The Lyke Wake Dirge


 

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Aysgarth Church at dusk – WHB – 1981

In my blog yesterday on The North Yorkshire Moors National Park , I mentioned the Lyke Wake Walk.  This 40 mile walk crosses the most extensive area of heather moorland in England.  When the walk was first instituted in the mid 20th Century the challenge was given to complete it within 24 hours.  Many walkers still attempt this.

Although the walk itself is a relatively modern event, the Like Wake itself originated as a funeral chant in the 14th Century in and around Cleveland on and around the northern scarp slope of these moors.  The Dirge as it was known, was normally sung during the traditional watch (wake) at the side of the corpse (lyke).  Known now as the Lyke Wake Dirge,  it is said to be one of the earliest still extant, dialect poems.

John Aubrey wrote in his diaries in 1686 “The beliefe in Yorkshire was amongst the vulgar (perhaps is in part still) that after the person’s death the soule went over Whinny-Moore, and till about 1616-24 at the funerale a woman came and sang the following song.”

Lyke Wake Dirge

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

If thou from here our wake has passed,
Every neet and all,
To Whinny Moor thou comes at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest hosen or shoen,
Every neet and all,
Then sit ye down and put them on,
And Christ receive thy saul.

But if hosen or shoen thou ne’er gavest nane,
Every neet and all,
The whinny will prick thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Whinny Moor when thou mayst pass,
Every neet and all,
To Brig o’ Dread thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
Every neet and all,
To Purgatory thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest meat or drink,
Every neet and all,
The fire will never make thee shrink,
And Christ receive thy saul

But if meat nor drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every neet and all,
The fire will burn thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

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The following is an extract from ‘Lyke Wake Walk” by Bill Cowley . . .

“Wake” means the watching over a corpse, and “Lyke” is the corpse itself- as in the “lych” gate of a church-c/f. German “leich “. … there is no suggestion that corpses were carried over the Lyke Wake Walk, and the connection between Walk and Dirge is merely that members of the first party to do the Walk, like many who have done it since, finding themselves in the middle of Wheeldale Moor at 3 a.m. felt a great sympathy with all the souls who have to do such a crossing, and a real affection for the poetry of the Dirge-its stark simplicity, repetitions, and dramatic power. Perhaps only those who have crossed Wheeldale or Fylingdales Moors with storm and darkness threatening can fully appreciate the beauty of the Lyke Wake Dirge.

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The BabbleLingua website has a translation of the dialect poem into modern English alongside a version of the original dirge.  The website also includes video links to the song being sung by both ‘The young Tradition’ and by ‘Pentangle’.  Click on the link below to visit.

Lyke Wake Dirge

haworth-churchyard-1981a

Haworth Churchyard at dusk – Yorkshire  … WHB – 1983

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