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Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children's Poetry from the Middle Ages

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Medieval children lived in a world rich in poetry, from lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs to riddles, tongue twisters, and nonsensical verses. They read or listened to stories in verse: ballads of Robin Hood, romances, and comic tales. Poems were composed to teach them how to behave, eat at meals, hunt game, and even learn Latin and French. In Fleas, Flies, and Friars, Medieval children lived in a world rich in poetry, from lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs to riddles, tongue twisters, and nonsensical verses. They read or listened to stories in verse: ballads of Robin Hood, romances, and comic tales. Poems were composed to teach them how to behave, eat at meals, hunt game, and even learn Latin and French. In Fleas, Flies, and Friars, Nicholas Orme, an expert on childhood in the Middle Ages, has gathered a wide variety of children’s verse that circulated in England beginning in the 1400s, providing a way for modern readers of all ages to experience the medieval world through the eyes of its children. In his delightful treasury of medieval children’s verse, Orme does a masterful job of recovering a lively and largely unknown tradition, preserving the playfulness of the originals while clearly explaining their meaning, significance, or context. Poems written in Latin or French have been translated into English, and Middle English has been modernized. Fleas, Flies, and Friars has five parts. The first two contain short lyrical pieces and fragments, together with excerpts from essays in verse that address childhood or were written for children. The third part presents poems for young people about behavior. The fourth contains three long stories and the fifth brings together verse relating to education and school life.


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Medieval children lived in a world rich in poetry, from lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs to riddles, tongue twisters, and nonsensical verses. They read or listened to stories in verse: ballads of Robin Hood, romances, and comic tales. Poems were composed to teach them how to behave, eat at meals, hunt game, and even learn Latin and French. In Fleas, Flies, and Friars, Medieval children lived in a world rich in poetry, from lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs to riddles, tongue twisters, and nonsensical verses. They read or listened to stories in verse: ballads of Robin Hood, romances, and comic tales. Poems were composed to teach them how to behave, eat at meals, hunt game, and even learn Latin and French. In Fleas, Flies, and Friars, Nicholas Orme, an expert on childhood in the Middle Ages, has gathered a wide variety of children’s verse that circulated in England beginning in the 1400s, providing a way for modern readers of all ages to experience the medieval world through the eyes of its children. In his delightful treasury of medieval children’s verse, Orme does a masterful job of recovering a lively and largely unknown tradition, preserving the playfulness of the originals while clearly explaining their meaning, significance, or context. Poems written in Latin or French have been translated into English, and Middle English has been modernized. Fleas, Flies, and Friars has five parts. The first two contain short lyrical pieces and fragments, together with excerpts from essays in verse that address childhood or were written for children. The third part presents poems for young people about behavior. The fourth contains three long stories and the fifth brings together verse relating to education and school life.

30 review for Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children's Poetry from the Middle Ages

  1. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    This slim anthology brings together a selection of poems told by, to, or about children (mostly in England) during the later Middle Ages. Nicholas Orme is one of the experts on the history of childhood in medieval western Europe, and so he is able to cast a wide net, bringing together snippets of stories, lullabies, riddles, and chasing games—the kinds of things which must have formed such a large part of oral culture but which often doesn’t survive in the written record. I did wish for a little This slim anthology brings together a selection of poems told by, to, or about children (mostly in England) during the later Middle Ages. Nicholas Orme is one of the experts on the history of childhood in medieval western Europe, and so he is able to cast a wide net, bringing together snippets of stories, lullabies, riddles, and chasing games—the kinds of things which must have formed such a large part of oral culture but which often doesn’t survive in the written record. I did wish for a little more contextualisation and for a little less simplification, and for footnotes instead of endnotes, but Orme’s translations or modernisations are generally clear and accessible. Sections of this could likely be used in the undergraduate classroom, with some appropriate scaffolding.

