14 December 2016

Of Worms and the Man I Sing

A song attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, from a 15th century manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (MS Ee, vi.29, fol. 17v [s. XVI]), tr. Robert Kinsman, The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 54:
Tell me, o mortal man, tell me about the putridity of the worm;
Tell me o flesh, o dust, what good is the glory of flesh?
O mad wretch, why do you take pride in putridity?
Learn what you are, what you will be; remember that you will die.

First you were sperm, then stench, then food for worms,
Then dust, and thence nothing; what then, does a man have to be proud about?
As the rose pales when it feels the sun draw near,
So man will vanish: now he is, now he has ceased to be.
The original:
Dic homo mortalis, dic de putredine vermis;
Dic caro, dic pulvis, quid prodest gloria carnis?
Cur miser insanis, quare putredo superbis?
Disce quod es, quod eris; memor esto quod morieris.

Sperma prius, post factus olens, post vermibus esca,
Post cinis, inde nichil; unde superbit homo?
Ut rosa pallescit cum solem sentit adesse,
Sic homo vanescit: nunc est, nunc defuit esse.

Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas (c. 1640)