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Item 35a, The Sinner's Lament


1 Let them not condemn the poor for their faults


Title The text begins at the top of fol. 136r with no incipit or title. The text was errone­ously known as the “Prologue” to The Adulterous Falmouth Squire on the basis of Ashmole 61’s arrangement of these two texts (see introduction to this text). The title used here is that provided by Fein’s edition of the text, based on the Latin title used in the Lincoln Thornton MS, Lamentacio peccatoris.

1 All Crysten men that walke by me. See Lamentations 1:12, used in the liturgy for Good Friday and as the opening for many Passion lyrics; see also lines 1673–76 of The Northern Passion (item 28).

7 Syr Wylliam Basterdfeld. As Fein suggests, the name seems to mean “field of bas­tards,” and there may also be a common pun on “will” (desire) and “Will(iam).”

12 When I was now as ye be. Compare Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 237: “When I was yong as nowe be ye.”

16 Grete othes. Presumably these are profane oaths, frequently included in descrip­tions of the sins of a debauched, misspent youth.

17 I had no grace me to amend. See line 96, which refers to the grace of self-knowledge; the sense is not that the sinner lacked God’s grace, but rather that he failed to rec­ognize that grace or to reflect upon his need of it. Fein (Moral Love Songs, p. 383, n. 14) points to a similar def­inition of grace in an English prose treatise, De gracia dei (printed in Horst­mann’s Yorkshire Writers, 1:305–10).

24 Allwey with them I ame aweyde. The exact sense of aweyde is unclear; it may be the past participle of aweien, “to remove,” or of weien, “to weigh; to judge.” Rate has omitted a line from this stanza, “The fendes fell they have me hent,” leav­ing the pronoun in this line without a clear referent; compare Fein’s edition (Moral Love Songs), lines 21–24.

27 For I had no grace me to amende. Rate has added this line, an obvious repetition of line 17, to make up for the missing line in the stanza.

35 Than was to late of “Had I wyste!” Compare line 56 of “The Proverbs of Good Coun­sel” (Furnivall, Queene Elizabethes Achademy, p. 68), “Beware, my son, ever of ‘had-I-wyste.’”

41 I knaw welle women more and mynne. The manuscripts offer a variety of other readings here, and this is clearly Rate’s own creation. The reading in Corpus Christi College MS 237, “I knowe that we wil never twyn,” refers to the snakes and toads surrounding the sinner.

51 I have no gode bot God alone. The sense of this line is not clear; compare the read­ing of Corpus Christi College MS 237, “For I had no god but gold alone.” The latter reading stresses the sinner’s failure to make a proper distinction between treasures on earth and in heaven, whereas Rate’s (mis)reading suggests the sin­ner’s final, belated, subjection to God’s power.

82 For I ame rente fro tope to to. This refers to a punishment commonly mentioned in descriptions of hell, the flaying of the damned by demons. Often, the damned are strung up upside down or by their genitalia; see The Adulterous Fal­mouth Squire (item 35b), lines 102–05.

98 I here an horn blow. The blowing of a horn appears elsewhere as a call to the dead or dying. In the note to line 103 of her edition (Moral Love Songs), Fein notes the similar moments in the end of The Parlement of the Thre Ages, lines 654–56; Tutivillus’s closing words in the Wakefield play The Judgment, “My horne is blawen” (Stevens and Cawley, Towneley Plays, p. 410); and the warning from a dying man, “I sey no more but beware of ane horne!” in Farewell, This World, line 21 (C. Brown, Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, p. 236).


15 In. MS: I.

35 late. MS: lato.

40 MS: this entire line is written in the right margin.

51 gode bot. MS: a letter is scratched out between these two words.

87 Remembyr. MS: Remenbyr.

95 pletyng. MS: pletyn.

fol. 136r











fol. 136v   









All Crysten men that walke by me,
Behold and se this dulfull syght.
It helpys not to calle ne cry,
For I ame dampned, a dollfole wyght.
Some tyme in Ingland duellyng —
Thys was trew, withouten lesyng —
I was callyd Syr Wylliam Basterdfeld, knyght.
Bewere be me, both kyng and knyght,
And amend you whyle ye have space.
For I have lost everlastyng lyght,
And thus of mercy can I gete no grace.

