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Prik of Conscience: Part Six: The Pains of Hell


1 No man hath been known to have returned from hell. Wisdom 2:1 (not exact)

2 Lines 174–75: A fire is kindled in my wrath, and shall burn even to the lowest hell: and shall devour the earth with her increase, and shall burn the foundations of the mountains. Deuteronomy 32:22 (the first five books of the Bible were, by reputation, written by Moses, whereas David is associated only with Psalms)

3 Let him pass from the snow waters to excessive heat. Job 24:19

4 Death shall feed upon them. Psalm 48:15

5 They shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. Apocalypse 9:6

6 Lines 305–06: Fire and brimstone and storms of winds shall be the portion of their cup. Psalm 10:7

7 Lines 315–16: Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable. Deuteronomy 32:33

8 He shall suck the heads of asps. Job 20:16 (not exact)

9 Lines 356-57: They shall meet with darkness in the day, and grope at noonday as in the night. Job 5:14 (not exact)

10 Before I go, and return no more, to a land that is dark and covered with the mist of death. Job 10:21 (not exact)

11 Where [the shadow of death, and] no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth. Job 10:22 (not exact)

12 Lines 452–53: I will send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the fury of creatures that trail upon the ground, and of serpents. Deuteronomy 32:24

13 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. Mark 9:43, 45, 47

14 Lines 485–86: Under thee shall the moth be strewed, and worms shall be thy covering. Isaias 14:11

15 Lines 497–98: For he will give fire, and worms into their flesh, that they may burn, and may feel for ever. Judith 16:21

16 Lines 557–58: Judgments are prepared for scorners: and striking hammers for the bodies of fools. Proverbs 19:29. Not traced in Augustine.

17 Lines 579–83: What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, And as a ship that passeth through the waves: whereof when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found, nor the path of its keel in the waters: Or as when a bird flieth through the air. Wisdom 5:8–11 (not exact)

18 Lines 666–67: All the day long my shame is before me: and the confusion of my face hath covered me. Psalm 43:16

19 Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness. Matthew 22:13 (not exact)

20 Lines 749–50: None that go in unto her shall return again, neither shall they take hold of the paths of life. Proverbs 2:19

21 That is, “For [they] need not trust (expect) in any help or mercy [from God]”

22 They shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. Apocalypse 9:6


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

37–38 Lines 37 and 38 are reversed in the manuscript, but this order conforms more closely to the tradition that the worst devils are in hell but that the neutral, or less bad, angels fell only as far as the earth’s atmosphere and became fairies. See below, 7.110–14.

49 The “tonges of steel” motif can be found in Irish and Old English sources, as well as elsewhere in Middle English. See Wright, Irish Tradition, pp. 150–51.

80 John 11. Lazarus, brother of Mary of Bethany, though this Mary was often confused with Mary Magdalen.

90ff. John 12 gives no account of what Lazarus said at the supper.

102 As should be read in parallel with line 80.

103 Caryous and Leuthi. Names (also spelled “Carius” and “Lucius”) given in the Gospel of Nicodemus to two witnesses to Christ’s Harrowing of Hell (see Matthew 27:52), when on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Christ descended to hell and rescued those righteous souls who lived before the Crucifixion. For Middle English versions of this widespread story see Morey, Book and Verse, pp. 216–26.

113 See 2 Corinthians 12:1–3, where Paul alludes to a heavenly journey about which he cannot speak.

116–17 This letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius is often appended to the Gospel of Nicodemus.

125 peynes fyfteen. Cotton Galba E.ix names fourteen, leaving out the last one: the inability to see God.

168 bynde. See MED binden, v.14: “Of reasoning: to conclude or prove (sth.); support (by argument or authority).”

233–34 Honorius Augustodunensis, Elucidarium (PL 172:1160B), and elsewhere. Not traced in Augustine.

245–46 Honorius Augustodunensis, Speculum Ecclesiae (PL 172:1039C). Not traced in Jerome.

321–22 Either line 321 or 322 was probably intended to be canceled, but neither is marked, resulting in a tercet.

414 Not traced, but see below, 7.1076. Cotton Galba E.ix includes the second line: “quorum opera in terris dilexerunt” (ed. Morris, line 6872).

469–70 Honorius Augustodunensis, Elucidarium (PL 172:1160A). Not exact. Also in Wernerus S. Blasii, Libri Deflorationum (PL 157:922C).

510–13 See the opening categories in Entre.36 ff. The poet responds to the objection that vermin could not exist after Doomsday by explaining that such vermin must be devils in disguise.

665 prophete. Although David is not commonly thought of as one of the prophets, as the psalmist and stock of the root of Jesse from whom Christ descends, he is a predecessor of the Word along with the prophets in medieval pictorial imagination. See N-Town’s “Root of Jesse” (Play 7), which places David, among the prophets, as the first of twelve good kings who share the word with the prophets of introducing Christ through the Mary plays. For scriptural authority, see Luke 24:44, Acts 2:29–30, and 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 23:1–2.

689 “Boketes” refers presumably to a booklet, a small book, though this spelling is not recorded in the MED.

709–10 N.b., the image of the inverted man above, 1.289–94.

723–24 Honorius Augustodunensis, Elucidarium (PL 172:1160C), but here the poet cites the Libri deflorationum by Wernerus St. Blasii (PL 157:923A).

761 See explanatory note to 4.104.

819–22 syght . . . dyght . . . myght . . . bryght. Note the quadruple rhyme.

846–48 See Job 14:1.

910 See Jeremiah 20:14

919 Compare Matthew 10:35, Luke 12:53.

941–49 Note the inexpressibility topos, and also the instance of rhetorical occupatio (claiming not to describe something but describing it nonetheless).

944 clergye ne arte. Learning and knowledge such as that represented by the seven liberal arts. See 7.263–64 note.

950–61 Line 961 is to be read in parallel with line 954: “As one could [also] say, no man could recount them.” Line 960 is a phrase that became part of the General Confession in the Order for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer (ed. Booty, p. 259).

971 Being punished for a sin before actually committing it (proleptic punishment) is a novel concept, but Dante describes a similar practice in Tolomea for Friar Alberigo and Branca d’Oria (Inferno 33.118–57) when, by an early admissions policy, souls are punished in hell whose bodies still walk the earth. Cotton Galba E.ix is more conventional: “And als oft-sythe als thai here newed thair syn / Als oft-syth thair payn salle new thare bigyn” (ed. Morris, lines 7460–61; compare 6.984–85 below).


