Robene and Makyne
"Robene and Makyne" is a short poem by the 15th-century Scottish makar Robert Henryson. It is an early example of Scottish pastourelle written in a form of ballad stanza and is almost unique of its kind. Very simple in structure and plot, yet highly compressed, multi-layered and open in its possible interpretations, it exemplifies Henryson's ability to combine complexity and restraint. The brevity and balanced structure of the poem creates effects that invite comparisons with music.
Robene and Makyne (also spelt Mawkin) are stock names for peasant characters, a shepherd and a country maiden. Henryson presents the two characters in the sparest of terms and much in the poem has to be inferred. Strictly speaking, nothing in the text verifies precisely who Makyne might be. In the first half of the poem she declares longstanding love for Robene but he is indifferent to her feelings. Minds quickly change and in the closing arc the hopeless declaration is from Robene. This simple dramatic reversal comes at the golden section. Makyne's rejection of Robene is final.
Henryson's writing suggests subtexts around the issue of chastity, a material issue in the late medieval Church and of possible relevance in the poet's own life. The spareness allows different and perhaps dissonant readings to be simultaneously present, but any "allegorical" implications are present without pretentiousness or loss of authentic feeling and the poem stands as a simple comic creation with a surprisingly wide range of emotion and intriguing tonal ambiguity.
The closure, peculiar in its effect, evokes feelings of emptiness and a sense of musical return.
Stanzas 12 and 13 of "Robene and Makyne":
This section from the poem follows the turning point. The first stanza is spoken by Makyne. One of the most striking effects is the apparent emotional dissociation in Robene's response.
- "Robene, thow hes hard soung and say
- In gestis and storeis auld,
- The man that will nocht quhen he may
- Sall haif nocht quhen he wald.
- I pray to Jesu every day
- Mot eik thair cairis cauld
- That first preiss with the to play
- Be firth, forrest or fawld."
- "Makyne, the nicht is soft and dry,
- The wedder is warme and fair,
- And the grene woid rycht neir us by
- To walk attour allquhair;
- Thair ma na janglour us espy,
- That is to lufe contrair;
- Thairin, Makyne, bath ye and I
- Unsene we ma repair."
- "I do not know which to prefer,
- The beauty of inflections
- Or the beauty of innuendoes,
- The blackbird whistling
- Or just after."
- Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."
- Audio (UK)
- "Tom Scott on Henryson's Short Works", by the 20th-century Scottish poet and critic Tom Scott (1918–1995)