Guillaume de Machaut
The Book of the True Poem (Le Livre dou Voir Dit)
Lot and his daughters fleeing Sodom, England, S. E. (London); 1485 - 1509 - British Library
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
- Lines 4718-4731: He sends his lady the Lay of Hope, and his twelfth letter.
- Lines 4732-4739: She sends her tenth letter.
- Lines 4740-4771: The lover is assailed by Desire and writes his thirteenth letter, in verse.
- Lines 4772-4775: The lady replies with her eleventh letter.
- Lines 4776-4799: Her fourth ballad, ‘Il nest doleur desconfort ne tristesse’ (Ballad CXCIV).
- Lines 4800-4843: Somewhat chastened, he replies with his fourteenth letter.
- Lines 4844-4881: He praises her to himself, and receives her twelfth letter.
- Lines 4882-4955: Regarding Queen Semiramis.
- Lines 4956-5039: He compares his lady to Queen Semiramis.
- Lines 5040-5055: He sends his lady his fifteenth letter.
- Lines 5056-5079: His fifteenth ballad ‘Huis ha .j. moy que je me departi’ (Ballad CLXI).
- Lines 5080-5103: Her fifth ballad ‘Amis, si parfaitement’ (Ballad CXCIX).
- Lines 5104-5107: She sends the preceding ballad with her thirteenth letter.
- Lines 5108-5132: Her sixth ballad ‘Puis que tant a languir ay’.
- Lines 5133-5176: He speaks of Hebe and her rejuvenation of Iolaus.
- Lines 5177-5196: His lady likewise rejuvenated him.
- Lines 5197-5234: He is absent two months from his lady.
- Lines 5235-5292: He is plagued by Desire, and dreams of his lady dressed in green.
- Lines 5293-5454: The King That Tells No Lie.
- Lines 5455-5506: In his dream, he complains of Love’s ills to the King.
- Lines 5507-5576: He considers the ills of the age and his own.
- Lines 5577-5626: The King reassures the lover.
- Lines 5627-5662: Of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Lines 5663-5684: Of Perseus and the Gorgon.
- Lines 5685-5700: The King admonishes the lover.
- Lines 5701-5806: Of wise men and lawgivers.
- Lines 5807-5832: The lover wakes from his dream, and receives her fourteenth letter.
- Lines 5833-5846: The lady’s seventh ballad ‘Nuit et iour en tel travail’.
- Lines 5847-5874: He sends his sixteenth and seventeenth letters together.
- Lines 5875-6076: The lady’s ‘complaint’ at his letters.
- Lines 6077-6082: She sends her ‘complaint’ with her fifteenth letter.
- Lines 6083-6103: Her eighth ballad ‘Ne soiez en nul esmay’.
- Lines 6104-6247: The lover’s reply to his lady’s ‘complaint’.
- Lines 6248-6275: He re-affirms that she will be set among the stars.
- Lines 6276-6281: He sends his eighteenth letter and his reply to her ‘complaint’.
- Lines 6282-6295: Her sixteenth letter.
- Lines 6296-6331: He sends his nineteenth letter and a rondel that conceals her name.
- Lines 6332-6343: His thirteenth rondel ‘Dix et sept, cinq, trese, quatorse et quinse’ (Rondel XIV).
- Lines 6344-6351: He receives her seventeenth letter.
- Lines 6352-6383: Of Love and Desire.
- Lines 6384-6431: Of ill-fated and separated lovers.
- Lines 6432-6463: Of the affairs of the gods, and the middle way.
- Lines 6464-6493: He sends his lady two ballads and his twentieth letter.
- Lines 6494-6517: Thomas Paien’s ballad ‘Quant Theseus, Herculès et Jason’ (Ballad XXXIX).
- Lines 6518-6541: His sixteenth ballad in reply ‘Ne quier voir la biauté d’Absalon’ (Ballad XXXVIII).
- Lines 6542-6557: She sends him her fifteenth rondel, and a ballad, with her eighteenth letter.
- Lines 6558-6578: Her ninth ballad ‘Se par fortune la lasse et la dervee’.
- Lines 6579-6606: She changes her place of residence and writes her nineteenth letter.
- Lines 6607-6654: His secretary advises against the journey.
- Lines 6655-6726: His secretary expresses his fears.
- Lines 6727-6814: Of Circe, Picus, and Caneus.
- Lines 6815-6890: Of Polyphemus and Galatea.
Lines 4718-4731: He sends his lady the Lay of Hope, and his twelfth letter
ONCE I had finished composing
The words and music that I sing
Often, so as to remember
Sweet Hope, and my lady ever,
I had it copied and notated,
So well, that what I had created
Taught that in good hope I sought
To live, and serve my love in aught.
I folded it when it was done,
And, with this letter, sent it on
To my lady, by a valet,
Despatched for that purpose only.
And I wrote how, upon my way,
Hope had captured me that day.
