The Bird with Four Feathers


1 Was both the painful effect and remedy of spiritual distress


B MS Bodley 596. [Base text.]
D MS Douce 322.
S Stonyhurst College MS 23.
T Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.3.21.
R MS Royal 18 A.x.
H MS Harley 1706.
T* Trinity College, Cambridge MS O.9.38.
H* MS Harley 2380.
L* MS Lat. misc. e 85.

B preserves the earliest and best text of the poem. S and R are related, with S the better version. D, T, and H form a distinct group of affiliated MSS (all produced in or near London in the late fifteenth century), with D the earliest and best copy in this group of texts. (For a possible stemma, see Rigg [1968], p. 54.) B agrees with RS more often than with DTH, but points of agreement with DTH are especially interesting. For this edition emendation of B has been conservatively undertaken by collation with D, S, T, R, and H, considered in that order. The notes record the significant variants from these five MSS. Variants that are merely orthographical are not recorded. Variants unique to one MS are also not recorded, unless they provide evidence for an editorial judgment.
The three altered versions of the poem (T*, H*, and L*) can be collated only sporadically with B. Readings from these MSS are given only where they may be of interest. On the fragment attributed to Bird by Hanna, see the note to line 1.

1 S, a generally reliable copy, reverts to a chanson d'aventure formula — the narrator on horseback — at the expense of the rhyme: By a fforest as I gan ryde. The sixteenth-century Welles Anthology contains a ballad opening that seems to recall The Bird with Four Feathers: "Throughe a forest as I can ryde / to take my sporte yn on mornyng / I cast my eye on every syde / I was ware of a bryde syngynge" (ed. Sharon L. Jansen and Kathleen H. Jordan, The Welles Anthology, Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies 75 [Binghamton: SUNY Binghamton, 1991], pp. 216-19).

Ralph Hanna III identified a lyric scrap in Huntington Library MS 906, fol. 60a, as vv. 1-3 in "prosaicized" form, but this identification is dubious. The fragment, in an early fifteenth-century hand, reads: Be on fayre forest syde and by the wase wandryng / os that I went, / My sportes be forto take thus in a May mornyng, / Forand I fond a place of gentyll bowris gay (p. 241). The long, looser, and more alliterative line is unlike the style of Bird. The scrap is, in fact, little more than a blend of formulaic tags, the first line recalling also the Vernon lyric Thank God of All, which opens: "Bi a wey wanderyng as I went" (ed. Brown, Rel. Lyr. XIV, p. 157).

3 ybent. S: bent. On the past participle with i-, see note to line 4.

4 Iset. R: Sette. Here BDSTH agree, but at line 197 yset appears only in B. Compare also set at lines 42, 54, and 152. The past particle formed with i- is more prevalent in B than in the other manuscripts. See also notes to lines 48 and 73.

4-5 The narrator's supine pose among the flowers will be, in retrospect, emblematic of his mortality. Compare lines 229-30.

9 The collocation "bird on briar" appears in The Sinner's Lament (line 34) and elsewhere; see Bartlett Jere Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1968), B290, B296. The scene of a bird upon a briar may be faintly emblematic of Christ on the Cross (as is the bird upon a tree in The Four Leaves of the Truelove). The Vernon MS contains a list of similitudes, among them "Hou a brid wan he fleth maket a Cros" (fol. 223b); ed. Carl Horstmann, "Proprium Sanctorum: Zusatz-Homilien des Ms. Vernon fol. CCXV ff. zur n`rdlichen Sammlung der Dominicalia evangelia," Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 81 (1888), 301. This bird — not one of the "rowte" — has endured bodily damage in four places (? Christ's hands and feet) and heartache (? Christ's side wound). The bird is primarily a figure for mankind's mortality, but its hard-won wisdoms are gleaned through suffering. For the briar as an emblem, compare the poem Revertere.

10 The bird's gender is female throughout the poem, but its lament reflects the experience of a human male. The H* reviser changed the bird's gender to male.

11 song. DSTH: sang(e). Compare the variants at lines 14 and 27.

mornyng chere. The word mornyng is a pun (repeated at line 21) upon two meanings: "morning" (as in line 2) and "mournful" (because the bird's song is one of sorrow and loss). The same pun appears in line 21 and the first stanza of The Four Leaves of the Truelove.

