When blood is nipt, drink Hypocras.

When long ago I was beginning to explore the world of poetry for the sake of my children whom I was homeschooling, I ran across this poem by Shakespeare. It’s from the play, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and every time I read it, especially in winter, it drives the damp and chill right into my bones. That is poetic power!

Notes on words and phrases: Dick is blowing into his hands, or on his fingernails. Joan is likely skimming the pot. The roasted Crabs are apples. People say the owl may well have been the common Tawny or Brown Owl, pictured below.

I’ve transcribed the poem as I found it originally in Walter de la Mare’s Come Hither. In his notes on this entry he gives a recipe for a warming drink such as Dick, Joan and Marian would have welcomed:

“To make Hypocras the best way.–Take 5 ounces of aqua vitae, 2 ounces of pepper, and 2 of ginger, of cloves and grains of paradice each 2 ounces, ambergrease three grains, and of musk two grains, infuse them 24 hours in a glass bottle on pretty warm embers and when your occasion requires to use it, put a pound of sugar into a quart of wine or cyder; dissolve it well, and then drop 3 or 4 drops of the infusion, and they will make it taste richly.”

That recipe doesn’t say that the ingredients are finally heated all together, but I would think so…? The one below, with an owlish theme, is on the rocks – brrr! A cup of Hypocras might feel pretty good today, as I am still “coffing” away, but lacking that I concocted my own steaming drink from ginger tea and Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Almond Beverage. I hope all of you who are in winter are staying warm enough, and merry, too.

Tu-Whit To-Who

When Isicles hang by the wall,
   And Dicke the shepherd blows his naile,
And Tom beares Logges into the hall,
   And Milke comes frozen home in paile;
When blood is nipt, and waies be fowle,
Then nightly sings the staring Owle,
               Tu-whit to-who
               A merrie note,
While greasie Jone doth keele the pot.

When all aloud the winde doth blow,
   And coffing drownes the Parson's saw;
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
   And Marian's nose lookes red and raw;
When roasted Crabs hisse in the bowle,
Then nightly sings the staring Owle,
              Tu-whit to-who
              a merrie note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

-William Shakespeare

15 thoughts on “When blood is nipt, drink Hypocras.

  1. You’ve brought to mind the hot rum punch my dad used to make. It was simple enough: make a sugar syrup infused with nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Add fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice. Add one quart of rum. Mix well, and if there isn’t a party on the horizon, fill up several Mason jars and put them in the refrigerator. There was nothing like a hot cup of that stuff after snow shoveling, or sledding, or skating. I suspect it might have cured a cough, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since I have quite the coff now, too, I may well take these words to heart! (And what’s not to love about ginger!) It’s delightful and I love that you not only shared it with us — but helped translate, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My comment is about the hoot of the owle. Yes, it’s to-who alright, but it’s hauntingly eery, not a merrie note as I remember. :0 Love that picture.


  4. All I could think when I saw Hypocras was Morgan Donner’s Youtube channel, and her most recent video of Medieval mulling spices. I wish I could have made some during my Shakespeare unit when I was homeschooled!
    And I hope your coff goeth away quickly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you mentioned her channel, because I wasn’t familiar with it. I see that the name of this drink was already known to her — and she is possibly inspiring me to make a blend of mulling spices, or at least to research a couple of the ingredients that were strange to me, like Grains of Paradise… ? Fascinating!


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