  2. 5 out of 5

    verbava

    дитячої поезії per se з середньовіччя збереглося небагато, тому ця книжечка – здебільшого з поезією для дітей: повчання, настанови, релігійні оповідки, фрагменти з балад, серед героїв яких є діти, уривки з текстів, які використовували для навчання (є навіть один вірш із правилами відмінювання латинських іменників першої відміни, який навряд чи дуже допомагав учням, бо скидається на те, що саму табличку завчити було простіше). в одному місці упорядник ставить зноску і прямо каже: тут я доповнив, дитячої поезії per se з середньовіччя збереглося небагато, тому ця книжечка – здебільшого з поезією для дітей: повчання, настанови, релігійні оповідки, фрагменти з балад, серед героїв яких є діти, уривки з текстів, які використовували для навчання (є навіть один вірш із правилами відмінювання латинських іменників першої відміни, який навряд чи дуже допомагав учням, бо скидається на те, що саму табличку завчити було простіше). в одному місці упорядник ставить зноску і прямо каже: тут я доповнив, щоб кінець вірша був кращий. принаймні чесний.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Nicholas Orme's Fleas, Flies and Friars is a thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of medieval children through their poetry. Orme states in the introduction that he had two primary criteria when compiling poetry for this book: 1) that it can be shown to have been composed, copied, used by, or aimed at children or teenagers and 2) that it include relevant passages from longer poems and stories, as well as works in Latin or French, that have previously been ignored. His goal in doing so was to, Nicholas Orme's Fleas, Flies and Friars is a thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of medieval children through their poetry. Orme states in the introduction that he had two primary criteria when compiling poetry for this book: 1) that it can be shown to have been composed, copied, used by, or aimed at children or teenagers and 2) that it include relevant passages from longer poems and stories, as well as works in Latin or French, that have previously been ignored. His goal in doing so was to, in his own words, help the reader to "learn more about how medieval children grew up, and be able to see beyond the popular perception that they were small adults, living though brief and impoverished childhoods. A medieval childhood could indeed be cut short by disease or distressed by poverty, but while children were alive they shared in a rich culture of songs, sayings, rude-nesses, riddles, tales, and (at the higher levels of society) works of instruction as well." Fleas, Flies and Friars reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. I am sorry to admit that, prior to reading Medieval Lives, I was one of those individuals that thought the term "dark ages" fitting. Medieval Lives taught me about the richness of the medieval life, and how many things modern Western culture accepts as fact about the middle ages are patently false (just in case you think they believed the world was flat, they didn't.) Orme has expanded upon that understanding to encompass childhood. Much of Orme's content comes from an invaluable source: a collection of school boy notebooks. These teenage boys were encouraged to write verses or songs they knew from childhood, or to make up their own, to then translate into Latin or French. I could not help but laugh at the constancy of teenage attitude: one wrote in the front of his notebook, "Who steals this book should be hanged by the neck; who blames what's here may kiss my rear." Another gem is the list of insults a boy translated into Latin: "Thou stinkest. Thou are a false knave. Thou are worthy to be hanged. His nose is like a shoeing horn. Turd in thy teeth! I shall kill thee with my own knife!" (I simply cannot type, read, or say out loud that "turd in thy teeth" bit without giggling like a school girl.) Orme does a good job of forewarning the reader of differences in what was acceptable in the middle ages versus modern times, prior to the reader becoming outraged. It would be really easy to get caught up in the violence ('hey, that's child abuse' or 'how could a child do that?') and then totally miss the humor. Orme acknowledges the difference in such a way that it eases the reader into appreciating the poetry for what it was, not what we expect it to be. Likewise, he is quick to point out the dearth in poetry for or about girls (the lecture on how to be a good, godly wife notwithstanding.) This is not a fault of Orme's but of history's. Women probably had just as lively poems, stories, and songs, but women were not formally educated (meaning no school notebooks from girls) and all that oral tradition was lost. Each of the five parts of Fleas, Flies and Friars starts with an excellent introduction, followed by tons of poetry. Wherever possible, he left the Middle English alone - updating it enough to make it comprehensible to the casual reader, but preserving enough of the original vocabulary to give it a decided "other" feeling. Footnotes abound, clarifying changes in word meaning, defining words that are no longer used, or simply providing contextual understanding. Fleas, Flies and Friars is a wonderful bit of academic-light, making what could have been Heavy History an entertaining insight into the lives of medieval childhood. I received an ARC from netgalley.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Strider

