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About : The Book of the Duchess
The Book of the Duchess is the first of Chaucer's major poems. Scolars are uncertain about the date of composition. Most scolars ascribe the date of composition between 1369 and 1372. Chaucer probably wrote the poem to commemorate the death of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's wife. Notes from antiquary John Stowe indicate that the poem was written at John of Gaunt's request.
The poem begins with a sleepless poet who lies in bed reading a book. The poet reads a story about Ceyx and Alcyone and wanders around in his thoughts. Suddenly the poet falls asleep and dreams a wonderful story. He dreams that he wakes up in a beautiful chamber by the sound of hunters and hunting dogs. The poet follows a small hunting dog into the forrest and finds a knight dressed in black who mourns about losing a game of chess. The poet asks the knight some questions and realizes at the end of the poem that the knight was talking symbolically instead of literally: the black knight has lost his love and lady. The poet awakes and decides that this wonderful dream should be preserved in rhyme.
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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
5 Purely for defaute of slepe
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 --
10 Joye or sorwe, wherso hyt be --
For I have felyng in nothyng,
But, as it were, a mased thyng,
Alway in point to falle a-doun;
For sorwful imaginacioun 15 Is alway hoolly in my minde.
And wel ye woot, agaynes kynde
Hit were to liven in this wyse;
For nature wolde nat suffyse
To noon erthely creature
20 Not longe tyme to endure
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,
25 Defaute of slepe and hevynesse
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.
30 But men myght axe me, why soo
I may not slepe, and what me is?
But natheles, who aske this
Leseth his asking trewely.
Myselven can not telle why
35 The sooth; but trewely, as I gesse,
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,
40 That may me hele; but that is doon.
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,
45 Til now late, this other night,
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;
50 For me thoghte it better play
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
55 To rede, and for to be in minde
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.
60 Amonge al this I fond a tale 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;
65 And this quene highte Alcyone.
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,
70 Soche a tempest gan to ryse
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. 75 Right thus this king Seys loste his lyf.
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.
80 Anon her herte gan to erme;
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
85 To telle hir hertely sorwful lyf
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.
90 `Alas!' quod she, `that I was wrought!
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!'
95 Such sorwe this lady to her took
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 100 After, to thenken on her sorwe.
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,
105 Ne she koude no reed but oon;
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;
110 `Help me out of this distresse,
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,
115 And hoolly youres become I shal
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,
120 Wher-through that I may knowen even 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,
125 And broghten hir in bed al naked,
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,
130 That made hir to slepe sone;
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.
135 Whan he was come, she bad him thus:
`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
140 Go faste into the grete see,
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,
145 And do it goon to Alcyone
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
150 Right as hit was wont to do,
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
155 Til he com to the derke valeye
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,
160 Save ther were a fewe welles
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
165 Amid the valey, wonder depe.
Ther thise goddes laye and slepe,
Morpheus, and Eclympasteyre,
That was the god of slepes heyre, That slepe and did non other werk.
170 This cave was also as derk
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
175 And slepe upright, hir heed y-hed,
And some laye naked in hir bed, And slepe whyles the dayes laste.
This messager come flying faste,
And cryed, `O ho! Awake anon!'
180 Hit was for noght; ther herde him non.
`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
185 Cast up, axed, `who clepeth there?'
`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;
190 Hit is no need reherse hit more;
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;
195 Took up the dreynte body sone,
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,
200 And called hir, right as she hete,
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;
205 Ye shul me never on lyve y-see.
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!
210 I praye god your sorwe lisse; 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.
215 But what she sayde more in that swow
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
220 Of Alcione and Seys the king.
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
225 Of this tale next before:
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, 230 And of the goddes of sleping.
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,
235 Of no goddes that coude make
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 --
240 `Rather then that I shulde deye
Through defaute of sleping thus,
I wolde yive thilke Morpheus,
Or his goddesse, dame Juno,
Or som wight elles, I ne roghte who --
245 To make me slepe and have som rest --
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,
250 Of downe of pure dowves whyte
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
255 Of clothe of Reynes, to slepe softe;
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,
260 And tapite hem ful many folde
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.
265 And thus this ilke god, Morpheus,
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.'
270 I hadde unnethe that word y-sayd
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
275 I fil aslepe, and therwith even
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;
280 No, not Ioseph, withoute drede,
Of Egipte, he that redde so
The kinges meting Pharao,
No more than koude the leste of us;
Ne nat scarsly Macrobeus,
285 (He that wroot al th'avisioun
That he mette, Kyng Scipioun,
The noble man, the Affrican --
Swiche marvayles fortuned than)
I trowe, a-rede my dremes even. 290 Lo, thus hit was, this was my sweven.