12 Parce michi, Domine! The bird immediately provides a translation in the next line. The Latin phrase (from Job 7.16) begins the first lesson of Matins of the Office of the Dead. Pety Job — the companion to this poem in D, T, and H — has the same refrain. The refrain appears, too, in a short lyric (Fader and Sone and Holy Gost, ed. Brown, pp. 210-11) and a carol (Syng We to the Trinite, ed. Greene, p. 214). On the currency of the phrase, see Alford, pp. 323-25.

13 Kyng. Omitted in SR.

Pytee. The poem features compassion among God's attributes. God's capacity for pity validates the emotionalism of the bird's lament, which can provide an aesthetic and psychological curative for the responsive narrator/reader. After receiving the lesson, the narrator defines parce as a means of access to God's pity (line 239). For a fuller discussion, see the Introduction.

14 sang. D: seyng; T: saide; R: song; H: saying. The spelling in D probably led to the variants in T and H.

pouer array. The word pouer completes the list of missing feathers in this stanza by alluding to the fourth one, Riches. Array is a theme in the poem, each feather bringing to the bird a different kind of gaudy "array" (see, for example, line 141).

15 and. Omitted in SR. The idea in this line is repeated at line 226. The repetition is part of a larger design that brings stanza 19 around in full circle to the ideas that opened the poem.

19 Wherthorgh. SR: Wherfore.

22 drew. DTH: drew(e) to; compare T*: wente to; H*: drowe to.

23 asked. B: askesd (an error).

don. S: do; R: do hir.

26 fro. SR; BDTH: from. Fro is the form confirmed by rhyme (lines 16, 48, 73, 117, 173, 210, and 227). The manuscripts intermix the two forms, but fro predominates, and at no line do all manuscripts read from. (In T* fro appears consistently.) B has been emended in the same manner at lines 106, 155, and 198.

27 song. DSTRH: sang(e).

30 Man, be in pees. The bird rebukes the inquisitive narrator, who has just asked three questions in breathless succession. The strolling narrator has come to a physical stop under the tree, but his questions reveal a continued mental restlessness and impatience, which the bird seeks to quell. The double-layered address to "Man" parallels other chansons d'aventure (In a Valley of This Restless Mind, for example): while the discourse is ostensibly given to a narrator inside the fiction, the generic term of address directs it outward, to the reader. The rebuke to "hold still" prepares the reader for a lengthy discourse.

32 sore me wolle. DH: me sore woll; T: me sore than wil; R: sore wil me.

37 my. DSTRH; B: myn. The text has been emended according to what seems to be a consistent usage by the poet: -n only before vowels and aspirant h, as at lines 6, 31, 35, and 86. This practice affects lines 54, 128, 167, and 204.

43 blys. The word has an entirely earthbound meaning; the attributes and actions the feathers represent are turnings from God. Compare lines 129-31.

44 lust. ST: list.

46 the. SR: that.

48 ifalle. SR: falle; DTH: fallen. The past participle of fallen appears elsewhere without the prefix; see lines 172 and 228. The form with i- is characteristic of B elsewhere: see notes to lines 4 and 73.

53 wrought. DSTRH; B: wrowth. The spellings height/myght/fight found in rhyme positions in all manuscripts suggest the original spelling. Compare B's heith at line 77.

54 Myn. T; BDSRH: my. See note to line 37.

59 lyking. SR: likyng was.

59-62 Youth's predilection for wandering about identifies the strolling narrator with this attribute. The plucked bird is, in contrast, grounded and stationary.

63 Hym . . . that Marie bare. The invocation evokes Christ in his youth.

65 Compare Vernon lyric Think on Yesterday, line 73: "Salamon seide in his poysi" (ed. Brown, Rel. Lyr. XIV, p. 145). In these unusual occurrences, poesie refers to proverbs rather than to poetry.

66-72 Proverbs 30.18-19: "Three things are hard to me; and the fourth I am utterly ignorant of. The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, and the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in youth." The list of four reflects the form of the poem. It may be, too, that the poet associates the other three "things" with the remaining three attributes: the soaring eagle with Strength (lines 133-34); the low serpent with Beauty (lines 97-99, 109-12); and the sea-faring ship with Riches (lines 183-84).

68 in. DSTH: an; R: a; T*: on. Compare the Vulgate: Viam aquilae in caelo.

72 her. DTH: theyr(e).

73 ismyte. STR: smyte. In B the past participle of smyten always appears with the prefix y-. This line is repeated three times (see lines 117 and 173), giving the first three answers to the narrator's question of "Who has plucked your four feathers?" The bird answers that "Age" is responsible for lost Youth, Beauty, and Strength.