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

95 glad. The manuscript reads clad.

180 brenneth. A stray mark appears over the “e.”

195 versus. The manuscript reads verus.

238 ís. The long mark over the “i” in “is” appears in the manuscript. Compare how Icelanders write the name of their country: “Ísland.”

265 Only the initial letter of the running title at the top of the folio (“T”) is legible.

312 othur. The manuscript reads othu.

341 shul. The manuscript reads sul.

413 boke. The manuscript reads bo followed by an incomplete stroke and an erasure.

421 videbunt. The manuscript reads videhurit.

422 miserabilem. The manuscript reads marabilem, with the first “a” deleted by a subpunctus and an “i” inserted by a caret.

470 vivunt. An otiose stroke appears above the “i.”

473 flamme. The manuscript reads flamne.

593 nevere. The manuscript reads neue.

606–07 stird. The manuscript reads stred. The pilcrow heading the next line divides the couplet.

627 May. The manuscript reads Yay.

660 Than. The manuscript reads That.

662–63 These lines are reversed in the manuscript, but the letters “a” and “b” in the margin note the proper order.

690 fyurly. An otiose mark appears above the “r.”

694 streytely. The “r” is inserted above the line by a caret.

733 With brynnyng. A one-inch tear (sewn up) in the manuscript separates these words. Also affects line 765.

743 stryned. The manuscript reads styned.

765 peynes make. A one-inch tear (sewn up) in the manuscript separates these words. Also affects line 733.

769 recovere. The manuscript reads recevere.

817 God. The “g” is written over a “b.”

837 A superfluous abbreviation for “and” appears before the “and.”

853 ther. The manuscript reads per. Cotton Galba E.ix (ed. Morris, line 7342) reads þan.

885–86 A hole in the manuscript causes these lines to be indented.

895 “Be” is canceled before “dede.”

949 A sewn-up tear in the manuscript causes this line to be indented.

974 ever. The manuscript reads eue.

1054 wole. The manuscript reads wele.

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The syxte part of this boke to telle
That speketh of the peynes of helle

Helle is in speche of mony a mon
Bot of the peynes few tel con,
For whoso here myght wite wele
What peynes synful there shul fele
In greet drede shul they be brought
Ay when they on the peynes thought,
Bot for mony knowen not ryght
The peynes that are in helle dyght
Withouten ende for synful mon
I shal shewe som as I con
A partye of tho peynes seere
As ye afturwarde moun heere.
I wole yowe shew fyrst wher is hel
As I have harde greet clerkus telle,
And aftur wole I shewe yowe more
And speke of peynes that ben thore.

Where helle is

Somme clerkes seyn as bokes witnes
That helle amyddes the erthe es.
Alle erthe may wele lyckened be
To a rounde apple uppon a tre
That even amyddes hath a colke
And so hitte may to an egges yolke,
For as a dalke is amydwarde
The egges yolke when hit is harde,
So is helle putte as clerkes tellus
Amyd the erthe and no where ellus
And as the yolke amyd the eg lyse
And white aboute the same wyse,
So is erthe withouten doute
Amyddes hevenes that goth aboute
Thus moun men se by an eg dyght
Howe heven and erthe and hel is ryght.
Ful merke and hidous hel is kyd
For in the erthe hit is al hyd
Thidur the synful shul be dryven
Als sone as the doom is gyven.
With alle the develes there to dwelle
That nowe in ayer are and in helle
There shul thay thenne be togidur
Wo shul hem be that shul com thidur,
For there is myche sorow and bale
And bittur peynes withouten tale
That alle the clerkes that had wit
That ever weren or that lyven yit
Couthe not telle with al here lore
How myche sorow and peyn is thore.
¶And yif by kynde myght be soo
That an hundreth thousand men or moo
Weren and hadden tonges of steel
That wysely couthe speke and weel
And every tong of every monne
Bygonne had when the worlde bygon
To speke of helle and shulden ay
And nevere cees to domes day,
Yitte myght they not the sorow tel
That the synful shul have in hel.
No monnes wit may ymagyn
The sorow ordeyned there for syn,
Bot men moun fynde who wol loke
Somme of the peynes writen in boke,
Bot what mon lyvyng is so witty
That couthe hem tel alle propurly.
Bot hit were he that had ben thore
And seyn the peynes las and more
Bot he that cometh thereinne certeyn
May nought turne lyghtly ageyn
There he mot dwel and never oute com,
For thus seyth the booke of wisdom,
Non est agnitus qui reuersus est ab inferis.1
This is to say, "men knowen noon
Comen fro helle that thidur was goon."
Alle that ben there shul dwel ay
Thay moun nevere be brought away
Bot hitte by myracle were oonly
Doon by grace of God almyghty
By whiche som that in hel ha ben
And orrible peynes there ha sene
Han be brought fro that stede of stryfe
And turned ageyn fro deth to lyfe,
¶As Lazar, Marye brothur Maudeleyn,
That say and harde mony an peyn,
For alsone as he was dede
His soule paste unto that stede;
Foure dayghus as God vouched save
So long his body lay in grave
And atte laste God reysed hym ryght
Fro dethe to lyve by hys myght,
Bot that he say he nought forgete
Sone aftur thenne as he doun sete
At mete with Criste in Martha house
Thenne tolde he of the peynes hydouse,
Bot durste he not for Criste alle telle
The peynes that he say in helle.
He lyved aftur fyftene yeere
Bot lowghe he never ny maad glad chere
For drede that he deth shuld dryghe
And for tho peynes that he say with yghe,
For dethes bitturnes may noon wyte
Bot he only that feled hath hyte
Tho peynes of helle noon wol wene
Bot he that hem hath felte or sene.
¶As two of Symeones sones ryght
The whiche Caryous and Leuthi hyght
When thay were dede and hethen went
They seyen in helle mony a turment,
And when Criste dyghed on the rode
They rysen fro deth and aboute yode
And tolden how Criste byfore he ros
Hadde taken fro helle that ere were los.
Myche more then couthen thay telle
Of peynes that thay sayen in helle
Bot they had no leve as I wene
To telle al that thay there had sene.
Therfore they lyveden here in penaunce
And never maad blythe countenaunce.
Of hem is writen in a pystel thus
That Pilate sende to Tyberius
That emperoure of Room tho was
To certyfye hem of alle this cas.
And othur mony that als were dede
His soule paste unto that stede
And seyn there mony an hidous peyn
And turned han by myracle ageyn.
¶Bot among alle that there be seen
I fynde writen of peynes fyfteen
That synful shul be pyned with ay
In body and soule aftur domesday.
Tho are general moste peynes in helle
Now whiche they ben I wol yow tel.
¶The fyrste is fiur ful hote to reken
That no manere watur may sleken.
¶The secounde is coolde as seyn som
The whiche noon hete may overcom.
¶The thrid peyn is fylthe and stynk
That is strenger then herte may think.
¶The ferthe is hongur sharp and strong,
¶The fyveth is brennyng hete among.
¶The syxte peyne is greet merkenes
That may be groped so thicke hit es.
¶The seventhe is horrible syght
Of develes that are grysly dyght.
¶The eyghtethe peyne is vermyn grete
The synful for to gnaw and frete.
¶The nynthe is betyng of develes hand
With yren malles hote glowand.
¶The tenthe is gnawyng withinne
Of conscience bytyng and vermynne.
¶The elleventh peyne be teres wepyng
Synful to gnaw in doune fallyng.
¶The twelfeth peyne is shame of syn
That they shul have withouten blyn.
¶The thrittenthe bondes of yren brennande
Shul bynde synful booth foot and hande.
¶The fourtenthe peyn dispeyre is tolde
That in herte shal synful holde.
¶The laste peyne and moste to drede
Defaute of syght is of the godhede.
Alle these aren general peynes in hel
And mo othur then tong may tel
No herte may thinke ny eer here
The special peynes that ben there sere
That men aftur they aren worthye
Shul thole in soule and in bodye.
Of alle thes peynes con I not say
For hem specyfye mon ne may
Bot speke we yitte forthermoore
Of general peynes that ben thore
With autorytees hem to bynde
As men in bokes writen may fynde.