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
295 With smale foules a gret hepe,
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,
300 Upon the tyles, al a-boute,
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,
305 Som hye, and al of oon acorde.
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,
310 That certes, for the toune of Tewnes,
I nolde but I had herd hem singe,
For al my chambre gan to ringe
Through singing of hir armonye.
For instrument nor melodye
315 Was nowher herd yet half so swete,
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;
320 They ne spared not hir throtes.
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,
325 That to beholde hit was gret Joye.
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,
330 Of Medea and of Iason,
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.
335 My windowes weren shet echon,
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,
340 Blew, bright, clere was the air,
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
345 Me thoughte I herde an hunte blowe
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;
350 And al men speken of hunting,
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,
355 How that they wolde on hunting goon,
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.
360 Ther overtook I a gret route
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
365 I asked oon, ladde a lymere: --
`Say, felow, who shal hunten here' Quod I, and he answerde ageyn,
`Sir, th'emperour Octovien,' Quod he, `and is heer faste by.'
370 `A goddes halfe, in good tyme,' quod I,
`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.
375 The mayster-hunte anoon, fot-hoot,
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
380 Longe tyme; and so at the laste,
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;
385 Therwith the hunte wonder faste 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,
390 That hadde y-folowed, and koude no good.
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.
395 I wolde han caught hit, and anoon
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,
400 With floures fele, faire under fete,
And litel used, hit seemed thus;
For bothe Flora and Zephirus,
They two that make floures growe,
Had mad hir dwelling ther, I trowe;
405 For hit was, on to beholde,
As thogh the erthe envye wolde
To be gayer than the heven,
To have mo floures, swiche seven
As in the welken sterres be.
410 Hit had forgete the povertee
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, 415 Swetnesse of dewe had mad it waxe.
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
420 Fro other wel ten foot or twelve.
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 --
425 They were nat an inche asonder --
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
430 Was ful the wode, and many roes,
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,
435 That thogh Argus, the noble countour,
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,
440 And telle of every thing the noumbre --
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
445 I was war of a man in blak,
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?'
450 Anoon-right I wente nere;
Than fond I sitte even upright
A wonder wel-faringe knight --
By the maner me thoughte so --
Of good mochel, and yong therto,
455 Of the age of four and twenty yeer.
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,
460 That, sooth to saye, he saw me nought,
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,
465 The moste pite, the moste routhe,
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.
470 Ful pitous, pale, and nothing reed,
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. --
475 `I have of sorwe so grete won,
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.
480 And thus in sorwe lefte me alone.
`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,
485 So good, that men may wel y-see `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;
490 The blood was fled, for pure drede,
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;
495 For hit is membre principal
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.
500 Anoon therwith whan I saugh this,
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,
505 And in his witte disputed faste
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,
510 Made him that he ne herde me noght;
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,
515 He was war of me, how I stood
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,
520 I herde thee not, to sayn the sooth, 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; 525 Foryive me if I have mistake.'
`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,
530 As it had been another wight;
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,
535 As me thoghte, for al his bale.
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;
540 I holde that this hert be goon; Thise huntes conne him nowher see.'
`By our lord,' quod I, `I trowe yow weel,
545 Right so me thinketh by your chere.
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,
550 I wolde, as wis god help me so,
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;
555 And telleth me of your sorwes smerte,
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.'
560 `Graunt mercy, goode frend,' quod he,
`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,
565 And hath myn understonding lorn,
That me is wo that I was born!
May noght make my sorwes slyde,
Nought the remedies of Ovyde;
Ne Orpheus, god of melodye,
570 Ne Dedalus, with playes slye;
Ne hele me may phisicien,
Noght Ypocras, ne Galien;
Me is wo that I live houres twelve;
But who so wol assaye himselve
575 Whether his herte can have pite
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,
580 That hate my dayes and my nightes;
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;
585 For whan I folwe hit, hit wol flee;
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,
590 May not of more sorwe telle.
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.
595 For who so seeth me first on morwe
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,
600 And al my laughter to weping,
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
605 In wrathe is turned my pleying,
And my delyt into sorwing.
Myn hele is turned into seeknesse,
In drede is al my sikernesse.
