Robert Henryson ( )

The Preaching of the Swallow

The hie prudence and wirking mervelous,
The profound wit of God omnipotent
Is sa perfyte and sa ingenious,
Excellent far all mannis argument
For quhy to him all thing is ay present
Rycht as it is or ony tyme sall be
Befoir the sicht of his divinitie,

Thairfoir our saull with sensualitie
So fetterit is in presoun corporall,
We may not cleirlie understand nor se
God as he is, a thing celestiall.
Our mirk and deidlie corps materiale
Blindis the spirituall operatioun
Lyke as ane man wer bundin in presoun.

In Metaphisik Aristotell sayis
That mannis saull is lyke ane bakkis ee
Quhilk lurkis still als lang as licht of day is
And in the gloming cummis furth to fle.
Hir ene ar waik, the sone scho may not se.
Sa is our saull with fantasie opprest
To knaw the thingis in nature manifest.

For God is in his power infinite,
And mannis saull is febill and over small,
Of understanding waik and unperfite
To comprehend him that contenis all;
Nane suld presume be ressoun naturall
To seirche the secreitis of the Trinitie,
Bot trow fermelie and lat dirk ressounis be.

Yit nevertheles we may haif knawlegeing
Of God almychtie be his creatouris,
That he is gude, fair, wyis, and bening.
Exempill takis be thir jolie flouris
Rycht sweit of smell and plesant of colouris,
Sum grene, sum blew, sum purpour, quhyte, and reid,
Thus distribute be gift of his godheid.

The firmament payntit with sternis cleir
From eist to west rolland in cirkill round,
And everilk planet in his proper spheir,
In moving makand harmonie and sound,
The fyre, the air, the watter, and the ground:
Till understand it is aneuch iwis
That God in all his werkis wittie is.

Luke we the fische that swimmis in the se,
Luke we in eirth all kynd of bestyall,
The foulis fair sa forcelie thay fle,
Scheddand the air with pennis grit and small;
Syne luke to man that he maid last of all
Lyke to his image and his similitude;
Be thir we knaw that God is fair and gude.

All creature he maid for the behufe
Of man and to his supportatioun
Into this eirth, baith under and abufe,
In number, wecht, and dew proportioun,
The difference of tyme and ilk seasoun
Concorddand till our opurtunitie
As daylie be experience we may se.

The somer with his jolie mantill grene
With flouris fair furrit on everilk fent,
Quhilk Flora goddes of the flouris quene
Hes to that lord as for his seasoun lent
And Phebus with his goldin bemis gent
Hes purfellit and payntit plesandly
With heit and moysture stilland from the sky.

Syne harvest hait quhen Ceres that goddes
Hir barnis benit hes with abundance
And Bachus god of wyne renewit hes
Hir tume pyipis in Italie and France
With wynis wicht and liquour of plesance
And copia temporis to fill hir horne
That never wes full of quheit nor uther corne.

Syne wynter wan quhen austerne Eolus
God of the wynd with blastis boreall
The grene garment of somer glorious
Hes all to-rent and revin in pecis small.
Than flouris fair faidit with froist man fall,
And birdis blyith changit thair noitis sweit
In styll murning, neir slane with snaw and sleit.

Thir dalis deip with dubbis drounit is,
Baith hill and holt heillit with frostis hair
And bewis bene ar bethit bair of blis.
Be wickit windis of the winter wair,
All wyld beistis than from the bentis bair
Drawis for dreid unto thair dennis deip,
Coucheand for cauld in coifis thame to keip.

Syne cummis ver quhen winter is away,
The secretar of somer with his sell
Quhen columbie up keikis throw the clay
Quhilk fleit wes befoir with froistes fell.
The mavis and the merle beginnis to mell,
The lark on loft with uther birdis smale
Than drawis furth fra derne over doun and daill.

That samin seasoun into ane soft morning,
Rycht blyth that bitter blastis wer ago,
Unto the wod to se the flouris spring
And heir the mavis sing and birdis mo,
I passit furth, syne lukit to and fro
To se the soill that wes richt sessonabill,
Sappie, and to resave all seidis abill.

Moving thusgait, grit myrth I tuke in mynd
Of lauboraris to se the besines,
Sum makand dyke and sum the pleuch can wynd,
Sum sawand seidis fast frome place to place,
The harrowis hoppand in the saweris trace.
It wes grit joy to him that luifit corne
To se thame laubour baith at evin and morne,

And as I baid under ane bank full bene,
In hart gritlie rejosit of that sicht,
Unto ane hedge under ane hawthorne grene,
Of small birdis thair come ane ferlie flicht
And doun belyif can on the leifis licht
On everilk syde about me quhair I stude,
Rycht mervellous, ane mekill multitude.

Amang the quhilks ane swallow loud couth cry
On that hawthorne hie in the croip sittand,
O ye birdis on bewis heir me by,
Ye sall weill knaw and wyislie understand
Quhair danger is or perrell appeirand
It is grit wisedome to provyde befoir
It to devoyd for dreid it hurt yow moir.

