Elf.Ed. Note: Click on the footnote number or “Notes” and it will take you down to that note, click on that footnote number and you will jump up to where you were in the text.
From Legends and Satires From Mediæval Literature, edited by Martha Hale Shackford; Ginn and Company; Boston; 1913; pp. 134-138.
On earth there is a little thing
That reigns as does the richest king,
In this and every land;
Sir Penny is his name, we’re told,
He compels both young and old
To bow unto his hand.
Popes and kings and emperors.
Bishops, abbots, too, and priors.
Parson, priest, and knight,
Barons, earls and dukes, also,
Gladly in his service go,
Both by day and night.
Sir Penny changes a man’s mood
And makes him, often, don his hood
And rise and stand again.
Men honor him with reverence
And give utmost obedience
Unto that little swain.
In the king’s court it is no gain
Against Sir Penny to complain,
So great is he in might;
He is so witty and so strong
That be a matter ever so wrong
He will make it right
With Penny women may be won
By those men they once did shun,
As often may be seen;
Long with him they will not chide,
For he can help them trail aside,
In good scarlet and green.
He may buy both heaven and hell
And everything there is to sell,
Such grace he has on earth.
He may loose and he may bind;
The poor are ever put behind,
When he comes to a place.
When he begins to take control,
He makes meek the cruel soul
And weak who bold has been;
All men’s needs are quickly sped,
Without pledge or bail to dread,
Where he is go-between.
The justices he makes so blind
They are unable right to find
Or even truth to see;
To give judgment they are loath,
If it should make Sir Penny wroth,
For dear to them is he.
Where strife was, Penny soon makes peace;
From anger he will bring release,
As long as men will spend;
Of foes he makes friends most true,
His counsel they will never rue
Who have him for friend.
That lord is set above us all
And richly served within the hall
At the festal board;
The more he gives men plenteously,
The more beloved always is he,
And, by a host, adored.
He makes many be forsworn
Who in body and soul are made forlorn
By following after him.
Other god they will not have,
Except that little and round knave,
To end their sorrows grim.
On him alone they set their hearts,
And no man from his love departs,
Neither for good nor ill.
All that he will on earth have done
Is granted soon by everyone
According to his will.
Penny is a good fellow;
Men greet him n deed and word, also,
Whenever he comes near;
He is not welcomed as a guest,
But always served with what is best,
A soft seat and good cheer.
Whoever falls in any need,
With Penny’s help will win good speed,
Whatever may betide;
He that is Penny’s friend, withal,
Shall have his will in steed and stall
When others are set aside.
Sir Penny gives men richest weeds,
And many men may ride his steeds
In this world so wide.
In every game and every play
The mastery is given aye
To Penny for his pride.
Sir Penny always wins the prize
Wherever towers and castles rise
By town or country way;
Without either spear or shield
He is the best in wood or field,
Most stalwart in the fray.
In every place this truth is seen,
Sir Penny rules both great and mean;
Most masterful is he;
And all is as he does command;
Against his will no man dare stand,
Neither on land or sea.
Sir Penny’s counsel gives great aid
To those who have his law obeyed,
As the assizes show.
He lengthens life and saves from death,
But love him not o’er well, God saith,
For covetousness is woe.
If thou shouldst chance treasure to win,
Delight thee not too much therein,
Nor proud nor haughty be;
But spend all as a Christian can,
So that thou mayst love God and man
In perfect charity.
God grant us grace, with heart and will,
The goods that he is giving, still
Well and wisely to spend;
And our lives here so to lead,
That we may have His bliss for meed,
Ever without an end.
1 See Notes.
This satire was evidently a popular one in the Middle Ages; it is found in various forms in Latin, in French, and in English. The following translation is made from a version, probably of about 1350, printed in Thomas Wright’s “Latin Poems attributed to Walter Mapes,” Camden Society, Vol. XVI, pp. 359-361. The poem is written in the six-line, tail-rime stanza of “Sir Thopas,” and the translation seeks to preserve the cadences, movement, and structure of the original. It is interesting in connection with “Piers Plowman” and “The Pardoner’s Tale,” for it shows the great superiority of those satires, in imaginative appeal. The generalizations here are faithful, but they lack point and effectiveness because they do not drive home specific instances about individuals. We have a personal interest in Lady Meed and in the Pardoner, but we care little about classes and types.