Part 18 out of 19
60. The cock is called, in "The Assembly of Fowls," "the
horologe of thorpes lite;" [the clock of little villages] and in The
Nun's Priest's Tale Chanticleer knew by nature each ascension
of the equinoctial, and, when the sun had ascended fifteen
degrees, "then crew he, that it might not be amended." Here he
is termed the "common astrologer," as employing for the public
advantage his knowledge of astronomy.
61. Fortuna Major: the planet Jupiter.
62. When Jupiter visited Alcmena in the form of her husband
Amphitryon, he is said to have prolonged the night to the length
of three natural nights. Hercules was the fruit of the union.
63. Chaucer seems to confound Titan, the title of the sun, with
Tithonus (or Tithon, as contracted in poetry), whose couch
Aurora was wont to share.
64. So, in "Locksley Hall," Tennyson says that "a sorrow's
crown of sorrow is rememb'ring better things." The original is in
Dante's words:- -
"Nessun maggior dolore
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
Nella miseria." -- "Inferno," v. 121.
("There is no greater sorrow than to remember happy times
when in misery")
65. As great a craft is to keep weal as win: it needs as much
skill to keep prosperity as to attain it.
66. To heap: together. See the reference to Boethius in note 91
to the Knight's Tale.
67. The smalle beastes let he go beside: a charming touch,
indicative of the noble and generous inspiration of his love.
68. Mew: the cage or chamber in which hawks were kept and
carefully tended during the moulting season.
69. Love of steel: love as true as steel.
70. Pandarus, as it repeatedly appears, was an unsucsessful
71. "Each for his virtue holden is full dear,
Both heroner, and falcon for rivere":--
That is, each is esteemed for a special virtue or faculty, as the
large gerfalcon for the chase of heron, the smaller goshawk for
the chase of river fowl.
72. Zausis: An author of whom no record survives.
73. And upon new case lieth new advice: new counsels must be
adopted as new circumstances arise.
74. Hid in mew: hidden in a place remote from the world -- of
which Pandarus thus betrays ignorance.
75. The modern phrase "sixes and sevens," means "in
confusion:" but here the idea of gaming perhaps suits the sense
better -- "set the world upon a cast of the dice."
76. The controversy between those who maintained the doctrine
of predestination and those who held that of free-will raged
with no less animation at Chaucer's day, and before it, than it
has done in the subsequent five centuries; the Dominicans
upholding the sterner creed, the Franciscans taking the other
side. Chaucer has more briefly, and with the same care not to
commit himself, referred to the discussion in The Nun's Priest's
77. That have their top full high and smooth y-shore: that are
eminent among the clergy, who wear the tonsure.
78. Athamante: Athamas, son of Aeolus; who, seized with
madness, under the wrath of Juno for his neglect of his wife
Nephele, slew his son Learchus.
79. Simois: one of the rivers of the Troad, flowing into the
80. Troilus was the son of Priam and Hecuba.
81. The son of Tydeus: Diomedes; far oftener called Tydides,
after his father Tydeus, king of Argos.
82. Couthe more than the creed: knew more than the mere
elements (of the science of Love).
83. Arache: wrench away, unroot (French, "arracher"); the
opposite of "enrace," to root in, implant.
84. It will be remembered that, at the beginning of the first
book, Cressida is introduced to us as a widow.
85. Diomede is called "sudden," for the unexpectedness of his
assault on Cressida's heart -- or, perhaps, for the abrupt
abandonment of his indifference to love.
86. Penscel: a pennon or pendant; French, "penoncel." It was
the custom in chivalric times for a knight to wear, on days of
tournament or in battle, some such token of his lady's favour, or
badge of his service to her.
87. She has been told that Troilus is deceiving her.
88. The Roman kalends were the first day of the month, when a
change of weather was usually expected.
89. Maker, and making, words used in the Middle Ages to
signify the composer and the composition of poetry, correspond
exactly with the Greek "poietes" and "poiema," from "poieo," I
90. My rather speech: my earlier, former subject; "rather" is the
cormparative of the old adjective "rath," early.
91. Up to the hollowness of the seventh sphere: passing up
through the hollowness or concavity of the spheres, which all
revolve round each other and are all contained by God (see note
5 to the Assembly of Fowls), the soul of Troilus, looking
downward, beholds the converse or convex side of the spheres
which it has traversed.
92. Sorted: allotted; from Latin, "sors," lot, fortune.
93. Rascaille: rabble; French, "racaille" -- a mob or multitude,
the riff-raff; so Spencer speaks of the "rascal routs" of inferior
94. John Gower, the poet, a contemporary and friend of
Chaucer's; author, among other works, of the "Confessio
Amantis." See note 1 to the Man of Law's Tale.
95. Strode was an eminent scholar of Merton College, Oxford,
and tutor to Chaucer's son Lewis.
96. Explicit Liber Troili et Cresseidis: "The end of the book of
Troilus and Cressida."
[This pretty allegory, or rather conceit, containing one or two
passages that for vividness and for delicacy yield to nothing in
the whole range of Chaucer's poetry, had never been printed
before the year 1597, when it was included in the edition of
Speght. Before that date, indeed, a Dream of Chaucer had been
printed; but the poem so described was in reality "The Book of
the Duchess; or the Death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster" --
which is not included in the present edition. Speght says that
"This Dream, devised by Chaucer, seemeth to be a covert report
of the marriage of John of Gaunt, the King's son, with Blanche,
the daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster; who after long love
(during the time whereof the poet feigneth them to be dead)
were in the end, by consent of friends, happily married; figured
by a bird bringing in his bill an herb, which restored them to life
again. Here also is showed Chaucer's match with a certain
gentlewoman, who, although she was a stranger, was,
notwithstanding, so well liked and loved of the Lady Blanche
and her Lord, as Chaucer himself also was, that gladly they
concluded a marriage between them." John of Gaunt, at the age
of nineteen, and while yet Earl of Richmond, was married to the
Lady Blanche at Reading in May 1359; Chaucer, then a prisoner
in France, probably did not return to England till peace was
concluded in the following year; so that his marriage to Philippa
Roet, the sister of the Duchess Blanche's favourite attendant
Katharine Roet, could not have taken place till some time after
that of the Duke. In the poem, it is represented to have
immediately followed; but no consequence need be attached to
that statement. Enough that it followed at no great interval of
time; and that the intimate relations which Chaucer had already
begun to form with John of Gaunt, might well warrant him in
writing this poem on the occasion of the Duke's marriage, and
in weaving his own love-fortunes with those of the principal
figures. In the necessary abridgement of the poem for the
present edition, the subsidiary branch of the allegory, relating to
the poet's own love affair, has been so far as possible separated
from the main branch, which shadows forth the fortunes of John
and Blanche. The poem, in full, contains, with an "Envoy"
arbitrarily appended, 2233 lines; of which 510 are given here.]
(Transcriber's note: modern scholars believe that Chaucer was
not the author of this poem)
WHEN Flora, the queen of pleasance,
Had wholly *achiev'd the obeisance* *won the obedience*
Of the fresh and the new season,
Thorough ev'ry region;
And with her mantle *whole covert* *wholly covered*
What winter had *made discovert,* -- *stripped*
On a May night, the poet lay alone, thinking of his lady, and all
her beauty; and, falling asleep, he dreamed that he was in an
Where wall, and gate, was all of glass,
And so was closed round about,
That leaveless* none came in nor out; *without permission
Uncouth and strange to behold;
For ev'ry gate, of fine gold,
A thousand fanes,* ay turning, *vanes, weathercocks
Entuned* had, and birds singing *contrived so as to emit
Diversely, on each fane a pair, a musical sound
With open mouth, against the air; <1>
And *of a suit* were all the tow'rs, *of the same plan*
Subtilly *carven aft* flow'rs *carved to represent*
Of uncouth colours, *during ay,* *lasting forever*
That never be none seen in May,
With many a small turret high;
But man alive I could not sigh,* *see
Nor creatures, save ladies play,* *disporting themselves
Which were such of their array,
That, as me thought, *of goodlihead* *for comeliness*
They passed all, and womanhead.
For to behold them dance and sing,
It seemed like none earthly thing;
And all were of the same age, save one; who was advanced in
years, though no less gay in demeanour than the rest. While he
stood admiring the richness and beauty of the place, and the
fairness of the ladies, which had the notable gift of enduring
unimpaired till death, the poet was accosted by the old lady, to
whom he had to yield himself prisoner; because the ordinance of
the isle was, that no man should dwell there; and the ladies' fear
of breaking the law was enhanced by the temporary absence of
their queen from the realm. Just at this moment the cry was
raised that the queen came; all the ladies hastened to meet her;
and soon the poet saw her approach -- but in her company his
mistress, wearing the same garb, and a seemly knight. All the
ladies wondered greatly at this; and the queen explained:
"My sisters, how it hath befall,* *befallen
I trow ye know it one and all,
That of long time here have I been
Within this isle biding as queen,
Living at ease, that never wight
More perfect joye have not might;
And to you been of governance
Such as you found in whole pleasance, <2>
In every thing as ye know,
After our custom and our law;
Which how they firste founded were,
I trow ye wot all the mannere.