‘My own sweetheart, my most dear sister, my sweetest love, never had I so great a desire to know and hear good news of you and your health, and also that you might hear from me as to what happened on my journey, and thereafter. And my most sweet love, you well know how the country is full of, and overrun by, armed men and hostile soldiers, and robbers of good people. May it please you to know, my sweet love, that I had never been in greater danger, were it not for the memory and the sweet thought of you that I harbour, and ever shall. For these have granted, and still grant me, such great strength that, thanks be to God and to you, I escaped the miscreants, yet nonetheless was unable to avoid and evade dangerous pathways, and was in great fear. And when I had traversed the most dangerous of these passes, thinking to be able to ride in greater safety, I came into a quite beautiful plain where I thought of the great beauty, and the perfect goodness, and the honourable courtesy that are yours, and also of the great benefits you have accorded me, of which I am unworthy, such that I cannot and do not know how to deserve or repay them. I was unwary, gazing aside, when I suddenly saw a considerable company of most noble folk riding straight towards me. And if I was afraid, none should wonder, for in front of all rode a lady who said: “You are taken prisoner.” And when I perceived that she was a truly noble lady and also that I thought more ardently of you since this lady was most noble, I answered most humbly: “Lady, I yield.” And I asked who it was who had captured me. And she answered that this, indeed, I would learn, and that she had done many good things, performed much service for me, for which I had never repaid her, but that before I left her, she was certain that I would swear to so do. Finally, she told me her name was Hope, and at once I was much comforted. And then Moderation and Temperance came riding up together with the rest of the company, who were most noble, and they said to her: “Lady, may it please you to receive him in such a way that he might be reconciled with you.” And then she held a grave and lengthy council with her folk, and it was ordained, of her grace, that as she had achieved for me, and granted me, many honours and benefits throughout my life, then, as a restitution and repayment for these things, and also as a fine levied by her and her people, since in this book I had composed nothing of note that might be set to her account, I should write a lay, to be called “The Lay of Hope.” The which lay, my own sweetheart and most sweet love, I enclose with this. And I beg you, as lovingly from the heart as I am able, to learn it, since it is inspired by you, for I would have no need for Hope were it not for you. And my most sweet love, since it has been composed in your honour, it is right that you should learn it before any other should so do. Adieu, my sweetheart, and may God grant you such benefit, honour, and joy as I would wish for myself. Your most faithful lover.’
Lines 4732-4739: She sends her tenth letter
THEN my sweet and pretty lady
With my happiness most happy,
And pleased, indeed, that I’d won free
From where Hope had captured me,
Let not my messenger delay
But swiftly sent him on his way,
As you may read, if you choose
To read her letter, and her news.
‘My own sweet heart, and my most sweet and very faithful lover, I have well noted from your loving letter how you have fared and the adventures you experienced on the road, and also that your health is good, and for this I feel more joy than for aught else in the world. And my own sweetheart, may it please you to learn that no letter has ever been as welcome as your last for, truly, since your previous letter, I have been full of worry, care, and fear regarding the troubles you might encounter. But when I saw your letter, I felt joy penetrate my heart as never before. Indeed, I can hardly bear the joy I feel when I hold it in my hand, for all my heart failed me in such a way that the flock of ladies who were my companions wondered what ailed me. Nonetheless, my heart recovered, and I went to my room, saying that I would rest a while. And they all went from me, for they believed that I was quite ill, and so I was. And I locked myself in my room to read your sweet letter, comprehending all that had occurred, and I understood the truth of our two hearts, which can never be disjoined. For I know well, and understand clearly, that one can scarce live without the other. And so, while reading, I had many good and many ill feelings, and yet I suffer these well enough, and they are sweet to me. So, know well, my sweetheart, that I have embraced and studied the lay enclosed in your sweet letter. And I promise you I shall learn it as soon as I am able. And I will sing no other piece until I have learned the words and the notes, for they are words and notes that please me more than have any others, ever. My most sweet lover, may Our Lord grant you good health, peace, and such joy as your heart and my own desire. Your faithful friend.’
Lines 4740-4771: The lover is assailed by Desire and writes his thirteenth letter, in verse
YET as I have told you before,
And the work reveals, I am sure
Those who feel love’s stings anew
Do not an even course pursue;
Many a pang they feel, rather,
One hour sweet the next bitter.
Now Desire, who has slain many,
Wished to put a swift end to me,
And so, assailed me everywhere,
At any hour, where’er I did fare,
Nor could I bear it patiently
For he would never let me be,
At church, abroad, or in the town,
Thus, twas but misery I found,
Living with such a pestilence
That neither Sweet Thought’s fair presence,
Nor Hope, could gain the victory,
Rather he vanquished us all three;
Truly, our efforts were denied
So fiercely, my heart often sighed.
Such discomfort I did suffer,
In verse I composed this letter,
And sent it on to my lady
Since my heart ached so badly,
Nor let any know what dolour
Had thus robbed me of my colour.
And so, with tears I was blessed,
The only good that I possessed.
‘My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Hear how your lover doth complain.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how true to you I remain.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Let my dwelling be at your side,
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Hear how Desire doth now abide
In my heart, and doth there reside.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Let me journey to be with you,
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Grant me to find fair day, anew.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Hear from afar how I must weep,
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how for you my tears run deep.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Dry up this flood of tears entire.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Quench the heat of this great desire,
Temper the fierceness of its rigour
That robs me now of all my vigour.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
On my great suffering take pity.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Let your heart display its mercy.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See my pain, my torment, ever.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how for your love I suffer.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See my sorrows, see how bitter.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See my trouble and my dolour.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Consider all my terrors here.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how, for my own self, I fear.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
My state of being view, now see,
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how I moan, thus, secretly,
For your fair and lovely body.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how for you is all my labour.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
See how for you I lose my colour.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Let flow the river of your sweetness.
My heart, my sister, my sweet love,
Revive me, and dispel this paleness.
Adieu, my own sweetheart,
And God grant you peace,
And the good your heart desires.
Your most faithful friend.’
Lines 4772-4775: The lady replies with her eleventh letter
THEN my lady, saddened in turn,
Delayed not, writing in return,
Such is certain, it doth appear,
As in her letter is made clear.
‘My own sweetheart and my most sweet lover, the letter you sent me has given me more to do and think about than any letter you have sent before. Know that I marvel very much as to why you make such complaint and clamour and why your life is so hard. For I think you have found no cause in me why you should act so, nor is it my intention that you should ever find one, though I am sure your heart fares ill because you are so far from me, and, indeed, I have experienced the same myself, for in truth I cannot tell you the great distress that is mine; and yet I take comfort because, God please, I will soon see you again. And I beg you, as strongly as I can, and command you with whatever power I have over you that you will drive all woe and care of every kind from your heart, that is, if you wish my own to be eased, and find good comfort for yourself. For I swear and promise, by my faith, that I have not bestowed on you one hundred thousandth part of the benefit and sweetness I would wish to bestow. Nor, while I live will you find me unwilling to do whatever may please you. So, you should not feel woeful, I think, but rather be joyful and happy. Be so, I pray you, if you love me at all. And, regarding this, I am sending you this ballad that I have drawn from the fount of tears in which my heart bathes whenever I see you in such misery, for, by God, I would not, and could not, feel joy or happiness as long as I knew you felt such pain and sadness; and that is why I have made the ballad that follows, with weeping heart and ailing body. Your loyal friend.’