When I was now as ye be,
I kepyd never other lyffe:
I spendyd my lyffe in vanyté,
In veynglory, bate and stryffe.
Grete othes with me were full ryffe;
I had no grace me to amend.
I sparyd nother meyd ne wyffe,
And that hath brought me to this ende.

I hade no hape whyll I was here
For to aryse and me repent,
Tyll that I was brought on bere;
Than was to late, for I was schent.
Allwey with them I ame aweyde;
In fyre of hell I schall ever be brent.
Alas, this werld hath me deseyvede,
For I had no grace me to amende.

In lechery I lede my lyfe,
For I hade gode and gold at wylle.
I scleughe myselve withouten knyffe,
And of glotony I hade my fylle.
In sleuth I ley and slepyd stylle.
I was desyved in a reyste,
A dolefulle deth, that dyde me kylle;
Than was to late of “Had I wyste!”

Thus ame I lappyd all aboute
With todys and snakys, as ye may se.
I ame gnawyn my body aboute;
Alas, alas, full wo is me!
It is to late, it will not be;
I knaw welle women more and mynne.
For hym that dyghed for you and me,
Aryse and rest not in your syne.

For when I was in my flowres,
Than was I lyght as byrd on brere.
Therfor I suffer scharpe schoures,
And by that bergayn wonder dere,
And byde in peynes many and sere;
Therfor thus I make my mone.
Now may helpe me no prayer;
I have no gode bot God alone.

Wo be thei, whosoever thei be,
And have there fyve wyttys at wylle
And wyll not bewere be me
And knaw gode thing fro the ylle.
The pore for faute, late them not spylle;1
And ye do, your deth is dyght.
Youre fals flessch ye not fullfylle,
Lost with Lucyfer fro the lyght.

In delycate metys I sette my delyte,
And myghty wynes unto my pay.
That make this wormys on me to byte;
Therfor my song is “Well-y-wey!”
I myght not fast, I wold note praye;
I thought to amend me in my age.
I droffe ever forth fro dey to dey;
Therfor I byde here in this cage.

Thys cage is everlastyng fyre;
I ame ordeynd therein to duelle.
It is me gyven for myn hyre
Ever to bryn in the pytte of helle.
I ame feteryd with the fendys felle;
Ther I abyde as best in stalle.
Ther is no tong my care can telle;
Bewere ye have not sych a falle.

Alas that ever I borne was,
Or moder me bore — why dyde sche so?
For I ame lost for my trespas
And abyde in everlastyng wo.
I have no frend, bot many a fo.
Behold me, how that I ame torne,
For I ame rente fro tope to to.
Alas, that ever I was borne!

Gode brother, have me in mynd,
And thinke how thou schall dyghe allwey.
And to thi soule be not unkynde;
Remembyr it bothe nyght and dey.
Besyly loke that thou praye,
And beseke thou heven kyng
To save thee on that dredfull dey,
That every man schall gyffe rekenyng.

For there no lordys schall for thee praye,
Ne justys, nother no man of lawe.
Ther charter helpys thee not that dey,
Ther pletyng is not worth an hawe.
God gyve thee grace thiselve to know,
And every man in hys degré.
Farewele, I here an horn blow;
I may no lenger byde with thee.
(see note)
doleful (sorrowful)

miserable creature

without lying
(see note)
Beware by [my example]
amend yourselves; time

(see note)
followed no other kind of life
quarrel (debate); (t-note)
[blasphemous] oaths; plentiful; (see note)
(see note)
spared; maiden

repent [my sins]
carried away by (devils); (see note)
(see note)

goods; to my desire

deceived in a slumber

too late for “If I had only known!”; (see note); (t-note)


more and less (every kind); (see note)

buy; very dearly

(see note); (t-note)

Who have use of their five senses

If; ordained
[Make sure that] your

to my liking
makes these worms
Wellaway! (Woe is me!)
would not
[old] age
carried on

as my payment

fettered; fierce fiends

torn from head to toe; (see note)

Busily (Assiduously)


Nor justices
Their charter (legal claim)
pleading; hawthorn berry (i.e., worthless); (t-note)

in his rank (of every rank)
(see note)

Go To Items 35a-b, The Sinner’s Lament and The Adulterous Falmouth Squire, introduction
Go To Item 35b, The Adulterous Falmouth Squire, text