The Book of Margery Kempe


Margery Kempe

Edited by Jack Lynch


[1] Here begynnyth a schort tretys and a comfortabyl for synful wrecchys, wherin thei may have gret solas and comfort to hem and undyrstondyn the hy and unspecabyl mercy of ower sovereyn Savyowr Cryst Jhesu, whos name be worschepd and magnyfyed wythowten ende, that now in ower days to us unworthy deyneth to exercysen hys nobeley and hys goodnesse. Alle the werkys of ower Saviowr ben for ower exampyl and instruccyon, and what grace that he werkyth in any creatur is ower profyth yf lak of charyté be not ower hynderawnce. And therfor, be the leve of ower mercyful Lord Cryst Jhesu, to the magnyfying of hys holy name, Jhesu, this lytyl tretys schal tretyn sumdeel in parcel of hys wonderful werkys, how mercyfully, how benyngly, and how charytefully he meved and stered a synful caytyf unto hys love, whech synful caytyf many yerys was in wyl and in purpose thorw steryng of the Holy Gost to folwyn oure Savyour, makyng gret behestys of fastyngys wyth many other dedys of penawns. And evyr sche was turned agen abak in tym of temptacyon, lech unto the reedspyr whech boweth wyth every wynd and nevyr is stable les than no wynd bloweth, unto the tyme that ower mercyfulle Lord Cryst Jhesu havyng pety and compassyon of hys handwerke and hys creatur turnyd helth into sekenesse, prosperyté into adversyté, worshep into repref, and love into hatered. Thus alle this thyngys turnyng up so down, this creatur whych many yerys had gon wyl and evyr ben unstable was parfythly drawen and steryd to entren the wey of hy perfeccyon, whech parfyth wey Cryst ower Savyowr in hys propyr persoone examplyd. Sadly he trad it and dewly he went it beforn. Than this creatur, of whom thys tretys thorw the mercy of Jhesu schal schewen in party the levyng, towched be the hand of owyr Lord wyth grett bodyly sekenesse, wher thorw sche lost reson and her wyttes a long tym tyl ower Lord be grace restoryd her ageyn, as it schal mor openly be schewed aftyrward. Her werdly goodys, whech wer plentyuows and abundawnt at that day, in lytyl whyle after wer ful bareyn and bare. Than was pompe and pryde cast down and leyd on syde. Thei that beforn had worshepd her sythen ful scharply reprevyd her; her kynred and thei that had ben frendys wer now hyr most enmys. Than sche, consyderyng this wondyrful chawngyng, sekyng socowr undyr the wengys of hyr gostly modyr, Holy Cherch, went and obeyd hyr to hyr gostly fadyr, accusyng hyrself of her mysdeds, and sythen ded gret bodyly penawns. And in schort tyme ower mercyful Lord vysytyd this creatur wyth plentyuows teerys of contricyon day be day, in so mech that sum men seyden sche mygth wepen whan sche wold and slawndered the werk of God. Sche was so usyd to be slawndred and repreved, to be cheden and rebuked of the world for grace and vertu wyth whech sche was indued thorw the strength of the Holy Gost that it was to her in a maner of solas and comfort whan sche sufferyd any dysese for the lofe of God and for the grace that God wrowht in hyr. For evyr the mor slawnder and repref that sche sufferyd, the mor sche incresyd in grace and in devocyon of holy medytacyon of hy contemplacyon and of wonderful spechys and dalyawns whech owr Lord spak and dalyid to hyr sowle, techyng hyr how sche schuld be despysed for hys lofe, how sche schuld han pacyens, settyng all hyr trost, alle hyr lofe, and alle hyr affeccyon in hym only. Sche knew and undyrstod many secret and prevy thyngys whech schuld beffallen aftyrward be inspiracyon of the Holy Gost. And often tymes, whel sche was kept wyth swech holy spechys and dalyawns, sche schuld so wepyn and sobbyn that many men wer gretly awondyr, for thei wysten ful lytyl how homly ower Lord was in hyr sowle. Ne hyrself cowd nevyr telle the grace that sche felt, it was so hevenly, so hy aboven hyr reson and hyr bodyly wyttys, and hyr body so febyl in tym of the presens of grace that sche myth nevyr expressyn it wyth her word lych as sche felt it in hyr sowle. Than had this creatur mech drede for illusyons and deceytys of hyr gostly enmys. Than went sche be the byddyng of the Holy Gost to many worshepful clerkys, bothe archebysshopys and bysshoppys, doctowrs of dyvynyté and bachelers also. Sche spak also wyth many ankrys and schewed hem hyr maner of levyng and swech grace as the Holy Gost of hys goodnesse wrowt in hyr mende and in hyr sowle as her wytt wold serven hyr to expressyn it. And thei alle that sche schewed hyr secretys unto seyd sche was mech bownde to loven ower Lord for the grace that he schewyd unto hyr and cownseld hyr to folwyn hyr mevynggys and hyr steringgys and trustly belevyn it weren of the Holy