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Costentin Cornomorus scripsit:

> I didn't know it was th?t old a song!

Well, it's hard to say.  It was first published in 1861; the publisher
said he was reprinting it from a broadsheet of a century and a half
before, i.e. 1710, and most of the books on carols seem to think it
was written about then too.  But dammit, the rhymes are *perfect*
in Middle English, and who around 1710 could have synthesized *that*,
even if he cared to?  To me, the only plausible explanation is that the
carol is centuries older, and survived either solely in oral tradition
or in printed sources that are utterly lost to us.

Here are the rhymes again, this time in reconstructed ME pronunciation:

grown/crown     [grun]/[krun]
flower/Saviour  [flur]/[savjur]
blood/good      [blo:d]/[go:d]
thorn/morn      [Torn]/[morn]
gall/all        [gal]/[al]

I don't know how "quire" (the spelling "choir" is a deliberate archaism)
was pronounced in ME days; if as written, then it wouldn't rhyme with
"deer" then.  Some authorities believe, however, that the chorus is a
later addition, especially based on the fact that as printed in 1861
verse 6 is a repetition of verse 1, suggesting that it was the original
refrain for a four-verse carol.

The only other possibility is that the rhymes are eye-rhymes (if "flower"
were spelled "flour, not uncommon), but a poem with such a high density
of purely visual rhymes seems very improbable, especially in something
intended for singing.

The collected official word on this carol, including the lyrics
and their very interesting and perhaps recycled-pagan symbolism, is at
http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/holly_and_the_ivy.htm .
An excellent MIDI version, sounding quite like the
"merry organ", and with the traditional harmonies, is at
http://ingeb.org/spiritua/theholl3.mid .  Modern paganized lyrics are at
http://www31.brinkster.com/yewtree/songs/holly.htm , which are interesting
because most of the rhymes have been fixed up for Modern English, despite
some attempts at archaism (-eth endings, basically used correctly,
except that it's bizarre to see a random mixture of -eth and -s).

--
Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.
        --Arthur C. Clarke, "The Nine Billion Names of God"
                John Cowan <[log in to unmask]>