Lines 4776-4799: Her fourth ballad, ‘Il nest doleur desconfort ne tristesse’ (Ballad CXCIV)
‘THERE’S no dolour, discomfort, or distress,
Sorrow, annoyance, or mournful thought,
Or pain or harshness, wound, or bitterness,
Or other mischief that true Love has brought,
I feel not; so, weep, and sigh,
Such that my heart’s drowned by the tears I cry,
Yet every day from bad to worse I tend,
And all for you, fair, sweet, and loyal friend.
For when I see I’ve no means to address
My lack of gazing on your noble person,
And your sweetness that my heart no less
Afflicts, from afar, and for like reason,
I lack comfort all the more,
And so, must rue the day, and weep full sore,
My only joy to contemplate my end,
And all for you, fair, sweet, and loyal friend.
Yet if I’m far from you, my days endless,
Ne’er think that of such loving I repent,
For loyalty instructs me, nonetheless,
To love you ever, with most true intent,
Such that my mind, and loving
Heart, will, thought, and ceaseless longing,
I have reserved, and to none else extend,
And all for you, fair, sweet, and loyal friend.’
Lines 4800-4843: Somewhat chastened, he replies with his fourteenth letter
NOW, when I read of her distress
For love of me, her heart, no less,
Bathed in a faithful lover’s tears,
All her joyful thoughts, it appears,
Having changed to thoughts of woe,
Such that she was but wretched so,
And that the fault was due to me,
Since I’d complained, relentlessly,
In the letter I had sent her,
Troubling her peace, moreover,
Then I bitterly repented
That feeling so discontented,
So stung by amorous desire,
I’d written her a note so dire;
Did not the fair one feel the same,
In that heart her breast did claim
That caused her now so much distress?
Yet she’d kept silent, nonetheless,
Suffering and hoping, patiently,
That what had not been might yet be.
For whoe’er feels such weight of care
Should not relapse into despair,
Because of their desire; instead
Must yet hope, e’er joy is dead,
That happiness may yet return,
Though the fires of longing burn,
And that, with mercy’s sweetest dew,
Their ardour, that doth burn anew,
Shall be quenched, its powers fail
That render many a lover pale.
To cross myself I then began,
Though it cured me not, to plan,
Since too great my longing proved;
Intoxicated thus, I loved.
Many a time I read her letter,
All alone, with none there other
Than myself, and her fair portrait,
To which I offered, for my late
Misdeed, my error and my folly,
That offended gainst my lady,
My excuses, and straight away,
Wrote this letter, that very day,
And most humbly, and did accuse
Desire, my actions to excuse.
‘My own sweetheart, my dear sister, and my most sweet love, I thank you as humbly as I am able and by no means as much as I ought for your most sweet and gracious letter, which has comforted me so much that there is no sadness or pain that can come upon me. And I will do what you command, the best I may. And if my letter was in any way offensive, this was Desire’s doing, in whom I have trusted more than I should. So please pardon me if you will. There is news from here, if you please to know it; several great lords know of our love, and have sent me a chaplain who is very much my friend, commanding me, by him, to send them some of your compositions with those I have written in response, especially “She that never did you see,” And I have obeyed their command, having sent them several of your pieces and of my own. And they wish to know if it is true that I possess a portrait of you. And I showed it to their messenger, it looking fine, being richly adorned and placed above my bedhead. And everyone wonders what this might mean. Know that they are aware how you revived me, restoring my joy and health even though you had never seen me. And they think as much good of you, and of your sweetness and humility, as those of any lady they had heard tell of. And I have written to them, in praise of you, regarding the goodness and sweetness in the portrait, and how it seems to me, my sweetheart. And since it has happened that in the kingdom and Empire our love affair has been made known and revealed, especially to the nobler people, then any man who slanders us two must certainly have been born in an evil hour, for honour shall never be his. And, by my soul, my most sweet sister, I place such high trust in your noble heart, and in the purity of your sweetness (where I know for certain only loyalty could dwell) that I feel wholly secure. And I am at your service in every way. And as regards myself, I think that naught but death could remove my heart from you, or make me depart from you. So, you should put your mind at rest about this. And indeed, my most sweet sister, I take such joy and pleasure in your good reputation and in the praise granted you, that is heard everywhere and will continue to be heard if God grants me to live, that no pain or sadness could overcome me. And it is in my thoughts that all the good things and happiness that I see, which others possess, is trial and tribulation compared with the happiness and good things that are mine. And there is good reason for this, for were I the most perfect man in every respect who had ever lived, I would find in you a surfeit of benefit and sweetness. And, my sweetheart, in regard to that noble and rich treasure whose key is mine, by God I will find my way to unlocking it as soon as I am able. And these will be present at its unlocking: Faith, Loyalty, Justice, and Measure. And if Desire wishes to be the master, he will not be allowed to be so, for you, and I, and Loyalty, and Good Hope are all allied against him. And, by my faith, he is already half undone. Nor would I concern myself with aught he could do to me, thanks to the sweet and loving letters you have written. I have composed a rondel that I am sending you. And you shall have the music by the first messenger I will send, and there is your name, as you will see, in the rondel enclosed with this letter. And, my sweetheart, if you remember me, by God, you will not do wrong, since for you I have abandoned all other memories and thoughts. And regarding what you have said about trusting me so much that I would prove unable to do anything that might displease you, may God bless you for it, for, by my soul, I shall keep far from any such thing, please God. My sweetheart, upon my soul, I have never in all my life heard aught said of you that was not all virtue, faithfulness, and honour. And I have driven all doubt and all suspicion from my heart, and I believe that your sweet pretty lips would never deign to lie. So, hold strongly to the fact that I live more with joy and celebration than any other lover in this land where I dwell, and I have begun once more on composing that book about you in which you shall be praised and honoured to the best of my poor ability, and so shall all ladies, through my love of you. And my most sweet love, your sensitive ears should be burning often, because I am never in company with any who do not speak constantly of you, and so favourably that all those who have seen you compare you to the precious red garnet that brightens the dark night, or the sapphire that cures all ills, or the emerald