Jesus My Sweet Lover Anonymous

(14th century) Though short, the lyric "Jesus, My Sweet Lover" is powerful. Through its devotion to Jesus and his "woundes two and three" (l. 4), the poem reads much like a prayer, and its religious significance is clear: The poem is directed to Jesus in order to have his love "fixed" in the narrator's "herte." Christ's death (ll. 2/8) is mentioned twice, once in the beginning and once at the end, creating a frame, and the five wounds that Christ suffered are mentioned within the body of the poem, as they were inflicted upon his body. These wounds evoke violent images of Christ's crucified body on the "Rode Tree" which are then linked to the beseeched (l. 3) (though gentle and loving) piercing of the narrator's own heart, where love is to be held fast.

Simple on its surface level, the poem has intriguing secular undertones. Middle English lyrics and ballads frequently explored the parallelism between sacred and secular, erotic love, a tradition based on the vocabulary of love found in the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon in the Bible). In particular, the symptoms of lovesickness described in the biblical song became a prime source of material for courtly love as well as mystical love. Moreover, medieval theology interpreted the Bride in the Song of Songs as an allegory of the soul's desire for God, who was the absent beloved.

Situated in this context, this title "Jesus, My Sweet Lover" manifests the language of both sacred and secular love. Like many of the secular lyrics whose narra tors address their lady, this piece is a direct address to "Iesu." Unlike the beloved in other lyrics, Christ is not a cruel lover who allows the lovesick to wither away and die from unfulfilled love. Jesus is the narrator's sweet lover, who has already proved his devotion through the five wounds suffered on the cross.

Although a tender invocation to Jesus and a desire for love, this poem is also mixed with violent images of Christ's death, which are portrayed in language similar to descriptions of courtly love. Courtly love was thought to pierce the eyes through Cupid's arrow and then enter the heart. Here, however, love pierces not the lover's eyes but rather his heart, directly. The narrator emphasizes the sacred using the language of the secular: Pierce my heart with love, as your "herte" was pierced at the crucifixion. The effect is to link the narrator, now a lover, so firmly with Christ, that Jesus can be called a "lemmon swete" "sweet beloved" (l. 1), who is clearly unlike the unmoved beloved women in secular lyrics such as "Alisoun" and "Spring."

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