Saturday, 3 April 2010

Langland's Passion, III: Holy Saturday

Between Good Friday and Easter morning, there is silence. Not in Piers Plowman, though: as soon as the Crucifixion is over, Will becomes witness to a debate about what exactly has just happened. Inspired by Psalm 85 ("Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other"), these four personages appear as four women, sisters, who argue about whether Christ's death is really enough to pay the price of Adam's sin.

I drow me in that derknesse to descendit ad inferna,
And there I saugh soothly, secundum scripturas,
Out of the west coste, a wenche, as me thoughte,
Cam walkynge in the wey; to helleward she loked.
Mercy highte that mayde, a meke thyng with alle,
A ful benigne burde, and buxom of speche.
Hir suster, as it semed, cam softely walkynge
Evene out of the est, and westward she lokede,
A ful comely creature and a clene, Truthe she highte;
For the vertue that hire folwede, afered was she nevere.
Whan thise maydenes mette, Mercy and Truthe,
Either asked oother of this grete wonder,
Of the dyn and of the derknesse, and how the day rowed,
And which a light and a leme lay bifore helle.
"Ich have ferly of this fare, in feith," seide Truthe,
"And am wendynge to wite what this wonder meneth."
"Have no merveille', quod Mercy, "murhte it bitokneth.
A maiden that highte Marie, and moder withouten felyng
Of any kynde creature, conceyved thorugh speche
And grace of the Holy Goost; weex greet with childe;
Withouten wem into this world she broghte hym;
And that my tale be trewe, I take God to witnesse.
Sith this barn was ybore ben thritti wynter passed,
Which deide and deeth tholed this day aboute mydday,
And that is cause of this clips that closeth now the sonne,
In menynge that man shal fro merknesse be drawe
The while this light and this leme shal Lucifer ablende.
For patriarkes and prophetes han preched herof often
That man shal man save thorugh a maydenes helpe,
And that was tynt thorugh tree, tree shal it wynne,
And that Deeth down broughte, deeth shal releve."

Truth disagrees:

"That thow tellest; quod Truthe, "is but a tale of waltrot!
For Adam and Eve and Abraham with othere
Patriarkes and prophetes that in peyne liggen,
Leve thow nevere that yon light hem alofte brynge,
Ne have hem out of helle - hold thi tonge, Mercy!
It is but trufle that thow tellest - I, Truthe, woot the sothe.
For that is ones in helle, out cometh it nevere;
Job the prophete patriark repreveth thi sawes:
Quia in inferno nulla est redempcio."
Thanne Mercy ful myldely mouthed thise wordes:
"Thorugh experience," quod heo, "I hope thei shul be saved.
For venym fordooth venym - and that I preve by reson.
For of alle venymes foulest is the scorpion;
May no medicyne amende the place ther he styngeth,
Til he be deed and do therto--the yvel he destruyeth,
The firste venymouste, thorugh vertu of hymselve.
So shal this deeth fordo--I dar my lif legge--
Al that deeth dide first thorugh the develes entisyng;
And right as thorugh gilours gile bigiled was man,
So shal grace that al bigan make a good ende
And bigile the gilour - and that is good sleighte:
Ars ut artem falleret."

('art is deceived by art', as in the Good Friday hymn Pange lingua)