that makes every heart rejoice. In brief, every man considers you the very flower of womankind. And, by that same God who made me, I take more pleasure in this than I could say or write, and all this you will learn from others, not simply myself. And so I would not exchange my wishes, memories, and sweet thoughts for a fine kingdom, and when I contemplate your pure, refined, and noble sweetness, which is firmly enclosed within my heart, like a rich treasure within its coffer, and set like a precious stone in gold, it is often my thought that I am with you in as pleasurable a fashion as ever I was. And my sweetheart, if I fail to send you my compositions as often as I was accustomed to so do, I beg you, humbly, not to be displeased with me, for had I a head of iron, a heart of steel, and a body formed of diamond, I would not be able to labour over your book and also set my mind to composing other works, so that I must set aside the one for the other. I ask you, as humbly as I can, and with all my heart to be pleased to send something that you wear nearest your heart so that I can lay it as near to mine as I am able. And, indeed, if you send such a thing to me, I will consider it a true and worthy relic. And you are so virtuous and so wise you know well what I mean. And, also, please make some fitting arrangement with your sister concerning me, so that when I visit, we can enjoy a pleasant time together without incurring any danger. Adieu, my own sweetheart, and may God give you the good things and the joy you desire. Your faithful lover.’
Lines 4844-4881: He praises her to himself, and receives her twelfth letter
MY lady thus revived my joy,
In the terms I did here employ,
Through a most gracious demand,
By means of her sweet command,
She, in whom my heart dwells entire;
And I pray God that my desire
To be with her He’ll soon satisfy,
For I do need naught else, say I,
Nor may He let me live longer,
But take my life and my honour,
If I should desert her ever,
For when I go to be with her
Let there be no cause for regret,
And let whoe’er speak of it yet
As they may wish, but truthfully,
For certainly such folk will see
Without a doubt, lest they be liars,
Lilies growing from sharp briars,
Fruit upon bare roots appearing,
Spiny brambles balm producing,
A rose on a lily-stem growing,
Which would be the strangest thing,
Ere I might be seen to wander,
Or desert her or neglect her.
Such a thing could never be,
No more than I could, readily,
Suck honey from my little finger,
Since tis true loyalty I owe her,
For I am hers in every guise,
And nor could it be otherwise.
I hope that such she doth intend
Whenever she doth call me friend,
In goodness naming each her friend,
Yet loving but one, in the end.
And this I learn from her reply,
And naught else do I seek, say I;
I’ll give it, as from her it came,
So as to lose naught of that same.
‘My sweetheart, my sweet love, and my very dear friend, may it please you to know that, thanks to God and yourself, I feel well, and so does my heart, because I know it is in so pleasant and sweet a dwelling-place that naught can harm it as long as it remains with you. For, by God, it is there always, and will be my life through. And when I consider that I have found it a lodging so fine that I could not own or wish for better, my body can feel no ill. And since I know that your heart is wholly within me, and that you feel secure in my love, and that you are joyful in celebration, I feel such joy as I cannot express. For, assuredly, I could not feel joy or comfort as long as I knew you were troubled. My sweetheart, I have received your letter in which you tell me that several great lords know of our love, and have requested that you send them some of your compositions and of my own. And it pleases me very much for you to send them these, for I would like very much for God and all the world to know that I love you and am fonder of you than any man living. And I consider myself more graced and honoured by your love than by that of any prince or king in the world, for, in my opinion, no woman in the world has a finer love than I. And for this I thank God, Amor, and Venus every day, and more than a hundred times. And I know for certain that I shall never play you false and thus merit blame; so, for all these reasons I care not if our love is revealed. Thus, you well know that all is for the best. And my sweetheart, you write that you feel such great joy for my good reputation that nothing ill can happen to you. And, by God, my sweetheart, I feel the same about yours (and ought indeed to do so) for I believe that no one in all the world has won more renown among all the noblest people. And you know that this was the origin of our love, which began over-late for my liking. The greatest regret I feel is for the fair time we have lost, and there is naught I would not give for us to have begun sooner. And, my sweetheart, you write that you will come soon to unlock the treasure chest whose key you possess. And if those persons of quality whom you have suggested shall be at the unlocking are present, this gathering will be even more worthy, and I think very much that they will be present. Now do not believe, in the least, that should Desire appear he can in any way harm us, for this noble company will swiftly undo him. I have looked over the rondel that you have sent me, and I found my name there readily, and my joy is great that you have returned to composing our book, for I am more eager you work on that than anything else. And it will prove sufficient for me for you to send me any little rondel or new song you write, for I wish to learn none but yours. And, by my faith, I shall not be displeased at all if you send them to some other than me, for something that pleases you could not displease me, provided, if you will, that they are mine at first. I am not sending that which you requested, for it seems to me that it would not be good to have it delivered by this messenger. But I will send it by your valet as soon as you dispatch him to me with your prayer beads, for I cannot send it as soon as I would like. But I am sending along the hair-ornament and kerchief as well as the hair-ribbon that I wore the day I received your letter. My sister commends herself to you, and doubt not, for I will find opportunity enough for us to unlock the treasure chest at our ease. H… your friend, has been in Paris. He commends himself to you many times, and is most happy for your good-fortune and my own, and will gladly exert himself to enable us to gain more. By God, we should love him, for he is the one who presided over the beginning of our love-affair. And my sweetheart, I do not think ill at all that you have requested I send to you, what you ask, for I know well there is no ill intention in this. And I will send it along as soon as I can manage. By the God in whom I believe, you will never find me slow to do aught that I know will give you pleasure. I pray you commend me to my brother and your own, and give him this gold ring, and tell him that I wish him to wear it in my honour. My dear friend, I beg Our Lord grant you the good things and honour I would wish for you. Your true love.’
