Capitulo Primo

Anone thenne forth with this, he led me forthe a merueylous wey drawynge alwey dounward in to the depthe of the Erthe. But it ne was long or that I felte suche a wycked smelle, that wel nyhe myn herte hadde to borsten. Thenne sayd myn angel `This fowle stenche that thou felyst cometh oute of Helle, which I shalle shewen now the to that ende, that thou shalt proue what stynke and corrupcion, what fylthe and what abhomynacion is there withynne. But drede the nought att al, for why thy peyne shal no thyng encrece; thou shalt only with outen more see what ther is to done, and how that synnes and surfetys tormenten trespassours, whiche maketh grete dolour and greuous lamentacions.

`And this shal I shewen the only to that entent, that thou shalt be more enclyned to thanke thy Lord God in that he preserued the oute of soo moche meschyef, and that thou take the remenaunt of thy peyne with pacyence, withouten ony grutchynge.'

Al be it that I wold, I durst nota withseyn, but forth wente I byfore myn angell comyng after, passyng thorugh the Erthe, ryght as byrdes passen by the eyer. There was no thyng in Erthe soo pryue, that I ne sawe. Soo byfelle hit that ful soone we come to that derke bordure that nexte was to Helle, whiche enclosid in compas alle the Helle aboute.

Hit was wonder merueylous blacke, and derke ynowe. There sawe I these Innocentes that were nought baptysed, of whiche myn angel told me a lytel what before. I sawe them fast aboute mouyng and sekynge withoute ony rest, as yf they myght haue founden yssue fro that derkenesse, lyke to a byrd that alwey contynuelly renneth in a cage for to seke an hole where he myght escape, and many honderd tymes assayeth the same place and neuer is the wyser whan he cometh ayene, ne neuer the nere delyuerd.

`Why is it', quod I, `that these peple here is so besily occupyed about for to seken - wote I neuer what - in this thycke derkenesse, where nought elles may be founden but derkenesse after other?'

`Sothly', quod myn angel, `this is their peyne, & euer shal be theyr peyne: there is no creature that knoweth ony other. No doute God may releuen them bif it be his list, for in them is no malice for to closenc his Mercy like as in them thatd ben dampnede for their euil dedes, but soth it is, it [49v] fayleth them nought of nature for to conceyuen that somwhat them lacketh that they sholde haue, but they wyten neuer what thynge it is. Therfor they seken - they wyten neuer what. Fowler derkenes may there none be than wretched ignorance.'

Thus passyng forth thenne thorugh this derk countre, I come at the laste in to a derker place, the moost wretchyd and desolate that euer man come ynne. There sawe I the sorowes that synfull wretches suffred, despitous flamme of fyre horryble, and wonder hydous of smoke derkenes, so wonderfull, that it passeth myn abylyte clerly to descryuen whiche were the walles enclosynge al that vnthryfty wretchyd place aboute. There sawe I the cursid multitude of fendes, rennyng aboute withoute ony rest. Somme blewe the fyre, somme with yron forkes ryghted the brondes, somme with sharp hookes dyde theyr besynes for to drawen & dressen the wretchid sowles in to dyuerse peynes, somme come and somme wente. Fewe ther were, that they ne were ful besy for to drawe some synful caitif to somme maner of meschyef, presentynge them bitwene whyle to theyr mayster Lucifer, whome I saw syttynge in a brennyng cheyre, bounden hand and fete, about the necke and aboute the myddel, with fyry chaynes that weren ful huge and of despitous weyght. Thenne sawe I thylk olde deuel, which I had seyn byfore, rydyng vppon that other, that had the horne in myddes of hyr frount. She held fast these cheynes and thus beganne to seye:

`Thou fadre', quod she,`that thou me bygat and broughtest fyrst on place, that somtyme were cleped Lucifer, now art thou called Tenebre by reason of thy cursydnesse. I defye the as thylke, whome moost encheson haue I for to hate. For fthou me brought forth for to enhabyte this wretchid peynful place, and hyder thou hastest thy self as sone as thou were fourmed. And hyder art thou come in an euyl tyme, for syth that thou art thus fallen in my trappe, thou shalt me nought escape. And for as thou art cleped kynge of al cursidnesse, thou sittest now in thyne estate as a lord in thyn chayer. So haue I be cleped of longe tyme Pryde, Quene of Helle Peyne, for I am the eldest of al thy careful yssue, and many one haue I purchacid vnto thy legeaunceg.'

