The Book of the Duchess is the first major work of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (l. c. 1343-1400 CE), best known for his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales, composed in the last twelve years of his life and left unfinished at his death. The Canterbury Tales, first published c. 1476 CE by William Caxton, became so popular that Chaucer's earlier work was overshadowed, only receiving critical attention much later and popular notice as late as the 19th century CE.
Among these is The Book of the Duchess, composed c. 1370 CE in honor of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster (l. 1342-1368 CE), wife of John of Gaunt (l. 1340-1399 CE), Duke of Lancaster and Chaucer's best friend. Blanche died in 1368 CE, probably from the plague, at the age of 26, and John of Gaunt mourned her for the rest of his life even though he would remarry. The Book of the Duchess is thought to have been composed on the second anniversary of her death. It may have been commissioned by John of Gaunt and was read at Blanche's memorial service on the two-year anniversary of her death. The poem was clearly appreciated by John of Gaunt as, afterwards, he rewarded Chaucer with a grant of ten pounds a year for life, at that time equal to almost a year's salary.
The poem is written in Middle English and belongs to the literary genre known as the high medieval dream vision in which a narrator opens by relating some problem he is experiencing and then falls asleep, has a dream which suggests or clearly reveals a solution to the problem, and wakes feeling at peace or resigned to his situation. Chaucer's piece deviates from this form in that the narrator never claims to have resolved his problem through the dream; the poem ends simply with him saying he woke and wrote the dream down.
This being so, the entire poem should be understood as having been written after the narrator woke from the dream and so his problem of unrequited love – which he describes as a "sickness" he has suffered from for eight years (lines 36-37) – continues even after the dream. Chaucer would have crafted the piece in this way to highlight the difficulty in moving on from loss. The poem offers no solution to the problem of grief other than a compassionate listener in the form of his narrator. Through a series of questions and by relating stories, the narrator helps the knight relive the joys of his relationship and express his grief over the loss of his wife even though there is nothing he can do to relieve it.
The poem opens with the narrator complaining that he cannot sleep and lives in a kind of apathy where he feels neither joy nor sorrow, does not care about anything, and fears he may die because of his lack of sleep (lines 1-29). In lines 30-42 he says how he does not really know why he is experiencing this but can guess and how there is only one physician who can heal him but will not do so. The poem relies on an audience's acquaintance with the romantic vision of courtly love, a poetic genre of medieval literature developed in Southern France in the 12th century CE which frequently featured a knight hopelessly in love and devoted to a lady. The lady in these poems is often depicted as a physician who can heal the knight either emotionally, spiritually, or physically, and so the 'physician' the narrator refers to in line 39 is a lady he loves who has either left him or will not return his love.
Since he cannot sleep, the narrator reads a book (Ovid's Metamorphosis, though the title is never given) containing the story of the lovers Seys (usually given as Ceyx) and Alcyone. Seys goes on a sea voyage and, when he fails to return on the given day, Alcyone begins to worry. She prays to the goddess Juno for a sign of whether Seys still lives and her prayer is answered in the form of Morpheus, god of sleep, appearing as Seys to tell her he is dead. Alcyone dies of grief three days later (lines 62-214). The narrator then marvels at the story and how Alcyone received an answer to her prayer when he has not and so he prays to Juno, almost instantly falls asleep, and begins to dream (lines 215-291).
He finds himself in bed on a May morning with birds singing and quickly gets dressed to join a hunt in progress outside. He is separated from the others in the party and walks alone through the woods until he comes upon a man in black sitting alone (lines 292-445). The man, described as a handsome and noble knight, is writing a poem and completely unaware of the narrator. The poem is a lament for lost love, which the knight recites as he writes, in which he says how the love of his life has died and he will never feel joy again. The narrator is moved by the poem and even more so by the knight's obvious sorrow and moves to comfort him, but the knight is so deep in despair he does not notice at first (lines 445-514).
The narrator apologizes for disturbing the knight, says how he is obviously depressed and asks what he can do to help. The knight answers that there is nothing anyone can do and then relates how miserable his life has become, how he curses fortune which has stripped him of happiness, and how life is meaningless now whereas once it was bright and joyful (lines 515-709). The narrator then tries to console him by reminding him of the wisdom of Socrates in confronting fate, and how famous lovers have suffered throughout history like Medea with Jason, Dido with Aeneas, Samson with Delilah (lines 710-740).
The knight tells him he does not know what he is talking about because the knight has lost far more than any of the people cited and tells him to sit down and he will make the problem clearer. The knight then tells the narrator of how he met this beautiful woman, fell in love, and married her (lines 741-1041). The narrator interrupts to say how his wife sounds very nice but she could not have been as perfect as the knight is depicting her. The knight replies how everyone saw her in the same way and there was never anyone as beautiful or kind or gentle as she (lines 1042-1111). The narrator still does not grasp the knight's problem and asks him to tell of their first words with each other and how she came to know he loved her and then asks plainly what has gone wrong with the relationship (lines 1112-1144).
The knight obliges and tells the narrator of the first song he composed for her and then talks about their relationship and how much she meant to him (lines 1145-1297). The narrator asks, "Where is she now?" and the knight replies, "She is dead" at which the narrator exclaims, "Be God, hyt is routhe!" (literally, "it is sorrowful" but better translated as "I am so sorry!") and instantly hears the hunting party returning. He then wakes from the dream to find himself in his bed with the book of Seys and Alcyone in front of him, marvels at the dream he had and says how he knew he had to write it down immediately (lines 1298-1334). The poem ends with the narrator saying how he has done so and now his dream his done.
The Book of the Duchess, like all of Chaucer's works, is written in Middle English, well before spelling was standardized by the poet, writer, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784 CE) wrote the first English dictionary. Words are spelled as they sound and the poem is written to be read aloud. Read silently, the meaning of a word is not always clear but, out loud, and within the context of the sentence, is better understood. The first line, for example, “I have gret wonder, be this lyght” is clearly “I have great wonder, by this light” when spoken out loud.
The letter 'Y' stands for 'I' but stresses on syllables follow the rhyme of the poem and so the 'Y' is sometimes sounded as 'ee' and sometimes as 'ee-uh'. The word 'quod' or 'quoth' means 'to speak' and a 'sweven' is a 'dream'. Other words, which may at first seem strange, are intelligible within the sentence's context where the spelling of a previous word, closer to modern English, will make the meaning clear. The following text comes from the online site Libarius.com (cited in the bibliography below) which provides hyperlinks and glossary to Middle English on its site. This is the standard version as found in The Riverside Chaucer edited by scholar Larry D. Benson, 1987 CE.
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I have gret wonder, be this lyght,
How that I live, for day ne nyght
I may nat slepe wel nigh noght,
I have so many an ydel thoght
Purely for defaute of slepe 5
That, by my trouthe, I take no kepe
Of nothing, how hit cometh or gooth,
Ne me nis nothing leef nor looth.
