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“A Warning Spoken by the Soul of a Dead Person” (DIMEV 3624)

A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: FOOTNOTES

1 My eyes swiftly grow faint and dim

2 My teeth are swiftly bared in a fierce snarl

3 But thoroughly wish to fall from one another




A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: EXPLANATORY NOTES

ABBREVIATIONS: A version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Selden); B version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Lansdowne); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson; D: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 322 (SC 21896); DMF: Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330–1500); DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; FP: Lydgate, Fall of Princes, ed. Bergen; Gray: “Two Songs of Death,” ed. Gray; Hassell: Hassell, Middle French Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; MED: Middle English Dictionary; ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.

Found in a devotional miscellany dating to the first quarter of the fifteenth century, this poem is exemplary of the Signs of Death genre (see Introduction, p. 2), in which the speaker imagines his or her body in its multiple stages of decomposition by contrast with its formerly beautiful state in life. In this lyric the body’s dissolution is accentuated by the work’s replacement of internal physiological structures, like the spine, for the external forces of decomposition, such as the adder, as we see in line 17. In this way the poem creates an opposition between the body’s internal dissolution and the external forces of destruction visiting it in death. In its spatial codification of the body’s destruction and emphasis on gory detail, furthermore, this poem insists on its memorability for the purpose of contemplation, not unlike that required of the viewer in Man of Sorrows iconography, which depicts Christ’s wounded body for the purposes of devotional contemplation. Although this body’s state is quite different from that of Christ crucified, it similarly presents as a spectacular object, inciting meditation on its fragility through the emphasis on its beleaguered condition.

24 stynke foulere than an hounde. Proverbial. See Whiting H592.







A Warning Spoken By the Soul of a Dead Person: TEXTUAL NOTES

Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodley 789 (SC 2643), fols. 149r–50r (basis for this edition)

Woolf, Rosemary, ed. “Mi Leeve Liif.” In The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Pp. 317–18.
Hirsh, John C., ed. “Index of Middle English Verse No. 2255.” In “Prayer and Meditation in Late Mediaeval England: MS Bodley 789.” Medium Ævum 48 (1979), 61–62.














Here is a good counseil for synful men to take heede to while
thei ben in this liif.

Mi leeve liif that lyvest in welthe,
In mete, and drinke, and fayr schroud,
In richesse, honour, and in bodili helthe,
Loke therfore thou be nought proud.

But whanne thou art in thi beste lekinge,
Have mynde sum tyme, I thee rede,
How foule thou schalt lie and stynke
A litil after that thou art deed.

I was ful fair, now am I foul;
My faire fleisch bigynneth forto stinke;
Wormis fynden at me greet prow:
I am hire mete; I am hire drinke.

I ligge wounded in a clout;
In boordis narwe I am nailid.
Allas, that evere I was proud.
Now alle mi freendis ben to me failid.

In mi riggeboon bredith an addir kene;
Min eiyen dasewyn swithe dymme;1
Mi guttis roten; myn heer is grene;
Mi teeth grennen swithe grymme.2

Mi bodi that sumtyme was so gay
Now lieth and rotith in the grounde;
Mi fair hed is al now goon awai,
And I stynke foulere than an hounde.

Mi faire feet, mi fyngris longe,
Myn eiyen, myn eeren, and mi lymes alle
Noon wil now with other honge,
But everech wole from other falle.3

I rede every man that wiis wil be,
Take kepe herof that I have seid.
Thanne may he sikir of heven be
Whanne he schal in erthe be laid.

they are; life

dear beloved; lives; prosperity
food; garment

so that

when; delight
Remember; instruct

in me great benefit
their food

lie wound; shroud
narrow boards; nailed

have failed me

spine grows; cruel adder

guts rot; hair; colorless

lies; rots
head; away
(see note)

eyes; ears; limbs
Not at all; hold together

instruct; wise
heed of that which
Then; sure (bound) to obtain heaven


Go to “A Mirror for Young Ladies at their Toilet” (DIMEV 3454)