"Now suffre we!' seide Truthe, " I se, as me thynketh,
Out of the nyppe of the north, noght ful fer hennes,
Rightwisnesse corne rennynge; reste we the while,
For heo woot moore than we - heo was er we bothe."
"That is sooth,' seide Mercy, "and I se here by sowthe
Where cometh Pees pleyinge, in pacience yclothed.
Love hath coveited hire longe--leve I noon oother
But Love sente hire som lettre, what this light bymeneth
That overhoveth helle thus; she us shal telle."
Whan Pees in pacience yclothed approched ner hem tweyne,
Rightwisnesse hire reverenced for hir riche clothyng,
And preide Pees to telle hire to whit place she wolde
And in hire gaye garnements whom she grete thoughte?
"My wil is to wende," quod she, "and welcome hem alle
That many day myghte I noght se for merknesse of synne,
Adam and Eve and othere mo in helle,
Moyses and many mo; Mercy shul synge,
And I shal daunce therto--do thow so, suster!
For Jesus justede wel, joye bigynneth dawe:
Ah vesperum demorabitur fletus, et ad matutinum leticia.
Love, that is my lemman, swiche lettres me sente
That Mercy, my suster, and I mankynde sholde save,
And that God hath forgyven and graunted me, Pees, and Mercy
To be mannes meynpernour for everemoore after.
Lo, here the patente!" quod Pees, "In pace in idipsum,
And that this dede shal dure, dormiam et requiescam."

('In peace, in true peace I shall sleep and rest'). Righteousness doesn't believe this optimistic view, and energetically (!) reminds Peace that justice demands payment for the sins of mankind:

"What, ravestow?" quod Rightwisnesse, "or thow art righty dronke?
Levestow that yond light unlouke myghte helle
And save mannes soule? Suster, wene it nevere!
At the bigynnyng God gaf the doom hymselve -
That Adam and Eve and alle that hem suwede
Sholden deye downrighte, and dwelle in peyne after
If that thei touchede a tree and of the fruyt eten.
Adam afterward, ayeins his defence,
Freet of that fruyt, and forsook, as it were,
The love of Oure Lord and his loore bothe
And folwede that the fend taughte and his felawes wille
Ayeins reson - I, Rightwisnesse, recorde thus with Truthe
That hir peyne be perpetuel and no preiere hem helpe.
Forthi lat hem chewe as thei chosen, and chide we noght, sustres,
For it is botelees bale, the byte that thei eten."
"And I shal preie,' quod Pees, "hir peyne moot have ende,
And wo into wele mowe wenden at the laste."

Peace argues that in the end this sorrow will turn to good, because one could not understand joy without first knowing pain:

For hadde thei wist of no wo, wele hadde thei noght knowen;
For no wight woot what wele is, that nevere wo suffrede...
So it shal fare by this folk: hir folie and hir synne
Shal lere hem what langour is, and lisse withouten ende.
Woot no wight what werre is ther that pees regneth,
Ne what is witterly wele til ""weylawey'' hym teche."

Another character appears, Book (so, 'Bible'), and cites some of the scriptural reasons for believing Christ to be God. He ends his speech by saying that Christ has descended into hell. Suddenly this scene comes to life in a dialogue between Christ and Satan outside the gates of hell:

"Lo! helle myghte nat holde, but opnede tho God tholede,
And leet out Symondes sones to seen hym hange on roode.
And now shal Lucifer leve it, though hyrn looth thynke.
For Gigas the geaunt with a gyn engyned
To breke and to bete adoun that ben ayeins Jesus.
And I, Book, wole be brent, but Jesus rise to lyve
In alle myghtes of man, and his moder gladie,
And conforte al his kyn and out of care brynge,
And al the Jewene joye unjoynen and unlouken;
And but thei reverencen his roode and his resurexion,
And bileve on a newe lawe, be lost, lif and soule!"
"Suffre we!" seide Truthe, "I here and see bothe
A spirit speketh to helle and biddeth unspere the yates:
"Attolite portas.''
A vois loude in that light to Lucifer crieth,
"Prynces of this place, unpynneth and unlouketh!
For here cometh with crowne that kyng is of glorie."