To derke is turned al my light,
610 My wit is foly, my day is night,
My love is hate, my sleep waking,
My mirthe and meles is fasting,
My countenaunce is nycete,
And al abaved wherso I be,
615 My pees, in pleding and in werre;
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!
620 The trayteresse fals and ful of gyle,
That al behoteth and nothing halt,
She goth upryght and yet she halt,
That baggeth foule and loketh faire,
The dispitouse debonaire,
625 That scorneth many a creature!
An ydole of fals portraiture
Is she, for she wil sone wryen;
She is the monstres heed ywryen,
As filth over ystrawed with floures;
630 Hir moste worship and hir flour is
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.
635 That is broght up, she set al doun.
I lykne hir to the scorpioun,
That is a fals, flateringe beste;
For with his hede he maketh feste,
But al amid his flateringe
640 With his tayle he wol stinge,
And envenyme; and so wol she.
She is th'envyouse charite
That is ay fals, and seemeth weel,
So turneth she hir false wheel
645 Aboute, for it is nothing stable,
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,
650 The false theef! What hath she do, 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.
655 And whan I saw my fers aweye,
Alas! I couthe no lenger playe,
But seyde, "Farewel, swete, y-wis, And farwel al that ever ther is!"
Therwith Fortune seyde, "Chek her!"
660 And "Mate!" in mid pointe of the chekker
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.
665 But God wolde I had ones or twyes
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;
670 And thogh wherto? for trewely,
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,
675 And eek she is the las to blame;
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,
680 Hadde I be god and mighte have do
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!
685 `But through that draughte I have lorn
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?
690 Be oure Lord, hit is to deye sone;
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,
695 That they ne yive me a yift echoon
Of weping, whan I am aloon.
For whan that I avyse me weel,
And bethenke me everydeel,
How that ther lyth in rekening,
700 In my sorwe for nothing;
And how ther leveth no gladnesse
May gladde me of my distresse,
And how I have lost suffisance,
And therto I have no plesance,
705 Than may I say, I have right noght.
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.'
710 And whan I herde him telle this tale
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!
715 Have som pite on your nature
That formed yow to creature,
Remembre yow of Socrates;
For he ne counted nat three strees Of noght that Fortune coude do.`
720 `No,' quod he, `I can not so.'
`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,
725 Ye sholde be dampned in this cas
By as good right as Medea was,
That slow hir children for Jason;
And Phyllis als for Demophon
Heng hirself, so weylaway!
730 For he had broke his terme-day
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!
735 And Ecquo dyed for Narcisus.
Nolde nat love hir; and right thus
Hath many another foly don.
And for Dalida died Sampson,
That slow himself with a pilere.
740 But ther is noon alyve here 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.'
745 `Lo, sir, how may that be?' quod I;
`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,
750 I telle thee up condicioun
That thou hoolly, with al thy wit, Do thyn entente to herkene hit.'
`Yis, sir.' `Swere thy trouthe therto.'
`Gladly.' `Do than holde herto!'
755 `I shal right blythly, so God me save,
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
760 Have any maner wit fro yowthe,
Or kyndely understonding
To comprehende, in any thing,
What love was, in myn owne wit,
Dredelees, I have ever yit
765 Be tributary, and yiven rente
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,
770 As to my lorde, and dide homage;
And ful devoutly prayde him to,
He shulde besette myn herte so,
That it plesaunce to him were, And worship to my lady dere.
775 `And this was longe, and many a yeer
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
780 As a whyt wal or a table;
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.
785 `And thilke tyme I ferde so
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,
790 Therfore I forgat hit nought.
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
795 Nat that tyme turned to nothing
Through to mochel knowleching.
For that tyme yowthe, my maistresse,
Governed me in ydelnesse;
For hit was in my firste youthe,
800 And tho ful litel good I couthe,
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.
805 `Hit happed that I cam on a day
Into a place, ther I say,
Trewly, the fayrest companye
Of ladies that ever man with ye
Had seen togedres in oo place.
810 Shal I clepe hit hap other grace
That broght me ther? Nay, but Fortune,
That is to lyen ful comune,
The false trayteresse, pervers,
God wolde I coude clepe hir wers!
815 For now she worcheth me ful wo, 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;
820 For I dar swere, withoute doute,
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,
825 For al the worlde so had she
Surmounted hem alle of beaute,
Of maner and of comlynesse,
Of stature and wel set gladnesse,
Of goodlihede so wel beseye --
830 Shortly, what shal I more seye?
By God, and by his halwes twelve,
It was my swete, right al hirselve!