Gost and of noon evyl spyryt. Summe of these worthy and worshepful clerkys tokyn it in perel of her sowle and as thei wold answer to God that this creatur was inspyred wyth the Holy Gost and bodyn hyr that sche schuld don hem wryten and makyn a booke of hyr felyngys and hir revelacyons. Sum proferyd hir to wrytyn hyr felyngys wyth her owen handys, and sche wold not consentyn in no wey, for sche was comawndyd in hir sowle that sche schuld not wrytyn so soone. And so it was twenty yer and mor fro that tym this creatur had fyrst felyngys and revelacyons er than sche dede any wryten. Aftyrward whan it plesyd ower Lord, he comawnded hyr and chargyd hir that sche schuld don wryten hyr felyngys and revelacyons and the forme of her levyngs that hys goodnesse myth be knowyn to alle the world. Than had the creatur no wryter that wold fulfyllyn hyr desyr ne geve credens to hir felingys unto the tym that a man dwellyng in Dewchlond whech was an Englyschman in hys byrth and sythen weddyd in Dewchland and had ther bothe a wyf and a chyld, havyng good knowlach of this creatur and of hir desyr, meved I trost thorw the Holy Gost, cam into Yngland wyth hys wyfe and hys goodys and dwellyd wyth the forseyd creatur tyl he had wretyn as mech as sche wold tellyn hym for the tym that thei wer togydder. And sythen he deyd. Than was ther a prest whech this creatur had gret affeccyon to, and so sche comownd wyth hym of this mater and browt hym the boke to redyn. The booke was so evel wretyn that he cowd lytyl skyll theron, for it was neithyr good Englysch ne Dewch, ne the lettyr was not schapyn ne formyd as other letters ben. Therfor the prest leved fully ther schuld nevyr man redyn it, but it wer special grace. Nevyrthelesse, he behyte hir that if he cowd redyn it he wolde copyn it owt and wrytyn it betyr wyth good wylle. Than was ther so evel spekyng of this creatur and of hir wepyng that the prest durst not for cowardyse speke wyth her but seldom, ne not wold wryten as he had behestyd unto the forseyd creatur. And so he voyded and deferryd the wrytyng of this boke wel onto a fourth yer or ellys mor, notwythstandyng the creatur cryed often on hym therfor. At the last he seyd onto hir that he cowd not redyn it, wherfor he wold not do it. He wold not, he seyd, put hym in perel therof. Than he cownseld hir to gon to a good man whech had ben mech conversawnt wyth hym that wrot fyrst the booke, supposyng that he schuld cun best rede the booke, for he had sum tym red letters of the other mannys wrytyng sent fro beyonden the see whyl he was in Dewchland. And so sche went to that man, preyng hym to wrytyn this booke and nevyr to bewreyn it as long as sche leved, grawntyng hym a grett summe of good for hys labowr. And this good man wrot abowt a leef, and yet it was lytyl to the purpose, for he cowd not wel fare therwyth the boke was so evel sett and so unresonably wretyn. Than the prest was vexyd in his consciens, for he had behestyd hyr to wrytyn this boke, yyf he mygth com to the redyng therof, and dede not hys part as wel as he mygth a do, and preyd this creatur to getyn ageyn the booke yf sche myth goodly. Than sche gat ageyn the book and browt it to the preste wyth rygth glad cher, preyng hym to do hys good wyl, and sche schuld prey to God for hym and purchasyn hym grace to reden it and wrytyn it also. The preste, trustyng in hire prayers, began to redyn this booke, and it was mych mor esy, as hym thowt, than it was beforntym. And so he red it ovyr beforn this creatur every word, sche sumtym helpyng where ony difficulté was. Thys boke is not wretyn in ordyr, every thyng aftyr other as it wer don, but lych as the mater cam to the creatur in mend whan it schuld be wretyn, for it was so long er it was wretyn that sche had forgetyn the tyme and the ordyr whan thyngys befellyn. And therfor sche dede no thing wryten but that sche knew rygth wel for very trewth. Whan the prest began fyrst to wryten on this booke, hys eyn myssyd so that he mygth not se to make hys lettyr ne mygth not se to mend hys penne. Alle other thyng he mygth se wel anow. He sett a peyr of spectacles on hys nose, and than wast wel wers than it was befor. He compleyned to the creatur of hys dysese. Sche seyd hys enmy had envye at hys good dede and wold lett hym yf he mygth and bad hym do as wel as God wold geve hym grace and not levyn. Whan he cam ageyn to hys booke, he myth se as wel, hym thowt, as evyr he dede befor be day lyth and be candel lygth bothe. And for this cause, whan he had wretyn a qwayr, he addyd a leef therto, and than wrot he this proym to expressyn mor openly than doth the next folwyng, whech was wretyn er than this. Anno domini 1436.

