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Prik of Conscience: Part Two: Of the World’s Unstableness


1 Lines 167–69: No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. Matthew 6:24

2 Lines 180–81: Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God. James 4:4 (a Catholic, not a Pauline, epistle)

3 Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. 1 John 2:15

4 Lines 195–96: For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life. 1 John 2:16. A widely cited verse. See Howard, Three Temptations.

5 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:19. Contrary to usual practice, the paraphrase precedes the verse.

6 Lines 425–26: For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

7 Lines 437–38: Be not silent: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were [Psalm 38:13]

8 Lines 605–06: And they provoked him with their inventions: and destruction was multiplied among them. Psalm 105:29

9 Lines 625–26: So I let them go according to the desires of their heart: they shall walk in their own inventions. Psalm 80:13

10 Woe to you who call evil good, and good evil. Isaias 5:20. Christ often preaches against hypocrisy and false living, but never quotes this specific verse.


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

1–4 “Worldes” in line 1 is plural (heaven, hell, and earth, plus the internal differentiations made in the following lines). Part 2 thus begins with the same cosmic perspective as Part 1.

36 as the booke neveneth. “The booke” is Bartholomaeus Anglicus’ ency­clopedic De proprietatibus rerum, a thirteenth-century encyclopedia that was translated into English by John Trevisa circa 1398 (ed. Seymour et al.). See also Keiser, “Works of Science and Information,” pp. 3599–3601.

43 ff. the nyne ordoures of aungelles. Pseudo-Dionysius (fifth century) is credited with organizing the angelic hierarchy into nine orders. Paul hints at their existence in Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16. Bartholomaeus dedicates the whole of Book 2 of the De proprietatibus rerum to an analysis of angels and their orders.

53–68 The Ptolemaic cosmos is geocentric. Everything below the sphere of the moon is corrupt and changeable. The phases of the moon were regarded as a sign of this instability. C. S. Lewis (Discarded Image, pp. 92–121) supplies an excellent descrip­tion of medieval cosmography. See note 5.755–58 below.

64 The “diverse signs” are the signs of the zodiac.

72 See below, line 337. “These worlds bothe” of the next line refers to the worlds of line 34, heaven and earth, not to the two parts (line 54), sublunar and ultralunar, of the physical world.

109–16 Another subdivision of the physical world into the “dale” of life (macrocosm, the “more world”; see below, line 535) and man himself (microcosm, “mon the les”). Compare Thomas Gray: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, / Their sober wishes never learned to stray; / Along the cool sequestered vale of life / They kept the solitary tenor of their way” (“Elegy Written in a Country Church­yard,” lines 73–76).

121–24 See Genesis 1:28.

155–64 Theselines resemble the opening of “Of þo flode of þo world,” ed. Horstmann, Yorkshire Writers, 2:67. See below, note 266–79.

176 by skil. See MED skil (4.c).

201 kepe. See MED kepen (2).

221–36 See Bartholomaeus, Book 8: “it is a prisoun of spiritis, and most cruel exilinge of soules, ande place and stede [of] ful meny wrecchidnes and paynes. For þe worlde is place of trespas and of gilt, of passinge out of kinde kontre and of pilgrimage, of sorwe and of woo, of wepinge and of teres, of trauaile and of faintes, of grysnes and of schame” (De proprietatibus rerum, 1:446, lines 3–8).

239–40 The world, previously an “it,” is now personified. See below, lines 312 ff. and 471.

257–59 Compare Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque 19513.

266–79 These lines are similar to some lines and themes in “Of þo flode of þo world,” ed. Horstmann, Yorkshire Writers, 2:67–70, and see Raymo, “Works of Religious and Philosophical Instruction,” 7:2336.

328–37 The wheel of Fortune, always controlled by a female allegorical figure, is the most famous image of the instability of the world. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius is the classic treatment of how good and bad times alternate in reciprocal cycles. N.b., how Troilus moves “Fro wo to wele, and after out of joie” in Troilus and Criseyde 1.4, how “oft boþe blis and blunder / Ful skete hatz skyfted synne” in Britain (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 18–19), and how Arthur dreams of the ascent and descent of kings on Fortune’s wheel in the Alliterative Morte Arthure (lines 3260–3337, ed. Benson and Foster in King Arthur’s Death).

352–53 Jerome’s commentary on Joel ( PL 25:971C), with “virtutibus” for “diuicis” and with “corruamus” for “cadamus.”

360–61 Also in a letter of Marbod of Rennes ( PL 171:1471D).

368–69 Gregory’s commentary on Job ( PL 75:679a) and his exposition of the seven penitential psalms ( PL 79:646c), though not exact in either case.

