The Cherry Tree and Nativity (GT)

Lord, what travail to man is wrought!1
Rest in this world behoves him none!
Octavian, our Emperor, sadly hath besought
Our tribute him to bear — folk must forth, each one,
It is cried in every borough and city by name.
I that am a poor timber-wright,
Born of the blood of David,7
The Emperor’s commandment I must hold with,
And else I were to blame.
Now, my wife, Mary, what say ye to this?10
For surely, needs I must forth wend
Unto the city of Bethlehem far hence, iwys,
Thus to labour I must my body bend.
My husband and my spouse, with you will I wend,14
A sight of that city fain would I see.
If I might of my kindred any there find,
It would be great joy onto me.
My spouse, ye be with child — I fear you to carry,
For me seemeth it were works wild,
But you to please right fain would I.
Yet women be quick to grieve when they be with child.
Now let us forth wend as fast as we may,22
And almighty God speed us in our journey.

They set out and see a tree on a hill

Ah, my sweet husband, would ye tell to me24
What tree is yon standing upon yon hill?
Forsooth, Mary, it is called a cherry tree.26
In time of year, ye might feed you thereon your fill.
Turn again, husband, and Behold yon tree,28
How that it bloometh now so sweetly!
Come on, Mary, that we were at yon city,30
Or else we may be blamed, I tell you lightly.
Now, my spouse, I pray you to behold32
How the cherries grow upon yon tree,
For to have thereof right fain I would!
And it pleased you to labour so much for me.
Your desire to fulfill I shall assay, surely. He tries to pick the fruit
Ow! To pluck you of these cherries — it is a work wild
For the tree is so high, it will not be lightly!
Therefore, let him pluck you cherries who got you with child.
Now, good Lord I pray thee, grant me this boon,40
To have of these cherries if it be your will.
Now I thank it, God — this tree bows to me down!

The tree bows down

I may now gather enow and eat my fill.
Ow! I know well I have offended my God in Trinity,44
Speaking to my spouse these unkind words,
For now I believe well it may none other be
But that my spouse bears the King’s Son of bliss!
He help us now at our need.
Of the kindred of Jesse, worthily were ye bore:
Kings and patriarchs go before.50
All these worthy of your kindred wore,
As clerks in story read.
Now, graMercy, husband, for your report.53
In our ways wisely let us forth wend.
The Father Almighty, he be our comfort;
The Holy Ghost glorious, he be our friend.

They arrive in Bethlehem, which is bustling and busy. Joseph speaks to a passing Citizen

Hail, worshipful sire, and good day!57
A Citizen of this city ye seem to be.
Of harbour for spouse and me, I you pray,
For truly, this woman is full weary
And fain at rest, sir, would she be.
We would fulfill the bidding of our emperor
For to pay tribute as right is our,63
And to keep ourselves from dolour,
We are come to this city.
Citizen 1
Sir, hostels in this town know I none66
Thy wife and thou, in for to sleep.
This city is beset with people every way,
So that they lie without and fill each street.
Within no wall man comest thou not.70
Be thou once within the city gate,
Scarce in the street a place may be sought
Thereon to rest, without debate.
Nay, sir, debate that will I not!74
All such things pass my power,
But yet my care and all my thought
Is for Mary, my darling dear.
Ah, sweet wife, what shall we do?78
Where shall we lodge this night?
Unto the Father of Heaven pray we so,
Us to keep from every wicked wight.
Citizen 2
Good man, one word I will thee say —82
If thou wilt do by the counsel of me,
Yonder is a stable that stands by the way.
Among the beasts harboured may ye be.
Now, the Father of Heaven, he must you yield!86
His son in my womb, forsooth he is.
He keep thee and thy good by farm and field.
Go we hence, husband, for now time it is.
But hark now, good husband, a new relation90
Which in myself I know right well:
Christ, in me, hath taken incarnation —
Soon will be born the Truth I feel.
In this poor lodging my chamber I take,94
Here for to abide the blessed birth
Of him that all this world did make.
Between my sides I feel he stirs!
God be thy help, spouse, it seems me sore,98
Thus feebly lodged and in so poor degree —
God’s son among beasts for to be bore,
His wonderful works fulfilled must be.
In an house that is desolate, withouten any wall102
Fire nor wood none here is.
Joseph, my husband, abide here I shall,104
For here will be born the King’s Son of Bliss.
Now, gentle wife, be of good mirth,106
And if ye will aught have, tell me what ye think.
I shall not spare for plenty nor dirth.
Now tell me your wish of meat and drink.
For meat and drink wish I right nought:110
Almighty God my food shall be.
Now that I am in chamber brought,
I hope right well my child to see.
Therefore, husband, of your honesty,
Avoid you hence out of this place,
And I alone with humility116
Here shall abide God’s high grace.
All ready, wife, you for to please.118
I will go hence out of your way
And seek some midwives, you for to ease
When that ye travail of child this day.
Farewell, true wife and also clean maid,
God be your comfort in Trinity.
To God in Heaven for you I pray —124
He you preserve whereso ye be.

