Prik of Conscience: Entre


1 Lines 237–38: Appearance, the favor of people, youthful splendor, and wealth Steal from you the knowledge of what man is

2 They will not hear anything except that [which] pleases them

3 He would not understand that he might do well. Psalm 35:4

4 They believed not his word and they murmured. Psalm 105:24–25

5 For they believe for a while, and in time of temptation, they fall away. Luke 8:13

6 Lines 304–05: And they believed his words: and they sang his praises. They had quickly done, they forgot his works. Psalm 105:12–13


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; PL: Patrologia Latina, ed. Migne.

The Entre is the introduction or “subject of discourse” of the book. See MED entre n.5c, which cites for this meaning line 353 of this text along with Reginald Pecock, The Rule of Christian Religion, 30: “Here bigynnyþ þe entre or þe introductorie or þe inleding into þe book.”

9–68 The prayer to the Trinity and the following exposition of God’s unity in three persons respond to long-standing creedal debates (beginning at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and finding expression in the Nicene Creed) regarding the triune nature of God. The idea that “this lyfe” (line 37) and earth are contin­gent, and that only heaven and hell are eternal, is likewise a tenet of Christian theology (compare the inscription over the hell-gate in Inferno 3:1–9) and it poses the salvific tenor of the poem: if, of created things, only humans, fiends, and angels shall persist, and if there are only two ultimate destinations, the fate of every soul hangs in the balance. Purgatory, a contingent realm, is discussed in Part 4.

49–56 The charming notion that beasts were once capable of reason but now are dumb corresponds to the tradition of a lost golden age and of “the world grown old” (see below, 2.530, and Dean, World Grown Old). Nevertheless, by natural law (“kynde”) even dumb creatures know to worship God, unlike some humans.

72 myddellerde. The idea of “middle” earth is spatial: earth lies between the eternal kingdoms of heaven and hell (Tolkien’s use of “middle earth” is temporal, in order to indicate the time on earth that existed between the first, golden age and the depraved present). That mankind was created last, in God’s image (“Lyke hymselfe,” line 73), corresponds to the first creation story in Genesis 1:27.

76–90 Mankind’s knowledge of good and evil, and its possession of free will, fore­ground the debate on sin, responsibility, and salvation. Here, but not henceforth, I have punctuated line 76 to help the reader appreciate the three distinct components of intelligence represented in medieval brain diagrams by three lobes (see Clarke and Dewhurst, Illustrated History of Brain Function, pp. 25–43) that are often designated by the poet. N.b., line 157.

104 The poet balances Original Sin (Genesis 3) and the eternal verities of heaven and hell with the intervention by God in human form and in an earthly context. The Incarnation and Crucifixion define and enable man’s relationship to the Divine. The word division of line 101 is significant: God did not take “mankind” (monkynde), he took “man’s nature” (mon kynde).

107 The alliterating formula “lered and lewed” is found throughout Middle English literature. It designates the learned, clerical class (mostly monks and priests) as opposed to the unlearned, or lay population (by no means ignorant, but simply not in full command of reading and writing). Since the fourteenth century the word “lewed” has descended the semantic register to become Modern English “lewd.” The degree and prevalence of medieval literacy are complex questions. See Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, and Morey, Book and Verse, p. 4.

163–64 The duties of the learned and the unlearned (see line 107) are reciprocal: clerks have the obligation to teach what they know and the unlearned to seek knowledge.

173–74 The complaint against trifles and vanities is common in didactic literature, especially that people spend too much time reading romances. The Cursor Mundi complains that people are too eager for “Storyes of dyuerse thinges / Of princes prelatis & of kynges / Mony songes of dyuerse ryme / As englisshe frensshe & latyne / To rede & here mony are prest / Of thinges that hem liketh best / The wise mon wol of wisdome here / The fool him draweth to foly nere” (lines 21–28, from Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.8, ed. Morris).