379–81 As bereth wittenes Seynt Austyne. Not traced in the works of Augustine, but this saying (along with the one attributed to Gregory in lines 388–89, just below) echo the contrast described by Jesus between the respective fates of the fortunate and the unfortunate in the afterlife. See Matthew 19:23–30 and Mark 10:23–31 (“But many that are first will be last, and the last first”).

401 In alle that tyme thinke profytable. “In all times that [they] think profitable”? The line is unclear. Cotton Galba E.ix reads “In alle that tham thynk profitabel” (ed. Morris, line 1345).

434 as pore pilgrymes. Compare Egeus in The Knight’s Tale: “This world nys but a thurghfare ful of wo, / And we been pilgrymes, passynge to and fro” (CT I[A]2847–48).

453–64 Compare Matthew 7:13–14: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. / How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!”

488–521 These verses marked by anaphora are reminiscent of Ecclesiastes chapter 3.

529 heelde is presumably a Scandinavianism, from Old Norse heldr, “more rather”; thus “certainly” or “probably.” See MED helde (adv.).

530 See above, Entre.49-56 note.

535 See above, line 113, where the poet uses “dale” as the equivalent of “slade.” The MED suggests “glade” or “grassy plain” as possibilities but those have more positive connotations than the passage here. Thus I have followed their first suggestion of “valley,” with its hint at “valley of death” as in Psalm 23.

546 See the “Vitruvian Man” in the sketchbook of Leonardo Da Vinci.

557–60 Innocent, De miseria 1.25 (ed. Lewis, p. 137; PL 217:715c), and a succinct statement of the microcosm/macrocosm theme of the preceding section. See Stock, Myth and Science, pp. 275–76, 197–207.

567–695 This section of Prik of Conscience on the “pompe and pryde and vanyté” (line 568) of “bothe worldes” (line 566a) bears many similarities of concept, wording, and staging to the fifteenth-century morality play Mankind, where, as the Prik-poet explains, “selcouthe maneres and sere gyses” (line 569) are personified through the deceitful trickery and deceptions of the comical characters like Nowadays, Mischeff, and New-guise, who might well have their origin in this passage, where the seductive worldliness of fashionable clothing these days. N.b., the “veyn apparayl and weryng” of “mykel veyn coostage,” “greet outrage,” and “Such degyses and suche maneres / As yong men usen and nowe leres / And comonly uche day are sene [i.e., Nowadays]” (lines 572–77), along with “new gyses” (line 612) and “mony myscheeves” (line 616), that seem to anticipate the dramatist’s personifications of the trio who are set upon entrapping Mankynde with their jokes. The inventiveness of the scoundrels’ jests as they rob Mankynde of his coat, trim it to make it fashionable rather than functional, and play upon his despair for their raucous amusement parallels the behavior of vices in Prik of Conscience as they work situations with “newe fyndynges as thei go” (line 629) to “play and bourde” with humankind’s conscience (line 640), almost without Conscience's being aware of what’s really happening.

590 hippyng as a ko. Morris glosses as “limping as a cow” (p. 262n1539). Proverbial. See Whiting C503, citing this line. Some have argued that “cow” means “chough,” a British ground-feeding bird that hops, in which case “hopping as a chough” would be the better gloss. See the note to the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, line 252, in The Riverside Chaucer (p. 867).

591 See Chaucer’s Pardoner in CT I(A)682.

601 In her gyses shullen thay falle. Proverbial. Compare lines 621–23. See variants in Whiting G493, B211, B529, C201, and variations on “hoist on his own pitard.”

649–50 The theme of the “world upside down” corresponds to the classical topoi of antithesis and oppositio.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

75 hygheste. The first “e” is corrected from a long “s.”

168 habebit. The manuscript reads “hebit.”

266 worlde. The manuscript reads worde.

267 May. The “a” is written above the line.

308 A dittographic “the” appears before “worlde.”

428 anothur. The manuscript reads and othur.

549 Thus. The manuscript reads Thas.

558 microcosmus. The manuscript reads mucrocosmus.

