Poem for the ages: The World’s Bliss

February 29, 2024

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Jaimin L. Symonds Patel breathes new life into middle English poetry

The world’s bliss is a quick glimmer.
It gets up to go so swiftly.
The more I know its sweet nectar,
The less worth I find there to be.
For it is all mixed with great care,
In sorrow and evil affair.
And so at the last, poor and bare,
It ditches us, and turns to dust.
All the bliss that is here and there
Will leave you to weep, moan, and rust.

All of what we own here shall go,
As it all shall be brought to nought.
See them that sow no good to grow,
Leaving weeds to deceive those caught.
Think therefore, while you are still strong,
To set aright here all your wrong,
And to do good by day and night,
Before you have your life turn dim.
For you know not when our Lord Christ
Will ask of you what is from Him.

All the bliss you hold in this life
Shall come to a close as you grieve.
Even home, child, husband, and wife.
Be no fool, take heed and perceive!
For you shall leave behind here all
You were entrusted great and small.
When you lie breathless at your end,
And sleep a very dreary sleep,
You shall have there no fellow friend,
But all those deeds of yours piled steep.

So why do you set love and heart
On the world’s bliss that cannot last?
Why suffer to be torn apart
For love that is so unsteadfast?
Truly, you lick honey from thorns,
That adore the world’s bliss forlorn,
For full of bitterness it is.
In pain sore, you will taste torment,
You that waste here your wealth amiss,
For in hell you will give lament.

Think then, you who is wrought by Christ,
To purge pride and a mind of mud.
How He pierced sin in sacrifice
On the cross with His own sweet blood,
To give Himself to pay the price,
And gift true bliss if you be wise.
Listen now, arise up and stand.
Crush laziness and do your bit,
While there is still time at your hand,
Else truly you have lost your wit.

All day you might with wisdom see,
And keep your eye fixed on the Way.
What you should do right, and should cease,
What you should hold, and should cast away.
For every day you see with your eyes
How the world passes and all die.
You know, that if you are unwise,
You shall meet death, and twice die.
Act dumb, and you will waste your breath.
You cannot cheat your due in death.

For then, good will have its reward,
And no evil shall be forgot.
When you lie under the earth stored,
You shall have just as you have wrought.
So consider it well, I plead,
And cleanse yourself of your misdeeds,
That He may help you at your call,
Who so dearly borne our travails,
And shows heaven’s bliss above all,
That ever lasts and never fails.

I have tried to preserve the rhyme and basic syllabic metre in my translation, using roughly eight-syllable lines and by keep the rhyming pattern of the Middle English text. I don’t deny that I have been fairly dynamic in my translation. Simply put, I feel that, in many places, a more formal/literal translation would have lost the sense the author was trying to convey. I hope my translation has a similar punch to the original, but at the sacrifice of matching some of the literal renderings.

I believe it was the original author’s intention to force the reader to think on their life. And so, I believe it would be a greater disservice to the author to simply translate it formally/literally, losing its original impact and rendering it quite incomprehensible. This is because of differences in word usage now compared to in the 13th century, and also the audience’s lack of familiarity with the themes in the original.

See original poem, together with a literal translation here.

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