And who the queen is of this isle, --
As I have been this longe while, --
Each seven years must, of usage,
Visit the heav'nly hermitage,
Which on a rock so highe stands,
In a strange sea, out from all lands,
That for to make the pilgrimage
Is call'd a perilous voyage;
For if the wind be not good friend,
The journey dureth to the end
Of him which that it undertakes;
Of twenty thousand not one scapes.
Upon which rock groweth a tree,
That certain years bears apples three;
Which three apples whoso may have,
Is *from all displeasance y-save* *safe from all pain*
That in the seven years may fall;
This wot you well, both one and all.
For the first apple and the hext,* *highest <3>
Which groweth unto you the next,
Hath three virtues notable,
And keepeth youth ay durable,
Beauty, and looks, ever-in-one,* *continually
And is the best of ev'ry one.
The second apple, red and green,
Only with lookes of your eyne,
You nourishes in great pleasance,
Better than partridge or fesaunce,* *pheasant
And feedeth ev'ry living wight
Pleasantly, only with the sight.
And the third apple of the three,
Which groweth lowest on the tree,
Whoso it beareth may not fail* *miss, fail to obtain
That* to his pleasance may avail. *that which
So your pleasure and beauty rich,
Your during youth ever y-lich,* *alike
Your truth, your cunning,* and your weal, *knowledge
Hath flower'd ay, and your good heal,
Without sickness or displeasance,
Or thing that to you was noyance.* *offence, injury
So that you have as goddesses
Lived above all princesses.
Now is befall'n, as ye may see;
To gather these said apples three,
I have not fail'd, against the day,
Thitherward to take the way,
*Weening to speed* as I had oft. *expecting to succeed*
But when I came, I found aloft
My sister, which that hero stands,
Having those apples in her hands,
Advising* them, and nothing said, *regarding, gazing on
But look'd as she were *well apaid:* *satisfied*
And as I stood her to behold,
Thinking how my joys were cold,
Since I these apples *have not might,* *might not have*
Even with that so came this knight,
And in his arms, of me unware,
Me took, and to his ship me bare,
And said, though him I ne'er had seen,
Yet had I long his lady been;
Wherefore I shoulde with him wend,
And he would, to his life's end,
My servant be; and gan to sing,
As one that had won a rich thing.
Then were my spirits from me gone,
So suddenly every one,
That in me appear'd but death,
For I felt neither life nor breath,
Nor good nor harme none I knew,
The sudden pain me was so new,
That *had not the hasty grace be* *had it not been for the
Of this lady, that from the tree prompt kindness*
Of her gentleness so bled,* *hastened
Me to comforten, I had died;
And of her three apples she one
Into mine hand there put anon,
Which brought again my mind and breath,
And me recover'd from the death.
Wherefore to her so am I hold,* *beholden, obliged
That for her all things do I wo'ld,
For she was leach* of all my smart, *physician
And from great pain so quit* my heart. *delivered
And as God wot, right as ye hear,
Me to comfort with friendly cheer,
She did her prowess and her might.
And truly eke so did this knight,
In that he could; and often said,
That of my woe he was *ill paid,* *distressed, ill-pleased*
And curs'd the ship that him there brought,
The mast, the master that it wrought.
And, as each thing must have an end,
My sister here, our bother friend, <4>
Gan with her words so womanly
This knight entreat, and cunningly,
For mine honour and hers also,
And said that with her we should go
Both in her ship, where she was brought,
Which was so wonderfully wrought,
So clean, so rich, and so array'd,
That we were both content and paid;* *satisfied
And me to comfort and to please,
And my heart for to put at ease,
She took great pain in little while,
And thus hath brought us to this isle
As ye may see; wherefore each one
I pray you thank her one and one,
As heartily as ye can devise,
Or imagine in any wise."
At once there then men mighte see'n,
A world of ladies fall on kneen
Before my lady, --
Thanking her, and placing themselves at her commandment.
Then the queen sent the aged lady to the knight, to learn of him
why he had done her all this woe; and when the messenger had
discharged her mission, telling the knight that in the general
opinion he had done amiss, he fell down suddenly as if dead for
sorrow and repentance. Only with great difficulty, by the queen
herself, was he restored to consciousness and comfort; but
though she spoke kind and hope-inspiring words, her heart was
not in her speech,
For her intent was, to his barge
Him for to bring against the eve,
With certain ladies, and take leave,
And pray him, of his gentleness,
To *suffer her* thenceforth in peace, *let her dwell*
As other princes had before;
And from thenceforth, for evermore,
She would him worship in all wise
That gentlenesse might devise;
And *pain her* wholly to fulfil, *make her utmost efforts*
In honour, his pleasure and will.
And during thus this knighte's woe, --
Present* the queen and other mo', *(there being) present*
My lady and many another wight, --
Ten thousand shippes at a sight
I saw come o'er the wavy flood,
With sail and oar; that, as I stood
Them to behold, I gan marvail
From whom might come so many a sail;
For, since the time that I was born,
Such a navy therebeforn
Had I not seen, nor so array'd,
That for the sight my hearte play'd
Ay to and fro within my breast;
For joy long was ere it would rest.
For there were sailes *full of flow'rs;* *embroidered with flowers*
After, castles with huge tow'rs, <5>
Seeming full of armes bright,
That wond'rous lusty* was the sight; *pleasant
With large tops, and mastes long,
Richly depaint' and *rear'd among.* *raised among them*
At certain times gan repair
Smalle birdes down from the air,
And on the shippes' bounds* about *bulwarks
Sat and sang, with voice full out,
Ballads and lays right joyously,
As they could in their harmony.
The ladies were alarmed and sorrow-stricken at sight of the
ships, thinking that the knight's companions were on board; and
they went towards the walls of the isle, to shut the gates. But it
was Cupid who came; and he had already landed, and marched
straight to the place where the knight lay. Then he chid the
queen for her unkindness to his servant; shot an arrow into her
heart; and passed through the crowd, until he found the poet's
lady, whom he saluted and complimented, urging her to have
pity on him that loved her. While the poet, standing apart, was
revolving all this in his mind, and resolving truly to serve his
lady, he saw the queen advance to Cupid, with a petition in
which she besought forgiveness of past offences, and promised
continual and zealous service till her death. Cupid smiled, and
said that he would be king within that island, his new conquest;
then, after long conference with the queen, he called a council
for the morrow, of all who chose to wear his colours. In the
morning, such was the press of ladies, that scarcely could
standing-room be found in all the plain. Cupid presided; and one
of his counsellors addressed the mighty crowd, promising that
ere his departure his lord should bring to an agreement all the
parties there present. Then Cupid gave to the knight and the
dreamer each his lady; promised his favour to all the others in
that place who would truly and busily serve in love; and at
evening took his departure. Next morning, having declined the
proffered sovereignty of the island, the poet's mistress also
embarked, leaving him behind; but he dashed through the
waves, was drawn on board her ship from peril of death, and
graciously received into his lady's lasting favour. Here the poet
awakes, finding his cheeks and body all wet with tears; and,
removing into another chamber, to rest more in peace, he falls
asleep anew, and continues the dream. Again he is within the
island, where the knight and all the ladies are assembled on a
green, and it is resolved by the assembly, not only that the
knight shall be their king, but that every lady there shall be
wedded also. It is determined that the knight shall depart that
very day, and return, within ten days, with such a host of
Benedicts, that none in the isle need lack husbands. The knight
Anon into a little barge
Brought was, late against an eve,
Where of all he took his leave.
Which barge was, as a man thought,
Aft* his pleasure to him brought; *according to*
The queen herself accustom'd ay
In the same barge to play.* *take her sport
It needed neither mast nor rother* *rudder
(I have not heard of such another),
Nor master for the governance;* *steering
It sailed by thought and pleasance,
Withoute labour, east and west;
All was one, calm or tempest. <6>
And I went with, at his request,
And was the first pray'd to the feast.* *the bridal feast
When he came unto his country,
And passed had the wavy sea,
In a haven deep and large
He left his rich and noble barge,
And to the court, shortly to tell,
He went, where he was wont to dwell, --
And was gladly received as king by the estates of the land; for
during his absence his father, "old, and wise, and hoar," had
died, commending to their fidelity his absent son. The prince
related to the estates his journey, and his success in finding the
princess in quest of whom he had gone seven years before; and
said that he must have sixty thousand guests at his marriage
feast. The lords gladly guaranteed the number within the set
time; but afterwards they found that fifteen days must be spent
in the necessary preparations. Between shame and sorrow, the
prince, thus compelled to break his faith, took to his bed, and,
in wailing and self-reproach,
-- Endur'd the days fifteen,
Till that the lords, on an evene,* *evening
Him came and told they ready were,
And showed in few wordes there,
How and what wise they had *purvey'd *provided suitably
For his estate,* and to him said, to his rank*
That twenty thousand knights of name,
And forty thousand without blame,
Alle come of noble ligne* *line, lineage
Together in a company
Were lodged on a river's side,
Him and his pleasure there t'abide.
