Old Mans Prayer An 14th century

"An Old Man's Prayer" is a poignant poem of 107 lines presenting an elderly sinner's reflections upon life and mortality in the face of approaching death. The piece can be considered "lyrical" in the sense that the writer is at pains to create and sustain the voice of the speaker. As he discloses the nature of his transgressions, the reader gains a strong sense of his remorse and inner torment.

"An Old Man's Prayer" begins with a heartfelt appeal to the "High Lord" whose laws the speaker has abused. He asks to be absolved of his sins, claiming that his cheeks are now wet with tears. The old Man recalls how he once rode proudly upon a steed but must now lean upon a walking cane, assailed by the twin penalties of "euel ant elde" ("evil and old age," l. 46). The seventh stanza reveals how he has succumbed to each of the seven deadly sins: "Lecherie" has been his mistress, "Lyer" his translator, and so forth.

In the 11th stanza, the speaker directly addresses death, lamenting that his body must fade like a flower (l. 86). His prayer increasingly has the feel of a memento mori (reminder of death); however, there is optimism as the speaker determines to approach the Lord begging for salvation.

The text is broadly demonstrative of the medieval timor mortis, or the fear of death, associated with contempt for the world. It is also notable for its alliteration and complex vocabulary, especially where the speaker recalls the insults that have been heaped upon him. In his time, the Old Man has been branded a "fulleflet" (l. 15; space waster) and a "waynoun way-teglede" (l. 16; good-for-nothing).

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