Lydgate John 257

The poem begins with a conversation between a man and a woman: He asks her if he may lie in her lap, and she invites him to nap. The man is so "drowsy . . . That of hys love he toke no kepe," (ll. 8-9) the speaker tells us, before directly addressing the man with a two-line refrain—"With, Lullay, lullay, lyke a chylde, / Thou slepyst to long, thou art begyled" (ll. 1-2)— which follows all stanzas except the fourth.

The second stanza begins with the woman kissing the man into drowsiness and confusion, so that "he wyst [knew] never where he was" and forgot "all dedely syn" (ll. 13-14)—that is, his sexual desire. The next lines couch the woman's approaching deceit and infidelity in metaphor: Were sexual fidelity money, the man is expecting a "payment" he will never receive.

The third stanza sees the woman crossing a river to meet a second man, who "halsyd [held] her hartely and kyst her swete" (l. 22). She tells him that her "lefe [lover] rowtyth [snores] in hys bed" (l. 24) and that she thinks her sleeping lover has a "hevy hed" (l. 25), doubly suggestive of drowsiness and impotence.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker forgets the woman's situation entirely and roundly abuses the man for drinking himself into drowsiness, forgetting his "lust and lykyng," and ultimately for discovering her infidelity by waking up alone.

"Lullay" combines the language of a courtly lyric with an infidelity plot and formally echoes 15th-century religious lyrics in which the Virgin Mary rocks the Christ child to sleep (see Virgin lyrics). Skelton's combination of these traditions lends the poem its motive ironies: The woman singing the man to sleep is some distance from her virginity, and the man, who falls asleep instead of having sex with her, saves himself from "dedely syn" at the cost of being cuckolded. This tension is emblematic of both Skelton and his poetry.

eurther reading

Dent, J. M. John Skelton. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1997.

Eish, Stanley Eugene. John Skelton's Poetry. New Haven,

Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967. Gordon, Ian A. John Skelton. New York: Octagon Books, 1970.

Nathaniel z. Eastman

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