75 This line becomes a tag, used elsewhere, to introduce the refrain; see lines 119 and 175.

77 height. DSTRH; B: heith. Compare height in rhyme position at line 121.

80 hoode and cap. Refers to the practice of removing headgear before persons of superior rank. The MED cites this line as an example of the meaning "hood and cape," but the more likely sense is an inclusive phrase for any head covering, that is, "hood and/or cap." See MED cappe n. and hod n. The reading found in the abridged text of L*, "hod and hatt," supports this interpretation.

83 ne. DSTR; B: no; H: ner.

85 browes bent. Arched eyebrows are conventional attributes of beauty. The feature belongs, for example, to Alisoun of Chaucer's Miller's Tale, CT I 3245-46 (Riverside Chaucer, p. 69) and to the ruling king in Summer Sunday, line 68 (ed. Rossell Hope Robbins, Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries [New York: Columbia University Press, 1959], pp. 98-102).

86 Myn. SDH: My.

87 ament. DTRH: amend(e).

95 cowth. DTH: cowde.

98 woo and. Omitted in SR.

101 Alludes to the story of Samson, Delilah, and the Philistines (Judges 16). The exempla that appear in stanzas 9-13 (Samson, David, Solomon, and Nebuchadnezzar) are in biblical sequence. These historical exempla are typical of medieval moralizing; see Morton W. Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1952), who cites a similar list by Nicholas Bozon (p. 144). Bozon's list is longer, but it includes Samson's strength, Solomon's wisdom, and Nebuchadnezzar's wealth (instead of pride) (c. 1320; Les Contes moralisés de Nicole Bozon, Frère Mineur, ed. Lucy Toulin Smith and Paul Meyer, Société des anciens textes français [1889; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968], p. 18).

102 Alludes to the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Kings 11). By tradition Psalm 51 (50 in the Vulgate) was David's penitential prayer after his act of adultery with Uriah's wife. As one of the Seven Penitiential Psalms, its opening words were familiar in the Middle Ages, and they justify the poet's placement of the refrain in David's mouth: "Miserere mei, Deus" ("God, have mercy on me"). The psalm was frequently paraphrased from Latin to Middle English; see, for example, Brown, Rel. Lyr. XV, pp. 222-30, and Susanna Greer Fein, "Haue Mercy of Me (Psalm 51): An Unedited Alliterative Poem from the London Thornton Manuscript," Modern Philology 86 (1989), 226-32.

106 fro. SR; BDTH: from. See note to line 22.

107 yyng. DH: yong; T: yeng.

108 amabilis domino. Solomon's remarkable gifts from God are recounted in 3 Kings 3.12-13: "Behold, I have . . . given thee a wise and understanding heart. . . . Yea, and the things also which thou didst not ask, I have given thee: to wit, riches and glory, so that no one hath been like thee among the kings in all days heretofore." See also 3 Kings 4.29-34 and 10.23.

109 And after. DH: That after; T: After that; R: And aftirward. The variants attest to scribal confusion, perhaps derived from an abbreviation (and, ther, or that) that opened the line.

109-12 3 Kings 11.4: "And when [Solomon] was now old, his heart was turned away by women to follow strange gods; and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God."

113 onlich. DTH: (o)only. The adverbial ending -lich has support elsewhere in the poem. See note to line 229.

thise. The antecedents are Sampson, David, and Solomon.

117 Now. SR: And now.

ysmyte. SR: smyte. The second part of the bird's answer to the question "who?" See note to line 73.

125 prike and praunce. An idiomatic expression. See MED priken v.

127 best. DSTRH; B: beest.

128 Such . . . such. SR: Swich . . . swich.

myn hap. T; BDSRH: my hap(p). See note to line 37. B inverts grace and hap.

130 fro. T: from.

131 corowned. DTRH: crouned.

hevenne blys. Compare line 43. The bird used the feathers to fly to a "bliss" of the wrong kind.

133 feder. DSTRH; B: fader.

me bare. DTRH: bare me.

136 fre ne. DH: for no(o).

141 gret aray. A reversal of the bird's pouer array (line 14).

143 thilke. DSTH: that; R: on domesday.

145-63 The story of Nebuchadnezzar is recounted in Daniel 1-4. On Nebuchadnezzar's madness as a medieval exemplum, see Penelope B. R. Doob, Nebuchadnezzar's Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp. 54-94, especially pp. 78-79.

