The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

Egidius, waer bestu bleven? ~ where did thy go?

This is an elegy, a song of sorrow for a friend who died. Unfortunately its author is unknown – it was found in the so-called Gruuthuuse-manuscript, dating from the 14th Century. It was not written by the name-giver of the manuscript, Lodewijk van Gruuthuuse, this Flemish diplomat and patrician collected manuscripts in a certain illuminated style. His collection – this manuscript –, however, is an important source for Dutch literature. It holds no less than 147 songs, 18 poems and 7 prayers.


In the manuscript (click picture for a better view) notes were added and it is the only version known where this is done. The style is rondo (it returns to its refrain). It is one of the oldest songs in old-Dutch/Flemish that we know. I love this poem. It is well known in the Netherlands. As it is an important of our lingual heritage, most children learn about it in school – and most people bearing the name of Egidius (or Aegidius) know they can expect people to quote at least the first two sentences. I’m one of the freaks that knows it by heart.

The manuscript was kept in private collections through the ages, but was brought to auction by the last private owners. The purchase has been much debated and mildly stirred up some old fires between Belgium and the Netherlands in their fight over shared heritage and where it should be kept. In the end it was purchased by the Dutch and for the last five years it has been in the collection of the Royal Library in The Hague (the Netherlands). Because of its importance, some of the documentation has been put online. Sadly it stays a Dutch affair: For English speakers the manuscript and its contents remain a bit of a mystery.

An English friend wanted to know what it was about, so I made her a (quick) translation, which follows the original text;

Egidius, waer bestu bleven?
Mi lanct na di, gheselle mijn.
Du coors die doot, du liets mi tleven!
Dat was gheselscap goet ende fijn,
Het sceen teen moeste ghestorven sijn.
Nu bestu in den troon verheven,
Claerre dan der zonnen scijn:
Alle vruecht es di ghegheven.

Egidius, waer bestu bleven?
Mi lanct na di, gheselle mijn!
Du coors die doot, du liets mi tleven.

Nu bidt vor mi, ic moet noch sneven
Ende in de weerelt liden pijn.
Verware mijn stede di beneven:
Ic moet noch zinghen een liedekijn;
Nochtan moet emmer ghestorven sijn.

Egidius, waer bestu bleven?
Mi lanct na di, gheselle mijn!
Du coors die doot, du liets mi tleven.

(Anonimous, 14th century, Gruuthuuse-manuscript)

Egidius, where did thy go?
I long for thy, dear friend of mine.
You chose death and left me life.

Our friendship was one pure and fine
But it seemed this had to die.
Now you are lifted to the throne divine
Brighter than a sunray shines
All of salvation was given thee.

Egidius, where did thy go?
I long for thee, dear friend of mine.
You chose death and left me life.

Pray for me, as I still must endure life
And suffer in this world for now
Hold me the seat that is next to you
And give me time, as I must end my song
Some day I will follow thee, as we all do.

Egidius, where did thy go?
I long for thy, dear friend of mine.
You chose death and left me life.

(Translation Lex van Haart, 2009)

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