Of the peynes of helle

The fyrste is fyre as I eer sayde
That with no wete may doun be layde
Wherin synful shul bren in hete
As God seyth by Davyd the prophete:
Ignis succensus in furore meo et ardebit
usque ad inferni nouissima, id est in eternum.2
"Fyur in my wratthe is tente," seith he,
"And into helle ende shal brennyng be
That is ever as God voucheth save
For helle shal never eende have."
And that fyur there so hote brenneth
That though al the watur that stondeth and renneth
Myght renne into that fyre so grete,
Yitte shulde hitte nought abate that hete
No more thenn a wateres drope shire
Yif Rome brente myght slekke that fyre.
For fuyr of helle that is endelesse
Is hatter then fuyr that here esse.
Ryght as the fyur that brenneth here
Is hattere and of more powere
Thenne a fyur upon a wowe
That is peynted hyghe or lowe
With reed coloure to mennes syght
That nouther gyveth hete ny lyght
Ny no manere helpeth ny dereth,
As thes versus wittnes beereth:
Quam focus est mundi picto feruencior igne,
tam focus inferni superat feruencia mundi.
"As worldes fyur here hatter es
Then a fyur peynted more or les
So passeth the fyur of helle by hete
These worldes fuyres smale and grete."
¶And for the synful brenned here
In fuyr of foly desyres seere
Ryght is that they brenne thoore
In that hoot fyre forever moore.
The secounde peyne is greet colde
That synful felen as I eer tolde
That colde shal be so strong and kene
That though the moste roche that is sene
Or the grettest mounteyne in any lande
Were alle on fyur at ones brennande
And even amyddes that coolde wore
Frese hitte shulde as hitte wax thore.
¶For they amonge othur vices
Brenden in colde here of malices
And ever weren oute of charytee
Ryght is therfore that thay bee
In that colde evermore lastande
There to frese both foot and hande.
The fendes shul take hem fro the fyre
And caste hem with ful greet yre
Into that coolde to eche her peyne
And ofte into that hete ageyne;
Thus shul they caste hem to and fro
And evermore they shul do so.
Of this the holy monne Job wittenes
That seyth as here writen nowe es:
Ab aquis nivium transibunt ad calorem nimium.3
"Fro wateres of snowe they shul wende
To overmyche hete that hath noon ende."
And Seynt Austyn on this maneere
Seyth in a boke as writen is heere,
Dicuntur namque candere exterius calore ut ferrum
in fornace, et interius vt glacies in yeme.
"The wicked withouten shul be glowyng
Thorow hete as yren in fyre brennyng
Withinne thorow colde sharpe and kene
As ys that ís in wateres sene."
Thus shul they be in colde and hete
Wheche turment is strong and grete.
The thrid peyne as clerkes telle
Is stynke and fylthe that is in helle
Of wheche Jerom the holy monne
Seyth as I yowe shewen conne,
Ibi est ignis inextinguibilis
et fetor intollerabilis.
"The fyur there is of suche pousté
That hitte may never slekened be
And suche stynk is in that hole
That erthely mon myght not hit thole."
No monne in erthe myght ymagyn
So myche fylthe as is therein
There shal be more fylthe and stynk
Then any tonge may tell or hert think.
That ilke stynke with filthe and fen
Shal be strong peyn to synful men
And yitte the fyre that then bren shal
Shal gyve a strong stynke withalle.
Therein shal be brymstone and pycke
And othur thing that shal be wicke,
For they here delyted hem namely
In fulthe and stynke of lecchery
Ryght wole that thay be ever among
In fulthe and stynke of helle strong.
The ferthe peyne is sothe to say
Strong hungur that shal laste ay
That the synful shal so chace
That ther flesshe they shul of race,
And for hongur hit gredely ete
There shul they have non othur mete.
They shul for hungre fare as wode,
Bot thenne the deth shal be her fode
As speketh the prophete in a steede
And seyth thei shul be fed with dede:
Mors depascet eos.4
This is on Ynglysshe thus to rede
"Deolfully shal deth there hem fede."
As he that here hath hungur grete
Longeth by kynde most aftur mete
So shul the synful that be thore
Aftur her deth then long wel more
That thay moste hated and dreded here
Bot they shul hit have on no manere.
Of this Seynt Joon beruth wittenes
In the Apocalippes where thus writen es:
Desiderabunt mori et mors fugiet ab eis.5
"They shul desire to dye" seyth hee
"And the dethe shul fro hem flee."
¶And for they wolde geve no mete
To pore that here had hongur grete
Ny of hem hadde no mercye
Bot used outerage and glotenye,
Therfore is ryght that they ha peyne
Of hungur in helle ay ther ageyne.
The fyfthe peyne hem shal byfal
Ful greet thriste they shul have al.
In helle that thriste shal be so greet
That here hertes shal clive for heet;
Bot flamme of fyur shal be her drink
With brymstone that soule shal stynk
With reek of fyur and wyndes blaste
And with stormes that evere shul laste.
Tho alle togedre then shul meete,
As seyth Davyd the good prophete:
Ignis sulphur spiritus procellarum
pars calicis eorum.6
He seyth as we mon writen fynde,
"Fyre, brymstone, and stormes of wynd
Shal ben a partye of here drynk"
That meyved shal be with smok and stynk,
Yit shul they drynk ageyn her wille
An othur manere drynke ful ille
That shal be byttur and venemus
As the prophete telleth tyl us:
Fel draconum vinum eorum et ve-
nenum aspidum insanabile.7
"Galle of dragoun her wyne shal be
And venym of snakus," thus seyth he.
Thay shul hitte lyke nothing wele
So vyolent hitte is ful forto fele;
This is ful harde thing for to fele,
This is ful harde thing for to here,
Yitte shul they have on othur manere
So brennyng thriste shul they thole
That her hertes shul bren as cole;
No lycour shul they fynde to fele
That her hertes ny thriste may cele.
They shul for thrist the hedes souke
Of neddres that shul upon hem rouke
As doth a childe in the moderes lappe
When hitte souketh the modere pappe.
This worde I fynde in holy writte,
As Job seyth and wel wittenesseth hitte:
Capita aspidum suggent.8
"They shul souke for thriste," seyth he,
"Neddres hedus that on hem be."
¶And for they wolde nevere blethelye
To pore gyve drynke that were thristy,
Therfore hit is ryght that they fele
Brennyng hete that nevere shal kele
This shul they have that come thidre
And sharp hungre bothe togidre;
Of this Seynt Jerom beruth witnes
And thus seyth as here writen es:
In inferno erit fames et sitis infinita.
In helle shal be where evere is wo
Hungur endeles and thriste also.
