lovest ase men says lemmon as y wene,
Ant 3ef hit þi wille be þou loke þat hit be sene,
So muchel y þenke upon þe þat al y waxe grene.

Bituene Lyncolne ant Lyndeseye, Norhamptoun ant Lounde,
Ne wot y non so fayr a may as y go fore ybounde.
Suete lemmon ypre3e þe þou lovie me a stounde!
Y wole mone my song
On wham þat hit ys on ylong.

- MS Harley 2253, British Library, Verse 25.

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