Westron Wynde

Westron Wynde is an early 16th-century song whose tune was used as the basis (cantus firmus) of Masses by English composers John Taverner, Christopher Tye and John Sheppard. The tune first appears with words in a partbook of around 1530, which contains mainly keyboard music. Historians believe that the lyrics are a few hundred years older ('Middle English') and the words are a fragment of medieval poetry.


The lyrics of the original were decidedly secular:

:'Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow, :The small raine down can raine. :Cryst, if my love were in my armes :And I in my bedde again!'

Recovering the original tune of Westron Wynde that was used in these Masses is not entirely straightforward. There is a version that uses the secular words, but with rather different notes:

The version used by the three Mass composers can only be inferred by what they put into their Masses. In program notes (see below), Peter Phillips offers the following reconstruction:

But this is not always exactly what appears in the Masses; thus the New Grove quotes the following sequence from Taverner's Mass:

For the words being sung here, see Mass (music).


Westron Wynde was put to music by Igor Stravinsky as a movement (Westron Wind) of his Cantata (1952).

The American folk group The Limeliters (Louis Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough) recorded a version using a variation of the first tune above, with modern English stanzas interpolated. Both the variation and the interpolated stanzas were most likely written by the Limeliters themselves, one of whom (Gottlieb) was a musicologist and would have been familiar with the original song.

The British guitarist John Renbourn recorded his own arrangement of the tune for two guitars on his 1970 album The Lady and the Unicorn. The song has been recorded by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart on the album Summer Solstice and by Barbara Dickson on Full Circle.

The British band Current 93 recorded an extended and modified version of the song sometime between 1982 and 1995, adding various new lines. This version, however, was never released until 2010.

Susan McKeown and The Chanting House perform poet Robert Burns's version of the song entitled "Westlin Winds" on the 1995 album "Bones."

British composer Roger Jackson used the text and added a new verse in an entirely new setting in 2014. :"Eye of Heaven, pray gently smile, :And though the cold wind blow, :Soft, may you warm and mind my love :That I do love her so"

In popular culture

In The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) sang this song in the presence of Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent).

In the 2011 BBC television miniseries South Riding, schoolmistress Sarah Burton (played by Anna Maxwell Martin) quotes Westron Wynde, telling her favourite student that, though it was written 400 years ago, it still sounds modern.

In Walter Tevis's dystopian science fiction novel Mockingbird, the poem is quoted frequently by the main character as he learns what true love is and is pining for his lover.

The poem is quoted in Madeleine L'Engle's book The Small Rain (1945)

The text is recited by the madman Humble Jewett in Wilbur Daniel Steele's short story "How Beautiful with Shoes".

Virginia Woolf used the poem in The Waves.

Ernest Hemingway used this poem in his novel, “A Farewell To Arms” (1929).

It is also used repeatedly in Marta Randall's book "Dangerous Games" (1980).

It is mournfully recited by Erika Anderson's cuckold husband Thierry [Judge Reinhold] in the 1991 thriller "Zandalee"

Thomas Pynchon's first published story, "The Small Rain" (1959), takes its title from the poem's second line. The story is reprinted in his collection Slow Learner (1984).