695 Of. The manuscript reads Or.







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The secounde parte folowyng es
Of the worldes unstabulnes

Worldes alle when God bygon
Oonly maad he for love of mon
And alle thingus as clerkes prove
Maad were they for monnes byhove.
Sythe he the worlde and al thing wrought
To monnes byhove then owe mon nought
More then our loorde God allemyghté
To love the worlde ny his body,
Ny yitte so myche and that is lees
For yif he doth unkynde he es.
God were more worth to be loved
Then alle creatures and so byhoved
For he is maker of al thyngge
And of alle creatures bygynnyng.
¶Bot mony her ben that geven hem mykel
To this world that is so fykel
And loven alle thyng that to hit falleth.
Suche men worldly men men calleth
That her lyf moost on the worlde setteth
For that the love of God most letteth.
Therfore shulde mon hym keep
Fro worldly lyf and veyn worshepe;
By worldly lyf and vanytee
Mon may at the laste forfared be
Of blessed worlde wher greet joy es
Which mon shal have and lyf endles
That doth to God here that hym falleth
Of worldly ryches that the world calleth.
¶Bot the worlde that God wolde make
To monnes byhove that I of spake
Though hit be taken generally
Moo then oon may hit signyfye.
A clerke that hette Berthelemewe
Seyth two worldes ben to shewe
That the elementes and the hevenes
Alle conteneth as the booke neveneth
And alle creatures that God wrought
So that withouten hem is nought.
Tha oon goostly invysyble and cleene
That othur bodyly es and may be sene.
The goostly werlde men may not se,
Hevenen where God sitteth in Trynyté
And the nyne ordoures of aungelles
With holy spyritus that therein dwelle;
Thidur shul we comen and lyven ay
Yif that we holden the ryght way.
That worlde was maad for monnes wonyng
Among aungelles in greet lykyng
Ever therinne to dwelle
As men moun here clerkus telle.
Here on wole I no lenger stonde
For aftur cometh this matere on honde.
¶That othur worlde that men moun see
In two partyes dyvysed may bee
That bodyly thyng may hit behoolde
And aythur part a worlde is toolde
And bothe may men see and knowe
That oon is hyghe that other is lowe.
The hygher is fro the mone evene
To the hyghest steppes of hevene.
That worlde is bothe bryght and feyr
And nought corupt with unclene eyr
With sterres and planetes shynyng
And dyverse signes and not elles wonyng,
And the worlde that lower wol falle
Conteneth the elementes alle
That on the erthe aboute hit stondes
Where men wonen in dyverse londes.
Inwith this worlde is wel and wo
And chaungyng often too and fro
That softe is to som, to som is harde
As men moun heren aftur warde.
¶These worldes bothe at Goddes wyl
Were maad to mon for certeyn skil,
The hygheste worlde that passeth al thyng
Was maade to monnes endles wonyng
For uche mon shul have there a plaas
And wone in joye yif he ha graas
For hit was maad to oure avauntage
And for our owen ryght herytage.
¶That othur worlde that is lowere
Is there the sterrus and planetus ere;
God ordeyned hit to our byhove
By this skil that I shalle prove
Fro thethen the eyr and hete of son
Norysshen the erthe where we won
And alle susteyneth that fruyt geveth
And coumforteth mon and beste that lyveth.
Hit tempereth oure kynde and complectioun
And tyme of yeer setteth in sesoun
And lygteth us here where we dwel
Elles the worlde were merk as helle.
The bodyes therof in her kynde
Us shewen ensaumple to have in mynde
To serve God in oure kynde here
As they doon there in her manere.
¶The lowest worlde eke is maad for mon
For this skille as clerkes shew con
For men shulde therin wonande
Goddes werkes se and undurstand,
His comaundementes and his wille
Ay knowe and keep and fulfylle
And be preved in goostly batayles
Of goostly ennemyes that mon asayles
Thorow goostly strengthe and victory
He may be maad here so worthy
To have the coronne endeles
In that worlde that hyghest es.
Two thingus moun here togedur fal
That erthely men two worldes calle:
On is the dale that we in dwelle
That othur is mon in flesshe and fel.
This dale with clerkes called es
The more worlde and mon the les
Of the lesse speke I not yitte
For aftur wol I speken of hitte.
Of the more worlde I now say
Er that I pas ferther away
Then wolde I aftur tellen as falleth
Whi men the worlde a mon calleth.

