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HOW AND IN WHAT TIME I CAME TO SOLITARY LIFE: AND OF THE SONG OF LOVE: AND OF CHANGING OF PLACE
When I was prospering unhappily, and to youth of wakeful age had now come, the grace of my Maker was near, the which restrained the lust for temporal shape and turned it into unbodily halsing to be desired; and lifting my soul from low things has borne it to heaven, so that I might truly burn in desire for the everlasting mirth, more than ever I was gladdened before by any fleshly company, or else by worldly softness.
If I will truly show this process it behoves me preach solitary life. The spirit forsooth has set my mind on fire to have and to love this, the which henceforth to lead according to the measure of my sickness I have taken care. Nevertheless I have dwelt among them that have flourished in the world, and have taken food from them. Flatterings also, that ofttimes might draw worthy fighters from high things to low, I have heard. But these out-casting for the sake of one, my soul was taken up to the love of my Maker; and desiring to be endlessly delighted with sweetness, I gave my soul up so that in devotion she should love Christ. The which she has forsooth received of her Beloved so that now loneliness appears most sweet to her, and all solace in which the error of man abounds she counts for nought.
I was wont forsooth to seek rest, although I went from place to place. For it is not ill for hermits to leave cells for a reasonable cause, and afterwards, if it accord, to turn again to the same. Truly some of the holy Fathers have done thus, although they have therefore suffered the murmuring of men; nevertheless not of the good. The evil truly speak ill; and if they had abode right there they would also have done that, for it is customary to them. If the covering of a privy is put by, nothing but stink flies out; and ill speaking is spoken out of the heart’s plenty, in which the venom of adders lurks.
This have I known, that the more men have raved against me with words of backbiting, so mickle the more I have grown in ghostly profit. Forsooth the worst backbiters I have had are those which I trusted before as faithful friends. Yet I ceased not for their words from those things that were profitable to my soul; truly I used more study, and ever I found God favorable. I called to mind what is written: Maledicent illi, et tu benedices, that is to say: ‘They shall curse him, and thou shalt bless.’
And in process of time great profit in ghostly joy was given me. Forsooth three years, except three or four months, were run from the beginning of the change in my life, and of my mind, to the opening of the heavenly door; so that, the Face being shown, the eyes of the heart might behold and see by what way they might seek my Love, and unto Him continually desire. The door forsooth yet biding open, nearly a year passed until the time in which the heat of everlasting love was verily felt in my heart.
I was sitting forsooth in a chapel, and whiles I was mickle delighted with sweetness of prayer or meditation, suddenly I felt within me a merry and unknown heat. But first I wavered, for a long time doubting what it could be. I was expert that it was not from a creature but from my Maker, because I found it grow hotter and more glad.
Truly in this unhoped for, sensible and sweet-smelling heat, half a year, three months and some weeks have out run, until the inshedding and receiving of this heavenly and ghostly sound; the which belongs to the songs of everlasting praise and the sweetness of unseen melody; because it may not be known or heard but of him that receives it, whom it behoves to be clean and departed from the earth.
Whiles truly I sat in this same chapel, and in the night before supper, as I could, I sang psalms, I beheld above me the noise as it were of readers, or rather singers. Whiles also I took heed praying to heaven with my whole desire, suddenly, I wot not in what manner, I felt in me the noise of song, and received the most liking heavenly melody which dwelt with me in my mind. For my thought was forsooth changed to continual song of mirth, and I had as it were praises in my meditation, and in my prayers and psalm saying I uttered the same sound, and henceforth, for plenteousness of inward sweetness, I burst out singing what before I said, but forsooth privily, because alone before my Maker. I was not known by them that saw me as, peradventure, if they had known me, they would have honoured me above measure, and so I should have lost part of the most fair flower, and should have fallen into desolation.
In the meanwhile wonder caught me that I should be taken up to so great mirth whiles I was in exile; and because God gave gifts to me that I knew not to ask, nor trowed I that any man, not the holiest, could have received any such thing in this life. Therefore I trow this is given to none meedfully, but freely to whom Christ will; nevertheless I trow no man receives it unless he specially love the Name of Jesu, and in so mickle honours It that he never lets it pass from his mind except in sleep. I trow that he to whom it is given to do that, may fulfill the same.
Wherefore from the beginning of my changed soul unto the high degree of Christ’s love, the which, God granting, I was able to attain—in which degree I might sing God’s praises with joyful song—I was four years and about three months. Here forsooth, with the first disposition of love gathered into this degree, she bides to the very end; and also after death she shall be more perfect: because here the joy of love or burning of charity is begun, and in the heavenly kingdom it shall receive its most glorious ending. And forsooth she profits not a little, set in these degrees in this life, but she ascends not into another degree; but, as it were confirmed in grace, as far as mortal man can, she rests.
Wherefore without ceasing I desire to give grace and praise to God, the which both in diseases, heaviness, and persecution gives me solace; and in prosperity and flatterings makes me with sickerness await an endless crown. Therefore, in Jesu joying, I continually yield praise; the which has vouchsafed me, least and wretched, to mingle with sweet ministers, from whom songs of melody, yet heavenly, spring forth through the Spirit.
Continually with joy shall I give thanks because He has made my soul in clearness of conscience like to singers clearly burning in endless love; and whiles she loves and seethes in burning, the changed mind, resting and being warmed by heat, and greatly enlarged by desire and the true beauty of lovely virtue, blossoms without vice or strife in the sight of our Maker; and thus beating praise within herself, gladdens the longer with merry song and refreshes labours.
Many and great are these marvellous gifts, but among the gifts of this way none are such as those which full dearly in figure confirm the shapeliness of the unseen life in the loving soul; or which so sweetly comfort the sitter, and being comforted, ravish him to the height of contemplation and the accord of the angels praise.
Behold, brethren, I have told you how I came to the burning of love, not that ye should praise me, but that ye should glorify my God, of whom I received ilk good deed that I had; and that ye, thinking that all things under the sun are vanity, may be stirred to follow, not to backbite.
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