196 as seyth the book. “The book,” as opposed to “this booke” (line 39), is often posited as the poet’s source. It may be either the Bible or, more likely, a florilegium of biblical and patristic passages (see the Introduction, pp. 4–5). The appeal to an external authority to validate a current literary project is a commonplace of much medieval literature.

206 of hymself hath no knowyng. “Nosce te ipsum” is the message of the Delphic oracle. See above, line 138.

237–38 Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), the founder of the Cistercian order, wrote extensively on ascetic and devotional life and was one of the most influential Church fathers. This quotation comes from >i, chapter 3 (PL 184:490a) which reads “fervor” for “splendor.” “Course” (that is, progression or stages) is an odd translation of “splendor.”

274 The prophet is King David, author of the Psalms, which were regarded as a prophetic book.

322 Therfore is this book oute blowen. Cotton Galba E.ix reads Þarfor þis buke es on Yngles drawen. Perhaps oute blowen implies “created” (out blown, exhaled), a more vivid metaphor than Galba’s drawen(“created”). Or perhaps the sense of blowen is “flowered” (see MED blouen v.2). But more likely the sense is “widely known, renowned” (MED blouen v.1.8), given the fact that it is in the vernacular rather than Latin (line 325).

330 pryck her soule. The first use of the “prick” metaphor, drawing on the tradition of the stimulus conscientiae and of the English Ayenbite of Inwyt (ed. Morris). See the Introduction, pp. 2–3.

335 seven partyes. The seven-part division is paralleled by other groupings, such as the seven deadly sins, the seven pains of purgatory (see Part 4), the Seven Works of Bodily Mercy, and the Seven Works of Spiritual Mercy.

340 The full range of the verb “reden” should always be kept in mind, not only “to read” in the modern sense but also “to read aloud” and especially “to consider.”


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

1–37 The first 37 lines are taken from Morris’ edition of Cotton Galba E.ix. The Osborn Manuscript begins on fol. 2r, with line 38.

23 Whas. The manuscript reads Was.

243 thi is canceled at the end of the line.

299 temptacionis. The manuscript reads temptaconis.

310 This line appears at the bottom of the leaf, with marks indicating its proper place.

328 drede. The initial “d” is smudged.

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Prik of Conscience: Entre

by: James H. Morey (Editor)








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The myght of the Fader almyghty
The witte of the Son alwytty
And the gudnes of the Haligast
A Godde and Lorde of myght mast
Be wyth us and us help and spede
Now and ever in al our nede
And specialy at this bygynnyng
And bryng us alle til gude endyng. Amen

