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The Lyfe of Seynt Margarete

Here begynneth the prolog of the holy seynt, Seynt Margarete,
compendyously compiled in balade by Lidgate dan Johan, Monk of Bury, Ao VIIIo h VI i.

At the reverence of Seynt Margarete
My purpos is hir lyfe to compile;
Though I have no rethorikes swete
Nor colour noon t’enbelisshe with my style
Yet dar I seyn, it happeth so somen while,
Under writyng rude of apparence
Mater is hid of grete intellygence.

Ful ofte falleth, in this chestys blake
Golde and perlys and stones of grete prys
Ben ylooke and into warde ytake;
And by sentence and the prudent avys
Of philosoffres, that holden were so wys,
A royal ruby in whiche ther is no lak
May closed ben in a ful pore sak.

And though that I have noon eloquence
nbsp; For to discryve hir parfit holynesse
Hir chaste lyf, hir tendre innocence,
nbsp; Hir martirdam wrought by grete duresse,-
nbsp; Ay unmutable in hir stablenesse,
Unto the dethe ay one in hir suffraunce,
So was hir herte roted on constaunce.

In Crystes feith she gan hir so delyte,
For whom she lyste despyse al worldly glorye,
This daysye, with leves rede and white,
Purpul hewed, as maked is memorye,
Whan that hir blode was shad oute by victorye,
The chaste lely of whos maydenhede
Thorugh martyrdam was spreynt with roses rede.

Margarete, the storye dothe hir calle,
After a stone ynamed “margarite,”
A precyous gemme amonge these stones alle,
In there bokes as clerkys liste to write;
For of nature perlys echone ben white,
Right vertuous of kynde, rounde and smalle –
Whiche propurtees resemblen hir at alle.

She was first white by virginytй,
In al hir lyvyng prevyde vertuous,
And smal she was by humylitй;
Right strong in God, this maide glorious;
And for she was thurgh deth victoryous,
Thurgh her triumphe she gate the palme in hevene,
With laurer crowned above the sterres sevene.

This stone in vertu is a cordyal,
To the spirit a grete confortatyf;
Right so hir herte was imperyal –
I mene, in vertu duryng al hir lyf;
For she venquesshed with al hir mortal stryf
The devel, the worlde, her storye dothe devyse,
And of hir flesshe she made a sacryfice

Unto the Lorde, that starf upon the Rode,
Whan He liste deye for oure redempcyoun;
So this virgine, t’aquyte Him, shad hir blode
Ful benygnely in her passyoun.
O gemme of gemmes, vyrgyn of most renoun,
Thy lif to write be thou my socoure,
And shede of grace the aureat lycoure

Into my penne, quakyng of verray drede,
Of retoryke for I have no muse
Duely to write thi martirdom; in dede,
Ne were oo thyng, I wolde me excuse –
That thou of grace wylt me not refuse
But dyrectyn, O blysful lode-sterre,
Me and my penne to conveye, whan I erre.

Lat thi lyght in derkenesse be my guyde
Tochyng this processe whiche I have undertake.
Remembre, O virgyne, upon that other side
On hir that caused, oonly for thi sake,
Thyn holy lyf me to compile and make, –
My Lady Marche I mene, whiche of entent
Gafe firste to me in commaundement

That I shulde considre welle and see
In Frensshe and Latyne thyn holy passyoun,
Thi martirdam and thi virginitй,
And therof make a compilacyoun;
So, as I cowde, under correccioun,
And under supporte of alle that shal it rede,
Upon this storye thus I wylle procede.

Here endeth the prolog of Seynt Margarete, and next folwyng begynneth the storye of hir

In Anthiochye, a famous grete citee,
This blyssed mayde, this martir gloryous
Whilom was born, hire legende ye may see, –
Hir fader callid Theodosius;
And as the storye playnly telleth us,
A patryark he was of paynym lawes
After the ryghtes used in tho dawes.

