Editor’s Note: If he keeps this up, we are going to have to get Hoosier Hillbilly his own log in…

From The Bestiary” in Medieval English Verse and Prose by Roger Loomis and Rudolph Willard

 

The Serpent’s Nature

There is a worm in the world, well man knoweth him

Adder is its name, and thus he reneweth him.

When he is crippled and twisted, and weakened with age,

He fasteth until his skin slacketh, ten days fully,

So that he is lean and feeble, and with difficulty moveth;

 

He creepeth forth like a cripple, his craft thus revealing,

Seeketh out a stone that hath a hole in it,

Narrow, but he forceth him with great hardship through it;

For his skin he there leaveth, his flesh forth creepeth.

 

He walketh towards the water where he will drink deep;

But he speweth out first all the venom

That in his breast is bred since his birth-time;

He drinketh afterwards deeply, and thus he reneweth him.

 

Signification

Know, Christian man, what thou Christ didst promise,

At the Kirk door, where thou wert christened.

Thou didst promise to believe on Him and to love His laws,

To hold in thine heart the commands of Holy Church.

If thou hast broken this, then hast thou harmed all;

Thou perishest and witherest in attaining life eternal.

Made aged art thou, out of all bliss, like the snake in this world.

Renew thyself, therefore, as doth the adder;

It is thy need.

 

Confirm thee in fasting, and fill thee with virtues,

And help those poor men that are living about thee.

Deem not thyself worthy to look upon the door

That leadeth Heavenwards, but walk upon earth,

Merciful among men. No pride feel thou,

Pride nor men’s vices, but cease thou from sinning.

Pray grace for thee ever, both by night and by day,

That thou mayst find mercy for thy misdeeds.

 

This life betokeneth the path that the adder passeth over,

And this is the hole in the stone that thou must go through;

Leave thy foulness behind thee, as the adder doth his skin;

Go thou then to God’s house, the gospel to hear there,

Which is the soul’s drink for quenching of sins.

But first say thou in shrift thy sins to the priest,

Free thyself of thy breast-filth, and confirm thy covenant,

Make fast in thy heart what thou first didst promise.

Thus art thou young and new; henceforth be thou true.

 

The Devil need not compel thee, for he may not harm thee.

But he fleeth from thee, as the adder from the naked.

Against the clothed is the adder courageous, and the Devil clever in sins;

Ever the sinful man he will beset,

And against all mankind he holdeth war and strife.

What if he have leave from the Lord of heaven

To harm us, as once he did our elders now dead?

Let our body be afflicted, but shelter we the soul,

Which is like to our head; let us protect it worthily.