The syxte peyne is gret merkenes
Whiche ever in helle is endeles;
Hit is so thicke mon moun hit grope
Fro whiche synful may make no lope;
No herte may thinke ny tong tel
The greet derkenes that is in helle
Of whiche Job telleth us ful wele
And seyth synful shul grope and fele:
Palpabunt tenebras in meri-
die sicut in media nocte.9
"As derke is there at hye mydday
As at mydnyght and shal ben ay."
There never is day bot evere nyght,
There brenneth a fyre bot geveth no lyght;
Bot synful men sul evermore see
Alle the develes that there shul bee
And every peyne and uche torment
By sparcles that aboute shul sprent
Bot that syght shal to hem thaare
No coumforte be bot sorow and care.
To eche her peyne they shul ha syght
Withouten any coumforte of lyght,
And for helle is ay lyghtlees
Hit is called the londe of merkenes
And hit is depe derke and hydous,
Wherfore Job pryed to God thus:
Non reuertar ad terram tenebrosam.10
"Loorde I turne nought a way
To the merke londe," where wo is ay,
Here wonyng is hydous and ille
As Job seyth als thus there tylle:
Vbi nullus ordo set sempiternus horror inhabitat.11
"Where noon ordre is," seyth hee,
"Bot oglynes and ever shal bee."
¶And for the synful in her lyf here
Leved ay merkenes of synnes sere
And never woolde turne while they myght
Fro that merkenes to Goddes lyght,
Hitt is ryght as they dwelle thore
In that merkenes for evermore
So never more lyght shul thay see:
A strong peyne then shal this bee.
The seventhe peyn of thes fyftene
Is syght of fendes that shul be sene
Among the synful soules in helle
In whos company thay shul dwelle,
That syght shal be so hydouse to se
That alle the men of Crystyanté
Ne couden in witte ymaginne ryght
Ny descreve so hydous a syght
¶As thay in helle shul se evermore
Of grysly develes that shul be thore,
For thenne shul be mo develes in hel
Thenne any tonge may reken or telle
And uche oon shal more grysly seme
Then any moon of erthe may deme,
For there nys certus mon so boolde
In alle this worlde yong nor oolde
Yif he myght ryght conceyve in mynde
How grisly a devel is in his kynde
That wolde for alle this myddelerde
Se on so shulde he ben afeerde.
Howe fare thay thenne that shul hem se
And ever in compeny with hem be?
The synful shul ay on hem loke
Thus fynde we writen in oure boke:
In inferno videbunt eos facie ad faciem.
"In helle shul they se face to face"
Develes that they loved and folowed her trace,
While that they were in erthe lyvand
And with that syght I undurstande
Ful deolful crying shul they here,
As Austyn seyth on this maneere:
Demones igne sintillant videbunt
et miserabilem clamorem affluenci-
um et lamentancium audient.
"There shul they see develes with yghe
By sparcles that of fyre shul flye
And therewith heren in uche partye
The wrecched synful wepe and crye."
The sorow and deol that they shul make
Shal never there cees ny slake.
¶And for they hateden here to see
And to here thing that good shulde be,
Therfore hitte is resoun and ryght
That thay se ever that ogly syght
And als to heren develes dyn
To eche her pyne for her syn.
¶The eyghte peyne the boke seyth us
Is orrible vermyn and venymus
Whiche shul on the synful rouke
Ever on hem to gnawe and souke,
As grisly dragouns and neddres kene
And toodes so foule we nevere noon sene
And othur vermyn with venym
And wilde bestes grisly and grym
That uche with othur shul hem byte
On lymes where they had most delyte
Her synful werkes here to wyrch
Ageyn Goddes lawe and holy chirch.
For they dyd here ageyn Godes law
Wod vermyn shul hem there gnaw
For her synne that hem thought swete
Ryght as God seyth by the prophete
Dentes bestiarum immittam super eos, cum
furore trahencium super terram, atque serpencium.12
"I shal in synful sende," seyth he,
"The teeth of bestes that fel shul be
On hem with wodenes evere drawyng
And eke of neddres faste gnawyng."
Thus shul hem gnawe wode bestes ay
And never departe fro hem away
This peyne shal be ful harde to dryghe,
For that vermyn shal nevere dyghe
Bot ay lyven and with hem dwelle,
As seyth oure Lorde in the gospelle:
Vermis eorum non morietur, et ignis eorum non extinguetur.13
"Here vermyn shal not dyghe," seyth he,
Nor here fyur shal slaked be."
Herto acordeth Seynt Austynne
And speketh thus of that vermynne,
Vermes infernales sunt immortales
Qui ut pisces in aqua vivunt in flamma.
"The vermyn of helle ever lyven so
That never shul dyghe the synful fro
They shul lyve in the flamme of fyre
As fysshes doon here in watur shire,"
And in hem fasten here clokes depe
And they shul ever crye and wepe.
They shul with vermyn covered be
So that no lyme shal hem be fre
And on hem shul thay be gnowand
Whethur so they sitte or stande
The vermyn shal be here clothyng
And vermyn shal be here beddyng,
For I fynde writen there I have red
Howe Ysaye descreveth that bed:
Subter te sternetur tinea, et ope-
rimentum tuum erunt vermes.14
"Of wormes," he seyth, "thi bed shal be
That shul be strawed undur thee
And thi coverte alle bydeen
Shal be vermyn felle and kene."
Suche beddes ben ordeyned in hel
For tho synful that there shul dwel.
Thus shul thay be pyned for syn
Ever with fyur and foule vermyn,
For thus we fynden in holy writte
In a booke that is cleped Judytte:
Dabit Deus ignem et vermes in carnes eorum,
vt urantur et senciant usque in sempiternum.15
"In synful flesshe Criste shal gyve
Fyur and vermyn that ever shal lyve
So that thay shul brenne evermore
And fele bytyng of vermyn soore."
This peyne is more to feel and se
Thenne alle worldly peynes moun be,
Thus shal vermyn be to hem peyne
Bot men moun sey thus there ageyne
As men in bokes writenne moun se
That aftur the greet doom shalle be
Ne quicke creature shal lyve thonne
Bot only aungels devel and monne.
How shuld in hel or owhere ellus
Lyve any vermyn as men tellus
Or any beeste that mon myght dere?
To this men moune thus onswere
On this matere whoso that conne
And say vermyn that shal be thone
As I trow nought elles hytte es
Bot develes in vermyn lyckenes,
The whiche shul gnaw hem withoute
In vermynne lyckenes alle aboute
And here concyence eke as vermyn
Shal hem gnaw ever withinne
The whiche gnawyng shal be harde
As I shal shew yow afturwarde.
This vermyn withouten is more grisly
Thenne othur vermyn and more myghty.
¶And for the synful were here namely
Ful of hate ever and envye
Hit is bothe ryght and Godes lawe
