Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Heaven on Earth: Alle is Buxumnesse

William Langland, Piers Plowman B.x.300-305 (tr. Terence Tiller):
For if Heaven exists on earth, and ease for any soul,
For many causes I think it is in cloisters or convent schools.
No man comes into cloisters to quarrel or fight;
All is obedience there, and books, and imbibing of learning.
He is scorned in school, if a scholar cannot learn;
Else, all is delight and love, and love of one another.

For if heuene be on this erthe . and ese to any soule,
It is in cloistere or in scole . be many skilles I fynde;
For in cloistre cometh ne man . to chide ne to fi3te,
But alle is buxumnesse there and bokes . to rede and to lerne.
In scole there is scorne . but if a clerke wil lerne,
And grete loue and lykynge . for eche of hem loueth other.
Walter W. Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898) p. 86:
BUXOM, healthy; formerly, good-humoured, gracious; orig. obedient. (E.) Shak. has buxom, lively, brisk, Hen. V, iii. 6. 27. Gower has boxom, obedient, C. A. ii. 221. In the Ancren Riwle, p. 356, it is spelt buhsum. — A. S. búgan, to bow, bend, whence a stem buh- (for bug-); with the suffix -sum, same, like, as in E. win-some, i.e. joy-like, joyous; see March's A. S. Grammar, sect. 229. The actual word buhsum does not appear in A. S. (as far as we know), but is common in Early English; and there is no doubt about the etymology. Hence the original sense is 'pliable, obedient.' + Du. buigzaam, flexible, tractable, submissive; similarly formed from buigen, to bow, bend. + G. biegsam, flexible; from biegen, to bend. See BOW.
See Milton, Paradise Lost 2.842 and 5.270: buxom air, i.e. unresisting, yielding (cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.75: terra feras cepit, volucres agitabilis aer).

Terence Tiller is an apt name for the translator of Piers Plowman.

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