The famous anthology Piae Cantiones (“Pious Songs”) was published in 1582, but the songs and tunes that it contains are thoroughly medieval. Among the collection's Latin hymns are to be found a number of songs that are, shall we say, differently pious. Probably the best-known of these “secular” anthems is the famous Tempus Adest Floridum, (“It is the time of flowering”), which was to provide the tune for that most vapid of English carols, Good King Wenceslaus.

I've seen several singable English translations from the original Latin text, nearly all of them unbearably clunky. (“Herb and plant that, winter-long, slumbered at their leisure/Now reviving, green and strong, find in growth their pleasure.” Groan.) Here's mine, which is not so much a translation as, let us say, a fantasia on the original text. If I may say so myself, it captures the expansive spirit of the original much better than any of the more literal renderings.

The little Latin hymn to the Goddess of Love which concludes the song is not part of the original; it comes from that other famous anthology of medieval Latin verse Carmina Burana, on which “20th” century composer Carl Orff based his famous pagan oratorio of the same name. Joel Cohen attached it to the version of Tempus Adest Floridum in the Boston Camerata's recording of songs from the Carmina Burana (by the way, that's CAR-min-ah, not car-MEEN-ah) to their original tunes. I liked the addition so much that I've included it here. I've also chosen to leave it untranslated; it would be impossible (for me, anyway) to create an English text as profound in its beautiful simplicity as the original. I have, however, included a literal translation so that you can know what you're singing.

This one would be appropriate for either Ostara or Beltane, or any time in between!

 

The Flower Carol

 

Now the flower time has come,

now the leaves are springing;

buds awake on every branch,

now the birds are singing.

Winter's iron reign is done;

now the silver Spring-time.

Now the joining of the hands,

dancing in a ring time.

 

Every meadow fills with flowers:

let us go and play there.

Come you maidens and you lads,

let us haste away there.

Winter's over, Spring has come;

take what she is giving.

Come away now, everyone:

life is for the living.

 

Ave formosissima,

gemma pretiosa;

ave decus virginum,

virgo gloriosa.

Ave lumen luminum,

ave mundi rosa:

Blanziflor et Helena,

Venus generosa!

 

Lyrics: Steven Posch, based on Tempus Adest Floridum (1582)

Final verse: Ave Formosissima (Carmina Burana ca. 1230)

Tune: Medieval (Piae Cantiones, 1582)

 

(Literal translation: “Hail Most Beautiful, precious jewel; Hail, paragon of Maidens, Glorious Maiden. Hail Light of lights, Hail Rose of the World; Blanchefleur and Helena: O generous Venus!” Helen here is, of course, Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman of the ancient world; Blanchefleur [“white flower”] was the heroine and love-interest of a famous medieval French romance, reportedly the most beautiful woman of “modern” times.)