Before ar any thyng was wroght
And ar any bygynnyng was of oght
And befor al tymes als we sal trow
The sam God ay was that es now
That woned ever in his godhede
And in thre persons and anhede,
For God wald ay with the Fader and the Son
And wyth the Haligast in anhede won
Als God in a substance and beyng
Withouten any bygynnyng
Bygynnyng of hym myght never nan be
He was ay God in Trinité
That was ay als wys and ful of wytte
And als myghty als he es yhitte
Whas myght and wytte of himselve was tan
For never na God was bot he alan.
The sam God sythyn was the bygynnyng
And the first maker of alle thyng
And als he is bygynnyng of alle
Wythouten bygynnyng swa we him calle
Ende of al wythouten ende.
Thus es in haly bokes contende
For als he was ay God in Trinité
Swa he es and ay God sal be
And als he first bygan alle thing
Swa sal he at the last mak endyng
Of alle thing bot of heven and helle
And of man, and fende, and aungelle
That aftir this lyfe sal lyf ay
And no quyk creature bot thay
As in this booke is wele contende
Whoso wole here hit to the ende.
God almyghty shal be thonne
As he is nowe bothe God and mon,
For with his myght alle thing made he
Withouten hym myght no thinge be.
Alle thing that he maade and wrought
Byfore the bygynnyng was hit nought.
And alle ordeyned he at his wille
In dyverse kyndus for certeyn skyl.
These doumbe creatures therfore
That resonable wit han lore
To loven hym as bokes wittenes
In her manere as here kynde es
For every thing that God hath wrought
That foloweth his kynde and passeth nought
Loveth his maker and worschipeth
In that that he his kynde ryght kepeth
Sith tho creatures that skil han noon
In her kynde loven hym uche oon
Man aught that hath skil and mynde
To loven his creature in his kynde
And not to be worse of condiciouns
Then creatures withouten resouns.
Monkynde shulde do Goddes wille
And alle his byddynges eke fulfille
For of his makyng more and les
Mon moost principalle creature es
Alle that he wrought for mon was doon
As yee shul here afturwardes soon.
Howe God maad mon and alle thing for hym
God to monkynde had grete love
When he ordeyned to monnes byhove
The worlde and heven hym to glaade
In myddellerde mon laste he maade
Lyke hymselfe in fayre stature
To be mooste worthie creature.
Byfore alle creatures of kynde
He gaf hym wytte, skil, and mynde
For to knowe bothe good and ille,
And gaf hym therto a fre wylle
And for to chese and for to holde
Good or evel whether he wolde
And ordeyned mon also to dwel
To lyven in erthe in flesshe and fel
His werkus to knowe and to worshepe
And his hestus evere to kepe
And yif he be to God boxome
To endles blysse aftur to come
And wrongly yif he here wende
To pyne he goth withouten ende.
That mon therfore holde I ful wode
That cheseth the evel and leveth the gode.
Of the goodnes of God anentes mon
God maad mon of moste dignité
Of alle creatures als mooste free
And alsso to his owen lykenes
As toolde byfore shortely hit es
And moost hath geven and yit gyveth
Then to any creature that lyveth
And more hath hette hym yit therto
Heven ryche blys yif he wel do,
And yitte when mon had doon amys
And had iloste that ilke blys
God toke mon kynde for his sake
And for his love deth wolde take
So with his blode bought hym agene
To his blys from endeles peyne.
¶Thus grete love God to mon kydde
And mo goode dedus to hym dyd
Therfore uche mon lered and lewed
Schulde thinke on love that he hath shewed
And these good dedus holde in mynde
That he hath doon to alle monkynde
And love and thonke hym as he kon
And ellus he is an unkynde mon
Bot he serve hym both day and nyght
And his giftes to usen hem ryght
To spenden his witte in godde service
Sothely ellus he nys not wyse
And kyndely know what God es
And what is mon that is les,
Howe feble is mon soule and body
How strong God es and almyghty
Howe mon greveth God that doth not wele
And what he is worthi therfore to fele
How mercyful and graciouse God es
And eke how ful of alle goodnes
Howe ryghtful and how sothefaste
What he hath doon and shal at laste
And ever doth to alle monkynde
This shul mon have ever in mynde.
¶For the ryghtwey to heven blys
That ledeth men thidur that is this
The wey of mekenes principally
To love and drede God almyghty,
This is the weye of ryghtwysdome
Into the whiche no mon may come
Withouten knowyng of God here
His werkus and his myghtes sere.
Bot er he to that knowyng wynne