While Joseph is away, Jesus is born

Now God of whom cometh all relief,126
And as all grace in thee is grounded,
So save my wife from hurt and grief
Till I some midwives for her have found.
Travailing women in care be bound
In throes of grief when they do groan!
God help my wife that she not swoon —132
I am full sorry she is alone.
It is not convenient a man to be —134
When women are travailing!
Wherefore some midwife fain would I see,
My wife to help that is so young.>
Why makes thou, man, such moaning?138
Tell me something of your great moan.
My wife is now in great grief,140
Travailing with child and is alone.
For God’s love that sits in throne,
As ye midwives that know your craft
Help my young spouse in haste anon!
I dread me sore for that fair dame.
Be of good cheer and of glad mood —146
We two midwives with thee will go.
There was never woman in such plight stood
But we were ready her help to do.
My name is Salome — all men me know150
For a midwife of worthy fame.
When women travail, grace doth grow.
Therefore I come, I had never shame.
And I am Zelomy — men know my name.154
We two with thee will go together
And help thy wife fro hurt and grame.
Come forth, Joseph, go we straight thither.
I thank you, dames — ye comfort my life.158
Straight to my spouse walk we the way
In this poor lodge lies Mary, my wife,
Her for to comfort, good friends assay.

They arrive at the stable and are blinded by the light of the star.

We dare not enter this lodging, in fay!162
There is therein so great brightness —
Moon by night nor sun by day
Shone never so clear in their lightness!
Into this house dare I not go!166
The wonderful light doth me affray!
Then will myself go in alone168
And cheer my wife, if that I may.
All hail, maiden and wife, I say!
How dost thou fare? Tell me thy cheer.
Thee for to comfort in pain this day.
Two good midwives I have brought here,
Thee for to help that art in hard bonds —174
Zelomy and Salome be come with me.
For doubt of dread without they do stand
And dare not come in for the light that they see.

Mary laughs, saying:

