A Lyke Wake Dirge

gravestones graveyard

Image : Pixabay

Well, I find this misty morning here in Bristol, my brain still dwells in the land of the dead, wallowing in a nether world of apparitions and ghosts, spirits wreathed about my head, tugging at my hair and whispering of times past.

All this being said, I felt the need to share this piece of music,

A Lyke Wake Dirge.

It’s old. Proper old. First written down in the late seventeenth century, it could be as much as 700 years old, passed through oral tradition in North Yorkshire.

It would have been sung during a wake (a watching over of the dead before burial), lyke being a dialect word for corpse. So, singing a dirge whilst watching over a corpse.

It’s a moral Christian tale of the soul’s journey through the Other World, though there’s little about redemption or Heaven here. It’s more about the dead receiving their just desserts for the sins they commited while alive.

If ever you gave hose and shoes,
Every night and all,
Sit then down and put them on;
And Christ receive your soul.But if hose and shoes you gave none
Every night and all,
The thorns shall prick you to the bare bone;
And Christ receive your soul.

The below version is sung in English, (for instance they sing ‘This one night’, where the original lyrics are ‘This ae nighte’, the original giving a real feel of Norse influence on the language).

See here for other recordings, including an a capella version and here for further analysis of the poetry.

Enough history, lets have a listen.

Though I warn you, since hearing it on the soundtrack of the BBC supernatural drama The Living and the Dead, it’s become the most persistent of earworms for me – every nighte and alle.






Wednesday Word Tangle


I do hate a noisy eater.

You know, those generous souls who insist on munching there way through a rare steak/ plate of mashed potato/ macaroni cheese with their mouths open, exposing every sloppy gulp and slurp to their fellow diners. They love their food so much they want to share it with the world.

Now, being a bit of a history buff (that’s a fan of history, not a person who reads Philippa Gregory and C.J. Sansom in the nude) I could bang on about past influences on English, about successive invasions- those pesky Vikings, Romans and Normans for instance- who came to nick our land and take our women and left their languages behind to breed with our own.

We don’t police our vocabulary as the French do, so if we find a word that suits our purpose we’ll happily steal and cannibalise it (See last weeks Word Tangle.) This is part of the reason our language is SO DAMN HARD TO LEARN. But it’s also why we have so many words for the same thing.

So, back to our gluttonous friend. What word could we conjure for using our teeth and jaws to turn delicious, appetizing food into slop ready for our digestive juices?

Do I hear chew? I raise you crunch. How about a nibble? Gnaw? Chomp? Champ?

Lovely words, descriptive words, all with nuanced meaning, feel and sound.

But the worst synonym by far, the daddy of disgust, the sister of sickening, the reverend of revolting, the nun of nauseating is…


Urrgh. Now it could in part be my mind linking this to a very similar word and its very dissimilar meaning, but when I hear masticate, I hear the slurping, the jaw clicking, I see the spare food gathering at the corners of the mouth, the tongue exploring a molar for that tough old bit of sinew that’s got all caught up at the back.

So, there we are. A word that sends a shiver of revulsion up my spine whenever I hear it.

Now, please- pass the dental floss.