Talia cur, Iesu, fieri permittis in orbe,
iudicio occulto, non ego scire queo.
vita tuis alia servatur in arce polorum,
qua pax alma viget, praelia nulla fiunt.
aurum ut flamma probat, iustos temptatio mundat,
purior utque anima sidera celsa petat.
haec est vita viro iusto temptatio tota,
auribus ut cecinit pagina sacra tuis.
quemque Pater natum puro complectit amore,
saepius huic tristi dura flagella dabit:
sic Deus omnipotens sanctos per saeva probavit
verbera, post reddens praemia laeta polo.
non vos conturbet, sancti, inconstantia, fratres,
nec mundana quidem gurgitibus variis.
sic fuit atque fiet saecli versatilis ordo,
laetitiae numquam sit cui certa fides.
qui iacet in lecto, quondam certabat in arvis
cum cervis, quoniam fessa senectus adest.
qui olim Syrano laetus recubabat in ostro
vix panno veteri frigida membra tegit.
longa dies oculos atra caligine claudit,
solivagos atomos qui numerare solent.
dextera quae gladios, quae fortia tela vibrabat,
nunc tremit, atque ori porrigit aegre cibos.
clarior ecce tuba subito vox faucibus haesit,
auribus appositis murmura lausa ciet.
quid iam plura canam? marcescit tota iuventus,
iam perit atque cadit corporis omne decus:
et pellis tantum vacua vix ossibus haeret,
nec cognoscit homo propria membra senex.
quod fuit, alter erit, iam nec erit ipse, quod ipse:
fur erit ipse suus temporibus variis.
sic ventura dies mentes mutabit et artus,
atque utinam melior proficiat meritis!
quapropter potius caelestia semper amemus
et mansura polo quam peritura solo.
hic variat tempus, nil non mutabile cernis;
illic una dies semper erit, quod erit.
quo tu, quaeso, meus mentem, rogo, dirige lector;
invenies quidquid cor cupit, ecce, tuum.
qua tua te numquam fallit spes, advena mundi,
aspicies patriam, quam tuus optat amor.
invenies veniens illic bona gaudia vitae
perpetuae, quae tu semper habere potes.
laetus in aeternum, Christo sociabere civis;
ille manet semper, tu quoque semper eris.
quid tu pertristis aurum te perdere plangis?
est auro melius lucrificare Deum.
quid species vanas lacrimosis, nate, querelis
prosequeris, haec tu cur peritura cupis?
talia iam mundi, non Christi luget amator;
sit, rogo, non aurum, sit tibi Christus amor.
ad vos, o fratres, vertam, mea cura, camenas,
alloquar et paucis vos modo versiculis.
vos regale genus, soboles veneranda parentum
sanctorum, qui vos iam genuere Deo.
illorum bibulas meritis caelestibus aures
nunc adhibete pio pectore, mente, manu,
ut sanctum precibus conservet semper ovile,
pectore concordi quod statuere Deo.
horrida non frangat vestras temptatio mentes,
impia quam vobis gessit iniqua manus,
sed magis ad studium vitae melioris abundet,
incitet et mentes semper adesse Deo.
erigit elisos, qui vulnerat atque medetur,
qui ferit atque sanat, conterit atque levat.
nocte dieque simul precibus insistite sanctis,
ut vos conservet Iesus ubique pius.
et si quae placeant concordi addiscite corde,
atque implete manu, quod pia mens cupiat.
sic tandem vobis clipeus descendit ab alto,
et Domini dextra proteget atque reget.
vos estote patrum memores, quis semper ab alto
venerat auxilium, dante Tonante, pium.
iam Moyses melius precibus quam fortis in armis,
expandens palmas proelia sacra regit.
plurima pro lacrimis sternuntur milia morte
Ezechiae regis pestiferi populi;
huic quoque ter quinos clemens Deus addidit annos,
pro prece, quam moriens fundit ab ore Deo.
(Alcuin, De rerum humanarum vicissitudine et clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii 85-164)
Why, Jesus, you allow such things to happen in the world
by Your impenetrable judgement, I cannot tell.
A different life is reserved for Your followers in highest Heaven,
where gentle peace thrives and no battles are fought.
As flame tempers gold, so the just are cleansed by their trials,
to enable their purer souls to seek the stars on high.
This life is all trial for a just man,
as the holy writings have sung in your hearing.
Fathers who hold their sons in affection and love them
will often beat them harshly.
So too omnipotent God tested the saints through savage blows,
later granting them the rewards of joy in heaven.
Holy brothers, be not bewildered by want of resolution,
nor by the inconstancy of this world’s many maelstroms.
Thus was the order of this world subject to change and so it will be,
let no one have trust in the permanence of joy.
He who once hunted in the fields for the stag
lies in bed, now that weary old age is at hand.
He who once reclined joyously on his purple couch
can scarcely cover his chill limbs with an old rag.
The long day closes in black darkness eyes
which used to count each solitary wandering mote.
Hands which once brandished swords and mighty weapons
now tremble and can barely convey their food to their mouths.
Voices, clearer than trumpets, suddenly stick in the throat
summoning up a subdued whisper for attentive listeners.
Let my poem be brief. All youth fades away,
all physical beauty perishes and falls,
only the empty skin clings with difficulty to the bones,
and when a man grows old he does not even recognise his own limbs.
What he was, another will be, nor will he continue to be what he is,
he will act as a thief from himself at different times.
And so the day to come will change minds and bodies
and may it mark better progress in good deeds!
Therefore let us always love instead the things of the higher world,
and what will remain in heaven rather than what will perish on earth.
Here time changes and you see nothing that is not mutable;
there one day will always be what it will be.
Turn your mind in that direction, I beg and entreat, my reader,
there you will find all that your heart desires.
Where your hopes never deceive you, stranger from the world,
you will recognise the homeland that you love and long for.
Arriving there you will discover the fine joys of eternal life
which are yours always to possess.
A joyous citizen, you will be joined to Christ in eternity;
He lives forever, and so will you to too.
Why do you lament so dejectedly that you have lost your gold?
To bring riches to God is better than gold.
Why do you pursue vain beauty, my son, with tearful complaints?
Why do you long for these things which shall perish?
They are grieved for by lovers of the world, not of Christ.
May Christ, not gold, be your love, I pray.
To you, my brothers for whom I care, my poem is addressed;
I shall speak to you now in a few minor verses.
You are a royal race, venerable children of holy parents
who sired you to do service to God.
Cause them to listen with ears thirsty for achievements worthy of heaven,
by calling upon them now with pious hearts, minds and hands,
so that they may always guard with their prayers the holy flock
which they created for God in a spirit of harmony.
May your resolve not be shattered by the hideous trials
that the designs of wicked and impious men have placed in your path;
may they increase your determination to pursue a better life,
urging your minds always to concentrate on God
who raises up the downcast, who both wounds and heals,
strikes and cures, crushes and uplifts.
Persevere both day and night with holy prayers,
so that in every place kindly Jesus may watch over you.
Learn with peaceful hearts whatever pleases Him
and perform all that a pious spirit might wish.
And so at length a shield will descend to you from on high
and the Lord’s right hand will protect and rule over you.
Remember the fathers to whom divine help
granted by the Almighty always came from on high.
Moses, by stretching out his hands, waged a holy war
more effectively with prayers than by the force of his weapons.
Many thousands of the baneful people
were laid low in death by the tears of the king Ezekiah,
to whose life God in His mercy added fifteen years
in answer to the prayer which he poured forth to Him as he lay dying.
(tr. Peter Godman)