The prince then for joy uprose,
And, where they lodged were, he goes,
Withoute more, that same night,
And there his supper *made to dight;* *had prepared*
And with them bode* till it was day. *abode, waited*
And forthwith to take his journey,
Leaving the strait, holding the large,
Till he came to his noble barge:
And when the prince, this lusty knight,
With his people in armes bright,
Was come where he thought to pass,* *cross to the isle
And knew well none abiding was
Behind, but all were there present,
Forthwith anon all his intent
He told them there, and made his cries* *proclamation
Thorough his hoste that day twice,
Commanding ev'ry living wight
There being present in his sight,
To be the morrow on the rivage,* *shore
There he begin would his voyage.
The morrow come, the *cry was kept* *proclamation was obeyed*
But few were there that night that slept,
But *truss'd and purvey'd* for the morrow; *packed up and provided*
For fault* of ships was all their sorrow; *lack, shortage
For, save the barge, and other two,
Of shippes there I saw no mo'.
Thus in their doubtes as they stood,
Waxing the sea, coming the flood,
Was cried "To ship go ev'ry wight!"
Then was but *hie that hie him might,* *whoever could hasten, did*
And to the barge, me thought, each one
They went, without was left not one,
Horse, nor male*, truss, nor baggage, *trunk, wallet
Salad*, spear, gardebrace,** nor page, *helmet<7> **arm-shield<8>
But was lodged and room enough;
At which shipping me thought I lough,* *laughed
And gan to marvel in my thought,
How ever such a ship was wrought.* *constructed
For *what people that can increase,* *however the numbers increased*
Nor ne'er so thick might be the prease,* *press, crowd
But alle hadde room at will;
There was not one was lodged ill.
For, as I trow, myself the last
Was one, and lodged by the mast;
And where I look'd I saw such room
As all were lodged in a town.
Forth went the ship, said was the creed;<9>
And on their knees, *for their good speed,* *to pray for success*
Down kneeled ev'ry wight a while,
And prayed fast that to the isle
They mighte come in safety,
The prince and all the company.
With worship and withoute blame,
Or disclander* of his name, *reproach, slander
Of the promise he should return
Within the time he did sojourn
In his lande biding* his host; *waiting for
This was their prayer least and most:
To keep the day it might not be'n,
That he appointed with the queen.
Wherefore the prince slept neither day nor night, till he and his
people landed on the glass-walled isle, "weening to be in heav'n
that night." But ere they had gone a little way, they met a lady
all in black, with piteous countenance, who reproached the
prince for his untruth, and informed him that, unable to bear the
reproach to their name, caused by the lightness of their trust in
strangers, the queen and all the ladies of the isle had vowed
neither to eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor speak, nor cease
weeping till all were dead. The queen had died the first; and half
of the other ladies had already "under the earth ta'en lodging
new." The woeful recorder of all these woes invites the prince
to behold the queen's hearse:
"Come within, come see her hearse
Where ye shall see the piteous sight
That ever yet was shown to knight;
For ye shall see ladies stand,
Each with a greate rod in hand,
Clad in black, with visage white,
Ready each other for to smite,
If any be that will not weep;
Or who makes countenance to sleep.
They be so beat, that all so blue
They be as cloth that dy'd is new."
Scarcely has the lady ceased to speak, when the prince plucks
forth a dagger, plunges it into his heart, and, drawing but one
For whiche cause the lusty host,
Which [stood] in battle on the coast,
At once for sorrow such a cry
Gan rear, thorough* the company, *throughout
That to the heav'n heard was the soun',
And under th'earth as far adown,
And wilde beastes for the fear
So suddenly affrayed* were, *afraid
That for the doubt, while they might dure,* *have a chance of safety
They ran as of their lives unsure,
From the woodes into the plain,
And from valleys the high mountain
They sought, and ran as beastes blind,
That clean forgotten had their kind.* *nature
The lords of the laggard host ask the woebegone lady what
should be done; she answers that nothing can now avail, but
that for remembrance they should build in their land, open to
public view, "in some notable old city," a chapel engraved with
some memorial of the queen. And straightway, with a sigh, she
also "pass'd her breath."
Then said the lordes of the host,
And so concluded least and most,
That they would ay in houses of thack* *thatch
Their lives lead, <10> and wear but black,
And forsake all their pleasances,
And turn all joy to penances;
And bare the dead prince to the barge,
And named *them should* have the charge; *those who should*
And to the hearse where lay the queen
The remnant went, and down on kneen,
Holding their hands on high, gan cry,
"Mercy! mercy!" *evereach thry;* *each one thrice*
And curs'd the time that ever sloth
Should have such masterdom of troth.
And to the barge, a longe mile,
They bare her forth; and, in a while,
All the ladies, one and one,
By companies were brought each one.
And pass'd the sea, and took the land,
And in new hearses, on a sand,
Put and brought were all anon,
Unto a city clos'd with stone,
Where it had been used ay
The kinges of the land to lay,
After they reigned in honours;
And writ was which were conquerours;
In an abbey of nunnes black,
Which accustom'd were to wake,
And of usage rise each a-night,
To pray for ev'ry living wight.
And so befell, as is the guise,
Ordain'd and said was the service
Of the prince and eke of the queen,
So devoutly as mighte be'n;
And, after that, about the hearses,
Many orisons and verses,
Withoute note* <11> full softely *music
Said were, and that full heartily;
That all the night, till it was day,
The people in the church gan pray
Unto the Holy Trinity,
Of those soules to have pity.
And when the nighte past and run
Was, and the newe day begun, --
The young morrow with rayes red,
Which from the sun all o'er gan spread,
Attemper'd* cleare was and fair, *clement, calm
And made a time of wholesome air, --
Befell a wondrous case* and strange *chance, event
Among the people, and gan change
Soon the word, and ev'ry woe
Unto a joy, and some to two.
A bird, all feather'd blue and green,
With brighte rays like gold between,
As small thread over ev'ry joint,
All full of colour strange and coint,* *quaint
Uncouth* and wonderful to sight, *unfamiliar
Upon the queene's hearse gan light,
And sung full low and softely
Three songes in their harmony,
*Unletted of* every wight; *unhindered by*
Till at the last an aged knight,
Which seem'd a man in greate thought,
Like as he set all thing at nought,
With visage and eyes all forwept,* *steeped in tears
And pale, as a man long unslept,
By the hearses as he stood,
With hasty handling of his hood
Unto a prince that by him past,
Made the bird somewhat aghast.* *frightened
Wherefore he rose and left his song,
And departed from us among,
And spread his winges for to pass
By the place where he enter'd was.
And in his haste, shortly to tell,
Him hurt, that backward down he fell,
From a window richly paint,
With lives of many a divers saint,
And beat his winges and bled fast,
And of the hurt thus died and past;
And lay there well an hour and more
Till, at the last, of birds a score
Came and assembled at the place
Where the window broken was,
And made such waimentatioun,* *lamentation
That pity was to hear the soun',
And the warbles of their throats,
And the complaint of their notes,
Which from joy clean was reversed.
And of them one the glass soon pierced,
And in his beak, of colours nine,
An herb he brought, flow'rless, all green,
Full of smalle leaves, and plain,* *smooth
Swart,* and long, with many a vein. *black
And where his fellow lay thus dead,
This herb he down laid by his head,
And dressed* it full softely, *arranged
And hung his head, and stood thereby.
Which herb, in less than half an hour,
Gan over all knit,* and after flow'r *bud
Full out; and waxed ripe the seed;
And, right as one another feed
Would, in his beak he took the grain,
And in his fellow's beak certain
It put, and thus within the third* *i.e. third hour after it
Upstood and pruned him the bird, had died
Which dead had been in all our sight;
And both together forth their flight
Took, singing, from us, and their leave;
Was none disturb them would nor grieve.
And, when they parted were and gone,
Th' abbess the seedes soon each one
Gathered had, and in her hand
The herb she took, well avisand* *considering <12>
The leaf, the seed, the stalk, the flow'r,
And said it had a good savour,
And was no common herb to find,
And well approv'd of *uncouth kind,* *strange nature*
And more than other virtuous;
Whoso might it have for to use
In his need, flower, leaf, or grain,
Of his heal might be certain.
[She] laid it down upon the hearse
Where lay the queen; and gan rehearse
Each one to other what they had seen.
And, *taling thus,* the seed wax'd green, *as they gossiped*
And on the dry hearse gan to spring, --
Which me thought was a wondrous thing, --
And, after that, flow'r and new seed;
Of which the people all took heed,
And said it was some great miracle,
Or medicine fine more than treacle; <12>
And were well done there to assay
If it might ease, in any way,
The corpses, which with torchelight
They waked had there all that night.
Soon did the lordes there consent,
And all the people thereto content,
With easy words and little fare;* *ado, trouble
And made the queene's visage bare,
Which showed was to all about,
Wherefore in swoon fell all the rout,* *company, crowd
And were so sorry, most and least,
That long of weeping they not ceas'd;
For of their lord the remembrance
Unto them was such displeasance.* *cause of grief
That for to live they called pain,
So were they very true and plain.
And after this the good abbess
Of the grains gan choose and dress* *prepare
Three, with her fingers clean and smale,* *small
And in the queenes mouth, by tale,
One after other, full easily
She put, and eke full cunningly.* *skilfully
Which showed some such virtue.
That proved was the medicine true.
