2. Plaint

 

Why do you hide the searching light of your eyes

from me? Or let your gaze pass over me?

 

I see everything, at once -- everything around me

on this earth -- flowing past like a river of air.

 

But of you I see nothing --

 

and all these other things I see are not enough

to satisfy me.

 

The clouds drift serenely across the sky.

And not a day goes by that you aren't gone from me.

 

So I pray, at all hours, that the wheel of the sun

will hasten through the days until I see you again.

 

Holy sister,

I look to you -- all your friends do --

for assurance that your countenance

will always shine on those embraced by your love.


3. On Agnes' Birthday

 

Bounteous, comely Mother Radegunde:

Praise Him! today I will rejoice gladly!

 

Sweet daughter, Agnes:

Praise Him! today is your birthday!

 

Agnes, you were not born from a womb,

but by grace; you were not born of flesh,

but by Christ, who gave you to us with love.

 

He will be with you in eternity;

there you will see your Begetter;

you who are His constant child,

given to us by the eternal Father.

 

A happy long life to you, a perfect life,

for all time; you, like our mother

Radegunde, will never fall into death's hands.

 

This is a festive day, it honors also Radegunde;

for you, Agnes, are the lamb

most devoted among all her flock.

 

Praise in full to you both!

 

Your devout community celebrates your years too;

they pay respect to your heavenly vows,

they are a virginal chorus

governed by your holy teachings.

You distribute to these sisters the riches of eternal life.

 

May you both enjoy good health, for many years,

and then, later, in eternity itself,

you will become one with the Light of Love!


4. Good Wine

 

Your devotion, your holy love, bring you what you ask

through prayer. But listen to me, you who are so generous to others;

we have something to say to you!

 

Fortunatus will strike up a tune, and Agnes will sing the verses:

 

"When you are not well, drink some good wine,

because the Lord, whom you love,

will look with favor on whatever you do."

 

(We both plead, high-born mother,

that this demand not offend you,

and that you pardon us for our boldness.)

 

"Drink wine! Not for its taste on your tongue,

but because it is excellent indeed for your digestion.

Remember that Paul, trumpet to the pagans,

commanded Timothy: take a little wine for your stomach!"

 


 

5. To Agnes, After Sleepless Nights

 

Our sweet lady, Christ's most holy virgin,

Agnes -- from whom immaculate merit flows --

 

does it please you to stretch out the length of the days

that you withhold your generous nature from me?

 

Nor give me, my lady, the music of your voice?

Or the sound of the words you repeat in prayer,

those words that sustain you?

 

(And you've asked me to fast!

You cause me an even greater hunger!)

 

I take your teachings to heart, you know;

they touch my eyes like rays, even in my restless sleep.

Do I not wait for you to come, at night?

 

Don't you think these long quiet hours are enough

to suffer? Won't the approaching day

simply hold, for me, the same ennui as night?

 

Slow clouds pass over. Neither moon nor stars

can be seen.

But if you are happy,

the clouds will also fall away from my spirit.

 

You urge me to write; your honest praise

will honor these words. With you to help me,

I will be led home beneath the dome of heaven.


6. Poisonous Gossip

 

My honorable lady, sister in friendliest love,

whom I honor in piety and faith,

with heart and soul,

with heavenly goodwill --

 

I swear: I do not love Agnes sinfully!

Not with the flesh, but with yearning of the soul.

 

As Christ is my witness, Peter and Paul at His side,

Holy Mary and her companions looking on,

she was never other to my sight or soul

than my sister

(as my sister by birth, Titiana, has been),

 

as if our mother Radegunde had delivered

us both, had borne us in her chaste womb,

as if her dear breasts had blessed us both

with one stream of her milk.

 

How I groan over my sins, how faint whispers

of poisonous gossip trouble my heart!

 

But still my spirit vows to live as you do,

as you wish me to,

in the pure love that shines from your face.