Of the more worlde

The more worlde God on erthe set
For hitte shulde be to monne sogette
To serve mon and mon nought hit:
This ordeyned God for oure profitte.
Botte nowe the worlde that we lyve in
Waxeth so evel and ful of synne
And of welthes that are bot veyne
That men hit maken her sovereyn
And gyven hem thertoo that thay may
To serven hit bysyly nyght and day
And maken hemself worldly thral
Suche men worldly men we cal,
For worldly wele thay wole travayl
That at the laste shal fro hem fayl,
But if they wolde do suche bysynes
For God of heven that so good es
They shulde have good, al that is thare
That never shul fayle but laste evermare.
The worlde that here is nought elles
Bot maneres of men that therin dwelles
For this worlde may men not ken
Bot by maneres of worldly men.
What myght men by worlde undurstond
Yif no mon were therin wonand?
Alle men that the worlde mooste daunteth
And moost bysyly hit here haunteth
And tho that hitte mooste sheweth and loveth
Serven the devel the booke proveth
That bryngeth his servauntes to his hand.
This worlde is the develes servand:
Of this worlde prynce God hym calleth
For worldly men that to hym falleth;
Therfore this worlde is yvel to love
By mony skilles as clerkes prove.
This world is fykul and disseyvable
Fals unsikur and fulle unstable.
Mony oon the worlde here frysteth;
He is not wyse that to hit tristeth
For hit laugheth on mon and smyleth
And atte the laste hit hym bygyleth;
Therfore that mon nys nought witty
That there aboute is over bysy.
Goddes servaunt may he not be
Bot he the worldes manere flee
Ny love God bot he the world despise
As the goospelle seyth on this wyse:
Nemo poteste duobus dominis servire, quia aut
enim unum odio habebit et alterum diliget, aut
unum sustinebit et alterum contempnet.1
“No mon,” seith he, “may serve ryghtly
Togedur two loordes contrary
For outher he shal the toon hatte
And love the tother aftur his state
Outher he shal that oon mayntene
And that othur despisen certeyne.”
The worlde is Goddes enmye by skil
And contrarye to don his wylle
So ben alle that the worlde loveth
As Poule the apostle seyth and proveth,
Qui vult esse amicus huius mun-
di, inimicus dei constituetur.2
“Whoso the worldes frende wole bee
Enemye to God ful even is hee.”
Then shulde we not assente therto
The worldes lykyng wilne ny do
Bot for we doon that God myspayeth:
Therfore the apostle here thus sayeth,
Nolite diligere mundum nec ea que in mundo sunt.3
“Loveth not the world here,” seyth he,
“Ny nought that yee therin may se.”
Alle that here is or tellen mon con
Is outhur desyre of flesshe of mon
Or yeernyng of yghe that is in loke
Or pryde of lyf as seyth the boke,
Omne quod est in mundo aut est concupiscencia car-
nis aut concupiscencia oculorum aut superbia vite.4
Desyre of flesshe is a thyngge
That falleth unto flesshe lykyng;
Desyre of yghe as I con gesse
Falleth unto worldly rychesse;
Pryde of lyf as sum men kepe
Falleth to honoure and worschipe.
Lustes and lykynges flesshely
Engendren the syn of lecchery;
Worldly ryches of greet pryse
Engendren the syn of covetyse;
Honoures norisshen as ye may se
Veyn glory vayn thyng and vanité.
¶God maad the worlde seyth holy writ
To serven mon and mon not hit.
Whi serveth he the worlde thonne
And therto maketh hym bonde mon
While he may serve God and be free
And worldes bondage ever flee?
Yif that monne wolde knowe and fele
What the worlde is and beholde hit wele
Hym shulde not luste I undurstand
To make the worlde so feyre sembland,
For thus seyth the clerke Berthelmewe
Of this worlde as I shalle shewe.
He seyth hit is no thing ellus
Bot an hexile harde that mon in dwelles
And a droupyng deolful daale
That is ful of sorow and of baale
And als a stude of wrechednesse
Of travayle and angur that here es
Of peyne of synne and of folye
Of shenship and of vylenye
Of lettyng and of taryinge
Of frowardenesse and of stryvyng
Of fulthe and of corupcyoun
Of vilenye and of oppressioune
Of gylorye and of falsheede
Of treson, discoorde, and of drede
Of pompe, pryde, and covetyse
Of veyn sleyghte and of queyntyse.
¶In the worlde is nought elles we se
Bot wrechednesse and vanytee.
The warlde unto hym he draweth
And tyllen and loveth that hym knaweth,
Mony hym serven, fewe he avayleth;
He disseyveth his loveres and fayleth.
His despisers he wayteth ay
Hem to take as shadowe to pray,
Tho that wole hym folowe he ledes
And hem bytrayeth in her most nedes.
He wayteth to gyle hem at the laste
And hem ageyn to povert caaste.
This worldes worship may be tolde
But vanyté to haven and hoolde.
Worldly ryches howeso thay come
Are nought but fulthe and fantome
Wherwith he hath mony defyled
And atte the laste also bygyled.
Therfore an holi monne now here