That helle vermyn ever hem gnawe.
¶The nynthe peyne to undurstande
Is betyng of fendes with malles glowand;
The develes there shul the synful beete
With brennyng homeres huge and greete
As smyth smyteth the yren faaste
So that hitte breketh at the laste.
Ryght so the develes shul ever dyng
Upon the synful withouten stintyng,
And with malles hem gyve suche dyntes
That to poudre hitte myght smyte flyntes,
For harder dyntes gaf nevere engyne
As beruth wittenes thus Seynt Austyne:
Sicut machina bellica percutit muros
opidi ita demones immo asperius
et crudelius corpora malorum et ani-
mas flagellabunt post iudicium.
"As men moune se an engyne caste
And smyte doune castel walles faste
With a stoon bothe huge and hevye,
So schul develes do more felly
The bodyes and soules that shul dwel
Aftur the laste doom in helle."
For they shul have power and leve
The synful menne to bete and greve.
As the doctour Austyne telleth to us
In his boke where he seyth thus,
Parata iudicia blasphematoribus
percucientibus malleis stultorum corpora.16
He seyth "the doom shal be redye
To sclaundereres of God almyghtye
To tho that shul be ay smytande
The synful bodyes with malles in hande."
And for they wolde not here taake
Holy discipline for Goddes saake,
Therfore they shul hem smyt sore
With hevy homeres forever more.
¶The tenthe peyne is gnawyng within
Of conscience that nevere shal blynne
For withinne shal concience hem frete
As shal withoute the vermyn grete,
Thay shul be gnawen withouten doute
Bothe withinne and withoute.
Thay shul evermore crie and say,
"Allas allas and weylaway
Whii woolde we by no wey trow
What peyne and sorow here is now."
They shul pleyne on her wickednes
And thus say as here writen es:
Quid nobis profuit superbia, quid diuiciarum iactancia?
omnia transierunt velud umbra et tanquam nuncius percur-
rens et tanquam nauis procedens in fluctuamtem aquam
et tanquam auis transuolans in aere
cuius itineris non est inuenire vestigium
"What helpe is pryde," shul thay say,
"What bostyng ryches or ryche aray
Alle that grete pompe we se wel now
Is passed away as ane shadow
And as a messanger byfore rennyng
And as shippe in watur flowyng
And as a foule flyghyng in eyre by wynd
Of whose way men moon no trace fynd."
Thus shal alle here pompe away pas
As be a thyng that nevere was.
Then shal hem thinke when al is away
Alle here lyf here bot an oure of a day
Though they have nevere so long lyved here;
Then moun they say on this manere,
¶"Now were we borne in worlde to be
Now in alle oure delytes lyved we
Now dyghed we and paste away
Now be we in helle and shul for ay."
Then shul they fele how evel thay lyved
When concyence worme hath hem greved
That withinne hem shal gnaw and byte
For thay hadde here on vanyté delyte
And for that conscience stird hem nought
¶To forsake folyes that thay had wrought
Bot folowed ever here flesshely wil;
Therfore hit is good resoun and skille
That the worme of conscience withinne
Ever in helle hem gnawe for synne.
¶The elleventhe peyne is teres wepyng
Of synful that withouten styntyng
Shul wepe ever as seyth the booke,
What for sorow and what for smoke
What for coolde and what for heete
That thay shul suffre they shul ay grete
And tho teres from hem shul renne
Evermore and never shal blynne.
So mych watur as shal fal thonne
Fro oo monnes yghen ma gesse no mon,
For thay shul ever be wepyng
And her teres ben ay flowyng
And from here yghen to ren so faste
And here wepyng so long shal last
That in the worlde here as I ween
May not so myche watur be seen
As from here yghen shal falle thore,
For they shul wepen evermore.
Wherfore Seynt Austyn seyth ryght thus
Whos wordes ben autentyke to us:
In inferno plures effunduntur la-
crime quam sunt in mari gutte.
"In helle," he seyth, "oute helden shal be
Moo teres then be droppes in the se."
Thes teres that fro her yghen shal ren
Shul hem bothe skalde and bren;
They shul be hattere then ever was
Molten leede or wellede bras
As I have harde greet clerkes tel
That have descreved the peynes of hel.
¶And for thay had here ay lykyng
In here synne and no forthinkyng
Ny sorow therfore bot thought hem swete,
Therfore shul thay evermore wepe
And with her teres be skalded sore
To echen her peyn as I sayde ore.
¶The twelfthe peyn is greet shenshipe
That synful shul have in hel dype
Of uche synne that evere they dydde
For there shul thay be knowen and kydde
Alle synnes of thought, woord, and werk,
As seyth Austynne the greet clerke:
Omnia in omnibus patebunt et se
abscondere non ualebunt et cetera.
"Alle here synnes shul shewed be
That thay may nouther hem hyde ny fle."
They shul have shame for her syn thore
And her shenshippe shal be welle more
Than ever had any monne in thought
For any evel that ever he wrought;
That shame with hem shal laste ay
And never to passe fro hem away,
Thonne may thay saye that there dwelles
As the prophete in the sautere telles:
Tota die verecundia mea contra me est et con-
fusio faciei mee cooperuit me.18
"That is my schamefulnes," seyth he,
"Is alle day and tyme ageynes me
And the schenschip of my face
Shal cover me in uche a place."
They shul so shame ay for her syn
That hem shulde think as they shul bryn
For that schame that shal be thore
Shal nevere cees bot laste evermore.
Wherfore though no peyne were in helle
Bot this shame that I of telle,
Hit schulde be to hem more peyne
Then any mon here con ordeyne.
¶And for that thay here in her lyve
For shame durste hem nevere shryve
And withouten schame to syn were bolde
Ryght is that they have as I toolde
Schame in helle for alle her synne
Of whiche they wolde never blynne.
¶The thrittenthe peyne as clerkes wote
Is boondes of yren brennyng hote
With whiche the synful shul be bounde
As in som boketes writen is founde
Tho fyurly bondes shul nevere slake
For they wolde nevere her syn forsake.
They shul with tho bondes brennande
In helle be bounden foot and hande
And streytely streyned uche a lyme
By fendes that been grisly and grym;
Her wonyng shal be in helle endles
Among stynke, fylthe, and grete merkenes
Where ever is nyght and never day
As mon moune heren thes clerkes say.
Then shul thay fele when thay there come
Godes vengeaunce by ryghtwyse dome
For her syn that Hym myspayeth
Ryght as Criste in the Gospelle sayeth:
Ligatis manibus et pedibus, mittite in tenebras exteriores.19
