This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
Terrea gloria, terrea copia plena favillae.
gloria corruit et status aruit illius ille.
audiat auribus interioribus, audiat orbis.
orbis ut orbita vertitur incita turbine mortis;
praeterit et perit et nebulam gerit orbis amoenum.
tollitur ocius ipse vel ipsius omne serenum.
orbis honor levis est, atomus brevis, et breve festum;
nil dat amabile, nil amat utile, ridet honestum.
hosteque pectoris hosteque corporis intus et extra,
horruit aridus, aruit horridus et sua festa.
orbis amor perit atque suos terit orbis amantes,
et sua gaudia, gaudia tristia vera putantes.
evigilabimus an remanebimus in lue mundi,
quem patet ignibus, alluvionibus, hoste retundi?
quid vaga, quid rea corda colunt ea quae nihil extant,
quae breve plaudere, non breve plangere, post breve praestant?
cur caro proximus ignis et intimus hostis amatur?
carnis amor perit; est rosa, fex erit; ergo spuatur.
o caro candida, post breve foetida plenaque fecis,
flos modo, mox fimus, et fimus infimus, unde tumescis?
o caro carnea iam, modo glarea, postmodo vermis;
nunc homo, cras humus, istud enim sumus. unde superbis?
o caro debilis, o cito labilis, o male mollis,
quid petis ardua, quid tibi cornua ferrea tollis?
quid tibi crapula milleque fercula milleque pastus?
res lue proflua vivaque mortua, cur tibi fastus?
unde superbia? fex tua gloria; morte remissa.
fex tua prandia, fex tua gaudia, fex es et ipsa.
quid tibi balnea vestis et aurea? quid tibi venter?
culta licet caro, semper eris caro, nec caro semper.
post hominem cinis es, caro desinis esse, putrescis.
vis tibi quantula sit docet urnula massaque fecis.
o caro lactea, nunc rosa, postea sarcina vilis,
flos tibi corruet et rosa defluet haec iuvenilis.
quae modo florida, cras erit horrida plus loquor, horror,
horror amantibus horror et hostibus, omnibus horror.
cras eris horrida, cras eris arida, vilis, amara,
tu modo candida, tu modo florida, tu caro cara.
tristia replico, defluet illico forma decoris,
illico defluet, illico corruet, hic nitor oris.
plurima quid sequor? illa caro, decor ille peribit,
haec Venus, hic calor, ars ea seu valor ibit, obibit.
(Bernard of Cluny, De Contemptu Mundi 1.719-760)
Earthly glory, earthly abundance is full of ashes. Glory fails and the condition of abundance is dried up. Let the world hear, let it hear with its inner ears. The world is turned as a wheel moved by the wind of death. The world’s charm is mist: it passes away and vanishes. The world’s esteem is fickle, its moment is brief, its feast is short. The world bestows nothing loveable, it loves nothing useful, it ridicules integrity. Because of the enemy of the heart inside and the enemy of the body outside, the withered world shudders, the shuddering world and its feasts have withered. Love of the world perishes, and the world wears down its own friends, those who think that its joys, its mournful joys, are true joys. Shall we be watchful, or shall we remain in the mire of a world which is clearly weakened by fires, floods and foes? Why do our fickle hearts cherish things that are nothing, things which our guilty hearts briefly rejoice about, but do not briefly grieve about a short time later? Why is the flesh, our nearest fire and inmost enemy, loved? Love of the flesh perishes. It is a rose, but it will be dregs. Thus, let it be spat out.
O beautiful flesh, after a short time stinking and full of filth, now a flower but soon dung, the lowest dung, why are you puffed up? O flesh, you are flesh now, soon dirt, hereafter worms; you are a man now, tomorrow earth, for that we are. Why are you proud? O weak flesh, O flesh swiftly-perishing, O flesh wickedly soft, why do you seek high places, why take iron horns for yourself? What is this drunkenness of yours, these thousand dishes and thousand foods? O thing flowing with decay, thing living and dead, why are you arrogant? Where does your pride come from? Your glory is dregs, it is removed by death. Your meals are dregs, your joys are dregs, and you yourself are dregs. What are these baths of yours, this golden attire, this belly? Although your flesh is adorned, you will always be flesh—not even always flesh. After being a man, you are ashes, you cease to be flesh, you decay. A small urn and a lump of clay show how little strength you have. O milky flesh, now a rose, hereafter a filthy burden, your blossom will fall and this youthful rose will droop. Flesh blooming now tomrorrow will be terrifying—I say more—it will be a terror, a terror to friends, a terror to foes, a terror to all. Tomorrow you will be terrifying, tomorrow you will be withered, filthy and offensive, you flesh now shining, you flesh now blooming, you dear flesh. I repeat sad things—the shape of beauty will soon droop, soon this splendor of face will droop, soon it will fall. Why do I pursue more? That flesh, that beauty will vanish, this passion, this warmth will depart, this skill or this strength will die. (tr. Ronald E. Pepin)
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