To the worlde speketh on this manere:
O munde immunde, vtinam ita immundus
esses, ut me non tangeres aut ita mun-
dus ut me non contaminares.
This is on Ynglysche thus to mene:
“A thou worlde,” he seyth, “uncleene
Whi myghtestou not so unclene be
That thou shuldest never touche me
Or elles so clene and not vyle
That thou ne shuldeste me defyle.”
¶This worlde here whoso wille
May be lyckened to foure thingus by skil:
Fyrste the worlde may lyckened be
Mooste propurly unto tho see
The whiche aftur the tide certeyn
Ebbeth floweth and falleth ageyn,
Hit wexeth kene by stormes blast
Up and doun grete wawes to cast
So the worlde casteth by favoure
Men to ryches and honoure
And ofte sythes he casteth hem doun
To poverte and to tribulacioun.
Thes been the greet stormes kene
And wawes that in the worlde be sene.
Also the worlde that wyde es
May be lykened to a wyldernesse
That ful of wylde beestes es sene
As lyouns, lyberdes, and wolves kene
That wolde worye men ful blyve
Hem to drawe and al too ryvee.
So is this worlde ful of mysdoeres
And of tyrauntes that men deres
Whiche are bysye nyght and day
To noye men al that thay may.
¶Alle the worlde may lykened be
To a foreste in a wylde contré
Ful of theves and of outelawes
That comynly to foreest drawes
Wheche in pathes robben and reven
And take mennes good and nought leven.
So is this worlde where we dwel
Ful of wicked develes of helle
That ever be waytyng and bysy
Us to robbe of goodes goostely.
¶Yit may the worlde as ye may here
Be lyckened on the ferthe manere
To a greet feelde ful of batayles
With enemys that ay monne asayles,
For we been here on mony wyse
Alle besette with oure enemyse
And specially with enemyse thre
Ageyn whom we moste armed be:
The fende, the worlde, and oure flessh
That us to assayle ever ben fressh.
Therfore byhoveth us day and nyght
While we ben here ageyn hem fyght.
¶The worlde as clerkes undurstondes
Ageyn us fyghteth with two hondes,
With the ryght honde and the lefte also
That bytokeneth both wele and wo:
The ryght honde worldes wele iholde
And the lefte honde angres coolde.
The worlde assayleth som a while
With his ryght honde hem to bygile;
That welthe is as I sayde byfore
Of worldes rychesse and tresoore.
He als assayleth men nyght and day
With his lyfte hond hem to afray
With angres and tribulacioune
With poverté and persecucioune
The whiche clerkes lifte honde calles
Of the worlde that often byfalles.
¶Bot with the worlde of maneres sere
Cometh fortune as yee moun here:
Sho dooth what hire liste to doon
And eyther honde she chaungeth soon.
She turneth aboute ofte her whele
Up and doun as men moun fele.
She turneth som fro wele to woo
When her whele aboute shal go
And often ageyn fro wo to wele
Thus turneth she aboute her wheel.
Thes clerkus welthe noon othur this callen
Bot happe and chaunce that sodeyn fallen
The wheche men here holden not ellus
Bot wele and wo that mon in dwellus,
For worldly hap is ever in doute
While she turneth hire whele aboute.
Tenes and noyes men wolde feyn fle
And in welthe thay wolden ay bee,
Bot tho men that ryght lyf here leden
Welthes here fleen and dreeden
For welthe draweth fro the ryght way
That gooth to blys that lastuth ay;
Us aught to drede this welthe thon
As seyth Jerom the holy mon:
Quanto amplius in diuiciis crescimus tanto amplius
timere debemus ne de sublimiori cadamus.
“The more,” he seyth, “we wexe upright
In welthe and in worldly myght
The more we shulde dred in thought
That we from hyghe falle nought.”
To this acordeth the clerke Seneke
That thus seyth as I shal speke:
Tunc tibi salubria consilia advoca
cum tibi alludit prosperitas mundi.
This clerke on this manere seythe
“When worldes wele with thee pleyeth
Good counseyl then seek with alle,”
For welthes make a mon to falle.
Thenne hit is to drede therfore
As seyth the clerk Seynt Gregore:
Si omnis fortuna timenda est,
tamen prospera magis quam adversa.
Seynt Gregory seith on this manere,
“Yif all auntres be to drede here
Happe of welthe is to drede more
Thenne chaunce of angur that semeth sore.”
Angur monnes lyf clenseth and preveth,
Welthes the soule sturbleth and greveth;
The soule of mon may lyghtly spylle,
For welthes that mon hath here at wille
Semen toknes of endles pyne
As bereth wittenes Seynt Austyne:
Sanitas continua et rerum habun-
dancia eterne dampnacionis indicia.
“Continuel hele,” seyth he here,
“And plenty of worldly godes sere
Toknes been the booke wyttenes
Of ful dampnacyoun endeles.”
To thes wordes that som myspayeth
Acordeth Seynt Gregory and sayeth:
Continuus successus temporalium
future dampnacionis est indicium.
“Contynuel,” he seyth, “happy comyng
Of worldly godes is tokenyng
Of dampnacyoun that shalle bee”
Atte the laste day withouten pyté.
The worlde preyseth bot thoo oonly
