Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Lilja, 98 [Vol. 7, 673-5]

[8] Lilja ‘Lily’: The habit of naming a poem in its penultimate st. is exemplified in other long Christian poems that preceded Lil, including Has, Leið, Líkn and Sól, as well as in Icel. devotional poems that came after (Rósa, Milska, Ljómur, Gimsteinn, Boðunarvísur and Hugarraun, all published in ÍM). In a few cases, the procedure is varied; Kálf Kátr names itself in the penultimate and final sts, Mdr in the final st. The Lil poet, who clearly was both concerned with form and familiar with the earlier poetry, may here be signalling that st. 98 is in a sense penultimate. See further Note to st. 99. The image of the lily has many associations although, oddly, the Lil poet does not use them. The famous passage from the S. of S, ego flos campi et lilium convallium sicut lilium inter spinas sic amica mea inter filias ‘I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters’ (S. of S. II.1-2), has been interpreted as a reference to both Christ and Mary. Two texts by Peter Damian illustrate the flexibility of the symbol. In the conventional imagery of his Oratio ad Deum Filium ‘Prayer to God the Son’, the lily represents Christ. The repentant sinner addresses Mary with the words: Benedicta inter mulieres; redolet ager sacratissimi uteri tui naribus cordis mei; ex quo, videlicet agro, dum unicum illud ac singulare lilium prodiit, omne cum eo virtutum spiritualium germen erupit. Tu enim es coelestis illa terra, quae dedit fructum suum ‘You are blessed among women; the field of your most sacred womb diffuses the nostrils of my heart with a sweet smell. From that field the one unique lily sprang up, and the seed of all spiritual virtues with it. You are that heavenly land, which brought forth its fruit’ (Petrus Damianus, col. 920). In his homily for the birthday of Mary, the lily symbolizes both son and mother (Lucchesi 1983, 282). The lily symbolizes Christ in the messianic prophecies of Isa. XXXV.1-4 and Hos. XIV.4-5. In medieval visual art, the lily appears in representations of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel often holds a lily as a sign of the Incarnation. It is also a common motif in representations of the Last Judgement, familiar from the many wall paintings in medieval churches in which Christ is depicted with a ‘lily of mercy’ coming from the right side of his mouth and a ‘sword of justice’ from the left as he separates the saved and the damned. Iconography of S. Joseph often shows him holding a lily, an allusion to Isa. XI.1 (et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root’). Nevertheless, the lily is above all Mary’s attribute (Kirschbaum 1968-76, 100-1).

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