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Winner and Waster
London, British Library, Additional MS 31042


Here begins a treatise and a good short debate between Winner and Waster.

After Britain was founded, and Brutus won it
Through the taking of Troy by treason within
Marvels have been seen in many kings' times,
But never so much as now, by nine times at least.
5 For we have to cope now with cunning and guile,
Sly and crafty speech, each word concealing others.
No westerner will risk, while this world lasts,
Sending his son southwards to see or to hear,
Lest he should be left behind when his hair is grey.
10 And so there was a saying of Solomon the wise,
Which will soon come to pass, I expect nothing else:
'When waves grow wilder, and walls tumble down,
And hares crouch on hearth-stones, making their forms,
And men of low birth, with boasting and pride
15 Marry noble ladies, and lord it over their wives,
The dreadful day of judgement begins to draw near.'
But whoever sees clearly and speaks the truth
May say that it will not be long, and is nearly here.
Once there were lords in the land who loved in their hearts
20 To hear entertainers who had tales to tell;
But now there is no shared friendship, but faintness of heart,
Wise words unspoken that were never expressed
Or read in any romance that any man heard.
But now a mere boy whose beard has not grown,
25 Without the wit to string together words in a line,
If he can chatter like a jay and tell a few jokes,
Will be listened to and praised, and applauded in time
Much more than the writer whose works are his own.
But the test of time will tell in the end,
30 And the work bear witness to which one is best.
But I shall tell you a tale of a time in my past
When I went through the West, wandering on my own.
The sun was bright by the bank of a stream,
Under a fine wood by a flourishing meadow
35 Many flowers unfolded where my foot trod.
I laid my head on a mound by a hawthorn tree;
The thrushes sang loudly, thronging together,
Woodpeckers hopped from one hazel to another,
Wild geese with their beaks broke open nuts,
40 The jay chattered above, the birds all chirped,
The brook rushed fiercely between its banks.
Its waters were so rough, and rose so high
That day had turned to dusk before I could doze,
For the roar of the deep water and the racket of the birds.
45 But at last as I lay there my eyelids closed,
And at once as I slept I slipped into a dream.
It seemed I was in the world, but where I did not know,
On an excellent plain of an even green
Encircled by earthworks extending a mile.
50 In the groves were two armies in glittering mail-coats,
Hard hats on their heads, and helmets with crests,
Who raised up their banners, ready to meet;
Rushing out of the forest, they formed up in troops;
All that lay between these lords was the length of a field,
55 And all prayed for peace until the prince came,
As he was more able than any other man
To break up the quarrel, by his advice,
That either side on the field had towards the other.
A pavilion was set at the summit of a cliff,
60 The roof and the sides all arrayed with red,
Adorned with medallions of dazzling gold,
And about each one a deep blue garter,
And every garter glittering with gold.
Then there were coloured words woven in the cloth,
65 Adorned with light blue, with dots in between,
Finely designed with well-formed letters,
And all one motto, with English words,
'Dishonoured be the knight who suspects without cause!'
Now may our Lord keep safe the king of this land!
70 High in the woods one man stood up,
Attired like a Wild Man with tangled locks,
With a helmet on his head, and heraldic device
Over the helmet, an angry beast,
A lithe slim leopard with savage looks,
75 Gracefully designed all in yellow gold.
But the helmet-cover behind the neck
Was finely quartered into four parts:
Two with fleurs-de-lis before and behind,
And two embroidered with gold with English beasts,
80 Three leopards above, and three below too;
At every corner a stud of a splendid pearl,
Tasselled with fine silk fanning out brightly.
And near the pavilion I knew the knight that I saw,
And hoped to see many wonders before I went away.
85 And as I waited inside, I soon became aware
Of a handsome king, with a crown of gold,
Sitting on a silken seat with sceptre in hand,
One of the finest men, to those who admire him,
That anyone under the sun has seen with his own eyes.
90 This king was finely clothed in tunic and cloak,
Trimmed with berry-brown fur, embroidered with birds,
Falcons of fine gold fluttering their wings,
And each one carrying, as it seemed to me,
A deep blue garter, beautifully adorned.
95 That great lord was splendidly girded about
With a brightly-coloured belt embroidered with birds,
With ducks and with drakes, who seemed to be trembling
For fear of the falcons' claws, in case they should be seized.
