• Publication Date: May 10, 2024
  • ISBN: 9781554815395 / 1554815398
  • 132 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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  • Publication Date: May 10, 2024
  • ISBN: 9781554815395 / 1554815398
  • 132 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Patience is currently the only one of the four poems in British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x that has not been translated into modern idiomatic poetry. The poem uses the biblical story of Jonah as an exemplum but expands on its Old Testament sources with startling poetic effects, vivid descriptions of the natural world, and probing theological questions. This new edition, with a lively, alliterative facing-page translation, will enable students and general readers, as well as scholars, to study and enjoy this poem.

A critical introduction explores the poem’s themes, poetics, and social and political contexts, and a rich selection of historical appendices includes biblical sources, contemporary analogues, visual material from the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript and other illuminated manuscripts, and maps of the world of the poem.


“The fourteenth-century alliterative poem Patience is a striking, urgent, and enigmatic retelling of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Helen Barr’s crackling, acoustic translation and facing-page edition will be invaluable to students as they grapple with the rich and often surprising ways in which medieval writers interpret and re-imagine biblical material. Her translation, a tour de force in its own right, retains the alliterative form of the original but also captures its poetic immediacy and vibrancy by taking advantage of contemporary regional varieties of English as well as modern idiom. Barr’s introductory and supplementary materials are voluminous without being overwhelming, providing a crash course in the poetic, theological, and social contexts in which the poem is written. This student-friendly edition of Patience will be an excellent resource for the study of Middle English literature.” — Richard H. Godden, Louisiana State University

“Often overshadowed by its more famous manuscript cousins Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, the fourteenth-century poem Patience—an evocative and often playful rendering of the biblical Book of Jonah—has long deserved more attention from students and professional scholars alike. Helen Barr’s zesty translation, which works to retain Patience’s brisk alliterative poetics while also highlighting the poem’s wry wit and delicate pathos, should encourage precisely that. Barr’s introduction and generous contextualizing materials, including reproductions of relevant images, place the poem firmly in its cultural milieu, and the crucial facing-page format will foment sustained engagement with the original Middle English. This volume is an important addition to Broadview’s collection of Middle English texts, and it will find a welcome home in many university courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.” — David K. Coley, Simon Fraser University

A Note on the Text


Notes on the Text and Translation

Appendix A: Scriptural Sources

  • 1. The Old Testament Book of Jonah
  • 2. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12) 
  • 3. Psalm 68:2–10; 16–20
  • 4. The Prophet Iunus, from the Qur’an, Chapter 10

Appendix B: Analogues

  • 1. Naufragium Jonae Prophetae
  • 2. The Prophet Jonah Lost at Sea
  • 3. From the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Book of Jonah

Appendix C: Other Contemporary Contexts

  • 1. Wycliffite Sermon for All Saints’ Day (Matthew 5:1–12)
  • 2. From Dan Michel, Ayenbite of Inwit or Remorse of Conscience
    • a. From the Virtue of Prowess: The Fourth Degree, Patience
    • b. From the Sin of Sloth
    • c. From the Sins of the Tongue
  • 3. The Storm Scene from The Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy
  • 4. The Whale from the Middle English Physiologus

Appendix D: Visual Materials

  • 1. The illustrations to Patience in BL MS Cotton Nero A.x
  • 2. The whale as island from Gerald of Wales’s Topographia Hibernica
  • 3. A whale opens its mouth and lets out a sweet scent to lure small fish, in a bestiary
  • 4. The Annunciation: The Holy Spirit as Dove Flies into Mary’s Ear
  • 5. Doom Painting in the Church of Thomas à Becket

Appendix E: Sketch Maps of the Topography of Patience

  • 1. Old Testament
  • 2. New Testament
  • 3. Jonah’s Journey

Works Cited and Recommended Reading
Image Credits

Helen Barr is Emeritus Professor at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.