Schir swallow, quod the lark agane and leuch,
Quhat have ye sene that causis yow to dreid?
Se ye yone churll, quod scho, beyond yone pleuch
Fast sawand hemp, lo se, and linget seid,
Yone lint will grow in lytill tyme indeid
And thairof will yone churll his nettis mak
Under the quhilk he thinkis us to tak.

Thairfoir I reid we pas quhen he is gone
At evin and with our naillis scharp and small
Out of the eirth scraip we yone seid anone
And eit it up for giff it growis we sall
Have cause to weip heirefter ane and all.
Se we remeid thairfoir furthwith instante,
Nam levius laedit quicquid praevidimus ante.

For clerkis sayis it is nocht sufficient
To considder that is befoir thyne ee
Bot prudence is ane inwart argument
That garris ane man provyde befoir and see
Quhat gude, quhat evill, is liklie for to be
Of everilk thingis at the fynall end,
And swa fra perrell ethar him defend.

The lark lauchand the swallow thus couth scorne
And said scho fischit lang befoir the net.
The barne is eith to busk that is unborne.
All growis nocht that in the ground is set.
The nek to stoup quhen it the straik sall get
Is sone aneuch. Deith on the fayest fall.
Thus scornit thay the swallow ane and all.

Despysing thus hir helthsum document,
The foulis ferslye tuke thair flicht anone,
Sum with ane bir thay braidit over the bent
And sum agane ar to the grene wod gone.
Upon the land quhair I wes left allone,
I tuke my club and hamewart couth I carie
Swa ferliand as I had sene ane farie.

Thus passit furth quhill June that jolie tyde
And seidis that wer sawin of beforne
Wer growin hie that hairis mycht thame hyde
And als the quailye craikand in the corne.
I movit furth betwix midday and morne
Unto the hedge under the hawthorne grene
Quhair I befoir the said birdis had sene,

And as I stude be aventure and cace
The samin birdis as I haif said yow air,
I hoip because it wes thair hanting place,
Mair of succour or yit mair solitair,
Thay lychtit doun and quhen thay lychtit wair,
The swallow swyth put furth ane pietuous pyme,
Said, Wo is him can not bewar in tyme.

O blind birdis and full of negligence,
Unmyndfull of your awin prosperitie,
Lift up your sicht and tak gude advertence,
Luke to the lint that growis on yone le.
Yone is the thing I bad forsuith that we,
Quhill it wes seid, suld rute furth off the eird.
Now is it lint, now is it hie on breird,

Go yit quhill it is tender, young, and small,
And pull it up, let it na mair incres.
My flesche growis, my bodie quaikis all,
Thinkand on it I may not sleip in peis.
Thay cryit all and bad the swallow ceis
And said, yone lint heirefter will do gude,
For linget is to lytill birdis fude.

We think quhen that yone lint bollis ar ryip
To mak us feist and fill us of the seid
Magré yone churll and on it sing and pyip.
Weill, quod the swallow, freindes, hardilie beid,
Do as ye will bot certane sair I dreid
Heirefter ye sall find als sour as sweit
Quhen ye ar speldit on yone carlis speit.

The awner of yone lint ane fouler is,
Richt cautelous and full off subteltie.
His pray full sendill tymis will he mis
Bot gif we birdis all the warrer be.
Full mony of our kin he hes gart de
And thocht it bot ane sport to spill thair blude.
God keip me fra him, and the halie rude.

Thir small birdis haveand bot lytill thocht
Of perrell that mycht fall be aventure,
The counsell of the swallow set at nocht
Bot tuke thair flicht and furth togidder fure,
Sum to the wode, sum markit to the mure.
I tuke my staff quhen this wes said and done
And walkit hame for it drew neir the none.

The lynt ryipit, the carll pullit the lyne,
Rippillit the bollis and in beitis set,
It steipit in the burne and dryit syne
And with ane bittill knokkit it and bet,
Syne swingillit it weill and hekkillit in the flet.
His wyfe it span and twynit it into threid
Of quhilk the fowlar nettis maid indeid.

The wynter come, the wickit wind can blaw,
The woddis grene wer wallowit with the weit,
Baith firth and fell with froistys wer maid faw,
Slonkis and slaik maid slidderie with the sleit.
The foulis fair for falt thay fell of feit.
On bewis bair it wes na bute to byde
Bot hyit unto housis thame to hyde.

Sum in the barn, sum in the stak of corne
Thair lugeing tuke and maid thair residence.
The fowlar saw and grit aithis hes he sworne
Thay suld be tane trewlie for thair expence.
His nettis hes he set with diligence
And in the snaw he schulit hes ane plane
And heillit it all over with calf agane.