[2] A schort tretys of a creature sett in grett pompe and pride of the world, whech sythen was drawyn to ower Lord be gret poverté, sekenes, schamis, and gret reprevys in many divers contres and places, of whech tribulacyons sum schal ben schewed aftyr, not in ordyr as it fellyn but as the creatur cowd han mend of hem whan it wer wretyn, for it was twenty yer and mor fro tym this creatur had forsake the world and besyly clef onto ower Lord or this boke was wretyn, notwythstondyng this creatur had greet cownsel for to don wryten hir tribulacyons and hir felingys, and a Whyte Frer proferyd hir to wryten frely yf sche wold. And sche was warnyd in hyr spyrit that sche schuld not wryte so sone. And many yerys aftyr sche was bodyn in hyr spyrit for to wrytyn. And than yet it was wretyn fyrst be a man whech cowd neithyr wel wryten Englysch ne Duch. So it was unable for to be red but only be specyal grace, for ther was so mech obloquie and slawndyr of this creatur that ther wold fewe men beleve this creatur. And so at the last a preste was sor mevyd for to wrytin this tretys, and he cowd not wel redyn it of a four yere togedyr. And sythen be the request of this creatur and compellyng of hys owyn consciens he asayd agayn for to rede it, and it was mech mor esy than it was afortyme. And so he gan to wryten in the yer of owr Lord a 1436, on the day next aftyr Mary Maudelyn aftyr the informacyon of this creatur.

[3] Whan this creatur was twenty yer of age or sumdele mor, sche was maryed to a worschepful burgeys and was wyth chylde wythin schort tyme, as kynde wolde. And, aftyr that sche had conceyved, sche was labowrd wyth grett accessys tyl the chyld was born, and than, what for labowr sche had in chyldyng and for sekenesse goyng beforn, sche dyspered of hyr lyfe, wenyng sche mygth not levyn. And than sche sent for hyr gostly fadyr, for sche had a thyng in conscyens whech sche had nevyr schewyd beforn that tyme in alle hyr lyfe. For sche was evyr lettyd be hyr enmy, the devel, evyrmor seyng to hyr whyl sche was in good heele hir nedyd no confessyon but don penawns be hirself aloone, and all schuld be forgovyn, for God is mercyful inow. And therfor this creatur oftyn tymes dede greet penawns in fastyng bred and watyr and other dedys of almes wyth devowt preyers, saf sche wold not schewyn it in confessyon. And, whan sche was any tym seke or dysesyd, the devyl seyd in her mende that sche schuld be dampnyd, for sche was not schrevyn of that defawt. Wherfor, aftyr that hir chyld was born, sche, not trostyng hir lyfe, sent for hir gostly fadyr, as iseyd beforn, in ful wyl to be schrevyn of alle hir lyfetym as ner as sche cowde. And, whan sche cam to the poynt for to seyn that thing whech sche had so long conselyd, hir confessowr was a lytyl to hastye and gan scharply to undyrnemyn hir er than sche had fully seyd hir entent, and so sche wold no mor seyn for nowt he mygth do. And anoon, for dreed sche had of dampnacyon on the to syde and hys scharp reprevyng on that other syde, this creatur went owt of hir mende and was wondyrlye vexid and labowryd wyth spyritys half yer eight wekys and odde days. And in this tyme sche