Quid caro labilis aut quid inutilis est homo? coenum.
quid, rogo, carnea gloria? glarea. quid rosa? foenum.
carnea gloria carnis et omnia, carne vigente,
sunt quasi stantia, deficientia deficiente.
cur homo nascitur aut puer editur? ut moriatur.
exit in aëra, sustinet aspera, migrat, humatur.
glarea labilis, aura volatilis est homo natus.
mane stat aggere, nec mora, vespere fertur humatus.
qui modo flos fuit, in spacio ruit unius horae.
mox rapitur, licet ingenio micet atque decore.
fit cinis infimus, ille probissimus et preciosus,
irreparabilis, irrevocabilis, officiosus.
gleba reconditur atque recluditur hospite tumba.
laus stat imaginis umbraque nominis, immo nec umbra.
vir subit Aethera, si bene; Tartara, si male gessit.
corpus humi iacet, ars perit, os tacet, aura recessit.
fex fit, homo fuit, hunc et amans spuit, horret amatus,
nosseque denegat, instat ut obtegat ocius artus,
instat ut efferat, et flet et imperat et parat urnam,
nec triduum gemit; heu! lacrimam premit ungue diurnam.
mox feretrum vehit aut feretrum praeit aut subit orans;
denique planctibus exequialibus it quasi plorans.
flens it, ovans redit; ut tumulo dedit ossa, recessit;
cessit amor pius, ut manus illius afflua cessit.
occidit, occidit hic ubi perdidit aes et amicum
qui sibi riserat; aeris amans erat, o cor iniquum!
ille probissimus, ille potissimus, ille vir, ille,
ille quid est, precor, illius et decor? urna favillae.
pulcher, amabilis, irreparabilis, unicus, aptus
instar aquae fluit, e medio fugit illico raptus.
occidit ut pecus et decor et decus omne repente,
et calor et color alget, abit dolor inde iuventae.
cur morulas paro? cara iacens caro, fex es, humaris,
esse quod es sinis; in cineres cinis extenuaris.
(Bernard of Cluny, De Contemptu Mundi 1.7161-794)
What is perishing flesh or what is useless man? Dirt. What, I ask, is the glory of the flesh? Sand. What is the rose? Dried grass. The glory of flesh and all things of flesh abide, as it were, when the flesh thrives, and they cease when the flesh ceases. Why is a man born or a child brought forth? That he might die. He goes out into the air, he bears his troubles, he departs, he is buried. As perishing sand, as a fleeting breeze has man been born. In the morning he stands on a hill—no delay—in the evening he is brought to be buried. He who was just now a blossom has fallen in the space of one hour. Although he shines with wit and beauty, he is soon snatched away. That most upright and worthy man becomes the lowest ash, that irreplaceable man cannot be called back, that dutiful man. He is buried in the earth and enclosed in a strange tomb. Praise of his statue remains, and the shadow of his name, but it is not even a shadow.
If a man has lived well, he enters heaven, but if badly, he goes to Hell. His body lies on the ground, his skill perishes, his mouth is silent, his breath has departed. He was a man, but now he becomes dregs, and his beloved friend rejects him and trembles at him, denies having known him, insists on covering his limbs quickly, insists on burying him; he weeps, he orders an urn and prepares it. He does not even mourn for three days. Alas, he presses out one day’s tears with his finger. Soon he carries the bier, or he precedes the bier, or he follows it praying. At last he goes, as if crying, to the funeral lamentations. He goes weeping, but he returns rejoicing. As soon as he gave the bones to the grave, he left. His pious love ceased as soon as that man’s copious hand ceased. Love died, it died when he lost the money and the friend who had smiled on him. He was a friend of the money, O unjust heart! That most upright man, that most powerful man, that manly man, what is that man and his glory, I ask? An urn of ashes. The handsome, loveable, irreplaceable, singular, talented man vanished like water; he fled, snatched instantly from our midst. All his beauty and honor died suddenly, as the cattle; his warmth and hue grow cold, then the anguish of youth departs. Why do I delay? Dear flesh lying dead, you are dregs, you are being buried, you cease to be what you are. O ash, you are reduced to ashes! (tr. Ronald E. Pepin)