 

7. My Certain Peace

 

You are a dear lady! Your words are those

of a beloved sister, When I am away from you,

am I absent from your heart, or do you still speak

of me with love?

 

When my anxious mind is cut off from you,

that is when I need your voice, your soft voice,

the voice that speaks your holy vows.

 

I pray, dear sister, mother of holy kindness

-- who chooses, at great cost,

to be a servant to the least of us --

that you and I will live together (fittingly of course)

in eternity, among the tribe of Christ,

where we will ever give thanks for our deliverance.

 

In this life, and in the life to come,

the one salvation will protect and guide us every day.

 

I long for this:

that your time on earth will long be preserved,

for you, my lady, my sister,

you are my certain peace.


8. A Thank-You Note

 

By our vows we gain the happiest destiny,

by our pure prayers we receive gifts.

 

The food and drink sent by my sister make me happy.

You satisfy me with feasts -- you make me more pious!

 

How beautifully you have matched each shimmering

dish to the others, refreshing my soul,

filling me with food. Feasts are for the body,

while love feeds the soul;

whenever we need more, there! good food appears.

 

I pray the Almighty will hear your humble prayers,

and forever fill your mouth, too, with good fare.

 

These present days are so tedious -- but you will arrive

soon, like the Spring; may God keep you

in that melodious choir that sings before Him.


9.

 

I know you worry; you always urge me

toward piety -- and you also give me,

every week, the warm tribute of a feast like this,

 

today, for instance, a splendid dinner,

the delightful gift of food with which you fill me --

not for the first time, of course, but now

the third, even the fourth?

 

These feasts have the power

to nourish me with their aromas alone.

 

But your one messenger doesn't seem enough

to keep sending on these generous errands:

his feet will be sore, going back and forth

so often. He climbs the highest hills,

delivering every delicacy of earth and sea,

wrapped in his pack. Then he arranges the feast --

like a little garden -- in my room.

 

I am wholly gluttinous.

I long for these feasts more than anything:

these mountains, these gardens of food

for my insatiable belly!

 

I do learn from you:

now I am no longer lonely.

 

Your gifts overwhelm me.

You conquer heaven.

You fly higher than the stars.


10. Black Jar, White Cup

 

So much food is brought to me,

served all at once; at first I welcome it --

probably an honest mistake! --

meats, vegetables, filling the silver bowls.

 

I swear, the greens float in a fat sauce

like twigs in the sea-foam;

these dishes seem like an entire garden!

 

A glass platter is passed around,

with plump chickens, their wings trussed up;

how heavy they are!

 

Many artistic chefs have decorated

baskets of fruit, tempting, gorging me

with their odors.

 

From a black jar I pour milk into a white cup.

 

All this pleases me splendidly, my mother,

my Queen. I am your servant.

We are joined in the godly love

of which the Holy Spirit speaks.


11. At A Banquet, With Flowers

 

Look at all these blessed pleasures,

my table-mate! Sauced with good smells,

before we even eat one dish,

 

by gentle, pleasant bouqets of red roses --

the meadows have been emptied for our table!

Milk-white and purple lilies,

nodding on their stems, filling

the hall with their refreshing scent.

 

The falling buds cover the table

beneath our dishes; is our usual tablecloth

hidden under these petals?

Our table pleases us even more,

without its cloth; all the varied dishes

made tastier by the flowers' spices.

 

The walls shine with hanging greenery;

the roses, crushed beneath our heels,

glow red on the floor.

I feel

as if meadows had bloomed brightly here,

with these soft flowers.

 

Fugitive pleasures fade and die

too soon. But the feasts of Paradise

call us to You.

 

The skillful hands of our sister weave a shining web.

The great worthiness of our mother deserves all honor.

 


12. Sinner That I Am

 

I confess --I can't believe the gifts you give me

are really mine; I feel that the things that come from you

are in fact still yours.

 

You spread kindness over all

when you supply this nourishment, which flows

from your mouth sweet as honey.