And still I said to myself, 'I would think it strange
100 If he did not ride sometimes to the river to hawk.'
The king told a man who was standing beside him,
One of the finest knights, who never failed him,
'Remember I dubbed you knight, to deal out blows;
Go quickly on your way to declare my will,
105 Tell those fierce fighters waiting on the field
That they should never come nearer together,
Because if they strike one stroke, they will never stop.'
'Yes, lord,' said the knight, 'while my life lasts.'
He climbed down the slope and stayed for a while
110 To make his preparations as he might best.
He encased his legs in iron up to the thighs,
With breast- and belly-armour blindingly polished,
Arm-pieces of shining steel well linked together,
With plates buckled at the back to protect the body,
115 With a close-fitting tunic joined at the sides,
A broad coat of arms behind, another on the breast,
With three wings on it, worked from the life,
Surrounded with gold thread. When I recognized that man,
Why! he was very young, but the quickest in wit
120 That any man on earth knew of his age.
He broke a branch in his hand and brandished it boldly,
And rode at a brisk trot, taking his way
Where the soldiers of both sides stood in the field.
He said, 'Listen! the king of this land (may the Lord preserve him)
125 Has sent a message by me, as it most pleased him,
That no person should be bold, on pain of both his eyes,
To strike a single stroke, or to stir up others
To raise an army in his realm, royal as it is,
And use your powers openly to disturb his peace.
130 For this is the usage here, and will ever be,
If any knight is so bold as to ride with a banner
Within this noble kingdom, except the king alone,
That he shall lose his land, and his life after that.
But since you do not know this country, or the noble king,
135 He will forgive this transgression, from his grace alone.
I have travelled far and wide through foreign lands,
But have never seen, I tell you, such a sight before,
For here are all the men of France in fighting array,
And of Lorraine and Lombardy, and Lowland Spain,
140 And men from Westphalia, living far from here,
Englishmen and Irish, East Germans as well,
All armed in steel to deal out strokes.
And there is a black banner on the battlefield,
With three white bulls embroidered on the back,
145 And from each one there hangs a hempen cord
With a heavy lead seal, so it seems to me;
The head of Holy Church must be here, I think,
Fiercely prepared to fight, with the people he leads.
A second banner is raised with a band of green,
150 With three white-haired heads wearing hoods,
Skilfully curled and combed to the neck.
These are the men of this land who administer law,
And intend to fight today with many dire strokes.
That man is a fool, I think, who prefers to fight
155 When he can dispute instead, with support from a friend.
The third banner on the field has a background of white,
With six sandals, I see, in sable black,
And each one has a brown strap with two buckles on it;
These are St Francis's men, who say we are all doomed.
160 They are so fierce and bold they fight only seldom.
I know it was for profit they departed from home;
Whoever lured them here must have a heavy purse.
The fourth banner on the field was brandished aloft
With both borders of black, a ball in the middle
165 Shining like the sun in the summer-time
When it has the most strength, on Midsummer's Eve.
That was Dominic, who has come to deal out blows;
His banner is backed by many bold men.
And since the Pope is so prompt to give these preachers help,
170 And Francis with his army is reinforced too,
And they know how to lead the lords of the land,
No man in the world can be matched against them,
Or gain any grace on God's own earth.
And yet the fifth on the field is the finest of all,
175 A bright banner in white, with three boars' heads.
They seemed to be Carmelites, so far as I know,
For they are the men who love to pay homage to our Lady.
To speak the truth, it seems certain to me
That the friars with other fighters will hold the field at last.
180 The sixth banner is of silk (and so are they all),
White as ivory, if it is well described,
With belts of black buckled together,
The ends trimmed neatly and tucked away,
And all of the leather of the hanging straps
185 Shining from the sharpening of the shaving-blade.
The order of Augustinians, so it seemed to me
From the sight of the belts on the banner they raised.
And I saw other signs, set up on high,
Some showing wool, and some wine-barrels,
190 Some of merchants' trademarks, so many and so thick
That I have no idea, not in all the world,
How anyone under the sun could sum them all up.
And firmly on the other side men of arms stand fast,
Bold well-born squires and many bowmen,
195 Who, if they give one stroke, will not think of stopping
Till the contending armies are cut down and killed.
Therefore I ask the leaders who brought the armies here
To prevent any mischief, to come with me now
To our handsome king, who holds this country,
200 And when he determines how the trouble was caused,
Neither one should object to the judgement he makes.'
From either side a man rode out, as it seemed to me,
Both handsome knights, on caparisoned horses,
And said, 'Sir messenger, many respects!'
205 We know the king well; he clothes us both,
And has fed and fostered us for twenty-five years;
You go on before, and we will follow after.'