Lines 4882-4955: Regarding Queen Semiramis
THERE you have the pleasing letter,
My sweet lady, the only begetter,
Wrote to me, and I read it through,
Meditated upon it, too,
And indeed, when thinking of her,
To that queen I might compare her,
She who was named Semiramis,
Possessed of lovers and great riches,
And who of Nineveh was ruler,
In the marches of Chaldea,
As Valerius Maximus
In his ‘Deeds and Sayings’ tells us.
Queen Semiramis was noble,
Honourable, hating scandal,
Nor was her heart so awry
She would do harm to aught thereby.
No more was she prepared to see
Any bring shame through villainy,
On her people, or work damage,
But wished to guard her heritage;
Thus, she loved a friend greatly,
And felt hate towards an enemy,
While she preferred, assuredly,
For vengeance to yield to mercy,
Being generous, and forgiving,
Finding other’s woes saddening.
It seems, to the palace one day,
One fair and fine, in every way,
Where were knights in vast company,
And of her household full many,
A messenger came, swift apace,
Crying to all: ‘I come in haste.
I must speak to the queen’ he said;
She being curtained, still, in bed.
The queen was yet dressing there,
When to that chamber he did fare,
And stood before her to proclaim
His news, the reason why he came,
Swearing, then, by Saint Anthony,
That Babylon, that mighty city,
Had lately rebelled against her.
The lady, with unfinished coiffure,
For one half was braided fully
While other tresses hung limply,
Dressed herself, in that very state,
And then proceeded at great rate
To her people in the palace hall,
Bravely, and wisely, telling all,
Of the trouble, and the outrage,
Announced by the present message,
Which she’d received, most suddenly,
Regarding Babylon, her city,
And that she would ne’er be happy,
Nor rest in that place or any,
Nor would she braid another tress
Until relieved of her distress.
Then she summoned her vast host
And ably sent all to their post,
So as to assault that city
And, thus, assert her sovereignty,
And laid it siege, until all came
To recognise her prior claim.
Was not this a thing of honour?
If that mighty warrior, Hector,
Had done the like, twere great, surely?
And so the people of that country,
To grant that effort its full due,
Honoured her with a bronze statue,
With half her tresses braided closely,
And half portrayed as unruly,
So as to show her look and manner
During the battle and, moreover,
Commemorate the victory,
And keep it long in memory.
Lines 4956-5039: He compares his lady to Queen Semiramis
NOW, I would compare my lady
To Semiramis, who would clearly
No more adorn her face or figure,
Maintaining it as twas by Nature,
Until she had worked a proper
Vengeance on the evil done her.
Here, I am Babylon, that city
Which belongs to her entirely,
By right, as part of her domain,
And she my sovereign, tis plain.
But Desire and Melancholy,
And fear of losing my lady,
Long delay, long hours waiting
To see her, pensive and grieving,
And then not knowing where she is,
And then no friend in all of this,
In all the world, ne’er a creature
Who might tell her how I suffer,
These things engender a million
Heart-aches, and stir rebellion,
Thus, extinguishing the lantern
Of Hope, who doth the city govern,
Such that Hope flees weary of me,
By night, and hurts me grievously.
Yet when my dear lady doth hear
Of my news she will soon appear
If someone begs her to help me
Indeed, none could conceivably
Know how she hastens to my aid,
Or how readily tis displayed,
For no matter where she may be,
As soon as my letter she doth see,
And hears of any trouble that I,
Her city, encounters, by and by,
She will be swiftly there at hand,
To help as greatly as she can,
In a manner as honourable
As it will be most suitable,
Restoring Hope to her true seat,
Sending the others in retreat,
Such that they go to destruction,
Or are captives, in subjection.
And as to the statue that was made,
Of Semiramis, there portrayed,
Then the people of the country
True-born liegemen of my lady,
Should a similar work create,
Great of form, scale, and estate,
In manner and in countenance
Equal to her face and semblance,
A work so lovely to the eye
As to please all folk, thereby,
And of its beauty all would tell
And call my lady ‘Toute Belle’.
Discomforted should it not appear,
Then, indeed, I would greatly fear
Desire, and every other scoundrel
Allied, making noise and trouble,
Who show themselves, at his side,
Whene’er they can no longer hide.
Her country’s Virtues would send me
Her statue, and those same would be
Generosity and Pity,
Pure Sweetness and true Amity,
Reason, Loyalty, and Measure,
All attending to the matter,
Hope bringing the fair work to me,
So as to sweetly comfort me,
Who yet brings comfort every day,
Guarding my heart’s gate alway,
So those wretches cannot enter,
And do the city harm ever.
And if Desire would come there
He must be as one sweet and fair,
And carry neither fire nor flame,
That might set ablaze that same,
Nor shall there be a single thought
That might oppose myself in aught.
And if I am too long apart
From my lady, yet, at heart,
I hope to view her joyfully,
Which cannot come too soon for me,
So, to that image I then turn
Of paradise, for which I yearn.
Lines 5040-5055: He sends his lady his fifteenth letter
MY lady then has been compared
To Semiramis who was prepared
To go with loosened hair until
She had true vengeance for the ill
Her errant subjects wrought on her.
