Rethinking the Passion Lyric: Verbal Devotion, Narrative Variation, and the Poetics of Comfort in Middle English Poetry

  • Barbara Zimbalist
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter argues that Middle English lyrics portray Christ as a vernacular speaker just as often as they portray him as a bodily sufferer; and that the narrative structure of Christ’s Lyric voice creates a textual community united by shared interpretive reading practice. It argues further that this narrative goal reveals a “poetics of comfort” within Middle English poetry: the presentation of Christ’s biblical and extra-biblical speech in vernacular lyric poetry meant to comfort and reassure through repetition, variation, and participation. The chapter traces the narrative and poetic construction of Christ’s voice across multiple lyrics—from the well-known “Surge Mea Sponsa” and “Quia Amore Langueo” to the less familiar “Complaint of Christ”—within one fourteenth-century miscellany: Lambeth Palace MS 853. In arguing for discursive and spiritual innovation within lyrics often dismissed as derivative or poetically inferior to narrative poetry, it demonstrates how the poetics of comfort developed by the Middle English passion lyric not only functioned as reassurance for lay readers, but simultaneously reconfigured the late medieval imaginary of the vernacular Word of God.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Zimbalist
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Texas-El PasoEl PasoUSA

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