148 ther withinne. SR; BDTH: that were therinne. The longer phrase appears to be a corruption of the shorter phrase, which can be explained by a confusion of the abbreviations for ther and that, with and were.

149 fonde. STR; BDH: founde.

151 Him. T: He. The line is suspect in metrics and weak in sense. Perhaps it should read: Him thought nothing scholde him withstonde.

153 King of Myghtes Most. The epithet stresses, appropriately, God's strength. On the technique elsewhere, compare notes to lines 13 and 63.

155 fro. SR; BDTH: from. See note to line 22.

159 God. DSTRH: Cryst(e).

160 brought. SR; Omitted in BDTH.

163-65 The prayer of praise derives from Daniel 4.31; the penitential plea does not, however, correspond to any specific scriptural passage.

167 myn. DT; BSRH: my. See note to line 37.

168 his. T*: her. The reviser has made the pronoun plural to agree with Thei in line 167.

173 ysmyte. D: smetyn; SR: smyte; TH: smyten. The third part of the bird's answer to the question "who?" See note to line 73.

179 a. Omitted in SR.

181 wode. DTH: wodes. The final e is pronounced.

187 Jhesu. Brown mistakenly prints Ihesus.

precious blood. Again, the appeal is to a specific feature of Christ that suits the bird's theme (here, riches). See notes to lines 13, 63, and 153.

191 moche. SR: moche(l) good.

193 castell. DH: castelles.

194 dyche. STR; BDH: dyches.

195 ibildet. D: ybylde; R: bildide with.

197 yset. DSTRH: set(te). See note to line 4.

198 holich. DTH: holy. On the adverbial ending in -lich, characteristic of BSR, see note to line 229. The form holy appears in line 35.

fro. SR; BDTH: from. See note to line 22.

201 flours. The word is another subtle (and punning) identification of the bird's former life to the narrator's present one (literally, lying in the flowers). Compare note to lines 59-62.

204 wex. DTH: wexed.

myn. DTH; BSR: my. See note to line 37.

205 fro. T: from.

206 come. DTH: cam(e). Compare Job 1.21.

207 seith. DTH: seyen; R: seye.

gete. DH: geten; S: gote; T: goten.

207-08 This proverb was current until at least the eighteenth century; in Whiting's earliest citation it appears three times in Mannyng's Handling Sin (c. 1303). See Whiting G333, and Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950), G305.

208 broke. The verb is brouken, "to have the benefit of something, enjoy." See MED, sense 1(a).

210 fro me. DS; BTRH: me fro. The rhyme calls for the emendation. The exemplar of S apparently shared the error; the scribe copied me fro and then corrected the phrase.

210-11 These lines represent the fourth and final part of the bird's answer to the question "who?" While Age led to the other three losses, Fortune is responsible for the loss of Riches. The second line can be read two ways: (1) I cannot blame you, Lord, for punishing me; or (2) You, Lord, are not responsible for the punishments I receive (i.e., I bring them on myself). Both (overlapping) understandings are plausible and both suit the Job exemplum of the next stanza, which informs the entire poem and supplies the refrain. The bird's laments her losses, but she stays devoted to God.

213 On Job's afflictions, see Job 1-2.

216 The origin and purpose of this unusual simile of water pouring torrentially "out of" the sea is not clear. Perhaps it is intended to call up the sublime imagery for God's powers in Job 38 — much of it expressed in terms of floods, tempests, and seas. T* reads: As doth the water of salte floode.

217 so mochel. DTH: so mekyll; omitted in R.

217-18 The poet is returning now to his opening concepts: Job's "array" was "poorer" than the bird's pouer array in stanza 2.

218 hele. DSTRH; B: hille. This is S's last line.

221 thanne. T: that tyme; omitted in RH.

222 Line repeated in H after line 223.

222-23 Job's praise of God even in adversity appears at Job 1.21 and 2.10.

223 Line omitted in T.

224 R ends at this line, after the last stanza with the refrain. The refrain is uttered by Job, its biblical author. The scriptural context is, however, quite different: "I have done with hope, and I shall now live no longer: spare me, for my days are nothing" (Job 7.16). The poet's message is that parce brings comfort, a message derived from the Church's Office of the Dead.

