Ich Am From Irelande

Ich Am From Irelande

Ich am of Ireland
And of the holy londe
Of Ireland.
Gode sire, preye ich thee,
For of saynte charite
Come and dance with me
In Ireland.

This Middle English lyric is by one of my very favorite poets, Anonymous. She's quite prolific, and exceedingly long-lived. "Ich am of Ireland," or "I am of Ireland" is from c. 1400, and is preserved in a single manuscript, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson D.913.

Here's the same thing in Modern English:

I am of Ireland
And of the holy land
Of Ireland.
Good sir, I pray you,
For holy charity
Come and dance with me
In Ireland.

Line 5, "For of saynte charite" or "for the sake of holy charity" doesn't mean what it looks like. Charity, or the Latin version you might be more familiar with, caritas, had a different meaning in the tenth through seventeenth centuries than it has today. In Middle English, charity doesn't mean giving to others, rather, it means love; here, it means Christian love. This lyric is on of several rather hastily scrawled on a fragment of parchment. It's probably a carol, a ring-dance, where one dancer invites another to join him or her in the center of the ring, or "Ireland." It is quite possible that this carol, or a version of it, is vert old indeed, predating Christianity in Britain or Ireland.

This is one of those early poems that's dear to my heart; there's an almost infectious joy in the invitation to "Come and dance." Yeats adopted the poem for his poem"XX - I Am of Ireland" in the his collection of poems Words for Music Perhaps, first published in 1933