For with a smiling countenance
The queen uprose, and of usance* *custom
As she was wont, to ev'ry wight
She *made good cheer;* for whiche sight *showed a gracious
The people, kneeling on the stones, countenance*
Thought they in heav'n were, soul and bones;
And to the prince, where that he lay,
They went to make the same assay.* *trial, experiment
And when the queen it understood,
And how the medicine was good,
She pray'd that she might have the grains,
To relieve him from the pains
Which she and he had both endur'd.
And to him went, and so him cur'd,
That, within a little space,
Lusty and fresh alive he was,
And in good heal, and whole of speech,
And laugh'd, and said, *"Gramercy, leach!"* *"Great thanks,
For which the joy throughout the town my physician!"*
So great was, that the belles' soun'
Affray'd the people a journey* *to the distance of
About the city ev'ry way; a day's journey*
And came and ask'd the cause, and why
They rungen were so stately.* *proudly, solemnly
And after that the queen, th'abbess,
Made diligence, <14> ere they would cease,
Such, that of ladies soon a rout* *company, crowd
Suing* the queen was all about; *following
And, call'd by name each one and told,* *numbered
Was none forgotten, young nor old.
There mighte men see joyes new,
When the medicine, fine and true,
Thus restor'd had ev'ry wight,
So well the queen as the knight,
Unto perfect joy and heal,
That *floating they were in such weal* *swimming in such
As folk that woulden in no wise happiness*
Desire more perfect paradise.
On the morrow a general assembly was convoked, and it was
resolved that the wedding feast should be celebrated within the
island. Messengers were sent to strange realms, to invite kings,
queens, duchesses, and princesses; and a special embassy was
despatched, in the magic barge, to seek the poet's mistress --
who was brought back after fourteen days, to the great joy of
the queen. Next day took place the wedding of the prince and
all the knights to the queen and all the ladies; and a three
months' feast followed, on a large plain "under a wood, in a
champaign, betwixt a river and a well, where never had abbey
nor cell been, nor church, house, nor village, in time of any
manne's age." On the day after the general wedding, all
entreated the poet's lady to consent to crown his love with
marriage; she yielded; the bridal was splendidly celebrated; and
to the sound of marvellous music the poet awoke, to find
neither lady nor creature -- but only old portraitures on the
tapestry, of horsemen, hawks, and hounds, and hurt deer full of
wounds. Great was his grief that he had lost all the bliss of his
dream; and he concludes by praying his lady so to accept his
love-service, that the dream may turn to reality.
Or elles, without more I pray,
That this night, ere it be day,
I may unto my dream return,
And sleeping so forth ay sojourn
Aboute the Isle of Pleasance,
*Under my lady's obeisance,* *subject to my lady*
In her service, and in such wise,
As it may please her to devise;
And grace once to be accept',
Like as I dreamed when I slept,
And dure a thousand year and ten
In her good will: Amen, amen!
Notes to Chaucer's Dream
1. The birds on the weathervanes were set up facing the wind,
so that it entered their open mouths, and by some mechanism
produced the musical sound.
2. "And to you been of governance
Such as you found in whole pleasance"
That is, "and have governed you in a manner which you have
found wholly pleasant."
3. Hext: highest; from "high," as "next" from "nigh." Compare
the sounds of the German, "hoechst," highest, and "naechst,"
4. "Your brother friend," is the common reading; but the phrase
has no apparent applicability; and perhaps the better reading is
"our bother friend" -- that is, the lady who has proved herself a
friend both to me and to you. In the same way, Reason, in
Troilus' soliloquy on the impending loss of his mistress, is made,
addressing Troilus and Cressida, to speaks of "your bother," or
5. The ships had high embattled poops and forecastles, as in
mediaeval ships of war.
6. Compare Spenser's account of Phaedria's barque, in "The
Faerie Queen," canto vi. book ii.; and, mutatis mutandis,
Chaucer's description of the wondrous horse, in The Squire's
7. Salad: a small helmet; french, "salade."
8. Gardebrace: French, "garde-bras," an arm-shield; probably
resembling the "gay bracer" which the Yeoman, in the Prologue
to The Canterbury Tales, wears on his arm.
9. Confession and prayer were the usual preliminaries of any
enterprise in those superstitious days; and in these days of
enlightenment the fashion yet lingers among the most
superstitious class -- the fisher-folk.
10. The knights resolved that they would quit their castles and
houses of stone for humble huts.
11. The knight and lady were buried without music, although
the office for the dead was generally sung.
12. Avisand: considering; present participle from "avise" or
13. Treacle; corrupted from Latin, "therisca," an antidote. The
word is used for medicine in general.
14. The abbess made diligence: i.e. to administer the grain to
the dead ladies.
THE PROLOGUE TO THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN.
[SOME difference of opinion exists as to the date at
which Chaucer wrote "The Legend of Good
Women." Those who would fix that date at a
period not long before the poet's death -- who
would place the poem, indeed, among his closing
labours -- support their opinion by the fact that the
Prologue recites most of Chaucer's principal
works, and glances, besides, at a long array of
other productions, too many to be fully catalogued.
But, on the other hand, it is objected that the
"Legend" makes no mention of "The Canterbury
Tales" as such; while two of those Tales -- the
Knight's and the Second Nun's -- are enumerated
by the titles which they bore as separate
compositions, before they were incorporated in the
great collection: "The Love of Palamon and
Arcite," and "The Life of Saint Cecile" (see note 1
to the Second Nun's tale). Tyrwhitt seems perfectly
justified in placing the composition of the poem
immediately before that of Chaucer's magnum
opus, and after the marriage of Richard II to his
first queen, Anne of Bohemia. That event took
place in 1382; and since it is to Anne that the poet
refers when he makes Alcestis bid him give his
poem to the queen "at Eltham or at Sheen," the
"Legend" could not have been written earlier. The
old editions tell us that "several ladies in the Court
took offence at Chaucer's large speeches against
the untruth of women; therefore the queen enjoin'd
him to compile this book in the commendation of
sundry maidens and wives, who show'd themselves
faithful to faithless men. This seems to have been
written after The Flower and the Leaf." Evidently it
was, for distinct references to that poem are to be
found in the Prologue; but more interesting is the
indication which it furnishes, that "Troilus and
Cressida" was the work, not of the poet's youth,
but of his maturer age. We could hardly expect the
queen -- whether of Love or of England -- to
demand seriously from Chaucer a retractation of
sentiments which he had expressed a full
generation before, and for which he had made
atonement by the splendid praises of true love sung
in "The Court of Love," "The Cuckoo and the
Nightingale," and other poems of youth and middle
life. But "Troilus and Cressida" is coupled with
"The Romance of the Rose," as one of the poems
which had given offence to the servants and the
God of Love; therefore we may suppose it to have
more prominently engaged courtly notice at a later
period of the poet's life, than even its undoubted
popularity could explain. At whatever date, or in
whatever circumstances, undertaken, "The Legend
of Good Women" is a fragment. There are several
signs that it was designed to contain the stories of
twenty-five ladies, although the number of the
good women is in the poem itself set down at
nineteen; but nine legends only were actually
composed, or have come down to us. They are,
those of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt (126 lines),
Thisbe of Babylon (218), Dido Queen of Carthage
(442), Hypsipyle and Medea (312), Lucrece of
Rome (206), Ariadne of Athens (340), Phiomela
(167), Phyllis (168), and Hypermnestra (162).
Prefixed to these stories, which are translated or
imitated from Ovid, is a Prologue containing 579
lines -- the only part of the "Legend" given in the
present edition. It is by far the most original, the
strongest, and most pleasing part of the poem; the
description of spring, and of his enjoyment of that
season, are in Chaucer's best manner; and the
political philosophy by which Alcestis mitigates the
wrath of Cupid, adds another to the abounding
proofs that, for his knowledge of the world,
Chaucer fairly merits the epithet of "many-sided"
which Shakespeare has won by his knowledge of
A THOUSAND times I have hearde tell,
That there is joy in heav'n, and pain in hell;
And I accord* it well that it is so; *grant, agree
But, natheless, yet wot* I well also, *know
That there is none dwelling in this country
That either hath in heav'n or hell y-be;* *been
Nor may of it no other wayes witten* *know
But as he hath heard said, or found it written;
For by assay* there may no man it preve.** *practical trial
But God forbid but that men should believe
Well more thing than men have seen with eye!
Men shall not weenen ev'ry thing a lie
*But if* himself it seeth, or else do'th; *unless
For, God wot, thing is never the less sooth,* *true
Though ev'ry wighte may it not y-see.
Bernard, the Monke, saw not all, pardie! <1>
Then muste we to bookes that we find
(Through which that olde thinges be in mind),
And to the doctrine of these olde wise,
Give credence, in ev'ry skilful* wise, *reasonable
That tellen of these old approved stories,
Of holiness, of regnes,* of victories, *reigns, kingdoms
Of love, of hate, and other sundry things
Of which I may not make rehearsings;
And if that olde bookes were away,
Y-lorn were of all remembrance the key.
Well ought we, then, to honour and believe
These bookes, where we have none other preve.* *proof
And as for me, though that I know but lite,* *little
On bookes for to read I me delight,
And to them give I faith and good credence,
And in my heart have them in reverence,
So heartily, that there is *game none* <2> *no amusement*
That from my bookes maketh me to go'n,
But it be seldom on the holyday;
Save, certainly, when that the month of May
Is comen, and I hear the fowles sing,
And that the flowers ginnen for to spring,
Farewell my book and my devotion!
Now have I then such a condition,
That, above all the flowers in the mead,
Then love I most these flowers white and red,
Such that men calle Day's-eyes in our town;
To them have I so great affectioun,
As I said erst, when comen is the May,
That in my bed there dawneth me no day
That I n'am* up, and walking in the mead, *am not
To see this flow'r against the sunne spread,
When it upriseth early by the morrow;
That blissful sight softeneth all my sorrow,
So glad am I, when that I have presence
Of it, to do it alle reverence,
As she that is of alle flowers flow'r,
Fulfilled of all virtue and honour,
And ever alike fair, and fresh of hue;
As well in winter, as in summer new,
This love I ever, and shall until I die;
All* swear I not, of this I will not lie, *although
There loved no wight hotter in his life.
And when that it is eve, I runne blife,* *quickly, eagerly
As soon as ever the sun begins to west,* *decline westward
To see this flow'r, how it will go to rest,
For fear of night, so hateth she darkness!
Her cheer* is plainly spread in the brightness *countenance
Of the sunne, for there it will unclose.
Alas! that I had English, rhyme or prose,
Sufficient this flow'r to praise aright!
But help me, ye that have *cunning or might;* *skill or power*
Ye lovers, that can make of sentiment,
In this case ought ye to be diligent
To further me somewhat in my labour,
Whether ye be with the Leaf or the Flow'r; <3>
For well I wot, that ye have herebefore
Of making ropen,* and led away the corn; <4> *reaped
And I come after, gleaning here and there,
And am full glad if I may find an ear
Of any goodly word that you have left.
And though it hap me to rehearsen eft* *again
What ye have in your freshe songes said,
Forbeare me, and be not *evil apaid,* *displeased*
Since that ye see I do it in th'honour
Of love, and eke in service of the flow'r
Whom that I serve as I have wit or might. <5>
She is the clearness, and the very* light, *true
That in this darke world me winds* and leads; *turns, guides
The heart within my sorrowful breast you dreads,
And loves so sore, that ye be, verily,
The mistress of my wit, and nothing I.
My word, my works, are knit so in your bond,
That, as a harp obeyeth to the hand,
That makes it sound after his fingering,
Right so may ye out of my hearte bring
Such voice, right as you list, to laugh or plain;* *complain, mourn
Be ye my guide, and lady sovereign.
As to mine earthly god, to you I call,
Both in this work, and in my sorrows all.
But wherefore that I spake to give credence
To old stories, and do them reverence,
And that men muste more things believe
Than they may see at eye, or elles preve,* *prove
That shall I say, when that I see my time;
I may not all at ones speak in rhyme.
My busy ghost,* that thirsteth always new *spirit
To see this flow'r so young, so fresh of hue,
Constrained me with so greedy desire,
That in my heart I feele yet the fire,
That made me to rise ere it were day, --
And this was now the first morrow of May, --
With dreadful heart, and glad devotion,
For to be at the resurrection
Of this flower, when that it should unclose
Against the sun, that rose as red as rose,
That in the breast was of the beast* that day *the sign of the Bull
That Agenore's daughter led away. <6>
And down on knees anon right I me set,
And as I could this freshe flow'r I gret,* *greeted
Kneeling alway, till it unclosed was,
Upon the smalle, softe, sweete grass,
That was with flowers sweet embroider'd all,
Of such sweetness and such odour *o'er all,* *everywhere*
That, for to speak of gum, or herb, or tree,
Comparison may none y-maked be;
For it surmounteth plainly all odours,
And for rich beauty the most gay of flow'rs.
Forgotten had the earth his poor estate
Of winter, that him naked made and mate,* *dejected, lifeless
And with his sword of cold so sore grieved;
Now hath th'attemper* sun all that releaved** *temperate **furnished
That naked was, and clad it new again. anew with leaves
The smalle fowles, of the season fain,* *glad
That of the panter* and the net be scap'd, *draw-net
Upon the fowler, that them made awhap'd* *terrified, confounded
In winter, and destroyed had their brood,
In his despite them thought it did them good
To sing of him, and in their song despise
The foule churl, that, for his covetise,* *greed
Had them betrayed with his sophistry* *deceptions
This was their song: "The fowler we defy,
And all his craft:" and some sunge clear
Layes of love, that joy it was to hear,
In worshipping* and praising of their make;** *honouring **mate
And for the blissful newe summer's sake,
Upon the branches full of blossoms soft,
In their delight they turned them full oft,
And sunge, "Blessed be Saint Valentine! <7>
For on his day I chose you to be mine,
Withoute repenting, my hearte sweet."
And therewithal their heals began to meet,
Yielding honour, and humble obeisances,
To love, and did their other observances
That longen unto Love and to Nature;
Construe that as you list, I *do no cure.* *care nothing*
And those that hadde *done unkindeness,* *committed offence
As doth the tidife, <8> for newfangleness, against natural laws*
Besoughte mercy for their trespassing
And humblely sange their repenting,
And swore upon the blossoms to be true;
So that their mates would upon them rue,* *take pity
And at the laste made their accord.* *reconciliation
All* found they Danger** for a time a lord, *although **disdain
Yet Pity, through her stronge gentle might,
Forgave, and made mercy pass aright
Through Innocence, and ruled Courtesy.
But I ne call not innocence folly
Nor false pity, for virtue is the mean,
As Ethic <9> saith, in such manner I mean.
And thus these fowles, void of all malice,
Accorded unto Love, and lefte vice
Of hate, and sangen all of one accord,
"Welcome, Summer, our governor and lord!"
And Zephyrus and Flora gentilly
Gave to the flowers, soft and tenderly,
Their sweete breath, and made them for to spread,
As god and goddess of the flow'ry mead;
In which me thought I mighte, day by day,
Dwellen alway, the jolly month of May,
Withoute sleep, withoute meat or drink.
Adown full softly I began to sink,
And, leaning on mine elbow and my side
The longe day I shope* to abide, *resolved, prepared
For nothing elles, and I shall not lie
But for to look upon the daisy;
That men by reason well it calle may
The Daye's-eye, or else the Eye of Day,
The empress and the flow'r of flowers all
I pray to God that faire may she fall!
And all that love flowers, for her sake:
But, nathelesse, *ween not that I make* *do not fancy that I
In praising of the Flow'r against the Leaf, write this poem*
No more than of the corn against the sheaf;
For as to me is lever none nor lother,
I n'am withholden yet with neither n'other.<10>
*Nor I n'ot* who serves Leaf, nor who the Flow'r; *nor do I know*
Well *brooke they* their service or labour! *may they profit by*
For this thing is all of another tun, <11>
Of old story, ere such thing was begun.
When that the sun out of the south gan west,
And that this flow'r gan close, and go to rest,
For darkness of the night, the which she dread;* *dreaded
Home to my house full swiftly I me sped,
To go to rest, and early for to rise,
To see this flower spread, as I devise.* *describe
And in a little arbour that I have,
That benched was of turfes fresh y-grave,* <12> *cut out
I bade men shoulde me my couche make;
For dainty* of the newe summer's sake, *pleasure
I bade them strowe flowers on my bed.
When I was laid, and had mine eyen hid,
I fell asleep; within an hour or two,
Me mette* how I lay in the meadow tho,** *dreamed **then
To see this flow'r that I love so and dread.
And from afar came walking in the mead
The God of Love, and in his hand a queen;
And she was clad in royal habit green;
A fret* of gold she hadde next her hair, *band
And upon that a white corown she bare,
With flowrons* small, and, as I shall not lie, *florets <13>
For all the world right as a daisy
Y-crowned is, with white leaves lite,* *small
So were the flowrons of her crowne white.
For of one pearle, fine, oriential,
Her white crowne was y-maked all,
For which the white crown above the green
Made her like a daisy for to see'n,* *look upon
Consider'd eke her fret of gold above.
Y-clothed was this mighty God of Love
In silk embroider'd, full of greene greves,* *boughs
In which there was a fret of red rose leaves,
The freshest since the world was first begun.
His gilt hair was y-crowned with a sun,
lnstead of gold, for* heaviness and weight; *to avoid
Therewith me thought his face shone so bright,
That well unnethes might I him behold;
And in his hand me thought I saw him hold
Two fiery dartes, as the gledes* red; *glowing coals
And angel-like his winges saw I spread.
And *all be* that men say that blind is he, *although*
Algate* me thoughte that he might well see; *at all events
For sternly upon me he gan behold,
So that his looking *did my hearte cold.* *made my heart
And by the hand he held this noble queen, grow cold*
Crowned with white, and clothed all in green,
So womanly, so benign, and so meek,
That in this worlde, though that men would seek.
