Rorate Coeli Desuper

My blogging friend Jonathan Hagger has pointed me in the direction of this excellent poem by William Dunbar (c. 1449 – c. 1514). I love the Scots dialect, close enough to English that you can guess at its meaning, but far enough away to make it interesting. The opening line, ‘Rorate coeli desuper’, means ‘Drop down ye heavens, from above’; it comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of Isaiah 45:8. ‘Nobis Puer natus est’ means ‘and the child is born to us’.

Rorate coeli desuper!
Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
That come in to so meik maneir;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
To you is cumin full humbly
Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest—
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
To him that is of kingis King:
Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
In wirschip of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
Be mirthful and mak melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,—
He that is crownit abone the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Jonathan has a sound file on his post that gives a lovely sung version of this poem. Enjoy!

For more information about Dunbar, see this Wikipedia post.

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Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

4 thoughts on “Rorate Coeli Desuper”

  1. Lowland Scots is about the purest form of the Anglo-Saxon language that still exists and its use in the Scottish Lowlands predates the gaelic language which was introduced by the Irish when the conquered Scotland. However, just like the French speaking, Norman kings of England, the Irish kings eventually started speaking Anglo-Saxon themselves so that by the time of James VI/I it was the official language of the realm. The irony of this makes a complete mockery of the whole Celtic, separatist thing. We are all mongrels. If you did Chaucer at school it is relatively easy to understand when written if not when spoken.

  2. Oh, and I wouldn’t call Scots a dialect. It’s as much a language as English as it is not a version of any other language but has evolved from the same original language as English.

  3. You should be safe in Canada but as I live less an hour from the border I didn’t want anyone thinking that I (by association) regard Scots as a dialect. 🙂

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