Al is ylyche good to me —
Joye or sorwe, wherso hyt be — 10
For I have felyng in nothyng,
But, as it were, a mased thyng,
Alway in point to falle a-doun;
For sorwful imaginacioun
Is alway hoolly in my minde. 15
And wel ye woot, agaynes kynde
Hit were to liven in this wyse;
For nature wolde nat suffyse
To noon erthely creature
Not longe tyme to endure 20
Withoute slepe, and been in sorwe;
And I ne may, ne night ne morwe,
Slepe; and thus melancolye
And dreed I have for to dye,
Defaute of slepe and hevynesse 25
Hath sleyn my spirit of quiknesse,
That I have lost al lustihede.
Suche fantasies ben in myn hede
So I not what is best to do.
But men myght axe me, why soo 30
I may not slepe, and what me is?
But natheles, who aske this
Leseth his asking trewely.
Myselven can not telle why
The sooth; but trewely, as I gesse, 35
I holde hit be a siknesse
That I have suffred this eight yere,
And yet my boote is never the nere;
For ther is phisicien but oon,
That may me hele; but that is doon. 40
Passe we over until eft;
That wil not be, moot nede be left;
Our first matere is good to kepe.
So whan I saw I might not slepe,
Til now late, this other night, 45
Upon my bedde I sat upright
And bad oon reche me a book,
A romaunce, and he hit me took
To rede and dryve the night away;
For me thoghte it better play 50
Then playen either at ches or tables.
And in this boke were writen fables
That clerkes hadde, in olde tyme,
And other poets, put in ryme
To rede, and for to be in minde 55
Whyl men loved the lawe of kinde.
This book ne spak but of such thinges,
Of quenes lyves, and of kinges,
And many othere thinges smale.
Amonge al this I fond a tale 60
That me thoughte a wonder thing.
This was the tale: There was a king
That highte Seys, and hadde a wyf,
The beste that mighte bere lyf;
And this quene highte Alcyone. 65
So hit befel, therafter sone,
This king wolde wenden over see.
To tellen shortly, whan that he
Was in the see, thus in this wyse,
Soche a tempest gan to ryse 70
That brak hir mast, and made it falle,
And clefte her ship, and dreynte hem alle,
That never was founden, as it telles,
Bord ne man, ne nothing elles.
Right thus this king Seys loste his lyf. 75
Now for to speken of his wyf: —
This lady, that was left at home,
Hath wonder, that the king ne come
Hoom, for hit was a longe terme.
Anon her herte gan to erme; 80
And for that hir thoughte evermo
Hit was not wel he dwelte so,
She longed so after the king
That certes, hit were a pitous thing
To telle hir hertely sorwful lyf 85
That hadde, alas! this noble wyf;
For him she loved alderbest.
Anon she sente bothe eest and west
To seke him, but they founde nought.
'Alas!' quod she, 'that I was wrought! 90
And wher my lord, my love, be deed?
Certes, I nil never ete breed,
I make a-vowe to my god here,
But I mowe of my lord here!'
Such sorwe this lady to her took 95
That trewely I, which made this book,
Had swich pite and swich routhe
To rede hir sorwe, that, by my trouthe,
I ferde the worse al the morwe
After, to thenken on her sorwe. 100
So whan she koude here no word
That no man mighte fynde hir lord,
Ful ofte she swouned, and saide 'Alas!'
For sorwe ful nigh wood she was,
Ne she koude no reed but oon; 105
But doun on knees she sat anoon,
And weep, that pite was to here.
'A! mercy! Swete lady dere!'
Quod she to Juno, hir goddesse;
'Help me out of this distresse, 110
And yeve me grace my lord to see
Sone, or wite wher-so he be,
Or how he fareth, or in what wyse,
And I shal make you sacrifyse,
And hoolly youres become I shal 115
With good wil, body, herte, and al;
And but thou wilt this, lady swete,
Send me grace to slepe, and mete
In my slepe som certeyn sweven,
Wher-through that I may knowen even 120
Whether my lord be quik or deed.'
With that word she heng doun the heed,
And fil a-swown as cold as ston;
Hir women caught her up anon,
And broghten hir in bed al naked, 125
And she, forweped and forwaked,
Was wery, and thus the dede sleep
Fil on hir, or she toke keep,
Through Juno, that had herd hir bone,
That made hir to slepe sone; 130
For as she prayde, so was don,
In dede; for Juno, right anon,
Called thus her messagere
To do her erande, and he com nere.
Whan he was come, she bad him thus: 135
'Go bet,' quod Juno, 'to Morpheus,
Thou knowest hym wel, the god of sleep;
Now understond wel, and tak keep.
Sey thus on my halfe, that he
Go faste into the grete see, 140
And bid him that, on alle thing,
He take up Seys body the king,
That lyth ful pale and no-thing rody.
Bid him crepe into the body,
And do it goon to Alcyone 145
The quene, ther she lyth alone,
And shewe hir shortly, hit is no nay,
How hit was dreynt this other day;
And do the body speke so
Right as hit was wont to do, 150
The whyles that hit was on lyve.
Go now faste, and hy thee blyve!'
This messager took leve and wente
Upon his wey, and never ne stente
Til he com to the derke valeye 155
That stant bytwene roches tweye,
Ther never yet grew corn ne gras,
Ne tree, ne nothing that ought was,
Beste, ne man, ne nothing elles,
Save ther were a fewe welles 160
Came renning fro the cliffes adoun,
That made a deedly sleping soun,
And ronnen doun right by a cave
That was under a rokke y-grave
Amid the valey, wonder depe. 165
Ther thise goddes laye and slepe,
Morpheus, and Eclympasteyre,
That was the god of slepes heyre,
That slepe and did non other werk.
This cave was also as derk 170
As helle pit over-al aboute;
They had good leyser for to route
To envye, who might slepe beste;
Some henge hir chin upon hir breste
And slepe upright, hir heed y-hed, 175
And some laye naked in hir bed,
And slepe whyles the dayes laste.
This messager come flying faste,
And cryed, 'O ho! Awake anon!'
Hit was for noght; ther herde him non. 180
'Awak!' quod he, 'who is, lyth there?'
And blew his horn right in hir ere,
And cryed `awaketh!' wonder hye.
This god of slepe, with his oon ye
Cast up, axed, 'who clepeth there?' 185
'Hit am I,' quod this messagere;
'Juno bad thou shuldest goon' —
And tolde him what he shulde doon
As I have told yow here-tofore;
Hit is no need reherse hit more; 190
And wente his wey, whan he had sayd.
Anon this god of slepe a-brayd
Out of his slepe, and gan to goon,
And did as he had bede him doon;
Took up the dreynte body sone, 195
And bar hit forth to Alcyone,
His wif the quene, ther-as she lay,
Right even a quarter before day,
And stood right at hir beddes fete,
And called hir, right as she het, 200
By name, and sayde, 'My swete wyf,
Awak! Let be your sorwful lyf!