To a noryce this mayde was ytake,
Right gracious of shape and of visage.
The paynym lawe of herte she hath forsake
And was baptised in hir tendre age,
For whiche hir fader gan fallen in a rage
And to hirward bare ful grete haterede,
Whan that he knewe she crystened was in dede.

And whan that she by processe dede atteyne
Unto the age of fiftene yere,
With othir maydnes of beautй sovereyne,
This holy virgyne, benygne and glad of chere,
Flouryng in vertu, moste goodly and entere,
Humble of hir porte, this gracyous creature
Kepte of hir noryce the shepe in theire pasture.

Devoyde of pride, of rancour and of ire,
She called was a mirrour of mekenesse.
The Holy Gost hir herte so dede enspire
That wille and thought were sette on parfitnesse;
To thynke on Criste was holy hir gladnesse,
And chere benygne to alle she dede shewe,
Softe of hir speche, and but of wordys fewe.

She gat hir love upon every syde
By cause she was so inly vertuous,
For God and grace with hir dide abide –
Al thyng eschewyng that was vycious –
Til that the Prefette, called Olibrius,
Of aventure rode on his pleyng,
Where he sawe first this mayde, hir shepe kepyng.

He was ravesshede anoon with hir beautй,
Hir grete fairnesse whan he dide adverte,
Hir fresshe face eke whan he dide see;
Hir hevenly iyen perced thurgh his herte,
Brent in his corage with importable smerte.
This cruel wolfe, for love inpacyent,
Cast him devowre this cely innocent.

Firste to himself thus he spake and sayde:
“What is she, this? Where doth this goodely duelle?”
Who sawe ever toforn so faire a maide,
Whiche alle othir in beautй dothe excelle?
Of wommanhede she is the verray welle,
For me semeth myn herte in every weyne
Is thurgh perced with hir iyen tweyne.”

And with that thought he made for to gone
His servauntes to hir innocence,
Bad thei sholde enquere of hir anone,
What that she was, with al hir diligence,
And reporte unto his presence
Of hir lynage playnly how it stode
And where she were born of gentil blode;

“And of hir birthe if that she be fre,
I wille hir have sothely to my wyfe,
Love and cherysshe for her grete beautй,
As it is skyle, duryng al my lyfe,
That atwene us ther shal be no strife;
And if she be born of foreyne lyne,
I wille hir take to myn concubyne.”

Whan she was brought unto his presence,
First he enquerede of hir condicyoun,
Bad hir declare platly in sentence
Of hir lawe and hir religioun,
And of hir kyn, by short conclusyoun,
Clerly dyscure, and the trouthe attame,
Hooly hir purpos, and what was hir name.

She, not to rekel for noon hastynesse,
But ful demure and sobre of contenaunce,
Gan looke on him by grete avisenesse,
Dressyng to God hir hertes remembraunce;
Of chere nor colour ther was no variaunce.
Constaunt of herte, this holy blyssed mayde
To the Prefecte evene thus she saide:

“Touchynge my lynage, by successyoun
My bloide conveied is fro grete noblesse,
My name Margarete; and of religioun
I am Cristen, in verray sothfastnesse;
And in that lawe, withoute doublenesse,
For lyf or dethe playnly I wille abide,
Persevere stable, and varien on no side.”

Wherof the juge in manere gan disdeyne,
To hir saide, for short conclusioun,
“Margarete, ther ben thynges tweyne
Ful covenable to thi condicyoun:
And this the first, to myn oppinioun,
Of thi byrthe the grete nobilitй,
And the seconde is thi grete beautй,

“Whiche in thi persone joyned ben yfere,
Worthi to be called a Margarite,
Of fairnesse of shape and eke of chere,
A chose gemme among these perles white;
And in this tweyne for I me delite,
Sewyng my counsaille thou mustest condiscende
Better avysed the thride to amende.