Satan and Lucifer, somehow conceived as two different people, fear this will be the end of their power, although Lucifer argues that all souls are rightly his property since Adam's transgression:

Thanne sikede Sathan, and seide to helle,
"Swich a light, ayeins oure leve, Lazar it fette;
Care and combraunce is comen to us alle!
If this kyng come in, mankynde wole he fecche,
And lede it ther Lazar is, and lightliche me bynde.
Patriarkes and prophetes han parled herof longe -
That swich a lord and a light shal lede hem alle hennes."
"Listneth!" quod Lucifer, "for I this lord knowe;
Bothe this lord and this light, is longe ago I knew hym.
May no deeth this lord dere, ne no develes queyntise,
And where he wole, is his wey - ac ware hym of the perils!
If he reve me of my right, he robbeth me by maistrie;
For by right and by reson the renkes that ben here
Body and soule beth myne, bothe goode and ille.
For hymself seide, that sire is of hevene,
That if Adam ete the appul, alle sholde deye,
And dwelle in deol with us develes - this thretynge he made.
And sithen he that Soothnesse is seide thise wordes,
And I sithen iseised sevene thousand wynter,
I leeve that lawe nyl noght lete hym the leeste."

Satan responds that since they tempted Eve dishonestly, they have no true claim to these souls (and another devil weighs in):

"That is sooth," seide Satan, "but I me soore drede;
For thow gete hem with gile, and his gardyn breke,
And in semblaunce of a serpent sete on the appultre,
And eggedest hem to ete, Eve by hirselve,
And toldest hire a tale - of treson were the wordes;
And so thou haddest hem out and hider at the laste.
It is noght graithly geten, ther gile is the roote!"
"For God wol noght be bigiled," quod Gobelyn, "ne byjaped.
We have no trewe title to hem, for thorugh treson were thei dampned."
"Certes, I drede me," quod the Devel, "lest Truthe wol hem fecche.
Thise thritty wynter, as I wene, he wente aboute and preched.
I have assailled hym with synne, and som tyme I asked
Wheither he were God or Goddes sone - he gaf me short answere;
And thus hath he trolled forth thise two and thritty wynter.
And whan I seigh it was so, slepynge I wente
To warne Pilates wif what done man was Jesus;
For Jewes hateden hym and han doon hym to dethe.
I wolde have lengthed his lif - for I leved, if he deide,
That his soule wolde suffre no synne in his sighte;
For the body, while it on bones yede, aboute was evere
To save men from synne if hemself wolde.
And now I se wher a soule cometh silynge hiderward
With glorie and with gret light - God it is, I woot wel!
I rede we fle," quod he, "faste alle hennes!
For us were bettre noght be than biden his sighte
For thi lesynges, Lucifer, lost is al oure praye.
First thorugh the we fellen fro hevene so heighe;
For we leved thi lesynges, we lopen out alle with thee;
And now for thi laste lesynge, ylorn we have Adam,
And al oure lordshipe, I leve, a londe and a watre:
Nunc Princeps huius mundi eicietur foras."

('Now the Prince of this world will be driven out', John 12:31)