225-32 This stanza wraps up ideas introduced in stanzas 1 and 2: the four attributes are named (Riches is now the "powre and ryche"; compare line 14); the lament is repeated (see line 15); and the flower imagery returns with a glossed meaning (see lines 4-5, 201; compare Job 14.2 and Pety Job, lines 301-04).

226 agoo. BDTH: agoon. Emendation is indicated by the rhyme. Compare line 15.

228 This line echoes line 48.

229 liche. DTH: lyke. The word also appears in a rhyming position at line 196 (where all MSS agree).

230 springes. DTH: spryngeth.

231 lyveth. DTH: lyven.

235 It thought me wele. DTH: I bethought me well of.

236 bale and bote. Parce represents both the need for mercy and the verbal manner in which it is obtained. The line is omitted in T.

238 gat. DTH geteth.

238-40 The T* reviser has refashioned the last 8-line stanza into twelve lines with a refrain. The final three lines have been rewritten as seven:
Thys they askyth to speke well
Parce steryth God to pyte
And voydeth the fowle fendys of hell
Parce ys a woorde that soone getyth grace
And openyth the yatis of heven syte
God grawnte us all to se thy blessyd face
That seyth Parce michi Domine.
239 On the theme of God's compassion, see note to line 13.
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The Bird with Four Feathers