They raised their bridles and rode on their way,
Alighted at the slope and left their horses,
210 Climbed further up the cliff and fell to their knees.
The king took them by the hands and told them both torise,
And said, 'Welcome, both of you, as servants of our house.'
He glanced to one side and sent for the wine;
His men brought it at once, in bowls of silver.
215 I drank so deeply myself it made me blind drunk---
And if you want to listen to more of this work,
It's time to fill up my wine-cup, for here the fitt ends.

But then the king spoke, and said, 'Tell me your names,
And why such hostility divides your two hearts;

220 If I must judge you today, let me hear the facts.'
Now certainly, lord,' said the first, 'the facts are these:
My name is Winner, and I help the whole world,
For with my wise teaching I can train lords.
Those who can make savings, and keep spending down,
225 Living on little, I like them the better.
Reason goes with me, and guides me well;
When my goods accumulate, it gladdens my heart.
But this false wicked thief who stands before you
Is planning to strike me down and destroy me for ever.
230 All that I win by my wits, he wastes through pride,
I gather, I glean, and he lets it all go,
I pinch and I save, and he opens the purse.
Why does this scoundrel not care how corn is sold?
His lands all lie fallow, his looms are sold,
235 His dove-houses ruined, his fishponds dry.
He has precious little wealth piled up at home,
Only hunger and big houses and eager hounds.
Except for a battle-axe and spear stored in a corner,
A sword at his bed-head, he asks for no more
240 Than a good gelding to gallop to his friends.
Then he will boast often, brandishing his sword,
This accursed, wicked thief who is called Waster,
That he will destroy the land if he can live that long.
And so grant us today, for the love of God in heaven,
245 To fight on with our armies till one of us falls.'
'Yes, Winner,' said Waster, 'your words are proud,
But I shall tell you a tale which will annoy you more.
When you have tossed and turned, disturbing your sleep,
And that of the neighbours who live thereabouts,
250 And have stuffed your wide houses with sackfuls of wool,
The roof-beams bending with bacon flitches,
Silver pennies stuffed into steel-bound chests,
What would happen to that wealth if there were no waste?
Some would rot, some would rust, some would feed the rats.
255 Give up cramming your chests, for the love of Christ in heaven,
Let the people and the poor have part of your silver;
For if you went far and wide, and watched what goes on,
You would weep for pity at the number of the poor.
For if you live longer like that, this you can be sure of,
260 You will be hanged in hell for what you hoard here.
For such a sin you have sold your soul into hell,
Where pain is everlasting, world without end.
'That's enough, Waster,' said the rich Winner,
You're complaining of a grievance; you caused it yourself.
265 You destroy all my goods with your strife and violence,
With feasting and wassailing on winter nights,
With extravagant spending and arrogant pride.
There is no source of wealth flowing through your hands
That is not given and granted before you have got it.
270 You lead men in your retinue most richly dressed;
Some have belts of gold bought for more money
Than all the good free land that you had before.
You do not follow your fathers, who fostered you all,
To gather a good harvest and bring in the grain
275 Before the freezing winter with glittering frosts
And the rainless drought in the dead month.
And you will go to the tavern, where wine-casks are tapped,
And every waiter serves you till you can't see straight,
You order your drinks, and also what you fancy,
280 Wife, widow, or girl, whatever can be got.
Then nothing but 'Fill it up!' and 'Fetch out your money',
'Wey-hey!' and 'Up you get!' and not a word more.
But when you've had your fun, you have to pay the wine-bill;
Then you must take out mortgages or sell off your land---
285 May our Lord damn you for such wicked deeds!
And because God chose the one he loved and left out the other,
Every man should be more willing to work in the fields.
Tell your men to till, and to fence in your fields,
Build houses to lease, clear up your enclosures,
290 Or keep on living as you have, and take the consequences:
That is, first you starve, and then you face hell-fire
To burn you with a single blast for your bad deeds,
Followed by greater cold, so a cleric told me.'
'I tell you, Winner,' said Waster, 'your words are empty;
295 With our feasts and our fine fare we feed the poor.
It gives pleasure to the prince who created Paradise
When Christ's people have a share, and pleases him more
Than if it is heaped up and hidden, and hoarded here in chests
So the sun cannot see it once in seven years,
300 Or the friars collect it when you lie on your death-bed,
To pay for painting their pillars, or plastering their walls.