“To thi beautй it were a ful grete loos,
To thi youthe and to thi maydenhede,
To leve on him that deide on a croos.
I holde it foly; wherfore take goode hede,
Forsake his feithe, and do as I thee rede:
First lat that god of thee be denyed
Whiche on a tre was hange and crucified.”

“Certes,” quod she, “whatever that thou seye,
He wilfully suffred passioun
And humbely liste for mankynde deye,
And sched His blode for oure redempcioun
To make us fre, and payen oure raunsoun,
Of His joye that we ne sholde mysse
Where now He regneth eternaly in blysse.”

The juge, wrothe, sent hir to prisoun,
There to abide tille on the next day;
Makyng as thoo no dilacioun,
Bad she sholde in al the haste thei may
Be brought aforn him, to seyn yee or nay
Touchyng hir creaunce, what was hir lawe or feith.
And to hir evenne thus he seithe:

“Margarete,” quod he, “have pitй on thyne age,
And have eke mercy on thi grete fairnesse.
Spille not thi thought of foly ne of rage,
But tourn thyn herte, and thi wittes dresse
To oure goddes, and do thi besynesse
Hem to honour and plese her deyetй,
As thou desirest to lyve in prosperitй.”

Quod she ageyn: “With hert, wille and thoughte
I worship Him verrayly in dede
That made man, and after hath him bought,
Whom hevene and erthe and the see dothe drede.
Alle elementes He dothe conveie and lede,
For wynde, nor weder, nor no creature
Withoute His mercy may no while endure.”

Quod the juge: “Anoon but thou consente
To my desire as thou hast herde devyse,
Truste fully that thou shalt repente.
For first I shall in ful cruel wyse
Mercyles thy body so chastyse –
Trust me welle, this is no feyned tale –
Thi flesshe assonder kerve on peces smale.”

Quod Margarete, “While that me lastethe brethe,
I shal abide in this oppinioun.
Sytthe Criste for me suffred peyne and dethe,
Shad al His blode for my redempcyoun,
So for His sake, of hole affeccyoun,
Be assured that I have no drede
To deye for Him, and al my blode to shede.”

The juge thanne upon a galowe tre
Lete hangen up this holy pure virgyne,
Hir flesshe be rente in his crueltй,
Whos blode ran doun right as eny lyne;
Lyke a quyke this mayden in hir pyne
Shad oute hir blode, hir veynes al torent,
Til of hir body the lycour was al spent.

Allas the while! Thei that stode beside
Ful sore wepten of compassyoun.
Allas! For doole thei myght unnethe abide
To sene hir blode so renne and rayle doun.
So importable was hir passyoun
For Cristes feithe that the peple abraide
And of pitй thus to hir thei saide:

“O Margareta, allas, whan we take hede
Hou thou whilom were faireste on to see,
But now, allas! Thi body is al rede,
Steyned with blode, whereof we han pitй.
Allas! allas! Hou myght it evere be
To sene a mayde yonge, fresshe, and tendre of age
Mighty to endure of tourment suche a rage?

“Whi hast thou lost thyn excellent fairenesse?
Whi hast thou lost thi shape and thy beautй?
And fynal cause of thi mortal distresse
Is thi wilful incredulitй.
Lete fantasies oute of thyn herte fle
Now at the last, that thou maist in eese
Of thi turment the bitternesse appese.”

Quod she: “Goth hens, ye fals counsaylirys,
Ye worldly peple, unsad and ever untrewe,
Flesshely, chaungeable, and in youre desirys
Delityng evere in thinges that be newe;
Amonge remembreth – and wolde God ye knewe –
That of my flesshe the mortal tourmentrie
Is to my soule chief salve and remedie.”

And to the juge thus she saide and spake:
“O gredy hounde, lyoun insaciable,
On my body thou maiste welle taken wrake,
But the soule shal persevere stable,
For Cristes feith abiden immutable.
For thilke Lorde Crist Jhesu, whom I serve,
From al myschief my spirit shal preserve.”