The mighty of the Godhead in his majesty178
Will not be hid now at this while.
The child that is born will prove his mother free,
A very clean maid, and therefore I smile.
Why do ye laugh, wife? Ye be to blame!182
I pray you, spouse, do no more so!
Perchance the midwives will take it amiss
And at your need help will not do.
If ye have need of midwives, lo,
Peradventure they will go hence!
Therefore be sombre if ye may so,188
And win all the midwives’ good diligence.
Husband, I pray you — displease you not.190
Though that I laugh and great joy have.
Here is the child this word hath wrought,
Born now of me that all-thing shall save.
I ask you grace, for I did rave.194
O gracious child, I ask Mercy —
As thou art Lord and I but knave
Forgive me now my great folly!
Alas, midwives, what have I said?198
I pray you, come to us more near,
For here I find my wife a maid
And in her arms a child hath here!
Both maid and mother, withouten peer!
That God will have may nevermore fail:
Mother on earth was never none clear204
Without she had in birth travail.
In birth, travail must she needs have206
Or else no child of her is born!
I pray you, dame, and ye vouchsafe —208
Come see the child, my wife before.
Great God be in this place!210
Sweet sister, how fare ye?
I thank the Father of his high grace.212
His own son and my child here ye may see.
All hail, Mary and right good morn!214
Who was midwife of this fair child?
He that nothing will have forlorn216
Sent me this babe, and I maid mild.
With hand let me now touch and feel218
If ye have need of medicine.
I shall you comfort and help right well
As other women, if ye have pain.
Of this fair birth that here is mine222
Pain nor grief feel I right none.
I am clean maid and pure virgin:
Test with your hand yourself alone. Zelomy feels Mary
O mighty God, have Mercy on me!226
A marvel that never was heard before!
Here openly I feel and see:
A fair child of a maiden is born
And needeth no washing as others do,230
Full clean and pure forsooth is he,
Withouten spot or any pollution,
This mother, not hurt of virginity.
Come near, good sister Salome:234
Behold the breasts of this clean maid,
Full of fair milk, how that they be.
And her child clean, as I first said —
As other be, naught foul arrayed —
But clean and pure, Both mother and child!
Of this matter I am dismayed240
To see them both thus undefiled!
It is not true! It may never be242
That both be clean! I cannot believe —
A maid milk have! Never man did see
No woman bear child without great grief!
I shall never trow it, but I it prove
With hand touching, but I assay.
In my conscience it may never cleave248
That she hath child and is a maid.
You for to put clean out of doubt,250
Touch with your hand and well assay:
Wisely ransack and try the Truth out
Whether I be fouled or a clean maid.

Salome touches Mary and her hand is withered. She cries out

Alas, alas, and welaway,254
For my great doubt and false belief!
My hand is dead and dry as clay!
My false mistrust hath wrought mischief!
Alas, the time that I was born258
Thus to offend against God’s might!
My hand’s power is now all lorn —
Stiff as a stick and may not plight,
For I did tempt this maid so bright
And held against her pure cleanness!
In great mischief now am I put.264
Alas, alas for my lewdness!
O Lord of might, thou knowest the Truth,266
That I have ever had dread of thee.
On every poor creature ever I had ruth
And gave them alms for love of thee,
Both wife and widow that asked by thee,
And friendless children that had great need,
I did them cure and all for thee,272
And took no reward of them, nor pay.
Now as a wretch for false belief274
That I shewed in tempting this maid,
My hand is dead and doth me grieve!
Alas, that ever I her assayed!
Woman, thy sorrow to have delayed,278
Worship that child that there is born.
Touch the clothes — where he is laid,
For he shall save all that are lorn.
O glorious child and King of Bliss:282
I ask you Mercy for my trespass.
I acknowledge my sin — I did amiss.
O blessed babe, grant me some grace;
Of you, maid, also here in this place.
I ask Mercy kneeling on knee.
Most holy maid, grant me solace —288
Some word of comfort say now to me.
As God’s angel to you did tell,290
My child is medicine for every sore:
Touch his clothes, by my counsel —
your hand full soon he will restore.

Salome touches Jesus’ robe and Salome is cured

Ah, now blessed be this child evermore!294
The Son of God, forsooth he is,
Hath healed my hand that was forlorn
Through false belief and deeming amiss.
In every place I shall tell this:298
Of a clean maid that God is born,
And in our likeness God now clad is,
Mankind to save that was forlorn —
His mother, a maid as she was before,
Not foul, polluted as other women be,
But fair and fresh as rose on thorn,304
Lily-white, clean with pure virginity.
Of this blessed babe my leave now do I take306
And also of you, high mother of bliss.
Of this great miracle more knowledge to make,
I shall go tell it in each place, iwys.
Farewell, good dame, and God be your guide;310
In all your journey, God be your speed,
And of his high Mercy that Lord so you Bliss
That ye never offend more in word, thought, nor deed.
And I also do take my leave here314
Of all this blessed good company,
Praying your grace both far and near
On us to speed your endless Mercy.
The blessing of that Lord that is most mighty318
Must spread on you in every place,
Of all your enemies to have the victory,
God that best may grant you his grace.

2020 Dec 13  20:52:35