Adam Lay Ybounden (Trad, arr. Warlock)

It has been said that if you want to give God a good laugh, tell him your five-year plan. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have dreams, goals or plans. Just that we have no idea what’s around the corner, and we should be flexible and adapt to our changing circumstances. After all, who this time last year, would have accurately predicted what 2020 would hold?

And it’s not just about global pandemics. Those who have known me a very long time will know that as a recently engaged couple, my now-husband and I formulated our five-year plan. We achieved it, but it took over twenty years! What delayed us? Life. Babies, redundancies, retraining, higher level study, and a whole host of business-related issues, most of which could not have been foreseen.

Life’s like that. Actions have consequences, often far-reaching and long-lived.

More recently, whilst planning for this year’s virtual Carol Service, I had planned to record one carol per week from mid-October through to early December, at Maggie’s singing rehearsals in church. Then we were moved into Covid Tier 3. That plan was abandoned, and at our final in-person rehearsal before moving back to Zoom, we recorded as many carols as possible during our hour together. We wore Christmas jumpers and there were even Christmas trees complete with fairy lights. The plan was ditched, and we adapted to our changing circumstances.

This also impacted on my longer-term weekly rehearsal plan for the autumn, Advent and Christmas seasons. I turned to every Director of Music’s source of inspiration at this time of year: “100 Carols for Choirs”. Yes, it was October, but that’s when choirs start work on their Christmas repertoire. And there it was: Adam Lay Ybounden. A very short but deeply significant ancient carol that I first sang about a decade ago, and rarely since. Written in old English, the words are:

Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter thought he not too long;

And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,
As clerkes finden, written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been, the apple taken been,
Ne had never Oure Ladie abeen heav’ne Queen.

Blessed be the time that apple taken was:
Therefore we mown singen. Deo Gratias.

But what does it all mean? Well, the first couplet essentially means that Adam – the first man, created by God – lay in bonds, waiting four thousand years for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. As we know from the Nicene Creed, before Jesus rose from the dead, he descended to hell and released all those held there – including Adam and Eve. The second couplet refers to Adam’s fall from grace after eating the forbidden fruit. It is interesting that Eve is absent from this retelling. The “clerkes” are the monks and clerics that have written evidence of this in their “book” – the scriptures. The third couplet is about Mary. Without the Fall, there would have been no need for Mary to bear Jesus, nor for Jesus to be so brutally put to death. She would never have been the Queen of Heaven. Finally, Adam’s disobedience is blessed. That is the action that had the far-reaching consequence of the birth of Christianity.

You can hear the 2014 choir of St Matthew’s Church, Ottowa singing this carol here:

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