Gedicht von der Kuh - Poem of the Cow

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Picture of a cow from the Holkham bible, so we are all clear on what we are talking about.

The poem of the cow is a German poem appearing in the Wurzburger Liederhandschrifte, also known as the 'Hausbuch of Michael de Leone, Band 2', written between 1345-1354 by someone known as 'Konig von Odenwald'. It describes all the products one could make from a cow. It is a very interesting poem because some of the items mentioned were never found during excavations and we know of no surviving examples. I have translated the poem to English and in this translation I tried to use the English words that are closest to the German original. If it is unclear what is meant, I will place a comment between square brackets [so this comment was not in the original poem].

Many a man will prize his heart's desire,
But I will complain in all voices,
That people toll bells for virtue-less people.
You toll [the bells] for old ladies, when they have died,
That is a big expenditure.

You should toll the bells for the good cows, eager and beautiful:
The cow gives white milk, which is pure and invigorating
And on which one can be proud.

Well salted, poured into shape,
You can also make good cheese out of it.
Thick and thin whey is the joy of the children.
From porridge of milk and millet [dutch:gierst] grows also a powerful scream. [you become strong and healthy]
When they yell: 'it is served', everybody will be pleased.
With it the fresh butter: between Bologna and Salerno surely
Never has a better food been found as this.
You need it to make delicacies.
Together with beets they form a medicine for us people.
With the tallow you make light.
From the head and the brain, you make sausages.

So that's what they used to keep those pieces of wood together!

With the tough sinews - these are also useful - you can thresh grain, clean as well as mixed.
He who has a good roasting pan for beef, can get a soup;
If you have a good piece, then you can have a delicacy, that is called marrow:
this will make people strong.

Falcon hoods,

Dog leashes,

Arm leather,

Leg attire,
Arms gloves of cow: everything from leather,
Delivered by the cow, like we have heard.

I mention here the cover, from skins you can make sacks,
That you can pull over your headgear and helmet,
So they are protected from dust and stay clean,
As well as keep away the rust.

You cover shield and buckler with sinew and cow skin,
This I tell the people.
The straps on the kettle hat are worn by all good knights and squire

A seat from skin is good for the behind.
Is the bishop seated on it, then he engages in wisdom.
I shall also not spare you this:
one has the skin for his pleasure.
[Heh. Wait, what?]
And I want to tell you more:
In the hanging car [carriage] They put the cowhides,
On these sit the brides.

More I will tell you of the skin:
They make large precious books, from which you read and sing.

With tambourine and drums, which are made from hides, you cannot be sad.

They are not just dreams: whips, halters, bridles, stirrup leather, straps, ?backstraps [German: hinterreif, for the back of the horse], front gear, hand bags they make.
With ?leather [German: gegenleder] and belt you can joust better.
Nice saddles are made of only leather and bone.
This I give you effortless: the children play with knucklebones [a game also known as jacks].
Also the cushions on the benches, that have a cover of hide, you should think of.

From the bones large and small dice are made, that roll good on the board.
Many vicious men have gambled away everything, so they became furious with themselves.

From the horn you can make good combs. Especially small children should be groomed well with them, as you would do with good reason.
From horn they gladly make lanterns. When you place a light within, you can use it in the wind.

I will tell you more about the horn: When your back aches, they should be rubbed with them.
The hunters have a tradition that they have chosen themselves:
They wrap a belt around the horn, so they can blow on it.
If you want to raise birds, larks or finches, let them drink from it.
Also you enclose [hem about?] the front of your crossbow with cow horn.
thereupon they make vigorously from horn the handles of knives.
A writer rarely sees his horn empty; they [take ink from it and] write to the people.
From the skin, people that know how to handle leather make boots for the protection of your feet and soles. This you should believe.
Then there are wooden shoes [with leather parts, pattens] on which you can walk well, wide and tight shoes, short and long, that often creak.
From the hair you make padding or upholstery, rope and felt;
You can make bridle parts, and for children balls with hair,
That everybody runs after when they play back and forth with it.
The tail you nail to the door, with this you pull them open and close them.

Everything comes from the cow.

And still my praise has not ended, that has to be paid to the cow!
She births young, nice calf that grow into [?]bullocks and oxes.
When you eat the fat guts of the calf, they are very nourishing
And you still can get your head through your garment.
All this is not a lie: crossbow and horn bow are useless, yes they will break in two,
When we wouldn't have the tendons delivered by the cow.
With the ... [german: zerf, this is a part of a crossbow used to pull the cord under tension] you can tighten, for someone that runs away,
The shooting tendons over the crossbow.

It is a real joy.

So you can take the paws,
The blacks and the grays,
And turn them into paternoster beads
And send the devil a greeting.

You might think I only want to talk nicely and I almost forgot about the bladder, that can be used as a piper bag.

That everybody loves on the holidays.

"Martha, you are standing on my dress!

"How fortunate that you had them bladder-reinforced, dear!"

You cannot lie about it, that the seam of clothes are reinforced with it.

I cannot abstain from mentioning breast leather, funnels, and helmet horns.
Then you contain your spurs in leather.
I also would like to mention the wineskin, that is used to store wine. This one is also of bovine leather.
And first, the useful collars in which the horses pull, and the yoke belts with which the cows pull.
Nobody will deny: many tie themselves up with wide and narrow belts,that are worn everywhere.
The rings from bone are worn by men and women.
He who wears gloves or thimbles makes good use of them. Leather sacks and purses are made from skins, and bottles [flasks], funnels and pegs for storing of wine, knit-work [German: stricke, meaning knitting or knotting, so can also be a single knot] and scabbards for knives and swords, as well as clean nosebags for the cattle.

I can bring on more: the bellows can be named, which are desired by the blacksmiths.
Then there is the precious tail, that makes a nice whip. When the horses need to be shod, you can chastise them with it.
That the organs sound so loud and clear is thanks to the skin. From the tendons you can make cords for the bell-clapper.

If you want to chase away dogs, then tie a bladder to their tails, so they might think they are doomed, and they will howl terribly.
Boys, children definitely, and young people learn to swim with their help [of the bladder] when they are in the water.
People that don't have window glass do the following: They make a frame and stretch it with the good belly [german: flomen, nowadays means lard, which is the fat surrounding the belly] and cover with this their windows.

[This is described in detail in the Mappae Clavicula]

"Here, have some cow heart."

"Much obliged! You also have some rectum for me?"

Liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, gullet [german: schlund], tongue, spleen, brawn, feet, grind everything,
Many nice intestines, whiter than ermine, I couldn't stand it when I would have forgotten the stomach and the equally nice udder, br< That you can roast on the fire, just like the thick rectum
[yummy... don't you just love a good rectum?].

You can also use a cow's head as a decorative headgear

The warm dung you can spread out over the ground.
If you want to fertilize bad fields, you should add manure to that.
You should sooner weep over the corpse of a cow than of an evil old hag.
That the young are cheerful has always bothered the old.
More uses of the cow, the king [of Odenwald] doesn't know.
Now the narrative of the cow ends.
This should not sadden you.

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