Half of her beauty shoulde they not find
In creature that formed is by Kind;* *Nature
And therefore may I say, as thinketh me,
This song in praising of this lady free:
"Hide, Absolon, thy gilte* tresses clear; *golden
Esther, lay thou thy meekness all adown;
Hide, Jonathan, all thy friendly mannere,
Penelope, and Marcia Catoun,<14>
Make of your wifehood no comparisoun;
Hide ye your beauties, Isoude <15> and Helene;
My lady comes, that all this may distain.* *outdo, obscure
"Thy faire body let it not appear,
Lavine; <16> and thou, Lucrece of Rome town;
And Polyxene, <17> that boughte love so dear,
And Cleopatra, with all thy passioun,
Hide ye your truth of love, and your renown;
And thou, Thisbe, that hadst of love such pain
My lady comes, that all this may distain.
"Hero, Dido, Laodamia, y-fere,* *together
And Phyllis, hanging for Demophoon,
And Canace, espied by thy cheer,
Hypsipyle, betrayed by Jasoun,
Make of your truthe neither boast nor soun';
Nor Hypermnestr' nor Ariadne, ye twain;
My lady comes, that all this may distain."
This ballad may full well y-sungen be,
As I have said erst, by my lady free;
For, certainly, all these may not suffice
*T'appaire with* my lady in no wise; *surpass in beauty
For, as the sunne will the fire distain, or honour*
So passeth all my lady sovereign,
That is so good, so fair, so debonair,
I pray to God that ever fall her fair!
For *n'hadde comfort been* of her presence, *had I not the
I had been dead, without any defence, comfort of*
For dread of Love's wordes, and his cheer;
As, when time is, hereafter ye shall hear.
Behind this God of Love, upon the green,
I saw coming of Ladies nineteen,
In royal habit, a full easy pace;
And after them of women such a trace,* *train
That, since that God Adam had made of earth,
The thirde part of mankind, or the ferth,* *fourth
*Ne ween'd I not* by possibility, *I never fancied*
Had ever in this wide world y-be;* *been
And true of love these women were each one.
Now whether was that a wonder thing, or non,* *not
That, right anon as that they gan espy
This flow'r, which that I call the daisy,
Full suddenly they stenten* all at once, *stopped
And kneeled down, as it were for the nonce,
And sange with one voice, "Heal and honour
To truth of womanhead, and to this flow'r,
*That bears our aller prize in figuring;* *that in its figure bears
Her white crowne bears the witnessing!" the prize from us all*
And with that word, *a-compass enviroun* *all around in a ring*
They sette them full softely adown.
First sat the God of Love, and since* his queen, *afterwards
With the white corowne, clad in green;
And sithen* all the remnant by and by, *then
As they were of estate, full courteously;
And not a word was spoken in the place,
The mountance* of a furlong way of space. *extent <18>
I, kneeling by this flow'r, in good intent
Abode, to knowe what this people meant,
As still as any stone, till, at the last,
The God of Love on me his eyen cast,
And said, "Who kneeleth there? "and I answer'd
Unto his asking, when that I it heard,
And said, "It am I," and came to him near,
And salued* him. Quoth he, "What dost thou here, *saluted
So nigh mine owen flow'r, so boldely?
It were better worthy, truely,
A worm to nighe* near my flow'r than thou." *approach, draw nigh
"And why, Sir," quoth I, "an' it liketh you?"
"For thou," quoth he, "art thereto nothing able,
It is my relic,* dign** and delectable, *emblem <19> **worthy
And thou my foe, and all my folk warrayest,* *molestest, censurest
And of mine olde servants thou missayest,
And hind'rest them, with thy translation,
And lettest* folk from their devotion *preventest
To serve me, and holdest it folly
To serve Love; thou may'st it not deny;
For in plain text, withoute need of glose,* *comment, gloss
Thu hast translated the Romance of the Rose,
That is a heresy against my law,
And maketh wise folk from me withdraw;
And of Cresside thou hast said as thee list,
That maketh men to women less to trust,
That be as true as e'er was any steel.
Of thine answer *advise thee right weel;* *consider right well*
For though that thou *renied hast my lay,* *abjured my law
As other wretches have done many a day, or religion*
By Sainte Venus, that my mother is,
If that thou live, thou shalt repente this,
So cruelly, that it shall well be seen."
Then spake this Lady, clothed all in green,
And saide, "God, right of your courtesy,
Ye mighte hearken if he can reply
Against all this, that ye have *to him meved;* *advanced against him*
A godde shoulde not be thus aggrieved,
But of his deity he shall be stable,
And thereto gracious and merciable.* *merciful
And if ye n'ere* a god, that knoweth all, *were not
Then might it be, as I you telle shall,
This man to you may falsely be accused,
Whereas by right him ought to be excused;
For in your court is many a losengeour,* *deceiver <20>
And many a *quaint toteler accusour,* *strange prating accuser <21>*
That tabour* in your eares many a soun', *drum
Right after their imaginatioun,
To have your dalliance,* and for envy; *pleasant conversation,
These be the causes, and I shall not lie, company
Envy is lavender* of the Court alway, *laundress
For she departeth neither night nor day <22>
Out of the house of Caesar, thus saith Dant';
Whoso that go'th, algate* she shall not want. *at all events
And eke, parauntre,* for this man is nice,** *peradventure **foolish
He mighte do it guessing* no malice; *thinking
For he useth thinges for to make;* *compose poetry
Him *recketh naught of * what mattere he take; *cares nothing for*
Or he was bidden *make thilke tway* *compose those two*
Of* some person, and durst it not withsay;* *by **refuse, deny
Or him repenteth utterly of this.
He hath not done so grievously amiss,
To translate what olde clerkes write,
As though that he of malice would endite,* *write down
*Despite of* Love, and had himself it wrought. *contempt for*
This should a righteous lord have in his thought,
And not be like tyrants of Lombardy,
That have no regard but at tyranny.
For he that king or lord is naturel,
Him oughte not be tyrant or cruel, <23>
As is a farmer, <24> to do the harm he can;
He muste think, it is his liegeman,
And is his treasure, and his gold in coffer;
This is the sentence* of the philosopher: *opinion, sentiment
A king to keep his lieges in justice,
Withoute doubte that is his office.
All* will he keep his lords in their degree, -- *although
As it is right and skilful* that they be, *reasonable
Enhanced and honoured, and most dear,
For they be halfe* in this world here, -- *demigods
Yet must he do both right to poor and rich,
All be that their estate be not y-lich;* *alike
And have of poore folk compassion.
For lo! the gentle kind of the lion;
For when a fly offendeth him, or biteth,
He with his tail away the flye smiteth,
All easily; for of his gentery* *nobleness
Him deigneth not to wreak him on a fly,
As doth a cur, or else another beast.
*In noble corage ought to be arrest,* *in a noble nature ought
And weighen ev'rything by equity, to be self-restraint*
And ever have regard to his degree.
For, Sir, it is no mastery for a lord
To damn* a man, without answer of word; *condemn
And for a lord, that is *full foul to use.* *most infamous practice*
And it be so he* may him not excuse, *the offender
But asketh mercy with a dreadful* heart, *fearing, timid
And proffereth him, right in his bare shirt,
To be right at your owen judgement,
Then ought a god, by short advisement,* *deliberation
Consider his own honour, and his trespass;
For since no pow'r of death lies in this case,
You ought to be the lighter merciable;
Lette* your ire, and be somewhat tractable! *restrain
This man hath served you of his cunning,* *ability, skill
And further'd well your law in his making.* *composing poetry
Albeit that he cannot well endite,
Yet hath he made lewed* folk delight *ignorant
To serve you, in praising of your name.
He made the book that hight the House of Fame,
And eke the Death of Blanche the Duchess,
And the Parliament of Fowles, as I guess,
And all the Love of Palamon and Arcite, <25>
Of Thebes, though the story is known lite;* *little
And many a hymne for your holydays,
That highte ballads, roundels, virelays.
And, for to speak of other holiness,
He hath in prose translated Boece, <26>
And made the Life also of Saint Cecile;
He made also, gone is a greate while,
Origenes upon the Magdalene. <27>
Him oughte now to have the lesse pain;* *penalty
He hath made many a lay, and many a thing.
Now as ye be a god, and eke a king,
I your Alcestis, <28> whilom queen of Thrace,
I aske you this man, right of your grace,
That ye him never hurt in all his life;
And he shall sweare to you, and that blife,* *quickly
He shall no more aguilten* in this wise, *offend
But shall maken, as ye will him devise,
Of women true in loving all their life,
Whereso ye will, of maiden or of wife,
And further you as much as he missaid
Or* in the Rose, or elles in Cresseide." *either
The God of Love answered her anon:
"Madame," quoth he, "it is so long agone
That I you knew, so charitable and true,
That never yet, since that the world was new,
To me ne found I better none than ye;
If that I woulde save my degree,
I may nor will not warne* your request; *refuse
All lies in you, do with him as you lest.
I all forgive withoute longer space;* *delay
For he who gives a gift, or doth a grace,
Do it betimes, his thank is well the more; <29>
And deeme* ye what he shall do therefor. *adjudge
Go thanke now my Lady here," quoth he.
I rose, and down I set me on my knee,
And saide thus; "Madame, the God above
Foryielde* you that ye the God of Love *reward
Have made me his wrathe to forgive;
And grace* so longe for to live, *give me grace
That I may knowe soothly what ye be,
That have me help'd, and put in this degree!