Thir small birdis, seand the calff, wes glaid.
Trowand it had bene corne, thay lychtit doun
Bot of the nettis na presume thay had
Nor of the fowlaris fals intentioun.
To scraip and seik thair meit thay maid thame boun.
The swallow into a branche litill by,
Dreiddand for gyle, thus loud on thame couth cry:

Into that calf scraip quhill your naillis bleid,
Thair is na corne, ye laubour all in vane,
Trow ye yone churll for pietie will yow feid?
Na, na, he hes it lyit heir for ane trane.
Remove, I reid, or ellis ye will be slane;
His nettis he hes set full prively,
Reddie to draw; in tyme be war forthy.

Grit fule is he that puttis in dangeir
His lyfe, his honour, for ane thing of nocht.
Grit fule is he that will not glaidlie heir
Counsall in tyme quhill it availl him mocht.
Grit fule is he that nathing hes in thocht
Bot thing present and efter quhat may fall
Nor of the end hes na memoriall.

Thir small birdis, for hunger famischit neir,
Full besie scraipand for to seik thair fude,
The counsall of the swallow wald not heir,
Suppois thair laubour dyd thame lytill gude.
Quhen scho thair fulische hartis understude
Sa indurate, up in ane tre scho flew.
With that, this churll over thame his nettis drew.

Allace it wes rycht grit hertis sair to se
That bludie bowcheour beit thay birdis doun
And for till heir quhen thay wist weill to de
Thair cairfull sang and lamentatioun.
Sum with ane staf he straik to eirth on swoun,
Sum off the heid, off sum he brak the crag,
Sum half on lyfe he stoppit in his bag.

And quhen the swallow saw that thay wer deid,
Lo, quod scho, thus it happinnis mony syis
On thame that will not tak counsall nor reid
Of prudent men or clerkis that ar wyis.
This grit perrell I tauld thame mair than thryis.
Now ar thay deid, and wo is me thairfoir.
Scho tuke hir flicht, bot I hir saw no moir.


Lo worthie folk, Esope that nobill clerk,
Ane poet worthie to be lawreate,
Quhen that he vaikit from mair autentik werk
With uther ma, this foirsaid fabill wrate
Quhilk at this tyme may weill be applicate
To gude morall edificatioun,
Haifand ane sentence according to ressoun.

This carll and bond of gentrice spoliate,
Sawand this calf thir small birdis to sla,
It is the feind quhilk fra the angelike state
Exylit is as fals apostata
Quhilk day and nycht weryis not for to ga
Sawand poysoun and mony wickit thocht
In mannis saull quhilk Christ full deir hes bocht.

And quhen the saull as seid into the eird
Gevis consent in delectatioun,
The wickit thocht beginnis for to breird
In deidlie sin quhilk is dampnatioun.
Ressoun is blindit with affectioun
And carnall lust growis full grene and gay
Throw consuetude hantit from day to day.

Proceding furth be use and consuetude,
The sin ryipis and schame is set on syde,
The feynd plettis his nettis stark and rude,
And under plesance previlie dois hyde,
Syne on the feild he sawis calf full wyde,
Quhilk is bot tume and verray vanitie
Of fleschlie lust and vaine prosperitie.

Thir hungrie birdis wretchis we may call
Ay scraipand in this warldis vane plesance,
Greddie to gadder gudis temporall,
Quhilk as the calf ar tume without substance,
Lytill of vaill and full of variance,
Lyke to the mow befoir the face of wind
Quhiskis away and makis wretchis blind.

This swallow quhilk eschaipit thus the snair
The halie preichour weill may signifie,
Exhortand folk to walk and ay bewair
Fra nettis of our wickit enemie
Quha sleipis not bot ever is reddie
Quhen wretchis in this warld calf dois scraip
To draw his net that thay may not eschaip.

Allace, quhat cair, quhat weiping is and wo,
Quhen saull and bodie partit ar in twane:
The bodie to the wormis keitching go;
The saull to fyre, to everlestand pane.
Quhat helpis than this calf, thir gudis vane,
Quhen thow art put in Luceferis bag
And brocht to hell and hangit be the crag?

Thir hid nettis for to persave and se,
This sarie calf wyislie to understand,
Best is bewar in maist prosperitie
For in this warld thair is na thing lestand.
Is na man wait how lang his stait will stand,
His lyfe will lest, nor how that he sall end
Efter his deith nor quhidder he sall wend.

Pray we thairfoir quhill we ar in this lyfe
For four thingis: the first, fra sin remufe,
The secund is to seis all weir and stryfe,
The thrid is perfite cheritie and lufe,
The feird thing is and maist for our behufe
That is in blis with angellis to be fallow,
And thus endis the Preiching of the Swallow.

Robert Henryson's other poems:
  1. The Wolf and the Lamb
  2. Orpheus and Eurydice
  3. The Ressoning betwix Aige and Yowth
  4. The Bludy Serk
  5. The Abbey Walk

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