Your son and your executors dispute with each other,
Distribute it when you are dead, because you never dared,
And never cared for festivals or feasts of any kind.
305 But donations after your death do you no more good
Than a bright lantern late in the night
Held behind your back, if you want to hear the truth.
Now I wish to God that I could bring it about
That you, Winner, you bastard, and your brother Despair,
310 And also fasting-days and the vigils of saints,
The Friday and its friend on the far side,
Were drowned in the deep sea, which would never dry up,
And judged guilty of their sins by a jury of twelve,
And these men on the benches with their lawyers' caps,
315 Known far and wide for professional skills,
As good as Aristotle or Augustine the wise,
So all of them should be ruined, and Shareshull too
Who said I rode out in force to disturb his peace.
Therefore, handsome king, having heard our case,
320 Let us swing our swords now swiftly against each other,
For what was said long since, I now see is true,
'The richer a man's possessions, the readier his fear,
As he has more of his own, his heart becomes feebler.'
But then this wretched Winner looked angry, and said,
325 'This is quite pointless, claiming these things.
Look at this wretched Waster, known far and wide.
There is no emperor or king or knight that will follow you,
Baron or knight-bachelor, or any man near you
But four or five fellows who have given you their faith.
330 And he will summon them to dine on so many dainties
That every man in this world may weep for sorrow.
The boar's head will be brought in, with vegetables round it,
Broad bucks' haunches, covered in sauce,
Venison with frumenty, and excellent pheasants,
335 Roast meat beside them, set on the board,
Pies of chopped meat, char-grilled chickens,
And every man I see has six men's share.
And if this is unnecessary, another course follows,
A roast with rich stews, and with royal spices,
340 Kids carved down the back, quartered swans,
Tarts ten inches across; it troubles my heart
To see the board overspread with splendid dishes
Like a cross richly adorned with rings and precious stones.
As for the third course, that would quite amaze me,
345 For I dine on salted beef, laid down at Martinmas,
Only herbs with the meat, without wild-fowl
Except for a hen for the head of the household.
And he will have birds prepared on a fine skewer,
Barnacle-geese and bitterns, and snipe with their bills,
350 Skylarks and linnets, dusted with sugar,
Woodcock and woodpeckers, piping hot,
Teals and titmice, to take what he wants;
Stews made of rabbit, and sweet custards,
Pastries and pies that cost a high price,
355 Diced meat, called 'mawmene' because it fills your maw,
Every dish for two costing a mark,
A sum to make your stomach churn with anger within.
I resent your trumpeters, whose sound is so loud
That every man who passes can hear them blaring.
360 Then they will say to themselves, as they ride together,
You have no need of the help of the King of heaven.
So you are scorned with reason, and disgraced too,
For spending a ransom of silver on a single meal.
But once in a hall I heard a retainer say,
365 'Many meals would be better than one merry night.'
And if you want to listen to more of this work,
It's time to fill up my wine-cup, for here a fitt ends.

'Now, Winner,' said Waster, 'I know well myself
What will become of you within a few years.

370 Through the surplus of corn, sown by the people,
Which God will grant of his grace to grow on the earth
To prevent the price from rising too high,
You will be driven mad and reduced to despair,
And think of hanging yourself after a hard year.
375 Would you expect lords to live like lads on foot,
Prelates like the priests who run the parish,
Great proud merchants like pedlars in towns?
Let lords live as they wish, lads as they must,
Lads on bacon and beef, lords on bitterns and swans,
380 These on rough rye-bread, those on fine wheat,
These on thin porridge, those on good stews,
And then the people may have a share, those who are poor,
With a good morsel of meat to raise their morale.
If birds were to fly out and never be caught,
385 And wild beasts were to lurk in woods all their life,
And fish to swim in the stream, and each ate the other,
In six months a hen would command a high price,
And there wouldn't be a lad in the land to serve a lord.
You know very well, I am sure, yourself,
390 That if you want to win wealth, you must find a waster,
For what saddens one man, gladdens another.'
Now Winner said to Waster, 'I wonder in my heart
At these poor penniless men who purchase furs,
Silken saddles with sumptuous rings.
395 For fear of angering your wives, you follow their wishes,
Sell wood after wood within a short time,
Both the oak and the ash, and all that grows there.
The seedlings and the saplings you save for your children,
And say God will grant his grace to grow them at last
400 To give shade to your sons, but the shame is your own---
Why save the soil, when you mean to sell it?