That too his welthe ben ay happy
And on the worlde setten her herte
And fleen the state ay of poverte.
Suche purchasen and gedur faste
As though this lyf shulde ever laste,
To hem this worlde is favorable
In alle that tyme thinke profytable.
Hem loveth the worlde and they hitte
For thei folowen the worldes witte
And mychel they con of queyntyse;
Hem haldeth the worlde good and wyse,
To hem comen godes mony foolde
To her dampnacioun as I er toold,
For no mon may to heven coome
That foloweth the worldes wisdom,
Wheche men say that ben witty
“Byfor God hit nys bot fooly”:
Sapiencia huius mundi stulticia est apud deum.5
Mony mon here the worlde fraisteth
He nys not wise that to hit traysteth
For hit ledeth a mon with wyles
And at the laste hit hym bygyles.
He may be calde witty and wyse
That this worlde con wel despyse
And hateth maneres that hit loveth
And thinketh whidur hym byhoveth
And on this worlde here tristeth nought
Bot on that othur setteth his thought
For sykur dwellyng ha we noon here
As seith the Apostle on this manere:
Non habemus hic manentem ciuitatem
set futuram inquirimus.6
“No sykur wonyng here have we
Bot seke anothur that ay shal be.”
For as gestus we here sojourne
Ay while we fro hethen shul turne
That may be longe er manne wenes
For we dwelle here as alienes
Traveylyng in the wey oure lymes
To oure contré as pore pilgrymes.
Thus to God seyth the prophete
In the sautere with wordes swete
Non sileas, quoniam aduena ego sum apud te
et peregrinus sicut omnes patres mei.7
“Be nought stille lorde,” seyth he,
“I am a comelyng with thee
And pylgrym as my fadur was.”
So may alle sey this world shul pas
That is to say be not soo stylle
But do me ay to know thi wyl
And do counforte to my soule swithe
That may make hit glad and blithe
And say to hit I am thine heele
For thu art my pylgrym leele.
¶This worlde is way and passage
Wherby we make oure pilgrimage
By this way mote we iwis
Bot be we war we goo not mys,
For in this worlde ther lyen two wayes
That men may fynde who so assayes
That oon is waye of lyf to hoolde
That othur waye of dethe is toolde.
Wey of deth semeth large and esye
The whiche us ledeth over lyghtlye
To the grysly lond ful of merkenes
There sorow and wo evermore esse;
The wey of lyf is narowe and harde
Ledyng to our contree warde
That is the kyngdome of heven bryght
Where we shul wone in Goddes syght.
For Goddes sones we shul be toolde
Yif we the wey of lyf here hoolde.
¶This worldes lyf is ful unstaable
And ful variaunte and chaungeable
As seen is in contrarye manere
By tymes, wederes, and sesouns sere
The worlde and worldes lyf to geder
Chaungen ofte hidur and thider.
In oon state is hitte ful short while
The mountance unnethe of a myle
For the worlde is so chaungeable
Therinne all thyng ben unstable.
God ordeyned alle atte his wille,
Dyverse chaunge for diverse skil
Of tymes, wederynges, and sesouns
In token of worldes condiciouns
That ben unstable and variande
And shorte while in a state stand.
¶God wole shewe by tokenes sere
How unstable the worlde is here
For mon shulden no thyng lyste
Over myche on the worlde to triste:
Often he chaungen of his staate
Now is erly and nowe is laate
Now is day and nowe is nyght
Nowe is derk and nowe is lyght
Now is colde and nowe is hete
Now is dryghe and nowe is wete
Now is snow and now is reyn
Now is feyre and now foul ageyn
Now is wedur bryght shynande
Nowe is dym and drobelande
Nowe is bryght and cleer and feyr
Nowe is myste and cloudy eyre.
Alle thes tokenes to undurstand
Ben tokenes of the worlde variand.
And yitte ther been mo tokenes sere
Of unstabulnes of this world here:
Nowe is mirthe and now mournyng
Now is laughter and now wepyng
Now is wele and now is woo
Now is frende and now is foo
Now is mon lyght and now hevy
Now is he glad and now sory
Now is joy and now is pyne
Now we wynne and now we tyne
Now we be ryche and mesure pas
Now be we pore and have wel las
Now be we byg ryght as a boore
Now is he hool now is he sore
Now is reste and nowe travayle
Now is forse and now is fayle
Now are we smerte and now slowe
Now are we hyghe now are we low
Now helpeth thing now wol hit dere
Now have we pees now ha we were
Now is saughtenyng and now is strif
These ben moners of monnes lyf
And tookenes of unstabulnes signs
Of this worlde that chaungeable es.
And as this lyf is ay passyngge
So is this worlde ay payryngge
For to an eende hit draweth fast
By mony tokenes as clerkes cast.
The worlde that we seen thus heelde see thus for sure;
Is nought bot this worldes eelde.
Two worldes to this fallenne
By kynde skil as clerkes callen
The more worlde is erthe and mon the les
And ful chaungeable eyther es
The more worlde is called this ilke slade
The las is mon ther in maade.