Eft the light bad unlouke, and Lucifer answerde,
"Quis est iste?
What lord artow?" quod Lucifer. The light soone seide,
Rex glorie,
The lord of myght and of mayn and alle manere vertues -
Dominus virtutum.
Dukes of this dymme place, anoon undo thise yates,
That Crist may come in, the Kynges sone of Hevene!"
And with that breeth helle brak, with Belialles barres -
For any wye or warde, wide open the yates.
Patriarkes and prophetes, populus in tenebris,
Songen Seint Johanes song, "Ecce Agnus Dei."
Lucifer loke ne myghte, so light hym ablente.
And tho that Oure Lord lovede, into his light he laughte,
And seide to Sathan, "Lo! here my soule to amendes
For alle synfulle soules, to save tho that ben worthi.
Myne thei ben and of me - I may the bet hem cleyme.
Although reson recorde, and right of myselve,
That if thei ete the appul, alle sholde deye,
I bihighte hem noght here helle for evere.
For the dede that thei dide, thi deceite it made;
With gile thow hem gete, ageyn alle reson.
For in my paleis, Paradis, in persone of an addre,
Falsliche thow fettest there thyng that I lovede.
"Thus ylik a lusard with a lady visage,
Thefliche thow me robbedest; the Olde Lawe graunteth
That gilours be bigiled - and that is good reson:
Dentem pro dente et oculum pro oculo.
Ergo soule shal soule quyte and synne to synne wende,
And al that man hath mysdo, I, man, wole amende it.
Membre for membre was amendes by the Olde Lawe,
And lif for lif also - and by that lawe I clayme
Adam and al his issue at my wille herafter.
And that deeth in hem fordide, my deeth shal releve,
And bothe quyke and quyte that queynt was thorugh synne;
And that grace gile destruye, good feith it asketh.
So leve it noght, Lucifer, ayein the lawe I fecche hem,
But by right and by reson raunsone here my liges:
Non veni solvere legem set adimplere.
Thow fettest myne in my place ayeins alle reson -
Falsliche and felonliche; good feith me it taughte,
To recovere hem thorugh raunsoun, and by no reson ellis,
So that with gile thow gete, thorugh grace it is ywonne.
Thow, Lucifer, in liknesse of a luther addere
Getest bi gile tho that God lovede;
And I, in liknesse of a leode, that Lord am of hevene,
Graciousliche thi gile have quyt - go gile ayein gile!
And as Adam and alle thorugh a tree deyden,
Adam and alle thorugh a tree shal turne to lyve;
And gile is bigiled, and in his gile fallen:
Et cecidit in foveam quam fecit.
Now bigynneth thi gile ageyn thee to turne
And my grace to growe ay gretter and widder.
The bitternesse that thow hast browe, now brouke it thiselve
That art doctour of deeth, drynk that thow madest!
For I that am lord of lif, love is my drynke,
And for that drynke today, I deide upon erthe.
I faught so, me thursteth yet, for mannes soule sake;
May no drynke me moiste, ne my thurst stake,
Til the vendage falle in the vale of Josaphat,
That I drynke right ripe must, resureccio mortuorum.
And thanne shal I come as a kyng, crouned, with aungeles,
And have out of helle alle mennes soules.
Fendes and fendekynes bifore me shul stande
And be at my biddyng wheresoevere me liketh.
Ac to be merciable to man thanne, my kynde it asketh,
For we beth bretheren of blood, but noght in baptisme alle.
Ac alle that beth myne hole bretheren, in blood and in baptisme,
Shul noght be dampned to the deeth that is withouten ende:
Tibi soli peccavi &c.
It is noght used on erthe to hangen a feloun
Ofter than ones, though he were a tretour.
And if the kyng of that kyngdom come in that tyme
There the feloun thole sholde deeth oother juwise,
Lawe wolde he yeve hym lif, and he loked on hym.
And I that am kyng of kynges shal come swich a tyme
There doom to the deeth dampneth alle wikked;
And if lawe wole I loke on hem, it lith in my grace
Wheither thei deye or deye noght for that thei diden ille.
Be it any thyng abought, the boldnesse of hir synnes,
I may do mercy thorugh rightwisnesse, and alle my wordes trewe.
And though Holy Writ wole that I be wroke of hem that diden ille -
Nullum malum impunitum &c.
Thei shul be clensed clerliche and clene wasshen of hir synnes
In my prisone Purgatorie, til parce it hote.
And my mercy shal be shewed to manye of my bretheren;
For blood may suffre blood bothe hungry and acale
Ac blood may noght se blood blede, but hym rewe.
Auaivi archana verba que non iicet homini loqui.
Ac my rightwisnesse and right shal rulen al helle,
And mercy al mankynde bifore me in hevene.
For I were an unkynde kyng but I my kyn helpe -
And nameliche at swich a nede ther nedes help bihoveth:
Non intres in iudicium cum servo tuo.
Thus by lawe,' quod Oure Lord, "lede I wole fro hennes
Tho leodes that I love and leved in my comynge.
And for thi lesynge, Lucifer, that thow leighe til Eve,
Thow shalt abyen it bittre!" - and bond hym with cheynes.
As troth and al the route hidden hem in hernes;
They dorste noght loke on Oure Lord, the lothlieste of hem alle,
But leten hym lede forth what hym liked and lete what hym liste.

No comments: