Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse

By Bella Millett; Jocelyn Wogan-Browne | Go to book overview

A Letter on Virginity
A letter on virginity for the encouragement of virgins

Listen, daughter, and behold, and incline your ear; and forget your people and your father's house. David the psalmist is speaking in the Psalter to the bride of God -- that is, every virgin who has the virtues of virginity -- and he says: 'Hear me, daughter, behold and incline your ear; and forget your people and your father's house.'

Take note of what each word separately means. 'Hear me, daughter,' he says. He calls her 'daughter' so that she may understand that he is lovingly teaching her the love of eternal life, as a father ought his daughter; and that she may listen to him the more gladly as her father. 'Hear me, dear daughter': that is, 'listen to me carefully with your bodily ears.' 'And behold': that is, 'open the eyes of your heart to understand me.' 'And incline your ear': that is, 'be obedient to my teaching.' She may say in answer, 'And now what is this teaching that you take so seriously, and instruct me in so earnestly?' It is this: 'Forget your people and your father's house.'

'Your people' are what David calls the carnal thoughts which crowd into your mind, which incite you and draw you on with their goadings to carnal filthiness, to physical desires, and urge you towards marriage and a husband's embrace, and make you think what pleasure there would be in them, what comfort in the riches that these ladies have, how much that is good might come from your children. Oh, false people, treacherous advisers, how your mouths flatter, as you put forward all that seems good, and hide all that bitter misery which lurks underneath, and all the great loss which will be the result! 'Forget all this people, my beloved daughter,' says David the prophet: that is, 'cast these thoughts out of your heart.' This is the people of Babylon, the army of the Devil of hell, who are plotting to lead the daughter of Zion into the world's servitude.

'Zion' was once the name of the high tower of Jerusalem; and 'Zion' corresponds to 'high vision' in English. And this tower signifies the high state of virginity, which as if from a height sees all widows below it, and married women too. For these, as slaves of the flesh, are in the

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Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Further Reading xxxix
  • A Note on the Texts and Translations xli
  • Texts 1
  • Hali Meiðhad - Epistel of Meidenhad Meidene Froure 2
  • A Letter on Virginity - A Letter on Virginity for the Encouragement of Virgins 3
  • Seinte Margarete 44
  • Saint Margaret 45
  • Sawles Warde I Þe Feaderes Ant I Þe Sunes Ant I Þe Hali Gastes Nome, | Her Biginneð 'sawles Warde'. 86
  • The Custody of the Soul 87
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 7 110
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 7 111
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 8 130
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 8 131
  • Textual Commentary 150
  • Glossary 166
  • List of Proper Names 217
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