Hymselfe he mot know withinne
Knowyng ellus ther may non bee
To wisdome wey ny noon entre.
¶Sum have witte to undurstonde
And yit thei are ful unknowande,
And som there ben han no knowyng
That myght hem styre to good lyvyng;
Tho men han nede to lernen aye
Of hem that knowen more then thaye
That myght hem to knowyng leede
To love God in mekenes and dreede
The whiche is wey and good wyssyng
That men to heven blys may bryng.
In perel of soule is that monne
That hath witte and mynde and no gode can
And wole not knowe by no lernyng
The lawes of God and his worchyng
He nyle doon aftur leest ny meeste
Bot lyve as an unskilful beeste
That hath no witte skil ny mynde
That mon lyveth ageyne his kynde.
Excused he ne is of unknowyng
That his wit useth not in lernyng,
Namely in that hym owe to knowe
To meke his herte and holde hit lowe.
The unknowyng shulde have wille
To serve and knowe the good fro ille.
That litul can shulde lerne more
Alle that to knowe that nedeful wore
For he that con not by lernyng
May be broughte to bettur undurstondyng
Of mony thingus to knowe and se
That were and are and yute shul be
And so to mekenes sturen his wille
To loven his God and leven the ille.
¶Mony ben glad trifules to here
And vanitees wolden gladly lere.
Bysy they bene in worde and thought
To lerne that the soule helpeth nought,
Bot that that nedeful were to knowe
To lerne they are ful wondur slowe.
Therfore they conne no thing see
The pereles that thei shul drede and fle
And what wey they shulden taake
And whiche wey they shulde forsake;
No wondur is though they wronge go
For in greet derkenes goon al tho
Withouten lyght of undurstondyng
Of that that falleth to ryght knowyng.
Therfore everyche Crysten monne
That witte or wysdome any conne
That con not wele the ryghtwey se
Ny fle the pereles that wyse fle
Shuld be buxome and bysye
To lerne and here of hem namelye
That undurstonden and knowen skil
What wey is goode and whiche is ille.
¶That wole the wey of lyf ryght loke
Shal thus bygyn as seyth the book
First to knowe what hymself es
Then may he sone come to mekenes
That grounde of alle vertues is best
On whiche alle othur vertues are fest.
He that knoweth and con wel see
What he was, is and shalle bee
A more wyse mon may he be tolde
Whethur that he be yong or oolde
Then he that can alle othur thingge
And of hymself hath no knowyng.
He may not God knowe ny fele
Bot he knowe fyrst hymself wele.
Therfore uche mon shuld fyrst lere
To knowe hymself propurly here,
For yif he knowe hymself kyndly
Thenne may he knowe God almyghty
And on his ende thinke shulde he
And on the day that laste shal be.
Know also what this worlde es
Ful of boost and wrechednes
And lerne to knowe and think with al
What shal aftur this lyf byfalle
Knowyng of this shulde hem lede
To mete with mekenes and with drede
So may he come to good lyvyng
And atte the laste to good endyng
And when he of this world shal wend
Be brought to blys withouten ende.
¶The bygynnyng of this processe
Knowyng of a mon selven es,
Bot some men han so greete lettyng
That they have no ryght knowyng
Of hemselven, thus lacketh hem drede
That fyrst to mekenes shulde hem lede.
Whereof foure thingus I fynde
That monnes witte maken ofte blynde
And knowyng of hymself that letteth
Wherfore he hymself forgeteth,
Bot to this matere Bernarde onsweres
Seying thos foure in thees two veres:
Forma favor populi splendor iuuenilis opesque
surripuere tibi noscere quid sit homo1
“The favoure of folke and feyrnes
And cours youthe and eke ryches
Reven mon bothe skil and mynde
To knowe what he is of his kynde.”
Thes foure reven hym in syght
That he knoweth hymself not ryght
And maken his herte ful hauteyne
And froward as to his sovereyn.
These foure norysshen pompe and pryde
And othur vyces that men shul hyde.
In whom any of thes foure es
Ful seldom is founden any mekenes
They letten mon that he not sees
Worldes pereles and vanytees
Ny thinketh not that tyme shal coom
Of dredeful deth and day of doom,
Ny undurstonde the peynes nyle he
That aftur this lyf ever shul be
To alle synful that usen folye
Ny blysse that good ben worthie,
Bot in lykyng setten hem faste
Ryght as this lyf shulde ever laste
And gyveth hem alle to vanytee
And what may mooste her lykyng be.
Suche men ben not lad with skille
Bot doon aftur her owen wille,
To nothing ellus take they no hede
No wondur is though they ne drede.
What they shulde drede knowe they nought