But truely I ween'd, as in this case,
Naught t' have aguilt,* nor done to Love trespass;** *offended
For why? a true man, withoute dread, **offence
Hath not *to parte with* a thieve's deed. *any share in*
Nor a true lover oughte me to blame,
Though that I spoke a false lover some shame.
They oughte rather with me for to hold,
For that I of Cressida wrote or told,
Or of the Rose, *what so mine author meant;* *made a true translation*
Algate, God wot, it was mine intent *by all ways
To further truth in love, and it cherice,* *cherish
And to beware from falseness and from vice,
By such example; this was my meaning."
And she answer'd; "Let be thine arguing,
For Love will not counterpleaded be <30>
In right nor wrong, and learne that of me;
Thou hast thy grace, and hold thee right thereto.
Now will I say what penance thou shalt do
For thy trespass;* and understand it here: *offence
Thou shalt, while that thou livest, year by year,
The moste partie of thy time spend
In making of a glorious Legend
Of Goode Women, maidenes and wives,
That were true in loving all their lives;
And tell of false men that them betray,
That all their life do naught but assay
How many women they may do a shame;
For in your world that is now *held a game.* *considered a sport*
And though thou like not a lover be, <31>
Speak well of love; this penance give I thee.
And to the God of Love I shall so pray,
That he shall charge his servants, by any way,
To further thee, and well thy labour quite:* *requite
Go now thy way, thy penance is but lite.
And, when this book ye make, give it the queen
On my behalf, at Eltham, or at Sheen."
The God of Love gan smile, and then he said:
"Know'st thou," quoth he, "whether this be wife or maid,
Or queen, or countess, or of what degree,
That hath so little penance given thee,
That hath deserved sorely for to smart?
But pity runneth soon in gentle* heart; <32> *nobly born
That may'st thou see, she kitheth* what she is. *showeth
And I answer'd: "Nay, Sir, so have I bliss,
No more but that I see well she is good."
"That is a true tale, by my hood,"
Quoth Love; "and that thou knowest well, pardie!
If it be so that thou advise* thee. *bethink
Hast thou not in a book, li'th* in thy chest, *(that) lies
The greate goodness of the queen Alceste,
That turned was into a daisy
She that for her husbande chose to die,
And eke to go to hell rather than he;
And Hercules rescued her, pardie!
And brought her out of hell again to bliss?"
And I answer'd again, and saide; "Yes,
Now know I her; and is this good Alceste,
The daisy, and mine own hearte's rest?
Now feel I well the goodness of this wife,
That both after her death, and in her life,
Her greate bounty* doubleth her renown. *virtue
Well hath she quit* me mine affectioun *recompensed
That I have to her flow'r the daisy;
No wonder is though Jove her stellify, <33>
As telleth Agathon, <34> for her goodness;
Her white crowne bears of it witness;
For all so many virtues hadde she
As smalle flowrons in her crowne be.
In remembrance of her, and in honour,
Cybele made the daisy, and the flow'r,
Y-crowned all with white, as men may see,
And Mars gave her a crowne red, pardie!
Instead of rubies set among the white."
Therewith this queen wax'd red for shame a lite
When she was praised so in her presence.
Then saide Love: "A full great negligence
Was it to thee, that ilke* time thou made *that same
'Hide Absolon thy tresses,' in ballade,
That thou forgot her in thy song to set,
Since that thou art so greatly in her debt,
And knowest well that calendar* is she *guide, example
To any woman that will lover be:
For she taught all the craft of true loving,
And namely* of wifehood the living, *especially
And all the boundes that she ought to keep:
Thy little wit was thilke* time asleep. *that
But now I charge thee, upon thy life,
That in thy Legend thou make* of this wife, *poetise, compose
When thou hast other small y-made before;
And fare now well, I charge thee no more.
But ere I go, thus much I will thee tell, --
Never shall no true lover come in hell.
These other ladies, sitting here a-row,
Be in my ballad, if thou canst them know,
And in thy bookes all thou shalt them find;
Have them in thy Legend now all in mind;
I mean of them that be in thy knowing.
For here be twenty thousand more sitting
Than that thou knowest, goode women all,
And true of love, for aught that may befall;
Make the metres of them as thee lest;
I must go home, -- the sunne draweth west, --
To Paradise, with all this company:
And serve alway the freshe daisy.
At Cleopatra I will that thou begin,
And so forth, and my love so shalt thou win;
For let see now what man, that lover be,
Will do so strong a pain for love as she.
I wot well that thou may'st not all it rhyme,
That suche lovers didden in their time;
It were too long to readen and to hear;
Suffice me thou make in this mannere,
That thou rehearse of all their life the great,* *substance
After* these old authors list for to treat; *according as
For whoso shall so many a story tell,
Say shortly, or he shall too longe dwell."
And with that word my bookes gan I take,
And right thus on my Legend gan I make.
Thus endeth the Prologue.
Notes to The prologue to The Legend of Good Women
1. Bernard, the Monke, saw not all, pardie!: a proverbial saying,
signifying that even the wisest, or those who claim to be the
wisest, cannot know everything. Saint Bernard, who was the
last, or among the last, of the Fathers, lived in the first half of
the twelfth century.
2. Compare Chaucer's account of his habits, in "The House of
3. See introductory note to "The Flower and the Leaf."
4. "ye have herebefore
Of making ropen, and led away the corn"
The meaning is, that the "lovers" have long ago said all that can
be said, by way of poetry, or "making" on the subject. See note
89 to "Troilus and Cressida" for the etymology of "making"
meaning "writing poetry."
5. The poet glides here into an address to his lady.
6. Europa was the daughter of Agenores, king of Phrygia. She
was carried away to Crete by Jupiter, disguised as a lovely and
tame bull, on whose back Europa mounted as she was sporting
with her maidens by the sea-shore. The story is beautifully told
in Horace, Odes, iii. 27.
7. See "The Assembly of Fowls," which was supposed to
happen on St. Valentine's day.
8. The tidife: The titmouse, or any other small bird, which
sometimes brings up the cuckoo's young when its own have
been destroyed. See note 44 to "The Assembly of Fowls."
9. Ethic: the "Ethics" of Aristotle.
10. "For as to me is lever none nor lother,
I n'am withholden yet with neither n'other."
i.e For as neither is more liked or disliked by me, I am not
bound by, holden to, either the one or the other.
11. All of another tun i.e. wine of another tun -- a quite
12. Compare the description of the arbour in "The Flower and
13. Flowrons: florets; little flowers on the disk of the main
flower; French "fleuron."
14. Mr Bell thinks that Chaucer here praises the complaisance
of Marcia, the wife of Cato, in complying with his will when he
made her over to his friend Hortensius. It would be in better
keeping with the spirit of the poet's praise, to believe that we
should read "Porcia Catoun" -- Porcia the daughter of Cato,
who was married to Brutus, and whose perfect wifehood has
been celebrated in The Franklin's Tale. See note 25 to the
15. Isoude: See note 21 to "The Assembly of Fowls".
16. Lavine: Lavinia, the heroine of the Aeneid, who became the
wife of Aeneas.
17. Polyxena, daughter of Priam, king of Troy, fell in
love with Achilles, and, when he was killed, she fled to the
Greek camp, and slew herself on the tomb of her hero-lover.
18. Mountance: extent, duration. See note 84 to "The House of
19. Relic: emblem; or cherished treasure; like the relics at
the shrines of saints.
20. Losengeour: deceiver. See note 31 to the Nun's Priest's
21. "Toteler" is an old form of the word "tatler," from the
Anglo-Saxon, "totaelan," to talk much, to tattle.
22. Envy is lavender of the court alway: a "lavender" is a
washerwoman or laundress; the word represents "meretrice"in
Dante's original -- meaning a courtezan; but we can well
understand that Chaucer thought it prudent, and at the same
time more true to the moral state of the English Court, to
change the character assigned to Envy. He means that Envy is
perpetually at Court, like some garrulous, bitter old woman
employed there in the most servile offices, who remains at her
post through all the changes among the courtiers. The passage
cited from Dante will be found in the "Inferno," canto xiii. 64 --
23. Chaucer says that the usurping lords who seized on the
government of the free Lombard cities, had no regard for any
rule of government save sheer tyranny -- but a natural lord, and
no usurper, ought not to be a tyrant.
24. Farmer: one who merely farms power or revenue for his
own purposes and his own gain.
25. This was the first version of the Knight's tale. See the
introductory note, above
26. Boece: Boethius' "De Consolatione Philosophiae;" to which
frequent reference is made in The Canterbury Tales. See, for
instances, note 91 to the Knight's Tale; and note 34 to the
27. A poem entitled "The Lamentation of Mary Magdalene,"
said to have been "taken out of St Origen," is included in the
editions of Chaucer; but its authenticity, and consequently its
identity with the poem here mentioned, are doubted.
28. For the story of Alcestis, see note 11 to "The Court of
29. "For he who gives a gift, or doth a grace,
Do it betimes, his thank is well the more"
A paraphrase of the well-known proverb, "Bis dat qui cito dat."
("He gives twice who gives promptly")
30. The same prohibition occurs in the Fifteenth Statute of "The
Court of Love."
31. Chaucer is always careful to allege his abstinence from the
pursuits of gallantry; he does so prominently in "The Court of
Love," "The Assembly of Fowls," and "The House of Fame."