For in your sorwe there lyth no reed;
For certes, swete, I nam but deed;
Ye shul me never on lyve y-see. 205
But good swete herte, look that ye
Bury my body, at whiche a tyde
Ye mowe hit finde the see besyde;
And far-wel, swete, my worldes blisse!
I praye god your sorwe lisse; 210
To litel whyl our blisse lasteth!'
With that hir eyen up she casteth,
And saw noght; 'A!' quod she, 'for sorwe!'
And deyed within the thridde morwe.
But what she sayde more in that swow 215
I may not telle yow as now,
Hit were to longe for to dwelle;
My first matere I wil yow telle,
Wherfor I have told this thing
Of Alcione and Seys the king. 220
For thus moche dar I saye wel,
I had be dolven everydel,
And deed, right through defaute of sleep,
If I nad red and taken keep
Of this tale next before: 225
And I wol telle yow wherfore:
For I ne might, for bote ne bale,
Slepe, or I had red this tale
Of this dreynte Seys the king,
And of the goddes of sleping. 230
Whan I had red this tale wel
And over-loked hit everydel,
Me thoughte wonder if hit were so;
For I had never herd speke, or tho,
Of no goddes that coude make 235
Men for to slepe, ne for to wake;
For I ne knew never god but oon.
And in my game I sayde anoon —
And yet me list right evel to pleye —
'Rather then that I shulde deye 240
Through defaute of sleping thus,
I wolde yive thilke Morpheus,
Or his goddesse, dame Juno,
Or som wight elles, I ne roghte who —
To make me slepe and have som rest — 245
I wil yive him the alderbest
Yift that ever he abood his lyve,
And here on warde, right now, as blyve;
If he wol make me slepe a lyte,
Of downe of pure dowves whyte 250
I wil yive him a fether-bed,
Rayed with golde, and right wel cled
In fyn blak satin doutremere,
And many a pilow, and every bere
Of clothe of Reynes, to slepe softe; 255
Him thar not nede to turnen ofte.
And I wol yive him al that falles
To a chambre; and al his halles
I wol do peynte with pure golde,
And tapite hem ful many folde 260
Of oo sute; this shal he have,
Yf I wiste wher were his cave,
If he can make me slepe sone,
As did the goddesse Alcione.
And thus this ilke god, Morpheus, 265
May winne of me mo fees thus
Than ever he wan; and to Juno,
That is his goddesse, I shal so do,
I trowe that she shal holde her payd.'
I hadde unnethe that word y-sayd 270
Right thus as I have told hit yow,
That sodeynly, I niste how,
Swich a lust anoon me took
To slepe, that right upon my book
I fil aslepe, and therwith even 275
Me mette so inly swete a sweven,
So wonderful, that never yit
I trowe no man hadde the wit
To conne wel my sweven rede;
No, not Ioseph, withoute drede, 280
Of Egipte, he that redde so
The kinges meting Pharao,
No more than koude the leste of us;
Ne nat scarsly Macrobeus,
(He that wroot al th'avisioun 285
That he mette, Kyng Scipioun,
The noble man, the Affrican —
Swiche marvayles fortuned than)
I trowe, a-rede my dremes even.
Lo, thus hit was, this was my sweven. 290
Me thoughte thus: — that hit was May,
And in the dawning ther I lay,
Me mette thus, in my bed al naked: —
I loked forth, for I was waked
With smale foules a gret hepe, 295
That had affrayed me out of slepe
Through noyse and swetnesse of hir song;
And, as me mette, they sate among,
Upon my chambre-roof withoute,
Upon the tyles, al a-boute, 300
And songen, everich in his wise,
The moste solempne servyse
By note, that ever man, I trowe,
Had herd; for som of hem song lowe,
Som hye, and al of oon acorde. 305
To telle shortly, at oo worde,
Was never y-herd so swete a steven,
But hit had be a thing of heven; —
So mery a soun, so swete entunes,
That certes, for the toune of Tewnes, 310
I nolde but I had herd hem singe,
For al my chambre gan to ringe
Through singing of hir armonye.
For instrument nor melodye
Was nowher herd yet half so swete, 315
Nor of acorde half so mete;
For ther was noon of hem that feyned
To singe, for ech of hem him peyned
To finde out mery crafty notes;
They ne spared not hir throtes. 320
And, sooth to seyn, my chambre was
Ful wel depeynted, and with glas
Were al the windowes wel y-glased,
Ful clere, and nat an hole y-crased,
That to beholde hit was gret Joye. 325
For hoolly al the storie of Troye
Was in the glasing y-wroght thus,
Of Ector and of king Priamus,
Of Achilles and king Lamedon,
Of Medea and of Iason, 330
Of Paris, Eleyne, and Lavyne.
And alle the walles with colours fyne
Were peynted, bothe text and glose,
Of al the Romaunce of the Rose.
My windowes weren shet echon, 335
And through the glas the sonne shon
Upon my bed with brighte bemes,
With many glade gilden stremes;
And eek the welken was so fair,
Blew, bright, clere was the air, 340
And ful atempre for sothe hit was;
For nother cold nor hoot hit nas,
Ne in al the welken was a cloude.
And as I lay thus, wonder loude
Me thoughte I herde an hunte blowe 345
T'assaye his horn, and for to knowe
Whether hit were clere or hors of soune.
I herde goinge, up and doune,
Men, hors, houndes, and other thing;
And al men speken of hunting, 350
How they wolde slee the hert with strengthe,
And how the hert had, upon lengthe,
So moche embosed,I not now what.
Anon-right, whan I herde that,
How that they wolde on hunting goon, 355
I was right glad, and up anoon;
I took my hors, and forth I wente
Out of my chambre; I never stente
Til I com to the feld withoute.
Ther overtook I a gret route 360
Of huntes and eek of foresteres,
With many relayes and lymeres,
And hyed hem to the forest faste,
And I with hem; — so at the laste
I asked oon, ladde a lymere: — 365
'Say, felow, who shal hunten here'
Quod I, and he answerde ageyn,
'Sir, th'emperour Octovien,'
Quod he, `and is heer faste by.'
'A goddes halfe, in good tyme,' quod I, 370
'Go we faste!' and gan to ryde.
Whan we came to the forest-syde,
Every man dide, right anoon,
As to hunting fil to doon.
The mayster-hunte anoon, fot-hoot, 375
With a gret horne blew three moot
At the uncoupling of his houndes.
Within a whyl the hert y-founde is,
Y-halowed, and rechased faste
Longe tyme; and so at the laste, 380
This hert rused and stal away
Fro alle the houndes a prevy way.
The houndes had overshote hem alle,
And were on a defaute y-falle;
Therwith the hunte wonder faste 385
Blew a forloyn at the laste.
I was go walked fro my tree,
And as I wente, ther cam by me
A whelp, that fauned me as I stood,
That hadde y-folowed, and koude no good. 390
Hit com and creep to me as lowe,
Right as hit hadde me y-knowe,
Hild doun his heed and joyned his eres,
And leyde al smothe doun his heres.