    Pros: designed to be read by anyone (not just scholars), wide variety of examples, good introduction Cons: little commentary on the different poems/examples, no conclusion, no easy way to see the original poems he translates Nicholas Orme has put together a short book of poetry that would have been told to or written/spoken by children in the Middle Ages. He's done so using full English translations so the book is accessible to those without a background in the field or a knowledge of Latin or mi Pros: designed to be read by anyone (not just scholars), wide variety of examples, good introduction Cons: little commentary on the different poems/examples, no conclusion, no easy way to see the original poems he translates Nicholas Orme has put together a short book of poetry that would have been told to or written/spoken by children in the Middle Ages. He's done so using full English translations so the book is accessible to those without a background in the field or a knowledge of Latin or middle English. The downside to this is that if you do know the languages there's no checking his translations to see what (if any) liberties he's taken to get the meaning across or to force the rhythm and rhymes of the poems. He did keep some old words, to help with the rhymes and maintain flavour, and here he helpfully added translations/modernisations at the bottom of the page. The book covers a wide variety of poems, from games to manners, stories, and grammar school exercises. This allows for a nice window into the lives of children, at work and at play, increasing our knowledge of how people lived. It shows that children were not thought of as 'little adults', that they were allowed to play and were catered to in many ways, according to their age and abilities. I would have liked more commentary on the individual pieces and a conclusion showing some of the things these poems show us about how children were treated in the middle ages. But again, Orme wanted this book to be less scholarly and more easily accessible and so kept commentary to a minimum. An interesting glimpse of an aspect of the middle ages that is not well understood.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is the type of book that is perfect for those obsessives like me who love learning about the small details of historical life. Through the poetry for and by children and young adults of the middle ages, you really get a feel for how society functioned - and it was more interested in hygiene than modern readers might suspect. Especially of enjoyment to me were the insults that children had been encouraged to render into Latin, such as "A turd in your mouth!" - a saying that requires only min This is the type of book that is perfect for those obsessives like me who love learning about the small details of historical life. Through the poetry for and by children and young adults of the middle ages, you really get a feel for how society functioned - and it was more interested in hygiene than modern readers might suspect. Especially of enjoyment to me were the insults that children had been encouraged to render into Latin, such as "A turd in your mouth!" - a saying that requires only minor rephrasing to fit perfectly into today's child's vernacular. I suspect this would also serve as a good reference for those writing fiction set in a medieval European time-frame, as a majority of the poetry seems to serve as instructions for expected behavior. It also touches on various societal peculiarities, as the title suggests, Friars were often lumped together with other pests. The only complaint I might make is that the poetry has been "translated" more or less into modern English - I prefer, if there is a translation made, to have the original to compare against. I find it fascinating to try and imagine the cadence of speech and poetry in its original medieval form, and it's a bit harder to do that here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Cute little book presenting medieval children's poetry in modern English for the general reader. Cute little book presenting medieval children's poetry in modern English for the general reader.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Dickmeyer

    This slim volume is full of poetry that children may have heard, read, or wrote themselves in medieval England. The book is divided into several thematic chapters, and the poems are briefly introduced by Professor Orem. A nice selection of primary sources, it would be a great book for courses on medieval history and literature or the history of childhood. It’s also not bad to just read for fun and is a gentle way to learn a little about medieval England.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Allison (The Allure of Books)

    How awesome would it be to have records of children’s rhymes, verses and songs from the Middle Ages? In my opinion, it would be extremely interesting. Unfortunately, most such songs and riddles were passed down orally and have long since been lost. Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children’s Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme discusses what we do know. You guys, Fleas, Flies and Friars is fairly short. You can learn a lot of interesting information extremely quickly – and raise your reading cred How awesome would it be to have records of children’s rhymes, verses and songs from the Middle Ages? In my opinion, it would be extremely interesting. Unfortunately, most such songs and riddles were passed down orally and have long since been lost. Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children’s Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme discusses what we do know. You guys, Fleas, Flies and Friars is fairly short. You can learn a lot of interesting information extremely quickly – and raise your reading cred by picking up non-fiction. Nicholas Orme has written previously about both children in the Middle Ages and education during the time period. I definitely feel like I can trust his research! Even though most of the book is an anthology containing the poetry itself – I also found his notes to be fascinating. From 13th century Latin textbooks written in verse to children’s school notes in the 14th and 15th centuries that included lines of poetry – Nicholas Orme gives us a comprehensive guide. One thing I found incredibly interesting is that instructive children’s verse was being widely printed as early as the 1470s. When I think about publishing during that time, I mostly think of things like Bibles. I’m glad Fleas, Flies and Friars was able to school me in that regard. Nicholas Orme also explains how he chose what to include in his anthology, and how it is different from what has been published previously. He only included what can be (mostly) proven to have been written for children, not just all verse that could have been suitable for children. The exceptions are writings that illustrate certain aspects of childhood in the Middle Ages. I want to quote so much of it at you guys! You have no idea. From the awesome riddles to the “catastrophic accident” verses (think Humpty Dumpty or Jack and Jill), I really enjoyed getting to read the poetry in Fleas, Flies and Friars. Reading the various verses and poetry gave a very interesting picture as to life for children in the Middle Ages. From various traditions to the ways in which the writings helped them learn – Fleas, Flies and Friars held me captivated from beginning to end. I love reading about the medieval time period, so I may very well be picking up more of Nicholas Orme’s writing in the future.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Reid

