Adam lay ybounden

Adam lay ybounden

Single surviving manuscript source of "Adam lay ybounden" in the Sloane Manuscript 2593 held by the British Library.

"Adam lay ybounden", originally titled Adam lay i-bowndyn[1] is a 15th-century macaronic English text of unknown authorship. The manuscript on which the poem is found, (Sloane 2593, ff.10v-11), is held by the British Library, who date the work to c.1400 and speculate that the lyrics may have belonged to a wandering minstrel; other poems included on same page in the manuscript include "I have a gentil cok", the famous lyric poem "I syng of a mayden" and two riddle songs - "A minstrel's begging song" and "I have a yong suster".[2]

The Victorian antiquarian Thomas Wright suggests that although there is consensus that the lyrics date from the reign of Henry V of England (1387–1422), the songs themselves may be rather earlier.[3] Wright speculated that the lyrics originated in Warwickshire, and suggested that a number of the songs were intended for use in mystery plays.[3] However, more recent analysis of their dialect within the song tradition of East Anglia and more specifically Norfolk; two further carol MS from the county contain songs from Sloane 2593.[4]


  • Analysis 1
  • Text 2
  • Settings 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Adam lay ybounden relates the events of Genesis, Chapter 3. In medieval theology, Adam was supposed to have remained in bonds with the other patriarchs in the limbus patrum from the time of his death until the crucifixion of Christ (the "4000 winters").[5] The second verse narrates the Fall of Man following Adam's temptation by Eve and the serpent. John Speirs suggests that there is a tone of astonishment, almost incredulity in the phrase "and all was for an apple", noting "an apple, such as a boy might steal from an orchard, seems such a little thing to produce such overwhelming consequences. Yet so it must be because clerks say so. It is in their book (probably meaning the Vulgate itself)."[6]

The third verse suggests the subsequent redemption of man by the birth of Jesus Christ by Mary, who was to become the Queen of Heaven as a result,[7] and thus the song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas' concept of the "felix culpa" (blessed fault).[6] Paul Morris suggests that the text's evocation of Genesis implies a "fall upwards.[8] Speirs suggests that the lyric retells the story in a particularly human way: "The doctrine of the song is perfectly orthodox...but here is expressed very individually and humanly. The movement of the song reproduces very surely the movements of a human mind."[6]


Middle English original spelling[9] Middle English converted[10]

Adam lay i-bowndyn,

bowndyn in a bond,

Fowre thowsand wynter

thowt he not to long

Adam lay ybounden,

Bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter,

Thought he not too long.

And al was for an appil,

an appil that he tok.

As clerkes fyndyn wretyn

in here book.

And all was for an apple,

An apple that he took.

As clerkes finden,

Written in their book.

Ne hadde the appil take ben,

the appil taken ben,

Ne hadde never our lady

a ben hevene quen.

Ne had the apple taken been,

The apple taken been,

Ne had never our ladie,

Abeen heav'ne queen.

Blyssid be the tyme

that appil take was!

Therefore we mown syngyn

Deo gratias!

Blessed be the time

That apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen.

Deo gratias!


The text was originally meant to be a song text, although no music survives. However, there are many notable modern choral settings of the text, with diverse interpretations by composers such as Peter Warlock,[11] John Ireland,[12] Boris Ord,[13] Philip Ledger,[14] Carson Cooman,[15] Howard Skempton [16] and Benjamin Britten (titled Deo Gracias in his Ceremony of Carols).[17]

Boris Ord's setting is probably the best-known version as a result of its traditional performance following the First Lesson at the annual

  • Image of the Sloane MS 2593 at

External links

  1. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856)
  2. ^ Medieval lyrics at the British Library Online, URL accessed December 31, 2009
  3. ^ a b Thomas Wright, Songs and carols printed from a manuscript in the Sloane collection in the British museum (London: W. Pickering, 1836), vi
  4. ^ Palti, K.R.; (2008) ‘Synge we now alle and sum’: three Fifteenth-Century collections of communal song: a study of British Library, Sloane MS 2593; Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. e.1; and St John’s College, Cambridge, MS S.54. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London), 104
  5. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), p.109
  6. ^ a b c John Speirs, Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), pp.65-66
  7. ^ Sarah Jane Boss, Empress and handmaid: on nature and gender in the cult of the Virgin Mary (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000) ISBN 978-0-304-70781-2 p.114
  8. ^ Paul Morris, A walk in the garden: biblical, iconographical and literary images of Eden (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1992) ISBN 978-1-85075-338-4, p.33
  9. ^ Thomas Wright, Songs and carols from a manuscript in the British Museum of the fifteenth century, (London: T. Richards, 1856), pp.32-33
  10. ^ Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400–1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p.163
  11. ^ Peter Warlock, lay ybounden, Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  12. ^ John Ireland, Adam lay ybounden, Choral Public Domain Library, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  13. ^ a b A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2003, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  14. ^ Philip Ledger published works, Retrieved 22 November 2010
  15. ^ Carson Cooman, "Adam Lay Ybounden, for chorus & organ", Op.576 - Sacred Choral Music (Naxos 8.559361)
  16. ^ OUP Skempton, "Adam lay y-bounden"
  17. ^ Corinne Saunders, A Companion to Medieval Poetry, p. 272 (London : John Wiley and Sons, 2010) ISBN 978-1-4051-5963-0
  18. ^ A Service For Advent With Carols, Live From The Chapel Of St John's College, Cambridge, Sunday 29 November
  19. ^ Mediaeval Baebes, [2], Discography, Retrieved 4 October 2013


[19] regularly perform settings of the work.The Mediaeval Baebes [18].BBC Radio 3 and their annual broadcast of the Advent carol service on Choir of St John's College, Cambridge was commissioned for and first performed in 2009 by the Giles Swayne A new setting by [13]