 

And the plentiful meats! they, too, are brought

to me by your favor. You give out

living food to my mouth,

straight from your generous heart.

 

I like to think of it as love's kindness to me.

 

Now you appeal, reverently,

to Christ's chorus on my behalf;

and you never burden me with my faults,

sinner though I am.


13. A Basket of Chestnuts

 

Believe me, best friends!

I wove this wicker basket

with my own hands, for you,

mother, beloved sister.

 

These wild country fruits

are for you, these fresh chestnuts,

which the tree dropped

as gifts to the green grass.

 


14. To Agnes, For Butter

 

I saw your gentle fingers, marking your gifts

from the dairy, your fingerprints

on the block of butter --

 

tell me, who taught you to sculpt in this style?

Was Daedalus your master in these wholesome arts?

 

My adored, I see you before me --

though the mold that shaped your form is gone --

but a faded hope. Your image

has melted into these thin wrappings,

nothing remains of you.

 

I hope you keep making these gifts for me,

for all the years the Lord will give you,

and our mother, too;

may you rest for a long time in the Light.


15. On Milk

 

Oh, what delicious things you send me,

mother and sister! This rich, soothing milk

I accept; what a tribute you pay me!

 

The Apostle Paul taught this very doctrine:

When the spirit is ill, give it milk!

 

You ease my mind of its disquiet.

You bring me closer to God's eternal care.


16. Helpless

 

I admit, I can't do anything today.

I'm too tired even to make breakfast.

 

If it were possible to please you,

then my life would have some merit;

nothing would be able to hide your face from me.

 

If only I could hide my helplessness

from you, with some magician's art.

 

Who else but you would send me wonderful

leftovers from one of your feasts? The delicacies

of your faithful voice are spoken just for me.

 

In your absence, I am torn between

fasting and feasting; but without you here

food alone cannot fully satisfy me.

I long for even better meals --

 

like those we've had before,

when you talked with me, filling my soul

with charming words

(unlike the rough words

of my doctor, which wound me;

skillfully false and beguiling --

he thinks I ought to diet!).

 

Since whatever the sea or earth provides

can never satisfy me, you at least

trust me to satisfy myself -- you not only

pay me this favor, you provide me with a duty.

 

Just another of your generous acts,

that will never burden me!


17. An Affectionate Verse

 

This small tribute of love I have composed

by myself, especially for you,

ladies. I ask that you accept it generously.

 

Yes, it may seem a meager and silly creation,

just a little thing I dashed off for you,

but my verse springs from affection.

 

Judge this carefully, if it is good

or not, as loving friends do;

for great grace can be found in small gifts.


 

18. Black Plums

 

I am sending with this some fruit --

called black plums --

and I beg you not to despise them.

 

They are what the forest gave me.

The worthy trees, in their manner,

produce this fruit, and the most gracious God

gives them to us for our pleasure.

 

Don't be afraid to taste them.

They are from the high shaded branches,

not soiled with dirt like mushrooms.

A good tree has given us this bounty.

 

You don't think I would be cruel,

and give my dear mother something

disagreeable? Don't hesitate.

Take these pure fruits in your mouth.


19. More Rich Milk

 

Among all these dishes, you still ask me to fast?

 

My soul does brighten with all the things set before me,

all these foods my doctor orders me not to touch;

his hand wiould keep from me what my cravings demand!

 

Among everything else, this rich milk,

with which you surpass the favor of a King.

 

Now, sister, pious mother,

rejoice for the joyous table we keep!

 


20. Eggs and Plums

 

One of you gives me delightful treats,

from the other I receive delicious fruits:

one sends eggs, from the other I get plums.

 

White gifts, black gifts, two presents for me.

 

How can my stomach stay calm

with all this rich food? Two eggs

were allowed me, but to tell the truth,

I've tipped down four of them.

 

If only I deserved all the things that refresh

my very being day by day.

 

At your command: I make these verses!


21. An Excuse

 

If the blowing rain had not prevented me,

your dear friend would have visited you,

without your even expecting me!