Firmly correcting their error.
So, I must answer my lady,
The best that in this world may be,
That is, reply to her last letter,
For none could bestow upon her
A greater goodness or sweetness
While my eye saw in her no less
Than the purest truest ever
Form of any human creature.
So, I replied that very day,
As you shall hear, without delay.
‘My own sweetheart, my sweet sister, my sweet love and all that my heart desires, I have received your letter in which you give me to know of your happy state, and this affords me such joy I could not own to a greater. For whenever I know that you are well, no ill can come to me. And if I should ever hear the contrary, yet may God protect you from such and I also, assuredly I would be lost and dead. So, I beg you, my own sweetheart, to take good care of yourself, for these times are most dangerous, especially where you are. And, my true sweetheart, if you are happy at my contentment, my joy, and my good fortune, you are not deceived, for your contentment and your joy are mine, nor do I make any distinction twixt you and me, for what is good for one must be so for the other. And, my sweetheart, your gracious letter has made me rejoice so much that by that same God who made me, every time I read it tears of pure and utter joy flow from my eyes, for it is a vale full of joy, a river of sweetness, a respite from death, to hear it, and I have read it more than twenty times. And any who has never loved, by my faith, should he heart it, he would love, providing he were not too foolish or unfortunate. My true sweetheart, you have made me the guardian and treasurer of the two noblest things in all the world, and those are your heart and your most rich treasure. And, please God, I shall keep such a true guard over them that God and yourself and all who learn of it will think themselves quite satisfied, for I well know that you protect my heart better than I could yours. And may it please you to learn that, when I received your letter, the lords I wrote about earlier inquired after your verses and my own, especially those regarding my viewing of your portrait and how I have honoured it and in what reverence I hold it, and indeed, I showed it to them. And they marvelled greatly, and assured me that you are peerless among women. And, my sweetheart, you tell me that you praise God, Love, and Venus for having provided you with so fine a lover, and that you would in no way accept the greatest man in the world in place of me, your lover. Surely, sweet friend of my heart, you are very much mistaken, for by my soul I am not worthy enough to look upon you, or even remove your shoes. And so you ought not praise Love; instead I am the one who should thank and praise him for having assigned me to one like you, the very flower of women, and who is so much mine that you say I can do naught to displease you, nor would you ever grow tired of doing what might please me. May God adore you, for this I cannot deserve, nor am I worthy of it, my own sweetheart. I thank you very dearly for what you have sent, and will send. And, by my soul, every night I sleep with these things against my heart, and kiss them a hundred times a day. Your book I am addressing, and it is well advanced, for I write a hundred lines every day. And, by my soul, I could not keep myself from doing so, the subject pleases me so much; moreover, I know that you are very eager to see it. Yet I find considerable difficulty in ascertaining which letters correspond to which others. So, I ask you to date all the letters you send me from now on, but without identifying the location. I would have travelled to you, in company with the bearer of this letter, but for two reasons I shall inform you of below. And, by God, my sweetheart, I will come to unlock that precious and gracious treasure as soon as I am able; since, and may God give me joy in you whom I love more than anything in the world, never did I so desire anything in all my life, and I have gone without sleep more than thirty times this last month. And my own sweetheart, you are troubled that we have found each other so tardily; by God, so am I; yet, herein, lies the remedy. Let us lead as happy a life together as we can at this time, and in these circumstances, so that it shall prove recompense for the time we have lost, and thus our love affair will be spoken about for a hundred years after us, as wholly good and honourable. Now, if there was aught wrong therein, you would indeed conceal it from God if you could. But there has only been what is virtuous and ever shall be: and one can never do too much good. And thus, each of us two should rival the other in loving virtuously. Sweetheart, commend me very humbly to your sister; all my heart rejoices with the joy I await, and because I know you will find the means and opportunity for your treasure to be unlocked. I am sending you a ballad composed at the end of the month when I left you; afterward I began work on your book. And, my very sweet sister, I beg you to be very certain that you and your sister plan a pilgrimage to Saint-Nicaise of Reims, for both yourselves and her children. And by my faith, I promise to go to seek you at the Porte Saint-Antoine. And T… your brother, will come with me. My own sweetheart, you cause me to be wakeful most of the night, and to write most of the day, but by my soul this does not weigh heavily on me at all. Rather I take such great pleasure in it I cannot attend to other matters. And this for the love of ‘Toute Belle’, whom you should know well. Adieu, my true sweetheart, and my most sweet sister, and my dearest lady, and may God give you peace, and health, and joy in whatever your heart desires. Written this eighth day of August. Your faithful friend.’
Lines 5056-5079: His fifteenth ballad ‘Huis ha .j. moy que je me departi’ (Ballad CLXI)
‘THIS day marks one whole month since I parted
From her, of whom is my every thought,
And ne’er has my weary heart imparted
So harsh a woe, to be endured, in aught,
As it has in this parting,
Nor ‘to God I commend you’, on leaving
My lovely lady, could I yet utter,
So grievous was my departure from her.
For, there, my grieving heart nigh broke in two,
So full was it of both grief and ardour,
When I perceived that I must leave, anew,
The sweet look, sweet glance and noble figure,
And most gentle countenance
Of my lady, and her fair elegance,
And truly my life was in grave danger,
So grievous was my departure from her.
And I, without a doubt, have never seen
Another who could so arouse my heart
To such delight; and tis but right, I mean
That naught, without her, comes, by any art
Of joy, or comfort, or sweet glance,
For to her I’ve granted such allegiance
My face could show but sorrow thereafter,
So grievous was my departure from her.’
Lines 5080-5103: Her fifth ballad ‘Amis, si parfaitement’ (Ballad CXCIX)
‘Lover mine, so perfectly
I’m consigned to you,
There can ne’er a parting be
No space twixt us two;
As long as life is left me,
Ne’er shall my true heart stray,
And if another love me,
Then he shall fail, alway.