I wolde han caught hit, and anoon 395
Hit fledde, and was fro me goon;
And I him folwed, and hit forth wente
Doun by a floury grene wente
Ful thikke of gras, ful softe and swete,
With floures fele, faire under fete, 400
And litel used, hit seemed thus;
For bothe Flora and Zephirus,
They two that make floures growe,
Had mad hir dwelling ther, I trowe;
For hit was, on to beholde, 405
As thogh the erthe envye wolde
To be gayer than the heven,
To have mo floures, swiche seven
As in the welken sterres be.
Hit had forgete the povertee 410
That winter, through his colde morwes,
Had mad hit suffren, and his sorwes;
Al was forgeten, and that was sene.
For al the wode was waxen grene,
Swetnesse of dewe had mad it waxe. 415
Hit is no need eek for to axe
Wher ther were many grene greves,
Or thikke of trees, so ful of leves;
And every tree stood by himselve
Fro other wel ten foot or twelve. 420
So grete trees, so huge of strengthe,
Of fourty or fifty fadme lengthe,
Clene withoute bough or stikke,
With croppes brode, and eek as thikke —
They were nat an inche asonder — 425
That hit was shadwe overal under;
And many an hert and many an hynde
Was both before me and bihinde.
Of founes, soures, bukkes, does
Was ful the wode, and many roes, 430
And many squirelles that sete
Ful hye upon the trees, and ete,
And in hir maner made festes.
Shortly, hit was so ful of bestes,
That thogh Argus, the noble countour, 435
Sete to rekene in his countour,
And rekene with his figures ten —
For by tho figures mowe al ken,
If they be crafty, rekene and noumbre,
And telle of every thing the noumbre — 440
Yet shulde he fayle to rekene even
The wondres, me mette in my sweven.
But forth they romed wonder faste
Doun the wode; so at the laste
I was war of a man in blak, 445
That sat and had yturned his bak
To an ook, an huge tree.
'Lord,' thoghte I, 'who may that be?
What ayleth him to sitten here?'
Anoon-right I wente nere; 450
Than fond I sitte even upright
A wonder wel-faringe knight —
By the maner me thoughte so —
Of good mochel, and yong therto,
Of the age of four and twenty yeer. 455
Upon his berde but litel heer,
And he was clothed al in blakke.
I stalked even unto his bakke,
And ther I stood as stille as ought,
That, sooth to saye, he saw me nought, 460
For-why he heng his heed adoune.
And with a deedly sorwful soune
He made of ryme ten vers or twelve
Of a compleynt to himselve,
The moste pite, the moste routhe, 465
That ever I herde; for, by my trouthe,
Hit was gret wonder that nature
Might suffren any creature
To have swich sorwe, and be not deed.
Ful pitous, pale, and nothing reed, 470
He sayde a lay, a maner song,
Withoute note, withoute song,
And hit was this; for wel I can
Reherce hit; right thus hit began. —
'I have of sorwe so grete won, 475
That Joye gete I never non,
Now that I see my lady bright,
Which I have loved with al my might,
Is fro me dedd, and is a-goon.
And thus in sorwe lefte me alone. 480
'Allas, o deeth! What ayleth thee,
That thou noldest have taken me,
'Whan that thou toke my lady swete?
That was so fayr, so fresh, so free,
So good, that men may wel y-see 485
'Of al goodnesse she had no mete!' —
Whan he had mad thus his complaynte,
His sorowful herte gan faste faynte,
And his spirites wexen dede;
The blood was fled, for pure drede, 490
Doun to his herte, to make him warm —
For wel hit feled the herte had harm —
To wite eek why hit was adrad,
By kinde, and for to make hit glad;
For hit is membre principal 495
Of the body; and that made al
His hewe chaunge and wexe grene
And pale, for no blood was sene
In no maner lime of his.
Anoon therwith whan I saugh this, 500
He ferde thus evel ther he sete,
I wente and stood right at his fete,
And grette him, but he spak noght,
But argued with his owne thoght,
And in his witte disputed faste 505
Why and how his lyf might laste;
Him thoughte his sorwes were so smerte
And lay so colde upon his herte;
So, through his sorwe and hevy thoght,
Made him that he ne herde me noght; 510
For he had wel nigh lost his minde,
Thogh Pan, that men clepeth god of kinde,
Were for his sorwes never so wrooth.
But at the laste, to sayn right sooth,
He was war of me, how I stood 515
Before him, and dide of myn hood,
And grette him, as I best koude.
Debonairly, and nothing loude,
He sayde, `I prey thee, be not wrooth,
I herde thee not, to sayn the sooth, 520
Ne I saw thee not, sir, trewely.'
'A! goode sir, no fors,' quod I,
'I am right sory if I have ought
Destroubled yow out of your thought;
Foryive me if I have mistake.' 525
'Yis, th'amendes is light to make,'
Quod he, `for ther lyth noon ther-to;
Ther is nothing missayd nor do,'
Lo! how goodly spak this knight,
As it had been another wight; 530
He made it nouther tough ne queynte
And I saw that, and gan me aqueynte
With him, and fond him so tretable,
Right wonder skilful and resonable,
As me thoghte, for al his bale. 535
Anoon-right I gan finde a tale
To him, to loke wher I might ought
Have more knowing of his thought.
'Sir,' quod I, `this game is doon;
I holde that this hert be goon; 540
Thise huntes conne him nowher see.'
'I do no fors therof,' quod he,
'My thought is theron never a deel.'
'By oure lord,' quod I, `I trowe yow weel,
Right so me thinketh by your chere. 545
But, sir, oo thing wol ye here?
Me thinketh, in gret sorwe I yow see;
But certes, good sir, yif that ye
Wolde ought discure me your wo,
I wolde, as wis god help me so, 550
Amende hit, yif I can or may;
Ye mowe preve hit by assay.
For, by my trouthe, to make yow hool,
I wol do al my power hool;
And telleth me of your sorwes smerte, 555
Paraventure hit may ese your herte,
That semeth ful seke under your syde.'
With that he loked on me asyde,
As who sayth, `Nay, that wol not be.'
'Graunt mercy, goode frend,' quod he, 560
'I thanke thee that thou woldest so,
But hit may never the rather be do,
No man may my sorwe glade,
That maketh my hewe to falle and fade,
And hath myn understonding lorn, 565
That me is wo that I was born!
May noght make my sorwes slyde,
Nought the remedies of Ovyde;
Ne Orpheus, god of melodye,
Ne Dedalus, with playes slye; 570
Ne hele me may phisicien,
Noght Ypocras, ne Galien;
Me is wo that I live houres twelve;
But who so wol assaye himselve
Whether his herte can have pite 575
Of any sorwe, lat him see me.
