Fragment VIII (Group G)

The Second Nun's Tale

PROLOGUE

That minister and nurse to every vice, Known in the English tongue as Idleness, That portress of the gate where sins entice, We should by her own opposite suppress-- That is to say, by righteous busyness, 5 For thereto our full effort should be brought Lest by the fiend through Idleness we're caught. For he who with his thousand-corded net Is always waiting for his net to snap On any idle man whom he can get, 10 Can, having seen, so easily entrap That till one's caught right by the coat or flap He doesn't know he's in the devil's hand. Well should we work and Idleness withstand. And even if men didn't fear to die, 15 All men of reason well could see, no doubt, That Idleness is rotten sloth whereby No good or gain can ever come about; For Idleness, held in sloth's leash, is out To sleep and eat and drink and nothing more, 20 Out to consume what others labor for. And to remove us from such idleness, The cause by which disorder is so great, I've done my duty, that with busyness Your saintly legend I may now translate, 25 Your glorious life and passion to relate, You with your garland rose- and lily-laden: I mean you, Saint Cecilia, martyred maiden. Invocacio ad Mariam To thee, of all virginity the flower, About whom Saint Bernard so loved to write, 30 I pray here at the start. Grant me the power, O comfort of us wretches, to indite Thy maiden's death, and how she won the fight Against the fiend, by merit won her glory, Eternal life, as men read in her story. 35 O maiden Mother, daughter of thy Son, O mercy's well, of sinful souls the cure, In whom God chose to dwell that good be done; So meek, so high above all creatures, pure, Ennobling our nature to ensure 40 That no disdain the Maker had to bind His Son in flesh and blood, clothed as our kind. Within the blissful cloister of thy womb Eternal love and peace took shape of man, Of all this world the Lord and Shepherd, whom 45 Earth, sea, and sky still praise as they began. And thou, O spotless Virgin, true to plan, Bore by thy body, still in purest state, The One who every creature did create. Within thee is combined magnificence 50 With mercy, goodness, and such sympathy That thou, who art the sun of excellence, Will help not only those who pray to thee But oftentimes, through thy benignity, Thou freely helpest ere men make petition; 55 Thou goest before them as their lives' physician. Help me, O blissful maiden fair and meek, This banished wretch, in desert full of gall; Think of that Canaanite, she dared to speak About how even dogs might eat of all 60 The crumbs that from their master's table fall; And although I, unworthy son of Eve, Be sinful, yet accept that I believe. And since one's faith is dead without good works, To labor now give me the wit and space, 65 Released from where the dark that's deepest lurks! O maiden, thou so fair and full of grace, Be thou my advocate in that high place Where without end they sing the song "Hosanna," Mother of Christ, O daughter dear of Anna! 70 And with thy light my soul imprisoned light That's so disturbed by this contamination That is my flesh; disturbed, too, by the blight Of earthly lust, of falsehood, affectation. O haven of our refuge, O salvation 75 Of those who are in sorrow and distress, Now help me in this work I'm to address. I pray that you who read now what I write Forgive me if I show no diligence To tell with craft or skill what I indite; 80 I use the words and gist in truest sense Of him who for this saint in reverence The story wrote; I only follow it. Amend my work, I pray, where you see fit. Interpretacio nominis Cecilie quam ponit Frater Jacobus Januensis in Legenda Of Saint Cecilia's name first I will tell; 85 Its meaning men may in her story see. In English, "heaven's lily" says it well, For purity, for her virginity; Or for the whiteness of her honesty, Her conscience green, or yet for her good fame, 90 No sweeter savor: "lily" was her name. It also means "a pathway for the blind," Such fine examples her good teaching set; Or else Cecilia, in one book I find, Can be a compound, two words having met, 95 "Heaven" and "Leah"--here, then, we may get The "heaven" from the thought of holiness, The "Leah" her untiring busyness. Cecilia can be also said to mean "One without blindness," what with her great light 100 Of wisdom and her virtues clearly seen; Or else, as well, this maiden's name so bright Is "heaven" matched with "leos," for by right Men well might her the "people's heaven" call, Example of fine works to one and all. 105 For "leos" we in English "people" say, And just as men may in the heavens see The sun and moon and stars, the whole array, So in this maiden's generosity The people saw faith's magnanimity, 110 The wholeness, too, of clearest sapience, And many shining works of excellence. And just as these philosophers declare That heaven's swift and round and full of fire, So Saint Cecilia, she so white and fair, 115 Was swift and busy, good works to inspire, And round and whole in that she'd never tire, Her charity burnt ever like a flame. I now have told you all about her name.

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