Your forefathers were fond, if a friend came along,
Of riding to the woods and showing him the ways
In every forest they had, to hunt for a hare,
405 And bringing to the broad park bucks in plenty
To catch and let go, to gladden their hearts.
Now it has been leased and sold, my sorrow is greater,
Wasted quite wilfully, just to please your wives.
Those who had been lords in land, and noble ladies,
410 Have become fashion victims, finely dressed
With broad trailing sleeves let down to the ground,
Lined and trimmed around with ermine borders---
That is as hard, I think, to handle in the dark
As a poor innocent girl who never embroidered silk.
415 But whoever looks on the face of our Lady of heaven,
How she fled for fear far from her country
On an ambling ass, without more display
Than a child on her breast, and a broken halter
That Joseph held in his hand to help her on her way.
420 Although she ruled all this world, her raiment was poor
To set an example, and to show others
How to leave pomp and pride, as poverty often does.'
Then Waster angrily cast up his eyes,
And said, 'Winner, you wretch, I really wonder
425 What our garments have cost you, you coward, to buy,
To make you criticize ladies for their fine clothes,
Since we are quite willing to pay you the silver.
It is proper for a man to provide for his lover,
To follow her wishes to win her favour.
430 Then she will love him truly like her own life,
Make him bold and eager to use his sword,
To avoid shame and disgrace where men are gathered.
And if my people are finely dressed, it pleases me the better
To see them looking handsome and well turned out.
435 And you misers sleep so soundly at night,
Snoring and stretching, your arses in the air.
You command delays for weather, and then curse the time
That you failed to fit out your buildings and organize your men.
And so, Winner, you wrongly waste all your time,
440 Because you will never get a good or happy day.
The devil when you die will distribute your goods,
Those that you want to have them will never have the chance,
Your crooked executors will scatter them about,
And you will burn in hell for what you saved here.
445 You take no heed of advice given long ago.
I think that man is mad who suffers to win a mate;
Let him embrace the one he wants, and hold her for a while,
Take the cup as it comes, the chance as it falls,
For whoever lives longest is left to fetch
450 Wood that he wastes to warm his heels
From further than his father did by fifteen miles.
Now I can say no more, but kindly, sir king,
Tell us where we should be, as time is moving on.
My heart is still sore, and it does me harm
455 Having always in my sight the person I hate.'
The king looked kindly at the two men,
And said, 'Sirs, give up your anger and your bold speech,
And I shall decide today where you should be,
Each man in the land where he is loved most.
460 Winner, you should travel far overseas,
Passing through Paris, to the Pope of Rome.
The cardinals know you well, and will keep you in comfort,
Bedding you smoothly in silken sheets;
They will feed you and foster you and further your wishes,
465 And find it quite unthinkable to cross you at all.
But nevertheless, be sure if I send you letters
To hasten home to me on horseback or on foot,
And when I know you are coming, Waster will go away
And stay with someone else until you take your leave;
470 For though you stay in this town till you are taken to the grave,
You will never have to share a single foot with him.
And as for you, Waster, I want you to stay
Where wealth is wasted most, so wing your way there;
Take yourself off to Cheapside, and choose a room there,
475 See your window is open wide, and watch there to see
If there is any punter passing through the town.
Take him to the tavern, until he gets tight,
Make him drink all night, so he's dry the next day,
Then offer him some sweet wine to raise his spirits.
480 Bring him to Bread Street, beckon with your finger,
Show him shoulders of mutton, sizzling with fat,
'Hot for the hungry', a chicken or two.
Settle him on a seat, and then send out
And bring along the best you can find in town,
485 And see your boy gets a slap unless he spreads the cloth.
But let him pay before he goes, and then pick him clean---
Every penny in his purse, and pluck out his eyes.
When all is drunk and done with, don't stay longer,
But send him out of town, to run after more.
490 Then pass on to Poultry Street, where the people know you,
And direct your caterer to recognize your tastes,
The herons, the boar's giblets, how to serve the chicken,
The partridges, the plovers, the other plucked fowl,
Bullfinches, duck, expensive egrets....
495 The more you waste your money, the more Winner is pleased.
And look to me, Winner, if you want to gain wealth,
When I go to the wars to lead my men;
For in the proud palace in the rich city of Paris
I plan to have it done, and dub you to knight,
500 And to give great gifts, of gold and of silver,
To those who owe allegiance to me and love me in their hearts.
And afterwards travel with me, with the knights in my train,
To Cologne Cathedral, where the kings lie . . .

[The MS ends here; the rest of the poem is missing]

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 09 September 2014 .