I wrecche, that deeth hath mad al naked
Of alle blisse that ever was maked,
Y-worthe worste of alle wightes,
That hate my dayes and my nightes; 580
My lyf, my lustes be me looth,
For al welfare and I be wrooth.
The pure deeth is so my fo
Thogh I wolde deye, hit wolde not so;
For whan I folwe hit, hit wol flee; 585
I wolde have hit, hit nil not me.
This is my peyne withoute reed,
Alway deinge and be not deed,
That Sesiphus, that lyth in helle,
May not of more sorwe telle. 590
And who so wiste al, be my trouthe,
My sorwe, but he hadde routhe
And pite of my sorwes smerte,
That man hath a feendly herte.
For who so seeth me first on morwe 595
May seyn, he hath y-met with sorwe;
For I am sorwe and sorwe is I.
'Allas! and I wol telle the why;
My song is turned to pleyning,
And al my laughter to weping, 600
My glade thoghtes to hevynesse,
In travaile is myn ydelnesse
And eek my reste; my wele is wo,
My goode is harm, and ever-mo
In wrathe is turned my pleying, 605
And my delyt into sorwing.
Myn hele is turned into seeknesse,
In drede is al my sikernesse.
To derke is turned al my light,
My wit is foly, my day is night, 610
My love is hate, my sleep waking,
My mirthe and meles is fasting,
My countenaunce is nycete,
And al abaved wherso I be,
My pees, in pleding and in werre; 615
Allas, how mighte I fare werre?
'My boldnesse is turned to shame,
For fals Fortune hath pleyd a game
Atte ches with me, allas, the whyle!
The trayteresse fals and ful of gyle, 620
That al behoteth and nothing halt,
She goth upryght and yet she halt,
That baggeth foule and loketh faire,
The dispitouse debonaire,
That scorneth many a creature! 625
An ydole of fals portraiture
Is she, for she wil sone wryen;
She is the monstres heed ywryen,
As filth over ystrawed with floures;
Hir moste worship and hir flour is 630
To lyen, for that is hir nature;
Withoute feyth, lawe, or mesure.
She is fals; and ever laughinge
With oon eye, and that other wepinge.
That is broght up, she set al doun. 635
I lykne hir to the scorpioun,
That is a fals, flateringe beste;
For with his hede he maketh feste,
But al amid his flateringe
With his tayle he wol stinge, 640
And envenyme; and so wol she.
She is th'envyouse charite
That is ay fals, and seemeth weel,
So turneth she hir false wheel
Aboute, for it is nothing stable, 645
Now by the fyre, now at table;
Ful many oon hath she thus yblent;
She is pley of enchauntement,
That semeth oon and is not so,
The false theef! What hath she do, 650
Trowest thou? By our Lord, I wol thee seye.
Atte ches with me she gan to pleye;
With hir false draughtes divers
She stal on me, and took my fers.
And whan I saw my fers aweye, 655
Alas! I couthe no lenger playe,
But seyde, "Farewel, swete, y-wis,
And farwel al that ever ther is!"
Therwith Fortune seyde, "Chek her!"
And "Mate!" in mid pointe of the chekker 660
With a poune erraunt, allas!
Ful craftier to pley she was
Than Athalus, that made the game
First of the ches: so was his name.
But God wolde I had ones or twyes 665
Y-koud and knowe the jeupardyes
That koude the Grek Pithagores!
I shulde have pleyd the bet at ches,
And kept my fers the bet therby;
And thogh wherto? for trewely, 670
I hold that wish nat worth a stree!
Hit had be never the bet for me.
For Fortune can so many a wyle,
Ther be but fewe can hir begyle,
And eek she is the las to blame; 675
Myself I wolde have do the same,
Before god, hadde I been as she;
She oghte the more excused be.
For this I say yet more therto,
Hadde I be god and mighte have do 680
My wille, whan she my fers caughte,
I wolde have drawe the same draughte.
For, also wis god yive me reste,
I dar wel swere she took the beste!
'But through that draughte I have lorn 685
My blisse; allas! that I was born!
For evermore, I trowe trewly,
For al my wil, my lust hoolly
Is turned; but yet what to done?
Be oure Lord, hit is to deye sone; 690
For nothing I ne leve it noght,
But live and deye right in this thoght.
There nis planete in firmament,
Ne in air, ne in erthe, noon element,
That they ne yive me a yift echoon 695
Of weping, whan I am aloon.
For whan that I avyse me weel,
And bethenke me everydeel,
How that ther lyth in rekening,
In my sorwe for nothing; 700
And how ther leveth no gladnesse
May gladde me of my distresse,
And how I have lost suffisance,
And therto I have no plesance,
Than may I say, I have right noght. 705
And whan al this falleth in my thoght,
Allas! than am I overcome!
For that is doon is not to come!
I have more sorowe than Tantale.'
And whan I herde him telle this tale 710
Thus pitously, as I yow telle,
Unnethe mighte I lenger dwelle,
Hit dide myn herte so moche wo.
'A! good sir!' quod I, 'say not so!
Have som pite on your nature 715
That formed yow to creature,
Remembre yow of Socrates;
For he ne counted nat three strees
Of noght that Fortune coude do.'
'No,' quod he, 'I can not so.' 720
'Why so, good sir! Pardee!' quod I;
'Ne say noght so, for trewely,
Thogh ye had lost the ferses twelve,
And ye for sorwe mordred yourselve,
Ye sholde be dampned in this cas 725
By as good right as Medea was,
That slow hir children for Jason;
And Phyllis als for Demophon
Heng hirself, so weylaway!
For he had broke his terme-day 730
To come to hir. Another rage
Had Dydo, quene eek of Cartage,
That slow hirself for Eneas
Was fals; a whiche a fool she was!
And Ecquo dyed for Narcisus. 735
Nolde nat love hir; and right thus
Hath many another foly don.
And for Dalida died Sampson,
That slow himself with a pilere.
But ther is noon alyve here 740
Wolde for a fers make this wo!'
'Why so?' quod he; 'hit is nat so,
Thou woste ful litel what thou menest;
I have lost more than thow wenest.'
'Lo, sir, how may that be?' quod I; 745
'Good sir, tel me al hoolly
In what wyse, how, why, and wherfore
That ye have thus your blisse lore,'
'Blythly,' quod he, 'com sit adoun,
I telle thee up condicioun 750
That thou hoolly, with al thy wit,
Do thyn entente to herkene hit.'
'Yis, sir.' 'Swere thy trouthe therto.'
'Gladly.' 'Do than holde herto!'
'I shal right blythly, so God me save, 755
Hoolly, with al the wit I have,
Here yow, as wel as I can,'
'A goddes half!' quod he, and began: —
'Sir,' quod he, `sith first I couthe
Have any maner wit fro yowthe, 760
Or kyndely understonding
To comprehende, in any thing,
What love was, in myn owne wit,
Dredelees, I have ever yit
Be tributary, and yiven rente 765
To love hoolly with goode entente,
And through plesaunce become his thral,
With good wil, body, herte, and al.