Of the las worlde

As the more worlde round is set
So is mon rounde to go to mette.
The brede of mon is ryght contened
Of the ryght honde fro the lengest fyngur end
To the lengest fyngur of thi lyfte hand
And bothe his armes were oute spredand
And from the haterel of the crowen
To the sole of the foot ther down
Yif mon his armes to oute sprede
No more his lengthe is then his brede.
Then is a mon to mete withoute
As a coumpas ryght round aboute,
Thus hath the lasse worlde that mon es
Shap of the more worlde and lykenes.
Both thes worldes I dar wel say
Shul fayle and pas sone away
For ever the more eelde they bere
The more they payre and feble ere
As men moun se that to hem tent
And therfore thus seyth Innocent:
Senuit iam mundus uterque macrocosmus
et maior mundus, microcosmus et minor
mundus, et quanto utriusque senectus producitur,
tanto deterius utriusque natura turbatur.
He seyth as in Latyn toolde,
“Both thes worldes waxen oolde
The lenger that her tyme is sought
And the eelde of eyther forth is brought
The more in malice and feblenesse
The kynde of eyther trobled esse.”

Of bothe worldes

In bothe worldes outrage we se
Of pompe and pryde and vanyté
And selcouthe maneres and sere gyses
That ben used in mony wysees
In worldes havyng and beryng
In veyn apparayl and weryng
That taketh mykel veyn coostage
And turneth alle to greet outrage.
Suche degyses and suche maneres
As yong men usen and nowe leres
And comonly uche day are sene
Byfore this tyme han not bene
For yonge men callen now cortesy
That som tyme men heelde vyleny
And vileny they wol now hoolde
That som tyme curtesye was toolde.
Now may men se ofte chaungyng
In dyverse mateer of clothing
Som tyme shorte and som tyme syde
Som tyme narow and som tyme wyde
Som hem weren hongyng as stole
And som fitreden lyke a foole
Som gon waggyng to and fro
And som goon hippyng as a ko.
Thus usen men a new gette
And this worlde aukewarde they sette
With suche unkynde pompe and pryde
That they usen on every a syde.
So myche pryde as nowe is sene
Byfore this tyme hath not beene
Ny suche as men moun now se
Bot I trow that thay tokenes be
Of greet myscheef I undurstand
That to mon is nyghe comaande.
In her gyses shullen thay falle
For they wratthen God with alle
The whiche wratthe shal hem mete
As seyn Davyd the good propheete,
Et irritaverunt eum in advencionibus suis
et multiplicata est in eis ruina.8
“As they styreden God,” seyth hee,
“In her newe fyndynges of vanyté
In hem is fallyng mony foolde,”
And alle thorow pryde that I of tolde.
This may be as the book preveth
By hem that new gyses contreveth,
For they doon so the world to plese
More for pryde then for her eese.
He that with suche gyse hym greves
Shal falle in mony myscheeves
For suche wol not be lad by skil
A while God lette hem han her wil
Bot aftur God wole on hem sende
Newe vengeaunce bot yif thei amende.
Thus thei brewen hemselven wraake
That God hath hem alle forsaake.
Thes ben knowen by dyverse gyses
Therfore seyth Davyd on this wyse:
Et dimisi eos per desideria cordis eorum
ibunt in aduencionibus suis.9
“I lafte hem,” he seyth, “oute of coverte
Aftur the wilnyng of her heerte
In her newe fyndynges as thei go.”
This may be seyde to alle tho
That to this worlde he make hem gay
And turnen hem fro God away.
For her synnes they shul wende
Aftur to peyne withouten ende
Bot they suche vanytees forsake
And by tyme amendes make.
¶Yitte the worlde hath as men heres
Mo othur contrariousee maneeres
For nowe is vertue turned to vice
And play and bourde to malice,
Mekenes is nowe on som syde
Turned into pompe and pryde,
Nowe is wisdome foly hoolde
And trecherye wisdome is toolde
Also foly is holden wisdome
With proude men and unbuxome,
Love is turned to leccherye
And ryghtwisenes to trecherye.
Thus alle turneth up so doun
Unto monnes dampnacioun.
Miche peyne shal be her mede
And wel therfore aught hem to drede.
In her hertes I holde hem wode
That good holden evel and evel good;
Wo shal hem be as clerkes telle
For thus seyth Cryste in the gospel:
Ve qui dicitis malum bonum et bonum malum.10
“Wo to hem that seyn with wille
That yvel is good and good is ille.”
That is to say on hem shal be wo
That here mysturnen her lyfe so;
Thus is the worlde and lyf therinne
Ful of vanyté and of synne
Bot yit men loven hit to mykel
And this lyf that is so fykeel
And als this worldes vanytee
They woold noon othur world se.
Men wol not know the perels al
Of this lyf that shullen byfal
And for they lyven in solace sere
Thay holden no heven bot only here
Bot yit her lyf here shal her stynte
And al her joy be for hem tynte.
¶Bot woolde mon undurstond wel
What tho worlde is and what he shal fel
When he shal wende fro hit away,
Hym shulde not lust nyght ny day
Myrthe ny solace for to maake
Bot al worldly wele to forsake
And lyve in penaunce and poverte
For drede that he shulde have in herte
Yif he wolde know and leeve how hard
That he shal suffren afturwarde.
Ageyn this drede yit may hee
Thorow good hope comforted be
When he thinketh on heven lyght
Where he shal wone yif he do ryght;
Thus may uche mon do and thynk
In whom grace of God may synk
And he that wole not think on this
Ny kepeth to have noon othur blis
Bot halte this worldes lyf so gode
He is outher curseed or woode
Or hit is signe of suspesioune
Of ever lastyng dampnacioun.
¶Now have I toolde on this manere
The condiciouns of this worlde here
And eke of his unstaabulnesse
With his maneres and his falsnesse.
Now forthermore wole I looke
To the thrid parte of this booke
Of whiche parte I wole bygyn
And telle the materes that ben therin
That oonly speke as I shal rede
Of deth and whi he is to drede.