The juge, confuse sittyng in the place,
To beholde myght not sustene
The rede blode rayle aboute hir face,
Lyke a ryver rennyng on the grene;
Toke his mantel in his mortal tene,
Hid his visage, whanne that he toke hede,
In herte astoned to sene hir sydes blede;

Made hir in hast to be take doun
Myd of hir peyne cruel and horrible,
And efte ageyne putte hir in prisoun,
Where she prayde: if it were possible,
Hir mortal foo, dredful and odible,
The Lorde besechynge that she myght him see,
Whiche cause was of hir adversitй,

Hir impugnynge thurgh his mortal fight
That man first brought to destruccyoun.
And sodeynly appered in hir sight,
Where as she lay bounden in prisoun,
In the lykenesse of a felle dragoun
The olde serpent, whiche called is Sathan,
And hastyly to assayle hir he began.

With open mouthe, the virgyne to devour,
First of alle, he swolwed in hir hede,
And she devoutly, hirself to socoure,
Gan crosse hirself, in hir mortal drede;
And by grace, anoon or she toke hede,
The horrible beste, in relees of hir peyne,
Brast assondre and partyd was on tweyne.

And efte ageyne to assayl hir he began,
The story seith, and after dothe appeere
By gret disceit in lykenesse of a man;
And she devoutly, with hir yen clere
Lyfte up to God, gan maken hir prayere.
And as she lay in hir orisoun,
Under hir fete lyggyng the dragoun,

The devel, venquysshed, toke hir by the honde,
Spake thes wordes, as I shal devyse:
“Thou hast me bounde with invisible bonde,
Whiche victorie ought ynogh suffice!
Cese of thy power, and lat me now aryse,
For I may not abiden thi constreynt,
In this batayle thou hast me made so feynt.”

And she aroos withoute fere or drede,
This cely maide, this tendre creature,
By grace of God hent him by the hede
And cast him doun, for al his felle armure,
Under hir fete – he myghte not recure;
And on this serpent for to do more wrake,
Hir ryght fote she sette upon his bake.

“Oo feende,” quod she, “of malys serpentyne,
Remembre of thee how I have victorye,
A clene mayde, by powere femynyne,
Whiche shal be rad to myn encrees of glorye.
Perpetuelly putte eke in memorie,
How a mayde hath put under fote
Sathan, that is of synne crope and roote.”

With that the serpent lowde gan to crie,
“Thou hast me brought shortly to uttraunce!
I am venquysshed, I may it not denye;
Ageyns thee ful feble is my puyssaunce.
Thyn innocence hath brought me to myschaunce,
And a mayde, but of yeeres tendre,
Hath me outrayed with hir lymmes sklendre.

“Yif that a man, whiche had force and myght,
Had me venquysshed, I myght it welle sustene;
But now, allas, ageyn al skele and ryght,
A cely virgyne, a mayde pure and clene,
Hath me bore doun in al my felle tene;
And this, allas, bothe atte eve and morowe
Is grettest cause of my dedly sorowe.

“This encreseth grete party of my peyne,
Whan I consydre withynne myself and see
How thi fader and moder bothe tweyne
Were in there tyme frendly unto me;
But thou allone, thurgh thi virginitй,
Thi chaste lyf, thy parfyt holynesse
Han me venquysshed and outrayed in distresse.”

Whan she bigan the serpent to constreyne
To discure, and no thinge to hyde
By what mene and what manere treyne,
Outher by malys, outher by envye and pryde
That he assailed man on any syde,
“The kynde of man, telle on anoon,” quod she,
“And be welle ware thou lye nat to me.”

“Sothely,” quod he, “I may it not denye –
To seyn the trouthe playnly, and not spare –
My nature is of custume for to lye,
As I that am of trouthe and vertue bare,
Lyggynge awayte agenste the welfare
Of folkes goode, and alway envyous
To alle that ben parfite and vertuous.