    Fleas, Flies, and Friars: Children’s Poetry from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme (to be published March 2012, Cornell University Press) is something completely different from my normal reading, but I enjoyed it very much. It is part anthology of poetry that children learned and recited from 1200-1500 CE (translated from Middle English or Latin) and part a description (annotation) of how children lived and learned during those years. At just over 100 pages, it is obviously a brief glimpse into m Fleas, Flies, and Friars: Children’s Poetry from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme (to be published March 2012, Cornell University Press) is something completely different from my normal reading, but I enjoyed it very much. It is part anthology of poetry that children learned and recited from 1200-1500 CE (translated from Middle English or Latin) and part a description (annotation) of how children lived and learned during those years. At just over 100 pages, it is obviously a brief glimpse into medieval children’s poetry and society. Yet, because the annotations are written with an informative but friendly tone, it was a pleasant read for me, a curious historian and admirer of poetry in general. Children in the Middle Ages learned standards of behavior from poetry, as well as experienced the to-be-expected pleasures of lullabies and nonsense rhymes. Poetic stories of Robin Hood were immensely popular, and poetic reminders of school learning (Latin grammar, for example) helped the young child study. Although the volume is slim and I was not a reader familiar with the status or literature of children in the Middle Ages, I highly enjoyed it. In some respects, it reminded me how some things really haven’t changed. Given the songs I learned in elementary school for learning the parts of speech, the nonsense poetry ridiculing silly teachers, and the poetic stories I still read in picture books, I’m simply pleased poetry has continued to define childhood and that there is a lot more of it to enjoy! Read as a digital review copy from publisher via netgalley. Cross-posted on my blog

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara Thompson

    This is a collection of works from the middle ages. Nicolas Orme created a book that offers a peek into the lives of children during this time. Poems, rhymes, and verses by children, for children or about children. It’s not what I expected. While Nicolas Orme’s goal was to make these works accessible to the common reader as opposed to a scholar, I had thought I was picking up a book for children. The book is not for young children. Some of the language is rough and there’s a good deal of explanat This is a collection of works from the middle ages. Nicolas Orme created a book that offers a peek into the lives of children during this time. Poems, rhymes, and verses by children, for children or about children. It’s not what I expected. While Nicolas Orme’s goal was to make these works accessible to the common reader as opposed to a scholar, I had thought I was picking up a book for children. The book is not for young children. Some of the language is rough and there’s a good deal of explanation about the works. That’s not to say that this wasn’t an interesting read. I enjoyed it quite well. It’s an interesting glimpse into the past. I enjoyed the history and the language of this book. I found it interesting to discover that papermaking began during this time period and that school books were often written in verse to make memorizing easier. The class would have limited books so the children would have to memorize parts of the books so they could be passed around. Two thoughts come to mind – 1. We think we have limited text books. and 2. Why don’t they do that now, imagine how much more the kids would remember.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nafiza

    I found this collection to be particularly fascinating as it gives a hint into the early lives of medieval children. This is the time when children were regarded as tiny adults so it’s especially interesting to see how and what entertainment children derived from stories and songs that they surely sang. Of course debates still rage about whether literature can be accepted to accurately reflect culture but in this instance, whether it does or not, I think the collection shows that storytelling an I found this collection to be particularly fascinating as it gives a hint into the early lives of medieval children. This is the time when children were regarded as tiny adults so it’s especially interesting to see how and what entertainment children derived from stories and songs that they surely sang. Of course debates still rage about whether literature can be accepted to accurately reflect culture but in this instance, whether it does or not, I think the collection shows that storytelling and creativity have always been a part of childhood. Some of the topics of the poems, lullabies are rather interesting or perhaps at times more sorrowful than you would think a work belonging to the genre would be but that is exactly what is so fascinating about. I liked the notes that accompanied the pieces. They were succinct and informative without being overly verbose. If you are interested in medieval literature or like history, I would recommend this collection to you.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julie Barrett

    read 1/27 pub 3/15 Fleas, Flies, and Friars Children's Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orwe Poetry for children during the middle ages including ballads of Robin Hood, charms, riddles, nursery rhymes and songs. Latin and religion play a big part in what was said in these poems. Interesting to see how and why these poems came about. read 1/27 pub 3/15 Fleas, Flies, and Friars Children's Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orwe Poetry for children during the middle ages including ballads of Robin Hood, charms, riddles, nursery rhymes and songs. Latin and religion play a big part in what was said in these poems. Interesting to see how and why these poems came about.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Julie Barrett

    read 1/27 pub 2/15 Fleas, Flies, and Friars Children's Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orwe Poetry for children during the middle ages including ballads of Robin Hood, charms, riddles, nursery rhymes and songs. Latin and religion play a big part in what was said in these poems. Interesting to see how and why these poems came about. read 1/27 pub 2/15 Fleas, Flies, and Friars Children's Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orwe Poetry for children during the middle ages including ballads of Robin Hood, charms, riddles, nursery rhymes and songs. Latin and religion play a big part in what was said in these poems. Interesting to see how and why these poems came about.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Justincarr

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emile Franke

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra Novotná

  17. 4 out of 5

    Theodora (literaryrevisited)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chaimae Baaji

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Beaudin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul Hankins

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine Smith

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sem

  24. 5 out of 5

    cody

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Nyhof

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert Samec

  29. 5 out of 5

    K sus udu

  30. 5 out of 5

    Impress Books

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