Ich Am From Irelande

Icham1)Ich am “I am” of Irlaunde
And of the holy londe
Of Irlande.
Gode sire, preye ich the2)preye ich the “I pray thee”,
For of saynte charite
Come ant daunce wyt me3)ant “and” wyt “with”
In Ireland.

This is one of those early poems that’s particularly dear to my heart; there»s an almost infectious joy in the invitation to “Come and dance.” This Middle English lyric is by one of my very favorite poets, Anonymous. She’s quite prolific, and exceedingly long-lived.4)In all seriousness, I have no real reason to assert that the speaker or the poet is female, other than wishful thinking. I note that assertions like this one “the famous lyric, whose speaker is clearly female” have nothing to support them, either. “Ich am of Ireland,” or “I am of Ireland” is from about 1400, so roughly contemporaneous with Chaucer. This short lyric is preserved in a single manuscript, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson D.913 f. 1v.

Here’s the lyric 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.

“Ich am of Ireland” is one of several rather hastily scrawled lyrics on a single 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 not outside the realm of possibility that this carol, or a version of it, is very old indeed.

Line 5, “For of saynte charite” or “for of holy charity” doesn’t mean what it looks like. Charity, perhaps more familiar in the Latin form, caritas, had a different meaning in the tenth through seventeenth centuries than it has today. In Middle English, charity doesn’t generally mean giving to others, rather, it means love; here, it means Christian love. Saynte means “holy” here.

Yeats adopted “Ich am of Irelaunde” for his poem “XX — I Am of Ireland” in his collection of poems Words for Music Perhaps, first published in 1933.

References   [ + ]

About the author

She plays o' the viol-de-gamboys, speaks three or four languages word for word without book, hath all the good gifts of nature, knows a hawk from a handsaw, and can see a church by daylight. The rest is subject to fancy.