She had so stedfast countenaunce,
So noble port and meyntenaunce.
835 And Love, that had herd my boone,
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
840 No maner reed but at hir look
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
845 Than with another to be weel.
And hit was sooth, for, everydeel, I wil anoon-right telle thee why.
I saw hir daunce so comlily,
Carole and singe so swetely,
850 Laughe and pleye so womanly,
And loke so debonairly,
So goodly speke and so frendly,
That certes, I trow, that evermore
Nas seyn so blisful a tresore.
855 For every heer upon hir hede,
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!
860 Debonair, goode, glade, and sadde,
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,
865 Alle that on hir gan beholde.
Hir eyen semed anoon she wolde
Have mercy; fooles wenden so;
But hit was never the rather do.
Hit nas no countrefeted thing,
870 It was hir owne pure loking,
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,
875 Ne wildely, thogh that she pleyde;
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.
880 She nas to sobre ne to glad;
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,
885 For she knew nothing of her thoght;
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;
890 The formest was alway behinde.
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.
895 `Which a visage had she therto!
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;
900 And eek my spirits be so dulle
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
905 Was rody, fresh, and lyvely hewed;
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
910 Was hir cheef patron of beautee,
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
915 That ever lived were not alyve,
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
920 Had that swete, my lyves leche!
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,
925 Of eloquence was never founde
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,
930 That ther was never yet through hir tonge
Man ne woman gretly harmed;
As for hir, ther was al harm hid;
Ne lasse flatering in hir worde,
That purely, hir simple recorde
935 Was founde as trewe as any bonde,
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
940 Had that swete that boon nor brekke
Nas ther non sene, that missat.
Hit was whyt, smothe, streght, and flat,
Withouten hole; and canel-boon,
As by seming, had she noon.
945 Hir throte, as I have now memoire,
Semed a round tour of yvoire, Of good gretnesse, and noght to grete.
`And gode faire Whyte she hete,
That was my lady name right.
950 She was bothe fair and bright,
She hadde not hir name wrong.
Right faire shuldres, and body long
She hadde, and armes; every lith
Fattish, flesshy, not greet therwith;
955 Right whyte handes, and nayles rede,
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, 960 In as fer as I had knowing.
`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
965 Ynogh, and hit hath never the lesse.
`Of maner and of comlinesse
Right so ferde my lady dere;
For every wight of hir manere
Might cacche ynogh, if that he wolde,
970 If he had eyen hir to beholde.
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,
975 Thogh they had stonden in a rowe,
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,
980 As a coroune withoute stones.
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.
985 `To speke of goodnesse; trewly she
Had as moche debonairte
As ever had Hester in the bible
And more, if more were possible.
And, soth to seyne, therwithal
990 She had a wit so general,
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
995 Harmul, than she was in doing.
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,
1000 But she had had, hit had be routhe.
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
1005 In hir, that was his resting-place.
Therto she hadde the moste grace,
To have stedfast perseveraunce,
And esy, atempre governaunce,
That ever I knew or wiste yit;
1010 So pure suffraunt was hir wit.
And reson gladly she understood,
Hit folowed wel she coude good.
She used gladly to do weel; These were hir maners everydeel.
1015 `Therwith she loved so wel right,
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;
1020 Ne, be thou siker, she nolde fonde
To holde no wight in balaunce,
By half word ne by countenaunce,
But-if men wolde upon hir lye;
Ne sende men into Walakye,
1025 To Pruyse, and into Tartarye,
To Alisaundre, ne into Turkye,
And bidde him faste, anoon that he
Go hoodles to the drye see,
And come hoom by the Carrenare;
1030 And seye, "Sir, be now right ware
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?
1035 Right on this same, as I have seyd,
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,
1040 My worldes welfare, and my lisse, 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.'
1045 `Bet? ne no wight so wel!' quod he.
`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,
1050 And to beholde the alderfaireste, 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
1055 Have loved best my lady fre,
Thogh I had had al the beautee
That ever had Alcipyades,
And al the strengthe of Ercules,
And therto had the worthinesse
1060 Of Alisaundre, and al the richesse
That ever was in Babiloyne,
In Cartage, or in Macedoyne,
Or in Rome, or in Ninive;
And therto also hardy be
1065 As was Ector, so have I Ioye,
That Achilles slow at Troye --
And therfor was he slayn also
In a temple, for bothe two
Were slayn, he and Antilegius,
1070 And so seyth Dares Frigius,
For love of hir Polixena --
Or ben as wys as Minerva,
I wolde ever, withoute drede,
Have loved hir, for I moste nede!