By a forest syde, walking as I went,
Disport to take in o mornyng,
A place I fond schaded with bowes ybent,
Iset aboute with flowrs so swete smellyng.
I leyde me down upon that grene,
And kast myn eyyen me aboute:
I fond there breddes with fedres schene,
Many on sitting upon a rowte.
O brid therby sat on a brere —
Hir fedres were pulled! Sche myght not fle!
She sat and song with mornyng chere:
     "Parce michi, Domine!
"Spare me, Lorde, Kyng of Pytee!"
(Thus sang this bryd in pouer array)
"My myrthe is goo, and my jolyté!
I may not flee as othir may!
My fedres schene ben pulled me fro,
My Yowthe, my Strengthe, and my Bewté!
Wherthorgh I take this song me too:
     Parce michi, Domine!"
When I herd this mornyng song,
I drew this brid nere and nere,
And asked who had don this wrong,
And brought here in so drowpyng chere,
And who had pulled here fedres away,
That schuld here bere fro tre to tre,
And why sche song in her lay,
     "Parce michi, Domine!"
The bryd answerd and seid me till,
"Man, be in pees, for Cristes sake!
Yif I schewe the myn hertis will,
Peynes sore me wolle awake!
Yif thow wilt take my word in mynde,
Ther shal no sorow be my letting
That I nyl holy myn herte unbynde,
And sothly telle the thyn asking,
Which were my fedres that were so clere,
And who hath pulled hem all fro me,
And why I sitte singging on brere,
     'Parce michi, Domine!'
"Fedres fowre I had ywis! —
The two were set on every wynge —
Thei bare me breme to my blys,
Where me lust be at my lykyng.
The first was Yowthe, the secunde Bewté,
Strengthe and Ryches the other two.
And now thei ben as thow maist se —
All foure fedres ifalle me fro!
My principal fedre Yowthe it was:
He bare me ofte to nyseté!
Wherfore my song is now, allas!,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"In yowthe I wrought folies fele,
Myn herte was set so hye in pride;
To synne Y yaf me every dele,
Spared I neither tyme ne tyde.
I was redy to make debate;
My lyf stood ofte in mochel drede
And my lyking to walke late,
And have my lust of synful dede.
I was now here, I was now there.
Unstable I was in al degré.
To Hym I crye that Marie bare,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"For Salamon seith in his poysé,
'Thre weyes ther beth ful hard to knowe:
Oon is a schep that sailleth in the see,
An egle in hey, a worme in lowe.'
And of the ferthe telle he ne kan —
It is so wondirful in his hering! —
'The weyes of a yong man
Whiche that ben here at her lyking.'
And now hath Age ismyte me fro
My pryncypal fedre of jolyté!
For al that ever I have misdoo,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"My secunde fedre height Bewté.
I held myself so clere of schap,
That al the peple scholde loke on me,
And worschip me with hoode and cap!
My rud was reed, my colour clere —
Me thought never non so faire as I,
In al a contré, feer ne nere! —
In fetewrs and schap so comely,
My forhed large, my browes bent,
Myn eyyen cleer, and corage bolde,
My schap ne myght no man ament.
Me thought myself so fayre to beholde!
And yet I was begyled in syght:
The myrrour, Lorde, deseyved me!
Wherfore I aske, Lord, of Thi myght,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"This fedir me bare ful ofte to synne,
And, principally, to leccherye.
Clipping and kessing cowth I not blynne,
Me thought it craft of curteseye.
A cusse! It is the develis gynne!
Oft of it ariseth woo and wrake!
The devel with cusse many doth wynne!
I counseil the: thow synne forsake.
Sampson lost his strengthe therfore,
David his grace for Bersabee,
Til he cried with wordes sore,
   ' Parce michi, Domine!'
"Salamon, that worthy king,
Ful fayr he was fro top to too;
Wherfore, in his age yyng,
He was amabilis domino!
And after he fel fowle and sore
For lust of women that was him neygh;
Thei fonned him in his age hore,
That he forsoke his God on heygh.
Nought onlich thise, but many moo,
Bewté hath begiled iwys.
I woot wel I am on of thoo —
I can the better telle this!
Now hath Age ysmyte me fro
My secunde fedre that height Bewté
For al that ever I have misdoo,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"My thridde fedre Strengthe height.
My name was knowe on every syde,
For I was man of mochel myght,
And many on spak of me ful wide.
To prike and praunce I was ful preste,
My strengthe to kepe in every place,
And evermore I had the best —
Such was myn hap! Such was my grace!
My strengthe ful ofte me drowgh amys
And torned me, Lord, clene fro The;
Now, Kyng corowned in hevenne blys,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"This feder me bare beyonde the see
To gete me name in uncowth londe;
To robbe and slee had I deyntee,
Ne spared I neither fre ne bonde.
Of holy chirche took I no yeme,
Bokes to take, ne vestement;
Ther myght no thing so moche me queme
As robbe or see an abbey brent!
With strengthe I gat me gret aray,
Precious clothes, gold, and fee;
I thougth ful litel on thilke day.
     Parce michi, Domine!
"When Nabugodonosor fers in fight
Jerusalem had thought to wynne,
And so he dede with mayn and myght,
And brent the temples ther withinne.
And al the gold that he there fonde
He toke with hym, and hom gan ryde.
Him thought ther scholde nothing withstonde —
His herte was set so heigh in pryde! —
Till the King of Myghtes Most
Browght him there that lowest was,
And caught him fro his real oost,
And drof him to a wildirnesse;
And there he lyved with erbe and rote,
Walkyng ever on foot and on honde,
Till God of mercy dede him bote,
And brought his prisoun out of bonde.
Thanne seide this kyng thise wordes iwis:
'Al thing be, Lord, at Thi powsté;
Mercy I crie! I have do mys!
     Parce michi, Domine!'
"While I had my strengthe at will,
Ful many a man I dede unrest;
Thei that wolde not myn heste fulfill
My knyf was redy to his brest.
And now I sitte here blynde and lame
And croked beth my lymes alle.
I was ful wilde, I am now tame:
This ffedre of Strengthe is fro me falle!
And now hath Age ysmyte me fro
My thridde fedre of jolyté!
For al that ever I have misdo,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"My ferthe feder Ryches was.
To make it schyne, I travailled sore;
I wente in many a perilous place;
Wel oft my lyf was neigh forlore!
By dale, by downe, by wode syde,
I bood many a bitter schowr;
In salt see I sailled wel wide,
For to multiplie my tresowr;
With fals sleightes I gat my gode;
In covetise I grownded me!
Jhesu, for Thi precious blood,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"Whan I was siker of gold ynow,
I gan to ride aboute wel fast;
I purchaced moche and — God wot how! —
I wende this lyf wolde ever have last.
I let me bilde castell and towres,
Without iwarded with stronge dyche,
Withinne ibildet halles and bowres —
Ther was no towr my castel liche!
In this was yset al my lyking,
And turned me, Lord, holich fro The!
To The I crye now, Heven Kyng,
     Parce michi, Domine!
"Whan I was most in al my flours,
And had aboute me wif and childe,
I lost my catel and my tours —
Thanne wex myn herte in party mylde! —
Catell fel fro me sodeynly,
Ryght as it come, it went away!
Men seith, 'Good gete untrewly
The thridde heire broke it ne may.'
I was ful wilde, I am now tame;
Fortune hath pulled Ryches fro me;
Yowre wreche, Lorde, I cannot blame:
     Parce michi, Domine!
"Job was richer thanne ever was I
Of gold, silver, and other good;
It fel hym fro, and that scharply,
As dede the water owt of the flood.
Hym was not left so mochel a clothe,
His naked body for to hele;
Hym lakkyd crostes of a loffe
When him lest ete in tyme of mele.
And yet he held up thanne his honde,
And seide, 'Heigh God, in magesté,
I thank The of Thy swete sonde;
     Parce michi, Domine!'
"Now Parce michi, Domine!
My joye, my merthe is al agoo!
Yowthe, Strengthe, and my Bewté,
My fetheres faire be falle me froo!
Wherto is a man more liche
Thanne to a flowr that springes in May?
Alle that lyveth, bothe powre and ryche,
Shall deye unknowyng of her day."
I sette me down upon my knee,
And thanked this bryd of here gode lore.
It thought me wele this word "parce"
Was bale and bote of gostly sore. 1