So truly, so lovingly,
I’m enamoured now,
Of your fair, noble body,
Beyond all, I avow,
That for none shall I allow
True heart to wend its way,
And if another love me,
Then he shall fail, alway.
So, my love, assuredly,
I but think of you,
And all my love completely
Is bestowed there too,
Nor will my heart change anew
Through any long delay,
And if another love me,
Then he shall fail, alway.’
Lines 5104-5107: She sends the preceding ballad with her thirteenth letter
THE ballad I have given here
Within the letter did appear
Which follows, and it answered me
As it ought, and most fittingly.
‘My sweetheart, brother, companion, and true friend, I have received your letter from my brother T… who told me that it is long since he saw you in so good a state as you are now. And I take such great joy in this that I could not find greater joy in aught that might happen, except seeing you, which I desire more than all other things. And, if it please you, come to me at the place the bearer of these gifts will tell you of, where I aim to be, God willing, during the eight-day period around mid-August. For we are to leave Monday next, and my sister and I will journey there because of the plague that is so very great where I dwell. And as soon as I arrive, I will let you know, so write nothing until you hear news from me. My own sweetheart, I am sending what you requested and your prayer-beads as well, and I promise faithfully that I have worn these things, in the very condition I am sending them, for two nights and three days without removing them. And as soon as the chain was made, I wore your prayer-beads just as I send them to you. And I ask you to please wear them, and I am sending another little set along with a little chain for your portrait, and these I have worn a long time around my arm. And I beg you, my true sweetheart, not to be unhappy that I send these things so tardily, for this I cannot remedy. And if I have anything else that might please you, do ask for it, and I will send it willingly, for, by my faith, I have naught that is not yours. And if you say you do not distinguish between my possessions and your own, such that what one owns the other owns too, you are correct, by my faith, for I make no distinction in the matter either, but consider, wholly, that all of your goods are my own, and that mine in turn are yours. And I could not feel better, to my satisfaction. And I swear to you, on my faith, that the love I have for you is so great that none could be greater. And I believe it increases every day and so the virtue of loving grows as well. And I am certain you believe the same, in turn. And it would be no light thing for a game to be lost where the stake ever increases. I have received the four ballads that you sent me and have sent one back as one who draws strength from you. But I am very much troubled regarding how hard you labour. And so, I pray you, my own sweetheart, not to work so hard that your health worsens, for, by God, this would cause me great grief. And I would be happy if, whenever you wrote, you but sent along a little song or some rondel, and let it be set to music. For I wish to sing none but yours, and yet many others are brought to me, but I do not intend making the effort to learn them, for I think that all the works others compose are valueless in comparison to those of yours. And so, I ask, my true sweetheart, that you send me less but that those you do send are set to music. And, if you please, send the virelay which you composed before ever you had seen me, which is called “The eye that is Love’s true archer”, or send me “Brighter than daylight’s brightness”, for they seem most fine to me. And, my sweetheart, you have written that I cause you to stay awake by night and write most of the day, and by my faith you have the same effect on me, except that I do not write as much as you do; yet I think as deeply about the love between us, so that, by the God in whom I believe, I think more about that than anything else. And it often happens that I spend a whole day in my room or some other place, avoiding people so that they might not disturb my thoughts of you. And my sister, along with the people in the house, is concerned that I stay so frequently by myself, for such has not been my custom, but I cannot refrain from doing so, since I derive so much pleasure from thinking about you. My sweetheart, my sister commends herself to you, often, and is very eager to see you, and she came to me while this letter was being composed and asked if I was writing to my lover. And I answered her with a ‘yes’. And she said to me “Commend me to him many times, for by God I would like to see him.” And I ask you, my sweetheart, to commend me to your brother and my own, for, by my faith, he is one of the men in this world I most desire to see, after you. My sweetheart and my sweet friend, I pray that Our Lord grant you honour, peace, health, and joy of whatever your heart desires, if I might share therein. Written the Sunday before mid-August. Your loyal friend.’
Lines 5108-5132: Her sixth ballad ‘Puis que tant a languir ay’
SHE did a new ballad enclose
With her letter, and I suppose
It written with her own fair hand,
In that sweet style she doth command.
‘Since I here must languish so,
Due to all this long delay,
My love, I’ll take comfort though
In the thought that I’m alway
Loved by you in the true way
In which I swear love also,
For virtuous love doth grow.
And as soon as I may see
Your face again, my true love,
Of this pain I shall be free
From which I long seek remove,
And healed of all ill shall prove,
Joyfully, by this shall show,
That virtuous love doth grow.
And then, as well, I shall heal
Sweetly and most privately
The pain your heart doth reveal
Desire inflicts most cruelly,
And joy will redoubled be,
And a loving heart you’ll know,
Where virtuous love doth grow.’
Lines 5133-5176: He speaks of Hebe and her rejuvenation of Iolaus
NOW have you heard, and at first hand,
How she who doth my heart command
Sent me her letters, portrait too,
Relics, and poems fresh and new,
And all these I worshipped, truly,
And guarded them, reverently,
As my true earthly deities.
In short, I loved naught more than these,
Except for my lady only.
And, at every hour, you’d see me,
Press these things closely, for my part,
To my body, right next my heart;
For the sweetness that thence did flow
Nourished me so sweetly, I know,
That it proved my greatest nurture,
Derived from pleasure, yet purer,
Which did myself, thereby, maintain,
And life in me did e’er sustain.
It was my heart, it was my joy,
Twas all I wished then to enjoy;
Thus, I may make comparison
Without committing any wrong,
Between Hebe and my lady,
For the goddess of youth was she,
Cup-bearer to the deities,
And she, when asked by Hercules,
Made old Iolaus young again,
On Tivolus’ mount; I maintain,
He was wise Callirrhoe’s son.