began; (see note)

profit (behoof)
then ought a man not
much; less
and so it is fitting

there; give of themselves much


be led astray
From the blessed world

Who gives to God whatever befalls him

More than one [thing]
can be observed

names; (see note)

(see note)


may hear

(see note)
That may contain bodily things


nothing else dwelling; (see note)


(see note)

a certain reason
surpasses; (t-note)

have grace

where; are

From thence

nature and constitution





come together; (see note)



as it happens


(see note)

That men make it their sovereign
to the extent that they may


wealth they will labor
shall fail them



favor [dissimulate]

Who brings; into his captivity
God calls him prince

For many reasons
(see note)


Unless; he flees
He never loves God except that


hate the one

for this (good) reason; (see note)

desire nor do
Lest we do what displeases God

eye that is looking

fleshly pleasure

desire; (see note)


an enslaved man

fair seeming

(see note)



sleights; schemes

(see note)
cultivates; entices

lies in wait
in shadow as prey

casts them again into

(see note)

(see note); (t-note)
reason; (t-note)




bite men most readily
tear asunder


harm (distress)

by custom
leave nothing

always assail mankind
many ways


[it] obliges us

holds the world’s happiness



in various ways; (see note)

[it] pleases her to do

not otherwise
remains in

Pains and annoyances; gladly flee

those men who
flee and dread

(see note)

(see note)


(see note)


Sorrow; legitimates (refines)

(see note)

Perpetual good health
of various worldly goods


for; is always


(see note)
The world loves them and they it
much they know of schemes


experience (try, commit to)

which way he should go

sure (secure)

secure dwelling
seek: (t-note)
guests we here sojourn
Until we from hence
knows (weens)

Belaboring; limbs
country; (see note)





may we surely
aware we go not amiss
(see note)

Where; is

toward our country

children of God; called

in different ways
weathers; various

hither and thither

The time [to walk] scarcely a mile


various signs

list (wish)

(see note)


moderation pass

force (strength); failure (weakness)

manners (conditions)

impairing (getting worse)

(see note)
agedness; (see note)
fall (fall out)

greater (macro)

this valley; (see note)


breadth of man is exactly contained

crown of the head
to measure on the outside

(see note)


pass soon
endure (bear)
fail (impair)

(see note)


(see note)

strange manners and various guises

much vain expense




limping as a cow; (see note)
fashion; (see note)


coming near
their; (see note)


him (God)

Always while God let them have their will

brew for themselves vengeance

I allowed them; out of hiding

they make themselves

damnation (torture)

in time



(see note)

their reward

too much


various joys






also; its


Go To Part 3 Of Death and the Pain that with him goes