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There was in Asia, in a mighty town,
'Mong Christian folk, a street where Jews might be ; Assigned to them and given them for their own By a great Lord, for gain and usury,
Hateful to Christ and to his company;
And through this street who list might ride and wend;
Free was it, and unbarred at either end.
A little school of Christian people stood
Down at the farther end, in which there were
A nest of children come of Christian blood,
That learned in that school from year to year
Such sort of doctrine as men used there,
That is to say, to sing and read also
As little children in their childhood do.
Among these children was a widow's son,
A little scholar, scarcely seven years old,
Who day by day unto this school hath gone,
And eke, when he the image did behold
Of Jesu's Mother, as he had been told,
This Child was wont to kneel adown and say
Ave Marie, as he goeth by the way.
This Widow thus her little Son hath taught
Our blissful lady, Jesu's Mother dear,
To worship aye, and he forgat it not,
For simple infant hath a ready ear.
Sweet is the holiness of youth: and hence,
Calling to mind this matter when I
Saint Nicholas in my presence standeth aye,
For he so young to Christ did reverence.
This little Child, while in the school he sate
His primer conning with an earnest cheer,
The whilst the rest their anthem-book repeat
The Alma Redemptoris did he hear;
And as he durst he drew him near and near,
And hearkened to the words and to the note,
'Till the first verse he learned it all by rote.
This Latin knew he nothing what it said
For he too tender was of age to know;
But to his comrade he repaired, and prayed
That he the meaning of this song would show,
And unto him declare why men sing so;
This oftentimes, that he might be at ease,
This child did him beseech on his bare knees.
His Schoolfellow, who elder was than he,
Answered him thus:
Was fashioned for our blissful Lady free;
Her to salute, and also her to pray
To be our help upon our dying day.
If there is more in this I know it not;
Song do I learn, small grammar I have got.
"And is this song fashioned in reverence
Of Jesu's Mother?" said this Innocent,
"Now, certes, I will use my diligence
To con it all ere Christmas-tide be spent ;
Although I for my Primer shall be shent,
And shall be beaten three times in an hour,
Our Lady I will praise with all my power."
His Schoolfellow, whom he had so besought,
As they went homeward taught him privily;
And then he sang it well and fearlessly,
From word to word according to the note:
Twice in a day it passed through his throat;
Homeward and schoolward whensoe'er he went,
On Jesu's Mother fixed was his intent.
Through all the Jewry (this before said I,)
This little child, as he came to and fro,
Full merrily then would he sing and cry,
O Alma Redemptoris! high and low :
The sweetness of Christ's mother pierced so
His heart, that her to praise, to her to pray,
He cannot stop his singing by the way.
The Serpent, Satan, our first foe, that hath
His wasp's nest in Jew's heart, upswelled "O woe,
O Hebrew people!" said he in his wrath,
"Is it an honest thing? Shall this be so?
That such a Boy where'er he list shall go
In your despite, and sing his hymns and saws,
Which is against the reverence of our laws!"
From that day forward have the Jews conspired
Out of the world this Innocent to chace;
And to this end a Homicide they hired,
That in an Alley had a privy place,
And, as the Child 'gan to the School to pace,
This cruel Jew him seized, and held him fast
And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast.
I say that him into a pit they threw,
A loathsome pit whence noisome scents exhale;
O cursed folk! away ye Herods new!
What may your ill intentions you avail?
Murder will out; certes it will not fail;
Know, that the honour of high God may spread,
The blood cries out on your accursed deed.
O Martyr 'stablished in virginity!
Now mayest thou sing for aye before the throne,
Following the Lamb celestial," quoth she,
"Of which the great Evangelist, Saint John,
In Patmos wrote, who saith of them that go
Before the Lamb singing continually,
That never fleshly woman they did know.
Now this poor widow waiteth all that night
After her little Child, and he came not;
For which, by earliest glimpse of morning light,
With face all pale with dread and busy thought
She at the School and elsewhere him hath sought,
Until thus far she learned, that he had been
In the Jews' street, and there he last was seen.