"Lete bynde hem hand and feet faste
And into the utturmast derkenes caste"
That in the deppust putte of helle
The more sorow is then tong may telle.
There shul here hedes be turned dounward
And her feet uppeward bounden hard
And here lymes alle shul be streynyng
With brennyng bondes reed glowyng;
They shul be pyned on this manere
With othur peynes mony and seere
As telleth a greet clerke more openly
In a boke that he maad by study
Of dyverse questyounes of dyvinité
The whiche is calde flos sciencie
That is on Ynglysshe "floure of konyng"
Whereinne is mony a pryve thing.
In that boke ful ryght he telles
How they shul hong that there dwelles:
Capita eorum ad invicem deorsum versa pedes
sursum erecti et penis undique distenti.
"In grounde," he seyth, "of helle dongeoun
The hedes of synful shul be turned doun
And here feet fast uppeward knyt
And to strong peyne so be flytte."
And for that they were ever redy
To synne with lymes dyverse of the body
Therfore shul thay be bounden theere
By dyverse lymes as I sayd eere
With brynnyng bondes hot glowyng
That evermore shul ben lastyng.
¶For they nolde here knowe God lyvyng
Ny kepe the lawe of Goddes byddyng
Bot turne hem ever fro God warde
And setten here hertes on this worlde harde
And turne here mys here lyvyng
Unto vanytee and flesshely lykyng.
Therfore hit is ryght and resoune
That they be turned so uppe so doune
And stryned in helle and bounden faste
With bondes of fyur that ever shal laste.
¶The fourtenthe peyne dispeyr I tel
In whiche the synful shul ever dwel
Withouten hope of mercye thonne,
For thus Salamon seyth the wyse mon:
Omnes qui ingrediuntur ad eam non reuertentur
nec apprehendent semitas vite.20
He seyth, "alle tho that to helle wendes
And in dyspeyre shul be with feendes
Shul never aftur turne ageyne
Ny take the weyes of lyf certeyne."
When the dampned by jugement
And body and soule to hel is sent,
They shul never aftur withouten doute
Have hope ny thynk to come oute
Bot dwelle there ay withouten hope
For thus the holy monne seyth Jope:
Quia in inferno nulla est redempcio.
"In helle," seyth he, "is no raunsone"
Thorow frendes helpe of devocyone
For almesdede preyere ny mes
May helpe ny her peynes make les;
A stronge peyne shal this be in hel
Ever thus in dispeyre to dwel
That passeth al peynes of this lyf here
Withouten hope of recovere.
For here hath no monne peyne so strong
That he ne hath hope som tyme among
Outher of helpe that mon may caste
Or that hitte shal ende at the laste
His herte shuld elles with sorow and care
To sone fayle yif hoope ne ware,
For in uche sorow hope coumforteth best
Yif hope nere men seyn herte wolde brest.
In helle noon hope may fal in thought
Neyther here hertes breste may nought
For thay ben ordeyned to lyve ay thore
And to be peyned for evermore.
Bot the lyf of hem in that stede
Is bitterer and worse then is dede,
For better were to be fully slayne
Then lyve evermore in strong payne,
But synful in peyne shul ay ther be
And hem shal not dethe sle bot ay fle
As the boke openlye sheweth to us
Where we may fynde writen thus:
Mors fugiet ab eis.
"The deth that here is stronge and harde
Shal there ay flee from hym warde."
The peyne of deth thay shul ay drye
Bot yitte they shulde nevere more dyghe.
Thay shul ay lyve in sorow and stryfe
Whiche lyf shal be more deth then lyfe;
Her lyf amydward deth shal stande
For thay shul lyven ay dyghande
And evermore dyghe lyvyng with alle
As men that we see in swounyng falle.
¶And for thay here myche loved synne
And thorow foule hope ay lyved therinne
And to leve here synne had never wille,
Therfore hit is good ryght and skille
That thay be ever for thatte folye
In helle withouten hope of mercye.
Now have I shewed as I con tel
The fourtene general peynes of hel
Bot yit the fyfteneth peyne general
Among alle othur is moste principal
That is wantyng of the syght namely
Of oure Lorde ever God almyghty
For the whiche syght that thay ha tynt
They shul have sorow that never shal stynt
The whiche sorow that therefore shal falle
Shal to hem be moste peyne of alle.
For as the syght of God in heven
Is moste joye of alle othur to neven
Ryght so that wantyng of that syght
Is moste peyn in helle dyght.
Alle peynes in helle hem greve ne myght
Yif they shulde go so clere and bryght.
¶Yitte shul there be peynes mony mo
As bokes seyn with sorowe and wo
More thenne alle men oolde and yong
Myght thinken in herte or tell with tong
That synful soules that shul wende
To helle shul have withouten ende
Whiche peynes and sorowe shul never cese,
For there shal never be reste nor pees
Bot travayle and tene with sorow and caar
Ful wo is hym that shul be thare.
¶They shul thinke on nothing ellus
Bot on here peyne as clerkes tellus
And on here synne that thay have wrought
So peynes and sorowe shul turne her thought
For there shal be then harde and sene
Alle maner sorow, crie, and tene.
There shal be lacke of alle kyns thing
In whiche myght be joye or lykyng
And wante of al that good myght be
And of alle his badde greet plenté.
In helle shalle be then deolful dyn
Among hem that synful be therin
For thay shal ever thus crye and say,
"Allas allas an weylaway,
That ever were we of woman bore
For we be nowe fro God ever lore."
Then shul they wepe and with teeth gnayst
For helpe ny mercy thar hem non trayst.21
¶The fendes aboute hem then in helle
On hem ever shul rore and yelle;
So hydouse noyse they shul ther make
That alle the worlde hit myght to shak
And alle the men lyvyng that hard hit
Go wode for drede and lese her witt.
Amonges hem shul fendes ay stryke
The synful therwith shul cryghe and skrike;
There shal be more noyse and dyn
Thenne alle men couthe ymagyn.
There shal be roryng and russhyng
Raumpyng of fendes dyngyng and dusshing
And wepyng of synful as I sayde ore
So hidous that noyse shal be thore
Of fendus of folke that shul come thidre
As heven and erthe smyten togydre.
An hydous thing hit is to telle
Of noyse that thenne shal be in helle;
The develes that shul be ful of yre
Shul stoppe the synful ay in the fyre
That thay shul glow as don fyre brondes
And when they moun welde her hondes
For sorow they shul hem harde wryng
And weylaway thay shullen ay syng.
In helle thenne shal be so greet throng
That noon shal renne fro othur ny gong
On nouther syde hyndeward ny forwarde.
They shul be pressed togydre so harde
