If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu May 1 20:06:49 EDT 2003

Robyn wrote:

>>>("Fleet" meant "house-room")
>>Also can mean light, right?  I saw the web-page where it was translated as
>>house-room, but think there are more saying it means light or candle
>>flame.  But don't take my word for this, Someone will Know.

I have never encountered "fleet" or "flete" as meaning "light"  Where does
that come from, Hallie?  I don't mean, "what websites", I mean what source
do they give for it, if any?

>I have to ask, if you think it means "house-room", what do you think the
>line means in the poem? Seriously, "fire and house-room and candlelight"
>not making a lot of sense to me. The meaning of "light" makes more obvious
>sense, and I also like the meaning of "fleet" as in something transient,
>passing, moving swiftly - ie fleeting. I would check the Middle English
>Dictionary for the origins of the "house-room" interpretation, but I
>haven't got a password at the moment.

In Anglo-Saxon "flet" means "floor" or "hall", according to the glossary in
Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader (rev. Whitelock).  (And a flet-sittend is a
guest!  I must try to remember that.  Hall-stayer....?)

In Tolkien's edition of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" "flet" is glossed
as "hall".

"Flete" is only present in Gawain as a verb, to fleet or speed, as you say;
but "Fire, and to speed, and candle-light" doesn't seem terribly likely as
a construction, and "Fire, and rapidly-moving, and candle-light" is even
less plausible.

I'd say that "fire and house-room and candle-light" would be the three main
human needs apart from food and clothing, which are dealt with elsewhere in
the poem.  Warmth, shelter, and a light against the darkness.

Back then there was a lot of emphasis on light and shining and glittering,
Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon for instance are full of them.  Holding
the dark at bay is something that matters when you don't have electricity
and anything outside the house at night may be going to try and eat you,
see Grendel.  Even so, "Fire and light and candle-light" seems a bit
tautological to me.

Also, why would it not be "candle-flete" if "flete" is being the word for
light at the time of the poem?  Apart from "whinnes", which are obscure but
still a recognisable word (furze is still whin in some areas), "flete" is
the only word there no longer in modern usage or near enough to it.  That
might be because we don't have that sort of hall-and-guest-right thing any
more and so the word has fallen out of the language through no longer
meaning something we recognise, perhaps?


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