32. Pity runneth soon in gentle heart: the same is said of
Theseus, in The Knight's Tale, and of Canace, by the falcon, in
The Squire's Tale.
33. Stellify: assign to a place among the stars; as Jupiter did to
Andromeda and Cassiopeia.
34. Agathon: there was an Athenian dramatist of this name,
who might have made the virtues and fortunes of Alcestis his
theme; but the reference is too vague for the author to be
identified with any confidence.
CHAUCER'S A. B. C. <1>
LA PRIERE DE NOSTRE DAME <2>
ALMIGHTY and all-merciable* Queen, *all-merciful
To whom all this world fleeth for succour,
To have release of sin, of sorrow, of teen!* *affliction
Glorious Virgin! of all flowers flow'r,
To thee I flee, confounded in errour!
Help and relieve, almighty debonair,* *gracious, gentle
Have mercy of my perilous languour!
Vanquish'd me hath my cruel adversair.
Bounty* so fix'd hath in thy heart his tent, *goodness, charity
That well I wot thou wilt my succour be;
Thou canst not *warne that* with good intent *refuse he who*
Asketh thy help, thy heart is ay so free!
Thou art largess* of plein** felicity, *liberal bestower **full
Haven and refuge of quiet and rest!
Lo! how that thieves seven <3> chase me!
Help, Lady bright, ere that my ship to-brest!* *be broken to pieces
Comfort is none, but in you, Lady dear!
For lo! my sin and my confusion,
Which ought not in thy presence to appear,
Have ta'en on me a grievous action,* *control
Of very right and desperation!
And, as by right, they mighte well sustene
That I were worthy my damnation,
Ne were it mercy of you, blissful Queen!
Doubt is there none, Queen of misericorde,* *compassion
That thou art cause of grace and mercy here;
God vouchesaf'd, through thee, with us t'accord;* *to be reconciled
For, certes, Christe's blissful mother dear!
Were now the bow y-bent, in such mannere
As it was first, of justice and of ire,
The rightful God would of no mercy hear;
But through thee have we grace as we desire.
Ever hath my hope of refuge in thee be';
For herebefore full oft in many a wise
Unto mercy hast thou received me.
But mercy, Lady! at the great assize,
When we shall come before the high Justice!
So little fruit shall then in me be found,
That,* thou ere that day correcte me, *unless
Of very right my work will me confound.
Flying, I flee for succour to thy tent,
Me for to hide from tempest full of dread;
Beseeching you, that ye you not absent,
Though I be wick'. O help yet at this need!
All* have I been a beast in wit and deed, *although
Yet, Lady! thou me close in with thy grace;
*Thine enemy and mine,* -- Lady, take heed! -- *the devil*
Unto my death in point is me to chase.
Gracious Maid and Mother! which that never
Wert bitter nor in earthe nor in sea, <4>
But full of sweetness and of mercy ever,
Help, that my Father be not wroth with me!
Speak thou, for I ne dare Him not see;
So have I done in earth, alas the while!
That, certes, but if thou my succour be,
To sink etern He will my ghost exile.
He vouchesaf'd, tell Him, as was His will,
Become a man, *as for our alliance,* *to ally us with god*
And with His blood He wrote that blissful bill
Upon the cross, as general acquittance
To ev'ry penitent in full creance;* *belief
And therefore, Lady bright! thou for us pray;
Then shalt thou stenten* alle His grievance, *put an end to
And make our foe to failen of his prey.
I wote well thou wilt be our succour,
Thou art so full of bounty in certain;
For, when a soule falleth in errour,
Thy pity go'th, and haleth* him again; *draweth
Then makest thou his peace with his Sov'reign,
And bringest him out of the crooked street:
Whoso thee loveth shall not love in vain,
That shall he find *as he the life shall lete.* *when he leaves
*Kalendares illumined* be they *brilliant exemplars*
That in this world be lighted with thy name;
And whoso goeth with thee the right way,
Him shall not dread in soule to be lame;
Now, Queen of comfort! since thou art the same
To whom I seeke for my medicine,
Let not my foe no more my wound entame;* *injure, molest
My heal into thy hand all I resign.
Lady, thy sorrow can I not portray
Under that cross, nor his grievous penance;
But, for your bothe's pain, I you do pray,
Let not our *aller foe* make his boastance, *the foe of us all --
That he hath in his listes, with mischance, Satan*
*Convicte that* ye both have bought so dear; *ensnared that which*
As I said erst, thou ground of all substance!
Continue on us thy piteous eyen clear.
Moses, that saw the bush of flames red
Burning, of which then never a stick brenn'd,* *burned
Was sign of thine unwemmed* maidenhead. *unblemished
Thou art the bush, on which there gan descend
The Holy Ghost, the which that Moses wend* *weened, supposed
Had been on fire; and this was in figure. <5>
Now, Lady! from the fire us do defend,
Which that in hell eternally shall dure.
Noble Princess! that never haddest peer;
Certes if any comfort in us be,
That cometh of thee, Christe's mother dear!
We have none other melody nor glee,* *pleasure
Us to rejoice in our adversity;
Nor advocate, that will and dare so pray
For us, and for as little hire as ye,
That helpe for an Ave-Mary or tway.
O very light of eyen that be blind!
O very lust* of labour and distress! *relief, pleasure
O treasurer of bounty to mankind!
The whom God chose to mother for humbless!
From his ancill* <6> he made thee mistress *handmaid
Of heav'n and earth, our *billes up to bede;* *offer up our petitions*
This world awaiteth ever on thy goodness;
For thou ne failedst never wight at need.
Purpose I have sometime for to enquere
Wherefore and why the Holy Ghost thee sought,
When Gabrielis voice came to thine ear;
He not to war* us such a wonder wrought, *afflict
But for to save us, that sithens us bought:
Then needeth us no weapon us to save,
But only, where we did not as we ought,
Do penitence, and mercy ask and have.
Queen of comfort, right when I me bethink
That I aguilt* have bothe Him and thee, *offended
And that my soul is worthy for to sink,
Alas! I, caitiff, whither shall I flee?
Who shall unto thy Son my meane* be? *medium of approach
Who, but thyself, that art of pity well?* *fountain
Thou hast more ruth on our adversity
Than in this world might any tongue tell!
Redress me, Mother, and eke me chastise!
For certainly my Father's chastising
I dare not abiden in no wise,
So hideous is his full reckoning.
Mother! of whom our joy began to spring,
Be ye my judge, and eke my soule's leach;* *physician
For ay in you is pity abounding
To each that will of pity you beseech.
Sooth is it that He granteth no pity
Withoute thee; for God of his goodness
Forgiveth none, *but it like unto thee;* *unless it please
He hath thee made vicar and mistress thee*
Of all this world, and eke governess
Of heaven; and represseth his justice
After* thy will; and therefore in witness *according to
He hath thee crowned in so royal wise.
Temple devout! where God chose his wonning,* *abode
From which, these misbeliev'd deprived be,
To you my soule penitent I bring;
Receive me, for I can no farther flee.
With thornes venomous, O Heaven's Queen!
For which the earth accursed was full yore,
I am so wounded, as ye may well see,
That I am lost almost, it smart so sore!
Virgin! that art so noble of apparail,* *aspect
That leadest us into the highe tow'r
Of Paradise, thou me *wiss and counsail* *direct and counsel*
How I may have thy grace and thy succour;
All have I been in filth and in errour,
Lady! *on that country thou me adjourn,* *take me to that place*
That called is thy bench of freshe flow'r,
There as that mercy ever shall sojourn.
Xpe <7> thy Son, that in this world alight,
Upon a cross to suffer his passioun,
And suffer'd eke that Longeus his heart pight,* <8> *pierced
And made his hearte-blood to run adown;
And all this was for my salvatioun:
And I to him am false and eke unkind,
And yet he wills not my damnation;
*This thank I you,* succour of all mankind! *for this I am
indebted to you*
Ysaac was figure of His death certain,
That so farforth his father would obey,
That him *ne raughte* nothing to be slain; *he cared not*
Right so thy Son list as a lamb to dey:* *die
Now, Lady full of mercy! I you pray,
Since he his mercy 'sured me so large,
Be ye not scant, for all we sing and say,
That ye be from vengeance alway our targe.* *shield, defence
Zachary you calleth the open well <9>
That washed sinful soul out of his guilt;
Therefore this lesson out I will to tell,
That, n'ere* thy tender hearte, we were spilt.** *were it not for
Now, Lady brighte! since thou canst and wilt, *destroyed, undone*
Be to the seed of Adam merciable;* *merciful
Bring us unto that palace that is built
To penitents that be *to mercy able!* *fit to receive mercy*
Explicit.* *The end
Notes to Chaucer's A. B. C.
1. Chaucer's A. B. C. -- a prayer to the Virgin, in twenty three
verses, beginning with the letters of the alphabet in their
order -- is said to have been written "at the request of Blanche,
Duchess of Lancaster, as a prayer for her private use, being a
woman in her religion very devout." It was first printed in
Speght's edition of 1597.
2. La Priere De Nostre Dame: French, "The Prayer of Our
3. Thieves seven: i.e. the seven deadly sins
4. Mary's name recalls the waters of "Marah" or bitterness