“Naturelly to hem I have envye,
Though thei thurgh vertu me ofte put abak,
And whan it falleth thei have of me mastrie,
Ageyn to me resorteth al the wrak;
Of charitй I have so grete a lak,
So grete sorowe only for lak of grace
That man in hevene sholde occupye my place.

“Yet, wote I welle, I may it not recure,
Nor in that place shal I never abide,
But in helle sorowe and peyne endure,
From hevene caste for my grete pryde.
This foule vice fro thennes was my guyde,
Yet of malys, the trouthe for to telle,
Envye I have that man ther sholde duelle.

“This eke trouthe that whilom Salamon,
As bookes olde recorden and conclude,
Closed in a vesselle fendes many on
And of spirites a grete multitude,
Whiche innocentes ful often can delude;
But after dethe of that prudent kynge
Fro that vessel thei caste oute fire sparklynge.

“Men supposyng in theire oppinioun
There was closed grete tresour and rychesse,
Brak the vessel of entencyoun,
And sodeynly the fendes gan hem dresse
Oute of that holde fer fro that distresse,
At her oute-goyng enfectyng al th’ayre,
Where thei abiden and have theire repaire;

“Whiche to mankynde do ful grete damage
By ther malys and ther temptacions,
To olde and yonge and every manere age,
By ther conspired fals illusyouns;
But fynally alle ther collusyons
Goth unto nought, and al ther violence,
Whan ther is made myghty resistence.”

Whan the serpent malicyous and olde
To the mayde, whos fote dede him oppresse,
Had his processe and his tale tolde,
She withedrowe to done him more duresse;
And the dragoun upwarde gan him dresse,
Disapered, and forth his wey is goo;
And she, assured of hir gostly foo,

Venquysshed hath the prynce of al derkenesse,
And sitthe she hathe overcome the hede,
It faylethe nat she nedes moste oppresse
His cruel mynystre, and have of him no drede.
And sewyng on, this floure of goodelyhede
The nexte day, voyde of al refuge
Save of the Lorde, was brought afore the juge,

Ful moche peple beynge in presence.
And for she wolde do no sacryfice
The fals goddes, by mortal violence
She was dispoiled in ful cruel wyse
And naked stode, that folke myght hir despise;
And after that this gemme of maydenhede
Was brent with brondus bright as eny glede.

Hir sydes skorched, whilom white as melke,
The cruel mynystres liste hir nat to spare;
For Crystes sake hir body, softe as selke,
Mercyles, naked stode and bare,
And to aument and encrese hir care
In boylyng water she was caste and bounde,
The wawys burblyng with bolles grete and round.

The folkes alle, that stonden enviroun
Of doolful pitй, that sawe this aventure,
Gan wepe and pleyne, and of compassyoun
Merveyled sore a tendre creature
Sustene myght suche tourment and endure;
For the tyraunt, to make hir peynes strange,
In fire and water gan hir tourment change.

And sodeynly there fille an erthequave.
The peple, in drede, dempte it was vengeaunce;
And fyve thousand, for God wolde hem save,
Converted weren from there myscreaunce,
For Cristes sake heveded by vengeaunce.
Se how a mayde in al hir tourmentrie
The feith of Crist coude magnifie!

The blynde juge, al voyde of happe and grace,
Last that othre converted wolde be
To Cristes feith, withoute lenger space
Commaunded hath that this mayde fre,
In youthe flourynge and virginitй,
To ben heveded, withoute more tarying,
In hir praier as she lay knelynge.

But first she praied of humble affeccyoun
To the juge, to graunten hir leysere
That she myght make hir orisoun,
And have a space to lyve in hir praiere.
And ful devoutly with hert hole and entere
Upon the poynte whan she sholde deye,
The blessed virgyne thus bygan to preye.