 

I do not wish to stay away for even an hour:

when the sky lightens, your lover will appear!


 

22. Chat

 

Through the work of piety, which can rule stars,

the piety by which a mother shows her love,

the piety for which is brother is eager --

 

ah, let's fall to our meal, we'll chat about everything.

If that contents you, too, then I'm doubly satisfied.


 

22a. Fat

 

My belly is already swollen with varied dishes;

I've eaten them all -- milk, greens, eggs, butter --

and now another feast is being prepared,

more platters are being set out,

arranged in front of me with even more choices,

all of them pleasant . . . .

 

The servants bring milk, and then butter,

more and more of this sort of food:

here they just say Fat!


23. The Drunken Muse

 

After many delectable dishes, among an array of scents,

I was drowsing, no longer eating --

 

my mouth slack, my eyes falling shut open shut,

just chewing away, idly following many fantasies --

 

let me tell you, my dears, my wits were befuddled,

and I could not easily put together my words.

 

My fingers were powerless, my pen unable to form verses.

A drunken Muse was guiding my unsteady hand.

 

To me, and the others here, drinking good wine together,

the table itself seemed to be afloat!

 

Yet, as best I can, my mother, my sister,

I am trying to write some little song to send you.

 

Sleep is trapping me in its many snares;

my hesitating hand drags, trying to write of love.


23a.

 

Flattering teacher, your words revive and feed me;

they satisfy me with many charming jokes.


24. A Small Offering

 

If you haven't done what I asked you to do,

then I would ask you again, on my knees --

accept my verses with joy!

 

Do not spurn my little poems;

my vows make them necessary.

 

As has been said, even in the smallest offering

great love can be discerned.


25. My Perilous Journey

 

All men change, as they live through innumerable events;

life goes forward with uncertain steps;

our minds are confused, anxious about the future,

we don't know what the daylight will bring.

 

When I left you, your friend Eomundus

first welcomed me with his usual kindness.

Next I hurried downstream to the abbey at Caricum;

from there I went on again to Tincillac,

where the bold Domitianus soon carried me off

to the joyous feast of Saint Albinus.

 

Leaving again, I was driven by wave and rainstorm

in a little boat, through many perils,

as the fierce North Wind churned up the river,

and the cresting billows curled dangerously.

The riverbanks could not hold the roaring waters,

and they poured out over the new-plowed fields.

Pastureland, countryside, groves, cornfields, trees

and willow thickets, all pillaged by an angry mob.

 

Pity me! In the heavy chop, the rushing torrents,

through the blowing terror of wintry blasts,

the stern of the boat rose up, the bow fell in the waves,

on their watery peaks, as on a mountain road;

the boat was suspended in gloom.

 

First the sailor is outlined against the clouds,

then, as the waves drops, he is back at field-level.

As the storm roils the dangerous river,

the prow is swamped by the fast-rising rapids,

water rushes against the keel, foe to any peace.

We are crushed in a threatening grip.

 

I don't have time to tell you here all my complaints.

I will hold them in my heart to tell you later.

May God's special power grant me the happy surety

of seeing you very soon again.


26. A Winter Journey

 

Everywhere the tightening ice, the brittle hoarfrost;

the pliant grassblades are beaten down.

 

The earth lies under an ice-hard shell,

the trees carry soft snow on their highest leaves.

 

Running streams are dammed by ice-crusts,

the thickening river wears a heavy skin,

 

its weight chafing the waters, the currents frozen.

In the middle of the river a crystal iceberg floats:

 

We do not want to go under -- or over!

 

The rough swollen river roars like the North Wind:

who can find passage through this battling water?

 

But now, if the warm wind were to rise,

which at Creation was sent over the waters,

 

and if you called on the Almighty with fervent prayers,

then you would grant me, as I know you wish,

 

good fortune -- and for you I will prepare my soul,

and obey. I would do anything to please you!


Venantius Fortunatus Latin Originals