Prologue from “Life of St. Anne” by Osbern Bokenham with rough translation into almost modern English by flusteredduck

If I hadde cunnyng and eloquens
My conceytes craftely to dilate,
Als whilom hadde the fyrsh rethoryens
Gowere, Chauncere, and now Lytgate,
I wolde me besyn to translate
Seynt Anne Lyf into oure langage.
But sekyr I fere to gynne so late,
Lest men wolde ascryven it to dotage.
For wel I know that fer in age
I am runne, and my lyves date
Aprochith faste, and the fers rage
Of cruel Deth – so wyl my fate
Inevytable – hath at my gate
Set hys carte to carye me hens;
And I ne may ne can, thau I hym hate,
Ageyn hys fors make resistens.

Wherfore me thinkyth, and sothe it ys,
Best were for me to leve makynge
Of Englysh, and suche as ys amys
To reformyn in my lyvynge.
For that ys a ryght sovereyn cunnynge:
A man to knowen hys trespasce,
Wyth ful purpos of amendynge,
As ferforth as God wyl grawnte hym grace.
For whil a man hath leysere and space
Here in this wordlys abydynge,
Or than that Deth his brest enbrace,
To ransake his lyf in alle thynge
And wyth his conscience to make rekenynge
And ryhtyn ageyn al that wronge is,
He may not fayle, at his partynge
Owt of his lyf, to gon to blys.

If I had cunning and eloquence
My craftly conceits to dilate,
As in former days had the first rhetoricians
Gower, Chaucer, and now Lydgate,
I would me attempt to translate
Saint Anne’s life into our language.
But truly I fear to begin so late,
Lest men should ascribe it to dotage.
For well I know that far in age
I am run, and my life’s date
Approaches fast, and the fears rage
Of cruel Death – so will my fate
Inevitable – have at my gate
Set his cart to carry me hence;
And I may not nor can, though I him hate,
Against his force make resistance.

Wherefore me thinks, and truly it is,
Best were for me to leave making
Of English, and such as is amiss
To reform in my living.
For that is a right sovereign cunning;
A man to know his trespasses,
With full purpose of amending,
As insofar as God will grant him grace.
For while a man has leisure and space
Here in this world’s abiding,
Before that Death his breast release,
To ransack his life in all things
And with his conscience to make reckoning
And right again all that wrong is,
He may not fail, at his parting
Out of his life, to go on to bliss.

From: https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/reames-middle-english-legends-of-women-saints-life-of-st-anne

Date: c1447

By: Osbern Bokenham (?1393-?1494)

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One Comment to “Prologue from “Life of St. Anne” by Osbern Bokenham with rough translation into almost modern English by flusteredduck”

  1. A complete unknown to me! Great thanks for this introduction.
    I often wonder how it was to converse in those times: our clipped expressions were all seemingly fully explained and expressed. Everything would have taken so long.
    But then the sense of time would be have different, not so fraught and churningly quick, as now.

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