As thay were stopped alle in an oven
Ful of fyur bynethen and aboven.
Bot never the les helle is so depe
So wyde and large that hit myght kepe
Alle the creatures lasse and more
Of alle this worlde yif myster wore.
The synful shul uche othur dysese
And noon of hem shal othur plese
Bot ever fyght togedre and stryve
As they were wode men in this lyve
And uche oon othur scrat in the faace
And her owen flessche rende and raace.
Uche oon shal wylne hymself to slo
Yif he myght hym shalle be woo
Bot therto shul thay have no myght
For deth shal never on hem lyght.
Ful fayn wolde they al dede be
Bot deth shal ever fro hem flee.
Aftur deth shul thay desyre uch oon
As in the Apocalippes seyth Seyn Joon:
Desiderabunt mori et mors fugiet ab eis.22
"They shul desyre to dyghe," sayth he,
"And deth shal evere fro hem fle."
Amonge hem shal be ever debate,
Uche oon of hem shalle othur hate.
Thay shul be ful of hatereden than,
Uche oon shal othur warye and ban
And say, "cursed caytyfe wo be thee
And waryed mot thou ever be
And waryed be thay ever in care
That thee gaat and that thee bare,
And the tyme that thou were bore also
Thi pyne to me is sorow and wo.
Hit pyneth me and greveth me sore
As myche as myne owen or more
My peyne hit maketh more grevous,"
Uche one to othur shal then say thus.
Thus uche monnes peyne shal othur dere
For noon of hem shal othur forbere,
Sone ny doughter syster ny brothere
Fadur ny modur ny yitte non othere
Uche oon shal other haat ful dedly
And uche oon grucche on othur and crye,
Uche oon shal gnaw his tong in sondre
And uche of hem on othur shal wondre.
Thus in helle thay shul faren ay
And therwith sclaundre God and say,
¶"Whi maad God us to his lyckenes
And letteth us dwel now there we es.
Hitte semeth that God maad us in veyn
Sithe we be put to endeles peyn
Or he made us not bot to dwelle
In erthe to be fyur brondes in helle."
Thay shul ban the tyme that thay were wrought
And say, "allas that we were maad ought."
Thus shul thay sclaunder God among
So harde here peynes shul be and strong;
Uche oon on othur shal grenne and stare
As doon wode men that been forfare.
An hidous thing to seen hitte were
Whoso couthe telle the peynes there
Als propurly as thay shul there bee.
Bot that couthe not alle Crystyanté
Ny alle the clerkes that there had witte
Sythen the worlde bygon nor yitte
Couthe not telle by clergye ne arte
The peynes of helle the thousand parte;
The noumbre of peynes that greven there
Passen alle wittes that ever yit were
Or yitte lyven in any degree
And that moun men by skil wel see.
¶For uch synne that thay have wrought
Though hitte were a lytul venyal thought
They shul have certeyn peyn therfoore
Aftur the synne is lasse or moore.
Who couthe telle though he were wyse
Alle manere synnes and alle folyse
Bothe bodyly, dedly, and eke venyal
And leve noon untoolde greet ny smal
Wheche men have here fallen inne
Fro tyme that thay bygonne the syn
Both in worde thought and dede
As who say no mon couthe hem rede.
For uche thing doon here certeyne
In helle is ordeyned specyal peyne
To synful men that shul dwel there;
Thenne byhoveth hem as I sayde ere
For uche a synne that thay dyd here
Have certeyne peyne and cyngulere,
And for uche thing and uche folye
By pyned in helle specyallye
And ofte here peynes shul there bygyn
Er thay dyd here her dedly syn.
So mony peynes to hem shul fal
That no witte may comperhende hem al
For no synne that ever thay dyd
Dedly no venyal shal noon by hid
Bot be seyen openly and noon leyned
And dyverse peynes for hem ordeyned.
Who myght then alle peynes telle
That synful men shul have in helle,
For yif a mon passe hethen awaye
In dedly synne at his laste daye
For uche synne that ever dyd he
He shal dyversely punysshed be
And often newed shal be his peyn
As he to his synne new turned ageyn
The leste peyne there is more to se
Then alle the peynes in erthe moun be.
¶For alle the peynes of this worlde here
That ever were seyen fer or nere
To the leeste peyne there may be toolde
A bath of watur nouther hoot ny coolde.
Alle the woo of the worlde uch a deel
Were bot a solace and joye to feel
As to regarde of the leest peyne
That is in helle this is certeyne.
Uche synful shal ha syght thore
Of alle the peynes lasse and more
That alle the synful men shul dryghe.
Then shul uche oon se with her yghe
Men and women mony a thousand
In dyverse peynes aboute hem stand
And that syght that uche oon shal se
To uche of hem greet peyne shal be.
Alle peynes that shul falle to mon
Shul sorow be to alle that seen hem thon.
Thus shul they dryghe more peyn in hel
Then herte may thinke or tong may tel,
For peynes that thay shul have of syght
And what for peynes they have of myght
For alle tho peynes that there be knowen
Shul greve mon as myche as his owen.
Suche peyne to here as men moun rede
Aught wel to make uche mon to drede.
I trowe ther be no monne lyvande
So harde harted and wolde undurstande
And leve what peynes in helle be wrought
Bot he shuld have grete drede in thought
That shuld hym make to flee foly
Wherfore he is suche peyne worthy.
¶Thenketh therfore ay yong and oolde
On thes peynes that I have toolde,
Howe hydouse thay been for to discrive
And clense yow here in youre lyve
Of alle kyn fulthe syn and folye
And make yow ever to God redye
That yee be not worthye to wende
To hydouse peyne withouten ende.
For he that couthe ought undurstande
What peynes in helle be ay lastande
Hym were lever suffre harder peyne
Then any mon couthe hym ordeyne
Or he wolde assente to any folye
Wherfore he were suche peyn worthie.
¶Bot alle that wolen here syn forsake
While that thay lyven er deth hem take
And of alle tho have forthynkyng
Dedus doon ageynes Goddes byddyng
And to God turne hem fro here syn
And aske mercye and triste therein
And be lovyng and to God buxome,
In pyne of helle shul tho never come
Bot to the blis of heven weende
And dwelle there withouten eende.
¶Here have I spoken of peynes of hel
As ye have openly herde me tel
And the syxte of this boke made ende,
Nowe to the seventhe wole I wende
That is the last partye of alle
And speketh as I shew yow shalle
Specyally of the joyes of heven
That are more then mon may neven:
Fyrste wole I shewe where heven es
As clerkes seyn and beren witnes
Afturwarde wole I shew yow more
And telle yow of joyes that ben thore.