Therfore of drede have they no thought
Alle is for lak of good knowyng
That shulde hem to drede bryng.
And som wole not undurstonde
That myght make hem be dredande
They nyle here bot that hem payeth2
As the prophete in the sauter sayeth:
Noluit intelligere vt bene ageret.3
He seyth, “he hath no wyl to fele
Ny undurstondyng to don wele.”
Thes wordes by hem seyth he here
That wole not undurstonde ny lere
To drede God and done his wille
Bot fonden her foly to fulfille.
¶Somme undurstonden as they here telle
Bot no drede may with hem dwell,
For lacke of trouthe may that be
For they love nought bot that they se.
They grucchen when they drede here
As seyth the prophete on this manere:
Non crediderunt set murmurauerunt.4
The prophete seyth, “they leveden nought
Bot gruccheden and motreden in thought.”
Thes ben men that leveden nothing
That is ageynes here lykyng,
Bot grucchen faste and waxen frowarde
When men say that hem thinke harde.
Som con this in bokes reede
Bot her lyghtnes reveth hem drede
That hit may not with hem dwelle.
Of hem speketh God in the gospelle:
Quia ad tempore credunt, et in tempore temptacionis recedunt.5
Somme tyme somme leven a thing
And passen in tyme of her temptyng.
The prophete seyth also Davyd
Ryght in a psalme acordyng therwith:
Et crediderunt in verbis eius, et laudauerunt
laudem eius. Cito fecerunt obliti sunt operum eius.6
“In his wordes,” he seyth, “leved they
And preyseden his loos as they couth say.
Soone hav they doon and forgatte
His werkus and thought no more on that.”
Suche ther been mony ful unstedfaste
That no drede may with hem laste;
They ben to wylde when they have querte
That they con holde no drede in herte.
Drede to have a mon may lere
That this tretise wol rede or here.
Yif he rede or here to the ende
The materes that ben ther in contende
And undurstonde and in hem trowe
I hope his herte shuld waxen lowe,
For men shul drede have therby
To knowe good and fle fooly.
Therfore is this book oute blowen
Of sere materes that ben unknowen
To lewed men and unkunnande
That con no Latyn undurstande,
Hemself to make to knowe within
And for to withdrawe hem fro syn
And for to make hem God to drede
When they this boke here or rede
That shal pryck her soule withinne
So of that drede may love bygynne
Thorow coumfort of joyes in heven
And yoe wole listyne to my steven.
This book hitself berith witnes
In seven partyes dyvysed hit es.
¶The fyrste partye to have in mynde
Is of the wrecchednes of mon kynde.
¶That othur is of condiciouns seere
And unstabulnes of this worlde here.
¶The thrid part is ryght too reede
Of deth and whi he is to drede.
¶The ferthe part is of purgatory
There soules ben clensed of her foly.
¶The fyfthe part is of the day of dome
And of tokenes byfore shul come.
¶The syxte part is of the peynes in hel
There dampned soules shul ever dwel.
¶The seventh part is of joyes in heven:
Thus is this booke in parties seven;
In uche partye fynden men may
Dyverse materes and good to say.
That writen is byfore to loke
Nys bot an entre of this boke.
Go we to the fyrste parte that es
To speken of monnes wrechednes.
omniscient (all-knowing)



ever; (see note)
before; aught
shall believe
would always
unity dwell

always as
as; yet
Whose; taken; (t-note)





natures; reason
(see note)

their; their

nature; overreaches


physical createdness


profit (behoof)

(see note)

intuition, reason; memory

choose; remember; (see note)


if; obedient (buxom)

goes [to hell]
person; mad



man’s nature

(see note)
man made known

each; learned; unschooled; (see note)

Truthfully else he is not






knows (kens)
will not; most


(see note)

He who knows little


(see note)

ignorance; those


that wise [men] flee

reasoned judgment

[Whoever] that will
(see note)


Than he who knows
(see note)


pride (ostentation)


so many impediments



(see note)

course [of]
Rob [a] man [of] both reason


proud (haughty)


will not

Nor [of] the bliss that [the] good are worthy


That [which]

(see note)

concerning them
nor learn

attempt their folly

begrudged; muttered

what [to] them seems difficult

folly abducts them from fear [of God]
[So] that




health (good fortune)


grow humble

widely known; (see note)


(see note)

If you (plural); voice

(see note)

second; various

proper to read (consider); (see note)


What is written before

Go To Part 1 Of Man and of his Wretchedness