an ich nagt ne ansuarede þe
Bute wordes scloe and sclepie:
'þole yet! þole a litel!'
Bute 'yiet' and 'yiet' was endelis,
and 'þole a litel' a long wey is.
This is a haunting little verse from the early fourteenth century, a translation of a passage from St Augustine's Confessions (Book 8, chapter 5):
Non erat quid responderem tibi ueritate conuictus dicenti mihi, 'Surge qui dormis & exurgea mortuis & illuminabit tibi Christus.' Nisi uerba lenta & sompnolenta, 'modo, ecce modo; sine paululum.' Sed 'modo & modo' non habebant modum, & 'sine paululum' in longum ibat.The Latin passage precedes the English poem in the sole manuscript (Oxford, New College MS. 88), in the form quoted. The wordplay in the Latin is on modo ('presently', in the translation), but in the English poem it's on the word þole. The lazy person tells God 'þole a litel!', meaning 'wait a bit, be patient'; the OED says that 'thole a while' is still an expression in some northern English dialects (though its latest citation is from 1896). But, as the MED entry helps to illustrate, þole also means 'endure, undergo', and so the last line of the poem hints at the sorrow which awaits this dilatory soul, whose lazy response to God to 'wait a while' turns into a never-ending delay.
Nor had I any thing to answer Thee calling to me, 'Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light' [Eph. v.14]. I had nothing to answer but dull and drowsy words, 'Presently, presently', 'wait a little.' But 'presently, presently,' had no present, and my 'little while' went on for a long while.
'Suffer' has a similar double meaning, and so the poem might be translated:
Lord, you called me
But I never answered thee
Except with words slow and sleepy:
'Suffer yet, suffer a little!'
But 'yet' and 'yet' was endless,
And 'suffer a little' a long way is.
Once this poem is stuck in your head, it will never leave; it's not a bad reminder not to put things off!
Two images illustrating Accidia (Sloth) in BL Royal 6 E VI, f. 37v