may [be likened] to

correctly placed (justified)
dark; known


(see note)

number (tally)


(see note)




(see note)
who saw and heard many a pain



supper; (see note)

laughed; (t-note)


(see note)
(see note)

[those] who before were lost

(see note)

(see note)

authenticate [to] him
And many another

(see note)



arranged in grisly ways



without stopping


ear hear
according [to how]









[not traced]

of various foolish desires

the biggest rock

And if that cold were right in the middle


(see note)

As ice is seen in water; (t-note)

(see note)



same, dung


sooth; (t-note)

pull off


[the] dead





break because of heat


(see note)

Such; experience (be made to undergo)
burn as coal
thirst; suck
adders; sit


Adders' heads
happily (blithely)


[not traced]




To increase their



Loved always [the] gloom of various sins
turn away

An overwhelming torment


(natural) appearance

(see note)


[not traced]



increase their punishment

venomous [creatures]





(see note)


[from] them (i.e., the vermin)

cruel and fierce


(see note)



by fiends; hammers



[not traced]



devour (fret)


complain on [account of] their








From one man's eyes may


[not traced]

lead or molten brass


increase; before


[not traced]



i.e., David; (see note)





(see note)

limb; (t-note)

Their dwelling
murkiness (darkness)


(see note)


flower of knowing

(see note)

securely; fastened
torture; moved


would not


turn here amiss their living

restrained; (t-note)


(see note)




If there were no hope men say [that their]


Death shall fly from them (Apocalypse 9:6)


in the middle of


have lost

(see note)

If they should go [to heaven]


[So] full of woe

heard and seen; (t-note)
[of] sorrow, cries, and distress

doleful din

(see note)



mad; lose

Romping; beating; clashing


may move their

nor go

As [if]; stuffed

need be
dis-ease (make uncomfortable); (t-note)





revile and curse


begot; bore (in the womb)
born; (see note)

[Neither] son nor
(see note)

where we are


mad; ruined

(see note)

learning nor scholarship; (see note)

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

According [to whether]



(see note)





each part


that see them then



He would rather


before death takes them
And of all those [deeds] have contrition
done against God's bidding



that are there

Go To Part Seven The Joys of Heaven