Phallic Poultry in Middle English, for the Price of a Song

Excited by the news that Apple today added 1,000 new Classical albums to the iTunes Store, and the fact that I’ve a $20.00 iTunes gift certificate, I spent some time browsing in the store. I found new versions of King Orfeo and Tam Lin, both of which I’m writing about in the dreaded dissertation, and then I spotted this:

I Have a Gentil C**K.

I was a little amused by the **; the song, based on the fifteenth century Middle English lyric from British Library MS Sloane 2393, is, after all, about a rooster. Even though people with Middle English and dirty minds (like me) will read it as something quite other, the poem ostensibly describes a medieval English rooster, complete with blue legs. You can hear a .wav sample of the song here, though you will likely regret it, unless you’re a true fan of “authentic” medieval music. The song is from the album The Chaucer Songbook: Celtic Music and Early Music for Harp and Voice (the album is halfway down the linked page), from Carol Wood et al.

Why Apple felt the two ** were necessary is beyond me. The poem is quite short so you can read it yourself, and take advantage of the helpful annotations by Eve Salisbury
here (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page; it’s the last poem). Personally, I’m pretty sure Chaucer had the lyric in mind when he had the Nun’s Priest describe Chantecleer; the effictio is specific enough that antique poultry afficienados have identified the breed of chicken. But, yes, it’s a very phallic sort of rooster, what with him being all night “in my lady’s chamber,” and all.

But it’s not worth two asterisks. Really. Dare I hope that a new generation of medievalists will download the song, then learn Middle English in order to understand the bawdy joke, consequently developing a life-long love of Chaucer?

If you’re curious, you can get iTunes yourself, Mac OS X or Windows, the software’s free. Download iTunes