Al this I putte in his servage,
As to my lorde, and dide homage; 770
And ful devoutly prayde him to,
He shulde besette myn herte so,
That it plesaunce to him were,
And worship to my lady dere.
'And this was longe, and many a yeer 775
Or that myn herte was set o-wher,
That I did thus, and niste why;
I trowe hit cam me kindely.
Paraunter I was therto most able
As a whyt wal or a table; 780
For hit is redy to cacche and take
Al that men wil therin make,
Wherso so men wol portreye or peynte,
Be the werkes never so queynte.
'And thilke tyme I ferde so 785
I was able to have lerned tho,
And to have coud as wel or better,
Paraunter, other art or letter.
But for love cam first in my thought,
Therfore I forgat hit nought. 790
I chees love to my firste craft,
Therfor hit is with me laft.
Forwhy I took hit of so yong age,
That malice hadde my corage
Nat that tyme turned to nothing 795
Through to mochel knowleching.
For that tyme yowthe, my maistresse,
Governed me in ydelnesse;
For hit was in my firste youthe,
And tho ful litel good I couthe, 800
For al my werkes were flittinge,
And al my thoghtes varyinge;
Al were to me yliche good,
That I knew tho; but thus hit stood.
'Hit happed that I cam on a day 805
Into a place, ther I say,
Trewly, the fayrest companye
Of ladies that ever man with ye
Had seen togedres in oo place.
Shal I clepe hit hap other grace 810
That broght me ther? Nay, but Fortune,
That is to lyen ful comune,
The false trayteresse, pervers,
God wolde I coude clepe hir wers!
For now she worcheth me ful wo, 815
And I wol telle sone why so.
'Among thise ladies thus echoon,
Soth to seyn, I saw ther oon
That was lyk noon of al the route;
For I dar swere, withoute doute, 820
That as the someres sonne bright
Is fairer, clere, and hath more light
Than any planete, is in heven,
The mone, or the sterres seven,
For al the worlde so had she 825
Surmounted hem alle of beaute,
Of maner and of comlynesse,
Of stature and wel set gladnesse,
Of goodlihede so wel beseye —
Shortly, what shal I more seye? 830
By God, and by his halwes twelve,
It was my swete, right al hirselve!
She had so stedfast countenaunce,
So noble port and meyntenaunce.
And Love, that had herd my boone, 835
Had espyed me thus soone,
That she ful sone, in my thoght,
As helpe me God, so was ycaught
So sodenly, that I ne took
No maner reed but at hir look 840
And at myn herte; for-why hir eyen
So gladly, I trow, myn herte seyen,
That purely tho myn owne thoght
Seyde hit were bet serve hir for noght
Than with another to be weel. 845
And hit was sooth, for, everydeel,
I wil anoon-right telle thee why.
I saw hir daunce so comlily,
Carole and singe so swetely,
Laughe and pleye so womanly, 850
And loke so debonairly,
So goodly speke and so frendly,
That certes, I trow, that evermore
Nas seyn so blisful a tresore.
For every heer upon hir hede, 855
Soth to seyn, hit was not rede,
Ne nouther yelow, ne broun hit nas;
Me thoghte, most lyk gold hit was.
And whiche eyen my lady hadde!
Debonair, goode, glade, and sadde, 860
Simple, of good mochel, noght to wyde;
Therto hir look nas not asyde,
Ne overthwert, but beset so weel,
Hit drew and took up, everydeel,
Alle that on hir gan beholde. 865
Hir eyen semed anoon she wolde
Have mercy; fooles wenden so;
But hit was never the rather do.
Hit nas no countrefeted thing,
It was hir owne pure loking, 870
That the goddesse, dame Nature,
Had made hem opene by mesure,
And close; for, were she never so glad,
Hir loking was not foly sprad,
Ne wildely, thogh that she pleyde; 875
But ever, me thoght, hir eyen seyde,
"By god, my wrathe is al for-yive!"
'Therwith hir liste so wel to live,
That dulnesse was of hir adrad.
She nas to sobre ne to glad; 880
In alle thinges more mesure
Had never, I trowe, creature.
But many oon with hir loke she herte,
And that sat hir ful lyte at herte,
For she knew nothing of her thoght; 885
But whether she knew, or knew hit noght,
Algate she ne roghte of hem a stree!
To gete hir love no ner was he
That woned at home, than he in Inde;
The formest was alway behinde. 890
But goode folk, over al other,
She loved as man may do his brother;
Of whiche love she was wonder large,
In skilful places that bere charge.
'Which a visage had she therto! 895
Allas! myn herte is wonder wo
That I ne can discryven hit!
Me lakketh bothe English and wit
For to undo hit at the fulle;
And eek my spirits be so dulle 900
So greet a thing for to devyse.
I have no wit that can suffyse
To comprehenden hir beaute;
But thus moche dar I seyn, that she
Was rody, fresh, and lyvely hewed; 905
And every day hir beaute newed.
And negh hir face was alderbest;
For certes, Nature had swich lest
To make that fair, that trewly she
Was hir cheef patron of beautee, 910
And cheef ensample of al hir werke,
And moustre; for, be hit never so derke,
Me thinketh I see hir ever-mo.
And yet more-over, thogh alle tho
That ever lived were not alyve, 915
They ne sholde have founde to discryve
In al hir face a wikked signe;
For hit was sad, simple, and benigne.
'And which a goodly, softe speche
Had that swete, my lyves leche! 920
So frendly, and so wel y-grounded,
Up al resoun so wel y-founded,
And so tretable to alle gode,
That I dar swere by the rode,
Of eloquence was never founde 925
So swete a sowninge facounde,
Ne trewer tonged, ne scorned lasse,
Ne bet coude hele; that, by the masse,
I durste swere, thogh the pope hit songe,
That ther was never yet through hir tonge 930
Man ne woman gretly harmed;
As for hir, ther was al harm hid;
Ne lasse flatering in hir worde,
That purely, hir simple recorde
Was founde as trewe as any bonde, 935
Or trouthe of any mannes honde.
Ne chyde she koude never a deel,
That knoweth al the world ful weel.
`But swich a fairnesse of a nekke
Had that swete that boon nor brekke 940
Nas ther non sene, that missat.
Hit was whyt, smothe, streght, and flat,
Withouten hole; and canel-boon,
As by seming, had she noon.
Hir throte, as I have now memoire, 945
Semed a round tour of yvoire,
Of good gretnesse, and noght to grete.
'And goode faire Whyte she hete,
That was my lady name right.
She was bothe fair and bright, 950
She hadde not hir name wrong.
Right faire shuldres, and body long
She hadde, and armes; every lith
Fattish, flesshy, not greet therwith;
Right whyte handes, and nayles rede, 955
Rounde brestes; and of good brede
Hyr hippes were, a streight flat bake.