Now parce, Lord, and spare Thow me;
This is a worde that sone gat grace;
And parce geteth Godis pyté,
And scheweth to us His blessed face. Amen.
(see note)
Amusement; a morning
arching tree boughs; (see note)
Covered; (see note)
birds; feathers shining
Many a one; in a group
One bird; briar; (see note)
plucked; (see note)
sang; sad countenance; (see note)
Spare me, Lord!; (see note)
compassion; (see note)
pitiful dress; (see note)
gone; happiness; (see note)
For which reason I take up; (see note)
sad/morning (pun)
nearer and nearer; (see note)
(see note)
her; downcast appearance
which should bear her; (see note)
sang; poetic song; (see note)
to me
be still; (see note)
thee; emotions
will disturb me; (see note)
mentally absorb my words
prevent me
From wholly unbinding my heart to you
truly tell you
what; bright; (see note)
speedily; (see note)
Wherever I desired to find my pleasure; (see note)
(see note)
may see
fallen off of me; (see note)
It; wantonness
For which reason
committed many follies; (see note)
(see note)
I entirely gave myself to sin
I was heedless of time and event
be quarrelsome
at great risk
Because of my desire to; (see note)
fill of sinful deeds
in every way
whom; bore; (see note)
poetry; (see note)
are very hard to understand; (see note)
on high; (see note)
he cannot tell
their (i.e., his); (see note)
struck; (see note)
misdone (i.e., sinned); (see note)
is called; (see note)
handsome in form
praise; (see note)
country; far; (see note)
curved; (see note)
manner; (see note)
improve; (see note)
Embracing; resist; (see note)
a required art of courtesy
kiss; trap
woe and ruin; (see note)
by that means (i.e., kissing) (see note)
[lost] his grace; (see note)
toe; (see note)
young; (see note)
lovable to the lord (i.e., God); (see note)
afterward; unhappy; (see note)
who were nigh about him
made a fool of; white-haired
So that; high
Not only these; more; (see note)
know; one of those
(see note)
was called
put on airs; eager;(see note)
(see note)
fortune; (see note)
entirely; (see note)
the bliss of heaven; (see note)
(see note)
reputation; foreign
slay; delight
freemen nor bound servants; (see note)
looted possessions; (see note)
this very day; (see note)
fierce; (see note)
did; power
(see note)
(see note)
withstand [him]; (see note)
(see note)
royal host; (see note)
herb and root
gave him a remedy; (see note)
freed him from prison(see note)

done amiss; (see note)
command; (see note)
(see note)
fallen from me
(see note)
labored hard
(see note)
almost lost
by the side of woods; (see note)
endured; hardship
deceptions; gained my goods
(see note)
assured; enough
knows; (see note)
thought; would always last
arranged to build; (see note)
Protected without by a great moat; (see note)
Constructed within with; small chambers; (see note)
that was like my castle
All my pleasure was set in this; (see note)
I was turned; wholly away from; (see note)
most vigorous; prime of life; (see note)
possessions; towers
grew; somewhat humbled; (see note)
(see note)
Just; (see note)
Goods gained impurely; (see note)
heir (i.e., grandchild) may not retain it; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
sea; (see note)
so much as; (see note)
cover; (see note)
He lacked crusts of bread
When he wished to eat
(see note)
(see note)
gift; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
gone(see note)
(see note)
Is a man more like to anything; (see note)
Than to a flower that blooms in May?; (see note)
poor; (see note)
not expecting their time
for her good teaching
I meditated deeply [on how]; (see note)
(see note)
obtained; (see note)
compassion; (see note)