Friday, December 06, 2013


O Cruel Death

James Ryman, poem XCII, in J. Zupitza, "Die Gedichte des Franziskaners Jacob Ryman," Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen and Litteraturen 89 (1892) 167-338 (at 265-267; line numbers added):
O cruell deth paynfull and smert,
On the to thenke my hert is colde,
For why noman fro the may sterte,
Neither riche ne pore, nor yonge ne olde.
Thou sparest not for siluir nor golde,        5
But, in whome thou wilte thy marke set,
He shall departe withouten lette.

Why art thou so cruell to man
Of hym no man grisly to make,
His nose sharpe and his lippes wan,        10
His chekes pale and his tethe blake,
His handes and his fete to shake
And alle his body quake for colde
And returne hym ayene to molde?

"Like to a thinge vayne man is made,        15
His dayes passith, as a shadewe,
And, as a floure, fro hym they fade,"
Thus seith Dauid, that prophete true.
Seint Iames seith: "As a floure newe
By hete of sonne turneth to hay,        20
So mortall man shall passe away."

A thousand yere fro hym be past,
As yesterday, the whiche is gone.
In an ymage he passeth fast,
This worldes figure passeth anon:        25
It is right nought to trust vppon.
Therefore alwey you redy make,
For, when tyme is, I wille you take.

"What man shall leve and se no deth?
No man, truly," thus seith Dauid.        30
"Haue myende, my lyfe is but a breth,"
Thus seith Iob according herewith.
His daies, as of a messangere, beth.
"More swyfter my daies passeth and lyfe,
Than a webbe of a wever is cutte with knyfe."        35

I sende sekenesse you to a taste
And to meke you in euery place,
But, whenne that I come at the last,
I make an ende within shorte space.
I sette no lawe day in the case,        40
For, whenne that I sey: "Make an ende,"
Withouten delay ye shall hense wende.

Fro mortall deth Crist vs defende
And graunte vs alle by his grete grace,
Out of this worlde when we shall wende,        45
In heuen blisse to haue a place
And hym to see there face to face,
That was and is and ay shall be
Eternall god in persones thre.
The poem is a dialogue between Man and Death. Man speaks in stanzas 1-2, 7, Death in stanzas 3-6. Some notes for my own use follow.

2 On the to thenke my hert is colde: My heart is cold, to think on thee
3 fro the may sterte: from thee may escape (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. start, sense 6).
7 lette: let (noun), i.e. hindrance, delay
8 no man: something not human
14 ayene: again
15-16 Like to a thinge vayne man is made, / His dayes passith, as a shadewe: Psalm 144.4 (Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away).
19-21 As a floure newe / By hete of sonne turneth to hay, / So mortall man shall passe away: James 1.10-11 (But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways).
22-23 A thousand yere: Psalm 90.4 (For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night).
27 alwey you redy make: always be prepared
29 What man shall leve and se no deth?: Psalm 89.48 (What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?).
31 Haue myende, my lyfe is but a breth: Job 7.7 (Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath).
36 sekenesse: sickness
37 meke: make, but with what meaning?
40 lawe day: Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. law-day, sense 2, citing this verse: "A day appointed for the discharge of a bond, after which the debtor could not at common law be relieved from the forfeiture."
42 hense wende: go hence

Grandes Heures de Rohan,
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 9471, fol. 159

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