First she praide of parfite charitй
For hir enemys and hir tourmentours,
For hem that caused hir adversitй
And had hir pursued with mony sharpe shours.
Of parfit love she gadrid oute the flours,
Praying also for thoo folkes alle
That after helpe unto hir grace calle,

And for alle thoo that have hir in memorie,
And swiche as truste in hir helpe at nede:
That God hem graunte, sittinge in His glorie,
Of His grace that thei may welle spede,
And ageyn right that no man hem myslede,
“And Lorde,” quod she, “to alle be socoure
That for thi sake done to me honoure.

“And specyally to thee I beseche
To alle wymmen whiche of childe travayle,
For my sake, oo Lorde, be thou her leche;
Lat my prayere unto hem availe.
Suffre no myschief tho wymmen, Lorde, assaile,
That calle to me for helpe in theire grevaunce,
But for my sake save hem fro myschaunce.

“Lat hem, Lorde, not perisshe in theire childynge;
Be thou her comforte and consolacyoun,
To be delivered thurgh grace of thyn helpynge;
Socoure hem, Lorde, in theire tribulacyoun.
This is my praier, this is myn orisoun,
And specially do alle folkes grace
That calle to me for helpe in any place!”

And fro that highe hevenly mansyoun
Was herde a voys in open audience
That God had herde hir peticioun,
To be parfourmed withoute resistence.
And than this maide, moste of excellence,
Roos up devoutly, and no thynge afferde
Seide unto him whiche that helde the swerde:

“Come nere,” quod she, “myn oune brother dere,
Smyte with the swerde, and loke thou spare nought.
My body shal behynde abiden here,
But my soule to hevene shal be brought.”
Hir hede enclynynge with an humble thought;
The mynystre with al his myght and peyne
Lefte up his swerde and smote hir necke on tweyne.

The peple of pitй gan to crie and sowne
That stode and sawe hir bitter passioun;
Of martirdam thus she toke the crowne
For Cristes feithe, with hole affeccyoun.
Threttene kalendes, the boke maketh mencyoun,
Of Jul this maide, a merour of constaunce,
Was laureat thurgh hir parfit suffraunce.

An holy seynt writeth of this maide, and seithe:
“This Margareta, parfyt of hir creaunce,
With drede of God moste stable in hir feythe,
Unto the deth havyng perseveraunce
Sette hoole to God with thought and remembraunce,
In herte ay compunt, she was so vertuous,
Everything eschewyng that was vicious.

“Hir blessed lyf, hir conversacioun
Were example of parfite pacience,
Of grounded clennesse and of religioun,
Of chastitй founded on prudence;
God gaf to hir soverayn excellence
In hir tyme that she sholde be
To alle a maisterasse of virginitй.

“Hir fadir, modir, hir kynred she forsoke;
Hir holy lyvynge was to hem odious.
To Cristes lawe al holy she hir toke,
This blissed mayde, this virgyn glorious;
Of alle hir enemyes she was victorious,
Til at the laste, in vertu complet goode,
For Cristes sake she shad hir chaste bloode.”

Explicit vita sancte Margarete.


Noble princesses and ladyes of estate,
And gentilwomen lower of degrй,
Lefte up your hertes, calle to your advocate
Seynt Margarete, gemme of chastitй.
And alle wymmen that have necessitй,
Praye this mayde ageyn sykenesse and dissese,
In trayvalynge for to do yow ese.

And folkes alle that be disconsolat
In your myschief and grete adversitй,
And alle that stonde of helpe desolate,
With devout hert and with humylitй
Of ful trust, knelyng on your kne,
Pray this mayde in trouble and alle dissese
Yow to releve and to do yow ese.

Now, blissed virgyne, in hevene hy exaltat,
With other martirs in the celestialle se,
Styntith werre, the dredfulle fel debat
That us assailith of oure enemyes thre,
From whos assaute inpossible is to fle,
But, chaste gemme, thi servauntes sette at ese
And be her shelde in myschief and dissese.

The Lyfe of Seynt Margarete - JOHN LYDGATE