I knew on hir non other lak
That al hir limmes nere sewing,
In as fer as I had knowing. 960
'Therto she koude so wel pleye,
Whan that hir liste, that I dar seye,
That she was lyk to torche bright,
That every man may take of light
Ynogh, and hit hath never the lesse. 965
'Of maner and of comlinesse
Right so ferde my lady dere;
For every wight of hir manere
Might cacche ynogh, if that he wolde,
If he had eyen hir to beholde. 970
For I dar sweren, if that she
Had among ten thousand be,
She wolde have be, at the leste,
A cheef mirour of al the feste,
Thogh they had stonden in a rowe, 975
To mennes eyen koude have knowe.
For wher-so men had pleyd or waked,
Me thoghte the felawship as naked
Withouten hir, that saw I ones,
As a coroune withoute stones. 980
Trewely she was, to myn ye,
The soleyn fenix of Arabye,
For ther liveth never but oon;
Ne swich as she ne know I noon.
'To speke of goodnesse; trewly she 985
Had as moche debonairte
As ever had Hester in the bible
And more, if more were possible.
And, soth to seyne, therwithal
She had a wit so general, 990
So hool enclyned to alle gode,
That al hir wit was set, by the rode,
Withoute malice, upon gladnesse;
Therto I saw never yet a lesse
Harmul, than she was in doing. 995
I sey nat that she ne had knowing
What harm was; or elles she
Had coud no good, so thinketh me.
'And trewely, for to speke of trouthe,
But she had had, hit had be routhe. 1000
Therof she had so moche hir del —
And I dar seyn and swere hit wel —
That Trouthe him-self, over al and al,
Had chose his maner principal
In hir, that was his resting-place. 1005
Therto she hadde the moste grace,
To have stedfast perseveraunce,
And esy, atempre governaunce,
That ever I knew or wiste yit;
So pure suffraunt was hir wit. 1010
And reson gladly she understood,
Hit folowed wel she coude good.
She used gladly to do weel;
These were hir maners everydeel.
'Therwith she loved so wel right, 1015
She wrong do wolde to no wight;
No wight might do hir no shame,
She loved so wel hir owne name.
Hir luste to holde no wight in honde;
Ne, be thou siker, she nolde fonde 1020
To holde no wight in balaunce,
By half word ne by countenaunce,
But-if men wolde upon hir lye;
Ne sende men into Walakye,
To Pruyse, and into Tartarye, 1025
To Alisaundre, ne into Turkye,
And bidde him faste, anoon that he
Go hoodles to the drye see,
And come hoom by the Carrenare;
And seye, "Sir, be now right ware 1030
That I may of yow here seyn
Worship, or that ye come ageyn!'
She ne used no suche knakkes smale.
'But wherfor that I telle my tale?
Right on this same, as I have seyd, 1035
Was hoolly al my love leyd;
For certes, she was, that swete wyf,
My suffisaunce, my lust, my lyf,
Myn hap, myn hele, and al my blisse,
My worldes welfare, and my lisse, 1040
And I hires hoolly, everydeel.'
'By our lord,' quod I, 'I trowe yow weel!
Hardily, your love was wel beset,
I not how ye mighte have do bet.'
'Bet? ne no wight so wel!' quod he. 1045
'I trowe hit, sir,' quod I, 'parde!'
'Nay, leve hit wel!' 'Sir, so do I;
I leve yow wel, that trewely
Yow thoghte, that she was the beste,
And to beholde the alderfaireste, 1050
Who so had loked hir with your eyen.'
'With myn? Nay, alle that hir seyen
Seyde and sworen hit was so.
And thogh they ne hadde, I wolde tho
Have loved best my lady fre, 1055
Thogh I had had al the beautee
That ever had Alcipyades,
And al the strengthe of Ercules,
And therto had the worthinesse
Of Alisaundre, and al the richesse 1060
That ever was in Babiloyne,
In Cartage, or in Macedoyne,
Or in Rome, or in Ninive;
And therto also hardy be
As was Ector, so have I Ioye, 1065
That Achilles slow at Troye —
And therfor was he slayn also
In a temple, for bothe two
Were slayn, he and Antilegius,
And so seyth Dares Frigius, 1070
For love of hir Polixena —
Or ben as wys as Minerva,
I wolde ever, withoute drede,
Have loved hir, for I moste nede!
"Nede!" nay, I gabbe now, 1075
Noght "nede", and I wol telle how,
For of good wille myn herte hit wolde,
And eek to love hir I was holde
As for the fairest and the beste.
'She was as good, so have I reste, 1080
As ever was Penelope of Grece,
Or as the noble wyf Lucrece,
That was the beste — he telleth thus,
The Romayn Tytus Livius —
She was as good, and no-thing lyke, 1085
Thogh hir stories be autentyke;
Algate she was as trewe as she.
'But wherfor that I telle thee
Whan I first my lady say?
I was right yong, the sooth to sey, 1090
And ful gret need I hadde to lerne;
Whan my herte wolde yerne
To love, it was a greet empryse.
But as my wit koude best suffyse,
After my yonge childly wit, 1095
Withoute drede, I besette hit
To love hir in my beste wise,
To do hir worship and servyse
That I tho coude, be my trouthe,
Withoute feyning outher slouthe; 1100
For wonder fayn I wolde hir see.
So mochel hit amended me,
That, whan I saugh hir first a-morwe,
I was warished of al my sorwe
Of al day after, til hit were eve; 1105
Me thoghte nothing mighte me greve,
Were my sorwes never so smerte.
And yit she sit so in myn herte,
That, by my trouthe, I nolde noghte,
For al this worlde, out of my thoght 1110
Leve my lady; no, trewely!'
'Now, by my trouthe, sir,' quod I,
'Me thinketh ye have such a chaunce
As shrift withoute repentaunce.'
'Repentaunce! Nay, fy,' quod he; 1115
'Shulde I now repente me
To love? nay, certes, than were I wel
Wers than was Achitofel,
Or Anthenor, so have I Ioye,
The traytour that betraysed Troye, 1120
Or the false Genelon,
He that purchased the treson
Of Rowland and of Olivere.
Nay, why! I am alyve here
I nil foryete hir never mo.' 1125
'Now, goode sir,' quod I right tho,
'Ye han wel told me here before.
It is no need reherce hit more
How ye sawe hir first, and where;
But wolde ye telle me the manere, 1130
To hir which was your firste speche —
Therof I wolde yow be-seche —
And how she knewe first your thoght,
Whether ye loved hir or noght,
And telleth me eek what ye have lore; 1135
I herde yow telle her-before.'
'Ye,' seyde he,'thow nost what thou menest;
I have lost more than thou wenest.'
'What los is that, sir?' quod I tho;
'Nil she not love yow? Is hit so? 1140
Or have ye oght y-doon amis,
That she hath left yow? Is hit this?
For goddes love, telle me al.'
'Before god,' quod he, 'and I shal.