sey, as hir thowt, develys opyn her mowthys al inflaumyd wyth brennyng lowys of fyr as thei schuld a swalwyd hyr in, sumtyme rampyng at hyr, sumtyme thretyng her, sumtym pullyng hyr and halyng hir bothe nygth and day duryng the forseyd tyme. And also the develys cryed upon hir wyth greet thretyngys and bodyn hir sche schuld forsake hir Crystendam, hir feyth, and denyin hir God, hys modyr, and alle the seyntys in hevyn, hyr goode werkys and alle good vertues, hir fadyr, hyr modyr, and alle hire frendys. And so sche dede. Sche slawndred hir husbond, hir frendys and her owyn self; sche spak many a reprevows worde and many a schrewyd worde; sche knew no vertu ne goodnesse; sche desyryd all wykkydnesse; lych as the spyrytys temptyd hir to sey and do so sche seyd and dede. Sche wold a fordon hirself many a tym at her steryngys and a ben damnyd wyth hem in helle. And into wytnesse therof sche bot hir owen hand so vyolently that it was seen al hir lyfe aftyr. And also sche roof hir skyn on hir body agen hir hert wyth hir nayles spetowsly, for sche had noon other instrumentys, and wers sche wold a don saf sche was bowndyn and kept wyth strength bothe day and nygth that sche mygth not have hir wylle. And, whan sche had long ben labowrd in thes and many other temptacyons that men wend sche schuld nevyr a skapyd ne levyd, than on a tym, as sche lay aloone and hir kepars wer fro hir, owyr mercyful Lord Crist Jhesu, evyr to be trostyd, worshypd be hys name, nevyr forsakyng hys servawnt in tyme of nede, aperyd to hys creatur, whych had forsakyn hym, in lyknesse of a man, most semly, most bewtyuows, and most amyable that evyr mygth be seen wyth mannys eye, clad in a mantyl of purpyl sylke, syttyng upon hir beddys syde, lokyng upon hir wyth so blyssyd a chere that sche was strengthyd in alle hir spyritys, seyd to hir thes wordys: “Dowtyr, why hast thow forsakyn me, and I forsoke nevyr the?” And anoon, as he had seyd thes wordys, sche saw veryly how the eyr openyd as brygth as ony levyn, and he stey up into the eyr, not rygth hastyli and qwykly, but fayr and esly that sche mygth wel beholdyn hym in the eyr tyl it was closyd ageyn. And anoon the creature was stabelyd in hir wyttys and in hir reson as wel as evyr sche was beforn, and preyd hir husbond as so soon as he cam to hir that sche mygth have the keys of the botery to takyn hir mete and drynke as sche had don beforn. Hyr maydens and hir kepars cownseld hym he schulde delyvyr hir no keys, for thei seyd sche wold but geve awey swech good as ther was, for sche wyst not what sche seyde as thei wende. Nevyrthelesse, hir husbond, evyr havyng tendyrnes and compassyon of hir, comawndyd thei schulde delyvyr to hyr the keyys. And sche toke hyr mete and drynke as hir bodyly strength wold servyn hir and knew hir frendys and hir meny and all other that cam to hir to se how owyr Lord Jhesu Cryst had wrowt hys grace in hir, so blyssyd mot he be that evyr is ner in tribulacyon. Whan men wenyn he wer for fro hem, he is ful nere be hys grace. Sythen this creatur dede alle other ocupacyons as fel for hir to do wysly and sadly inow, saf sche knew not veryli the drawt of owyr Lord.