`Acursid be thou', quod he,`and euyl be thou comen, wretchid old caitif. And cursid be the tyme that euer I the bigat, for haddest nought thou ben, I had nought comen here, but I hadde for euer abyden in my fyrst ioye. As sone as thou were born, thou madest me be cast here doune in to this meschyef, & alle [50r] my subgettis with me, whiche euerychone besyeth them to doo me suche maner of plesaunce, wher by my greuous peynes ben moch the more. For the more caitifs that they bryngen to me, the more is my torment. And withouten faile, yet it pleseth me for to encrecen my felaushyp in peynes, al be it that my mescheuous torment is eke therby encrecid. Thy cursid sister Enuye hath me brought in that oppynyon, and therto me constreyned.'

`Sothly', quod this olde, `ful well I wote that thou woldest ful fayn ben efte in that Blysse whiche thou felle fro, yf it myght be. But al is for nought.'

`Ful sothe hit is', quod he, `that I wold ryght fayn ben in that Blysse whiche I haue forloren, soo that I myght dryuen doune thylke Souerayne Lord. For soothly, to hym wylle I neuer submytte my self, but as I nedes must. Ne in his presence wylle I neuer abyden; yet haue I leuer ben here in this peyne. And grete wonder I haue why that Ihesu Goddes Sone is soo moche loued & commended of alle creatures be cause that he bycome man and suffred on the cros of his owne wylle, whiche deth I promotid, excytyng the Iewes ageynst hym as moche as I myght. And that me sore athought or al were at an ende. For sothly, I wende he ne had be but man only, nought partyner of Godhede. But I was fowle begyled. Neuertheles, what suffred he in regard of the worshyp whiche he gat ther by. Sith that, to his name alle creatures in Heuen and Erthe, and also we deformed wretches wonynge in Helle, mote abowe oure seluen, whether we wylle or noo

`For as my persone, I seye forsoth, I wol be incarnate in the moste tendre passible body that myght be deuysed, and vpon a pyler fitched, ful of sharp keruyng rasours, with all the remenaunt that I suffre now, I wold ascende and descende contynuelly in to the Day of Dome, soo that I shold be despised in to many thousand partes, vpon that condicion that I myght preuen hym his power and holden his place.

`And soothely, ones I wol assaye for to be incarnate to see what I can doo and what it wylle auaylen. Atte lest, though it wol none other be, I shal make my disciples moo than he dyd, and counterfeten his maners as nyghe as I can, and stand in myn oppynyon anone to the deth. And wel I wote, I shal haue folewers ynowe; wel moo than euer he had whyle he yede in Erthe. For I wylle vsen other maner of menes than he couthe deuysen. He counceyled his dyscyples to penaunce and to pouerte at the begynnynge, and that they sholde forsaken alle [50v] worldly lustes. But wel I wote that so shold I neuer atteyne to my purpoos, wherfor I shal auaunce my disciples in to hyghe estates, dispense with them to vse theyr flesshely lustes. And in that wyse, I woote well I shal gete a multitude vnto myn assent, able for to ouersette the remenaunt of his disciples. And wel I wote that deye I shal an horryble deth, but therofh noo fors. At the lest this that I haue here in possession, may I neuer lese, for in that Hye Blysse ne shal I neuer come. But yf I myght draw hym doune that euer hath ben there!'

`Soothely', sayden al these other Sathanas,`there ne comest thou neuer. Now Dame Pryde', quod they, `torne to vs thy chekes. We shalle rewarden the for thy mery songe that thou hast songen here. By the hand of thy purueaunce all we ben dampned euer withouten ende.' Soo thenne they beten this old, and yaf hyr grete buffetys, and saiden to her thus: `Ful euyl fortune befele vs when we of oure foly byleuyd on thy lore. Fy on the filthe, and fy on the maister, ful of alle maner of meschyef & confusion.