Archive for June 8th, 2019

Saturday, 8 June 2019

A Moral Lesson About a Woman, Beautiful in Front and Frightful at the Back by Michel Beheim

Once I began happily to ride
early one morn.
It was May-time.
I came upon a green meadow.
With lilies, violets and roses
was it adorned in blissful bloom,
with flowers—even meadow-saffron.
I heard the song of many a bold bird:
mellifluously I heard sing
crested larks, larks, thrush and Dame Nightingale.
My youthful heart was bursting with joy
as I perceived the rich echo
of their sweet musical tones,
resounding so joyously.
I also saw flowers spring up:
yellow, red, blue and white.
On this green heather
I encountered an extremely beautiful woman.
I swear:
never on earth
had I seen such a blissful figure.
She was the fulfillment of every wish.
Going onto the field,
she plucked blossoms and roses.
Her glorious body was assiduously formed
like that of an angel.
Her hair was as golden as silk; her eyes were brown.
Her complexion gave off a soft gleam.
She had two, fair little cheeks,
rose red and lily white.
Her mouth cast fire like a ruby,
and her face was beautifully shaped.
Her beauty I must praise,
On her head she bore a wreath
made from seven flowers.
Her heart was fancy-free and rich in joy.
This beautiful woman greeted me,
whereupon my heart grew excessively gay.
With soft, sweet words,
she addressed me chastely.
I dismounted near this lovely woman
and bade her sit next to me.
Refined in manner, I proclaimed that I wished to become her servant.
My heart
was inflamed in love for her.
I imagined that she would be my bliss.
I spoke with clever and genteel words
until I had consummated my love with this fine lady.
I had so much pleasure with her!
No woman was ever as compliant as she to me.
Then night fell
and it was time for us to part.
She said: “I cannot abide any longer.
I must leave this heather.”
Thereupon we parted.
My joy and delight became great dismay.
I departed from my beloved.
She then turned around, revealing a wretched aspect.
The rear part of her body contained foul rottenness.
There I saw burrowing maggots
filthy worm-maws,
dead, putrefying flesh and pus-filled tissue.
Nothing ever smelled as bad.
I saw my fill of toads, adders, snakes
and impure serpents
hanging from her back.
Can you guess who this woman is?
I identify her as the world.
The wreath that she bore upon her head,
composed of seven flowers:
these blooms betoken the seven capital sins.
With these the world is garlanded beyond all measure;
shamelessly they gild the world.
The world is outwardly pleasing and refulgent, but inside hollow—
its beauty underpinned by vileness.
Whoever places trust in the world is deluded.
Its glories are fleeting and will be mocked.
O mankind, keep God forever before your eyes
and think, where your journey will end!

From: McDonald, William C., The World as Woman: Two Late Medieval Song-Poems on Frau Welt by Michel Beheim in Modern Philology, Vol. 114, No. 4 (May 2014), pp. 639-640.

Date: 1457 (original in German); 2014 (translation in English)

By: Michel Beheim (1416-c1472)

Translated by: William C. McDonald (19??- )