“Erthe toc of erthe erthe wyth woh”

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Erthe toc of erthe erthe wyth woh.
Erthe other erthe to the erthe droh.
Erthe leyde erthe in erthene throh.
Tho heuede erthe of erthe erthe ynoh.

– Anonymous

Various translations of this Middle English poem can be found online. My favorite:

Earth took of earth earth with ill;
Earth other earth gave earth with a will.
Earth laid earth in the earth stock-still:
Then earth in earth had of earth its fill.

There are also several versions of the original which, judging from its widespread inclusion in incunabula across the centuries, seems to have been a popular poem. “Erthe upon Erthe” collects these variations and gives historical background.

It is a remarkable little thing. The repetition of “earth” makes it easy to remember; and as that word repeats, the meaning changes slightly: planet, ground, soil, tomb. The earth becomes not just the land on which we live, but also the opening in that land where we go to die. Ominous!


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