1075 "Nede!" nay, I gabbe now,
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.
1080 `She was as good, so have I reste,
As ever was Penelope of Grece,
Or as the noble wyf Lucrece,
That was the beste -- he telleth thus,
The Romayn Tytus Livius --
1085 She was as good, and no-thing lyke,
Thogh hir stories be autentyke; Algate she was as trewe as she.
`But wherfor that I telle thee
Whan I first my lady say?
1090 I was right yong, the sooth to sey,
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,
1095 After my yonge childly wit,
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,
1100 Withoute feyning outher slouthe;
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
1105 Of al day after, til hit were eve;
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,
1110 For al this worlde, out of my thoght Leve my lady; no, trewely!'
`Now, by my trouthe, sir,' quod I,
`Me thinketh ye have such a chaunce As shrift withoute repentaunce.'
1115 `Repentaunce! Nay, fy,' quod he;
`Shulde I now repente me
To love? nay, certes, than were I wel
Wers than was Achitofel,
Or Anthenor, so have I Ioye,
1120 The traytour that betraysed Troye,
Or the false Genelon,
He that purchased the treson
Of Rowland and of Olivere.
Nay, why! I am alyve here 1125 I nil foryete hir never mo.'
`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;
1130 But wolde ye telle me the manere,
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,
1135 And telleth me eek what ye have lore; 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;
1140 `Nil she not love yow? Is hit so?
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.
1145 I saye right as I have seyd,
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
1150 For al this worlde telle hir my thoght,
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.
1155 `But, for to kepe me fro ydelnesse,
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,
1160 Al-thogh I coude not make so wel
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
1165 Upon his anvelt up and doun,
Therof he took the firste soun;
But Grekes seyn, Pictagoras,
That he the firste finder was
Of the art; Aurora telleth so,
1170 But therof no fors, of hem two.
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. --
1175 "Lord, hit maketh myn herte light,
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, 1180 My lady, that is so fair and bright!" --
`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
1185 For hir, and yet she wiste hit noght,
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,
1190 I am adrad she wol be wrooth; 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,
1195 I me bethoghte that nature
Ne formed never in creature
So moche beautee, trewely,
And bountee, withouten mercy.
`In hope of that, my tale I tolde,
1200 With sorwe, as that I never sholde;
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;
1205 And eek, as helpe me god withal,
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
1210 Lest my wordes misset were.
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,
1215 Ful ofte I wex bothe pale and reed;
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; 1220 Hit nas no game, hit sat me sore.
`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
1225 That she wolde be my lady swete;
And swor, and gan hir hertely hete
Ever to be stedfast and trewe,
And love hir alwey freshly newe,
And never other lady have,
1230 And al hir worship for to save
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, 1235 I nil, as wis God helpe me so!"
`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,
1240 Trewely hir answere, hit was this;
I can not now wel counterfete
Hir wordes, but this was the grete
Of hir answere: she sayde, "nay"
Al outerly. Allas, that day
1245 The sorwe I suffred, and the wo!
That trewely Cassandra, that so
Bewayled the destruccioun.
Of Troye and of Ilioun,
Had never swich sorwe as I tho.
1250 I durste no more say therto
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
1255 Never a day to seche sorwe;
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
1260 To do hir knowe and understonde
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,
1265 And was so besy hir to serve; --
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
1270 The noble yift of hir mercy,
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;
1275 But if myn herte was ywaxe
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,
1280 The gladdest and the moste at reste.
For trewely, that swete wight,
Whan I had wrong and she the right,
She wolde alwey so goodely
For-yeve me so debonairly.
1285 In alle my youthe, in alle chaunce,
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,
1290 That never nas that oon contrayre
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;
1295 Al was us oon, withoute were.
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.
1300 Therwith he wex as deed as stoon,
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,
1305 "Thou wost ful litel what thou menest;
I have lost more than thou wenest" -- God woot, allas! Right that was she!'
`Allas! sir, how? What may that be?'
1310 `Is that your los? By god, hit is routhe!'
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
1315 Gan quikly hoomward for to ryde
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,
1320 As me mette; but thus it fil.
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,
1325 And fond me lying in my bed;
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.
1330 Thoghte I, `this is so queynt a sweven,
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.
Explicit the Bok of the Duchesse
End of "The Book of the Duchess"