I saye right as I have seyd, 1145
On hir was al my love leyd;
And yet she niste hit never a deel
Noght longe tyme, leve hit weel.
For be right siker, I durste noght
For al this worlde telle hir my thoght, 1150
Ne I wolde have wratthed hir, trewely.
For wostow why? she was lady
Of the body; she had the herte,
And who hath that, may not asterte.
'But, for to kepe me fro ydelnesse, 1155
Trewely I did my besinesse
To make songes, as I best koude,
And ofte tyme I song hem loude;
And made songes a gret del,
Al-thogh I coude not make so wel 1160
Songes, ne knowe the art al,
As coude Lamekes sone Tubal,
That fond out first the art of songe;
For, as his brothers hamers ronge
Upon his anvelt up and doun, 1165
Therof he took the firste soun;
But Grekes seyn, Pictagoras,
That he the firste finder was
Of the art; Aurora telleth so,
But therof no fors, of hem two. 1170
Algates songes thus I made
Of my feling, myn herte to glade;
And lo! this was the alderfirst,
I not wher that hit were the werst. —
"Lord, hit maketh myn herte light, 1175
Whan I thenke on that swete wight
That is so semely on to see;
And wisshe to god hit might so be,
That she wolde holde me for hir knight,
My lady, that is so fair and bright!" — 1180
'Now have I told thee, sooth to saye,
My firste song. Upon a daye
I bethoghte me what wo
And sorwe that I suffred tho
For hir, and yet she wiste hit noght, 1185
Ne telle hir durste I nat my thoght.
'Allas!' thoghte I, 'I can no reed;
And, but I telle hir, I nam but deed;
And if I telle hir, to seye sooth,
I am adrad she wol be wrooth; 1190
Allas! what shal I thanne do?"
'In this debat I was so wo,
Me thoghte myn herte braste a-tweyn!
So atte laste, soth to sayn,
I me bethoghte that nature 1195
Ne formed never in creature
So moche beautee, trewely,
And bountee, withouten mercy.
'In hope of that, my tale I tolde,
With sorwe, as that I never sholde; 1200
For nedes, and, maugree my heed,
I moste have told hir or be deed.
I not wel how that I began,
Ful evel rehercen hit I can;
And eek, as helpe me god withal, 1205
I trowe hit was in the dismal,
That was the ten woundes of Egipte;
For many a word I over-skipte
In my tale, for pure fere
Lest my wordes misset were. 1210
With sorweful herte, and woundes dede,
Softe and quaking for pure drede
And shame, and stinting in my tale
For ferde, and myn hewe al pale,
Ful ofte I wex bothe pale and reed; 1215
Bowing to hir, I heng the heed;
I durste nat ones loke hir on,
For wit, manere, and al was gon.
I seyde "mercy!" and no more;
Hit nas no game, hit sat me sore. 1220
'So atte laste, sooth to seyn,
Whan that myn herte was come ageyn,
To telle shortly al my speche,
With hool herte I gan hir beseche
That she wolde be my lady swete; 1225
And swor, and gan hir hertely hete
Ever to be stedfast and trewe,
And love hir alwey freshly newe,
And never other lady have,
And al hir worship for to save 1230
As I best koude; I swor hir this —
"For youres is al that ever ther is
For evermore, myn herte swete!
And never false yow, but I mete,
I nil, as wis God helpe me so!" 1235
'And whan I had my tale y-do,
God woot, she acounted nat a stree
Of al my tale, so thoghte me.
To telle shortly as hit is,
Trewely hir answere, hit was this; 1240
I can not now wel counterfete
Hir wordes, but this was the grete
Of hir answere: she sayde, "nay"
Al outerly. Allas, that day
The sorwe I suffred, and the wo! 1245
That trewely Cassandra, that so
Bewayled the destruccioun.
Of Troye and of Ilioun,
Had never swich sorwe as I tho.
I durste no more say therto 1250
For pure fere, but stal away;
And thus I lived ful many a day;
That trewely, I hadde no need
Ferther than my beddes heed
Never a day to seche sorwe; 1255
I fond hit redy every morwe,
For-why I loved hir in no gere.
'So hit befel, another yere,
I thoughte ones I wolde fonde
To do hir knowe and understonde 1260
My wo; and she wel understood
That I ne wilned thing but good,
And worship, and to kepe hir name
Over al thing, and drede hir shame,
And was so besy hir to serve; — 1265
And pite were I shulde sterve,
Sith that I wilned noon harm, y-wis.
So whan my lady knew al this,
My lady yaf me al hoolly
The noble yift of hir mercy, 1270
Saving hir worship, by al weyes;
Dredelees, I mene noon other weyes.
And therwith she yaf me a ring;
I trowe hit was the firste thing;
But if myn herte was ywaxe 1275
Glad, that is no need to axe!
As helpe me God, I was as blyve,
Reysed, as fro dethe to lyve,
Of alle happes the alderbeste,
The gladdest and the moste at reste. 1280
For trewely, that swete wight,
Whan I had wrong and she the right,
She wolde alwey so goodely
For-yeve me so debonairly.
In alle my youthe, in alle chaunce, 1285
She took me in hir governaunce.
Therwith she was alway so trewe,
Our joye was ever yliche newe;
Our hertes wern so even a payre,
That never nas that oon contrayre 1290
To that other, for no wo.
For sothe, yliche they suffred tho
Oo blisse and eek oo sorwe bothe;
Yliche they were bothe gladde and wrothe;
Al was us oon, withoute were. 1295
And thus we lived ful many a yere
So wel, I can nat telle how.'
'Sir,' quod I, 'where is she now?'
'Now!' quod he, and stinte anoon.
Therwith he wex as deed as stoon, 1300
And seyde, 'Allas! that I was bore,
That was the los, that here before
I tolde thee, that I had lorn.
Bethenk how I seyde here beforn,
"Thou wost ful litel what thou menest; 1305
I have lost more than thou wenest" —
God woot, allas! Right that was she!'
'Allas! sir, how? What may that be?'
'She is deed!' 'Nay!' 'Yis, by my trouthe!'
'Is that your los? By god, hit is routhe!' 1310
And with that worde, right anoon,
They gan to strake forth; al was doon,
For that tyme, the hert-hunting.
With that, me thoghte, that this king
Gan quikly hoomward for to ryde 1315
Unto a place ther besyde,
Which was from us but a lyte,
A long castel with walles whyte,
Be seynt Johan! on a riche hil,
As me mette; but thus it fil. 1320
Right thus me mette, as I yow telle,
That in the castel was a belle,
As hit had smiten houres twelve. —
Therwith I awook myselve,
And fond me lying in my bed; 1325
And the book that I had red,
Of Alcyone and Seys the king,
And of the goddes of sleping,
I fond it in myn honde ful even.
Thoghte I, 'this is so queynt a sweven, 1330
That I wol, be processe of tyme,
Fonde to putte this sweven in ryme
As I can best, and that anoon.' —
This was my sweven; now hit is doon.