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Barbour and Freedom

John BarbourThe Brus, Book One, Lines 225-274

The section on freedom and subjection is probably the most quoted part of The Brus and has appeared in countless histories, together with lines from the Declaration of Arbroath (1320). The desire to be free of unwanted domination is universal and still speaks to us today, regardless of ethnicity or nation. Among the nations of Europe, the Scots were advanced in expressing such a strong national identity. The language of the verse is Older Scots which in the 14th century had much in common with Northern English, both being variants of Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon. Scots, though, had already begun to diverge and develop into a distinctly Scottish tongue and Barbour’s Brus represents its acceptance at the Scottish royal court as a language of literature and high status. The verse in the original language is given below and an English translation is provided in the PDF file.

 

A! Fredome is a noble thing
Fredome mays man to haiff liking.
Fredome all solace to man giffis,
He levys at es that frely levys.
A noble hart may haiff nane es
Na ellys nocht that may him ples
Gyff fredome failyhe, for fre liking
Is yharnyt our all other thing.
Na he that ay has levyt fre
May nocht knaw weill the propyrté
The anger na the wrechyt dome
That is couplyt to foule thyrldome,
Bot gyff he had assayit it.
Than all perquer he suld it wyt,
And suld think fredome mar to prys
Than all the gold in warld that is.
Thus contrar thingis evermar
Discoveryngis off the tother ar,
And he that thryll is has nocht his,
And that he has enbandounyt is
Till hys lord quhatever he be.
Yheyt has he nocht sa mekill fre
As fre wyll to leyve or do
That at his hart hym drawis to.
Than may clerkis questioun
Quhen thai fall in disputacioun
That gyff man bad his thryll owcht do,
And in the samyn tym come him to
His wyff and askyt him hyr det,
Quhether he his lordis neid sud let,
And pay fryst that he awcht, and syne
Do furth his lordis commandyne,
Or leve onpayit his wyff and do
Thai thingis that commaundyt is him to.
I leve all the solucioun
Till thaim that ar off mar renoun
Bot sen thai mak sic comperyng
Betwixt the dettis off wedding
And lordis bidding till his threll,
Ye may weile se thoucht nane you tell
How hard a thing that threldome is.
For men may weile se that ar wys
That wedding is the hardest band
That ony man may tak on hand,
And thryldome is weill wer than deid,
For quhill a thryll his lyff may leid
It merrys him body and banys,
And dede anoyis him bot anys.
Schortly to say, is nane can tell
The halle condicioun off a threll.