[4] On a nygth, as this creatur lay in hir bedde wyth hir husbond, sche herd a sownd of melodye so swet and delectable, hir thowt, as sche had ben in paradyse. And therwyth sche styrt owt of hir bedde and seyd, “Alas, that evyr I dede synne, it is ful mery in hevyn.” Thys melody was so swete that it passyd alle the melodye that evyr myght be herd in this world wythowtyn ony comparyson, and caused this creatur whan sche herd ony myrth or melodye aftyrward for to have ful plentyuows and habundawnt teerys of hy devocyon wyth greet sobbyngys and syhyngys aftyr the blysse of heven, not dredyng the schamys and the spytys of the wretchyd world. And evyr aftyr this drawt sche had in hir mende the myrth and the melodye that was in heven, so mech that sche cowd not wyl restreyn hyrself fro the spekyng therof. For, wher sche was in ony cumpanye, sche wold sey oftyntyme, “It is ful mery in hevyn.” And thei that knew hir governawnce befortyme and now herd hir spekyn so mech of the blysse of hevyn seyd unto hir, “Why speke ye so of the myrth that is in hevyn; ye know it not, and ye have not be ther no mor than we,” and wer wroth wyth hir for sche wold not her no speke of wordly thyngys as thei dedyn and as sche dede beforntyme. And aftyr this tyme sche had nevyr desyr to komown fleschly wyth hyre husbonde, for the dette of matrimony was so abhominabyl to hir that sche had levar, hir thowt, etyn or drynkyn the wose, the mukke in the chanel, than to consentyn to any fleschly comownyng saf only for obedyens. And so sche seyd to hir husbond, “I may not deny yow my body, but the lofe of myn hert and myn affeccyon is drawyn fro alle erdly creaturys and sett only in God.” He wold have hys wylle, and sche obeyd wyth greet wepyng and sorwyng for that sche mygth not levyn chast. And oftyntymys this creatur levyd chast, cownseld hir husbond to levyn chast, and seyd that thei oftyntymes, sche wyst wel, had dysplesyd God be her inordynat lofe and the gret delectacyon that thei haddyn eythyr of hem in usyng of other, and now it wer good that thei schuld be her bothins wylle and consentyng of hem bothyn punschyn and chastysyn hemself wylfully be absteynyng fro her lust of her bodys. Hir husbond seyd it wer good to don so, but he mygth not yett, he schuld whan God wold. And so he usyd her as he had do befor, he wold not spar. And evyr sche preyd to God that sche mygth levyn chast, and three or four yer aftyr, whan it plesyd ower Lord, he made a vow of chastyté, as schal be wretyn aftyr be the leve of Jhesu. And also, aftyr this creatur herd this hevenly melody, sche dede gret bodyly penawnce. Sche was schrevyn sumtyme twyes or thryes on the day, and in specyal of that synne whech sche so long had conselyd and curyd, as it is wretyn in the gynnyng of the boke. Sche gaf hir to gret fastyng and to gret wakyng. Sche roos at two or three of the clok and went to cherch and was ther in hir prayers onto tyme of noon and also al the aftyrnoon. And than was sche slawnderyd and reprevyd of mech pepul for sche kept so streyt a levyng. Than sche gat hir an hayr of a kylne swech as men dryen on malt and leyd it in hir kyrtylle as sotyllych and prevylich as sche mygth that hir husbond schuld not aspye it, ne no mor he dede, and yet sche lay be hym every nygth in his bedde, and weryd the hayr every day, and bar chylderyn in the tyme. Than sche had three yer of gret labowr wyth temptacyons whech sche bar as mekely as sche cowde, thankyng ower Lord of alle hys geftys, and was as mery whan sche was reprevyd, skornyd, or japyd for ower Lordys lofe, and mych mor mery than sche was befortyme in the worshepys of the world. For sche wyst rygth wel sche had synned gretly agens God and was worthy mor schame and sorwe than ony man cowd don to hir, and dyspite of the werld was the rygth way to hevynward sythen Cryst hymself ches that way. Alle hys apostlys, martyres, confessorys, and virgynes and alle that evyr comyn to hevyn passed be the wey of tribulacyon, and sche desyryd nothyng so mech as hevyn. Than was sche glad in hir consciens whan sche belevyd that sche was entryng the wey whech wold leden hir to the place that sche most desyred. And this creatur had contrycion and gret compunccyon wyth plentyuows teerys and many boystows sobbyngys for hir synnes and for hir unkyndnesse ageyns hir maker. Sche bethowt hir fro hir chyldhod for hir unkyndnes as ower Lord wold put it in hir mende ful many a tyme. And than, sche beheldyng hir owyn wykkednes, sche mygth but sorwyn and wepyn and evyr preyn for mercy and forgevenes. Hir wepyng was so plentyuows and so contwnyng that mech pepul wend that sche mygth wepyn and levyn whan sche wold, and therfor many men seyd sche was a fals ypocryte and wept for the world for socowr and for wordly good. And than ful many forsokyn hir that lovyd hir befor whyl sche was in the world and wold not knowyn hir, and evyr sche thankyd God of alle, nothyng desyryng but mercy and forgefnes of synne.


somewhat, to some degree
caitiff, wretch