Of lords or pages there was none
Did not cross himself to see it;
For every man marvelled at it,
And even the gods were amazed,
Once its truth had been appraised.
And so, the deities often brought
Their aged relatives, and sought
From Hebe that they might be made
Young and fit again, and prayed
Her to rejuvenate them, though
She would not agree, even so,
For the goddess was most wise,
Responding cleverly likewise,
That it was not her place to steal
Nature’s role, or her laws repeal.
Lines 5177-5196: His lady likewise rejuvenated him
MY lady did the same for me,
By the faith I owe Saint Remi,
Rejuvenated by her beauty,
Which did ever dwell within me;
By means of my imagination,
I there possessed its impression
And ever might act youthfully,
And feel happiness within me,
My spirit ever young and bright,
Which rendered my troubles light.
Though in the end none can hold
To life, indeed, and not grow old;
To Nature everyone must pay
The debt, the tax, they owe, someday;
And if one could do otherwise,
Nature would complain, likewise.
But my lady, of her noblesse,
Acted like a mother goddess,
One I adore, fear and desire,
To whom my wishes all aspire.
Lines 5197-5234: He is absent two months from his lady
A long time, thus, was I living,
Neither weeping nor complaining,
Since my way of life so pleased me,
For naught there was displeased me
That from those ladies came to me;
Letting Love command me, wholly,
Because I was full satisfied,
As every joy was at my side,
And I lacked naught one might desire,
Aught that a lover might require,
Except of course I could not see
My sweet, fair, and virtuous lady,
From whom I was too long away,
Hardly pleased she could not stay
Due to the epidemic there
Where she was, and so must fare
To a region where I knew none,
Not a single friendly person,
God save me, nary a creature,
Of whom I could ask a favour,
Or take into my confidence.
And if you say I should have hence
Despatched a message, I dared not,
Such was the nature of my lot,
For she forbade it altogether;
If you’ve attended to her letter,
No message might I send to her
Till I had certain news of her.
And it was two whole months entire,
For, now, to a third time did aspire,
Since I’d had news of her at all,
So, I knew not what did befall,
Nor whether she’d feigned this delay,
As a ruse, and her love did stray.
Thus, I was eager to meet her,
Since I’d not dared to write to her,
Nor did she write to me; rather,
Neither knew aught of the other.
Lines 5235-5292: He is plagued by Desire, and dreams of his lady dressed in green
TWAS now the unsleeping enemy,
That Desire, who oft has wronged me,
Approached to enact his treason,
Brandished his torch and, with one
Thrust, sent it deep into my heart,
Burning, despite me, with his art,
All its domain, and, by my soul,
Brought fire and flame upon the whole.
While Memory who, a thousand times,
Had brought comfort and joy betimes,
And granted me every benefit,
Stole all my joy, as she saw fit,
For strange and disordered thought,
To my troubled mind, she brought,
Thought that was shaped, wretchedly,
By anger and melancholy,
And naught else did Memory bring
Save discomfort with everything,
And thus, I was anxious that she
Whom I love, where’er I may be,
Freely, with a heart that’s true,
Might be attired in green not blue.
With such thoughts as I had there,
I felt drowsy, weighted with care,
And, anxious yet, fell into slumber,
Though little good it did me, rather,
While sleeping, I dreamed a dream,
And, as I dreamt, then it did seem,
When I adored her sweet image,
My lady turned away her visage,
Nor would she deign to look at me,
Which pierced my heart grievously.
And all in green she now did dress,
Which signified mere fickleness.
Then of those images likewise,
Once fashioned by Virgil the wise,
I thought, that turned their heads away
When rebellion did the Romans sway,
Yet I had ne’er, all subjection,
A single thought of rebellion,
For no shade of wrong from me
Came to my beloved lady.
And, thus, if I felt as if dead
When she thus turned away her head,
Seeing her dressed so, all in green,
Ne’er a trace of blue to be seen,
Then no man should wonder at me,
For neath the sky, on land or sea,
No man has e’er in his dreaming
Known such ill of such ill-seeming,
In that her sweet and noble face
Denied my eye all its sweet grace.
There, from her presence I did go
Full of anxious thought, in woe,
Without a view of her sweet face
And so, proceeded to a place
Where were many a lady bright,
Many a maid, squire and knight.
Lines 5293-5454: The King That Tells No Lie
ONE man there, open and handsome,
Was seated on a silken cushion,
That was fine, and fair, and which
Was worked in an embroidered stitch.
His seat was higher than the rest,
And his hair was fittingly dressed
With a garland of violets, made
By his lovers, and there displayed.
I greeted all that company,
Who treated me most courteously,
And made me sit beside them there,
So as to view the whole affair.
Now I saw, for I sat nearby,
Here was ‘The King That Tells No Lie’,
And everyone, on either hand,
Obeyed and reverenced that man,
As did I; briefly, and in short,
All were presented at his court,
Where was many a fine request
Uttered, which, I would suggest,
I need not give; too long a piece
All that would make; I’ll hold my peace,
Yet, when twas my turn for speaking,
In this guise, I addressed the king:
‘King, you must needs speak truthfully,
Justly, loyally, charitably,
Loving all your good friends deeply,
Loathing your every enemy.
For he does much wrong, for one,
Who, while cruel as a lion,
In times of peace to his friend,
Every courtesy doth extend
To his enemy in time of war;
In this world he can do no more
To incur his good people’s blame
Than to acquire such evil fame.
Truth is a most wonderful thing
In the mouth of a virtuous king,
While evil is the mouth that lies,
Whether tis royal or otherwise,
As well his teeth were of cement,
His mouth diseased, if his intent
Were to deceive; none would complain;
That would be wise for, sans doubt,
If lies are in, then honour’s out,
Since it is sinful, rank deception,
To speak aught but one’s intention.
In kings the fault shows clear ever,
To say one thing and do another.
True justice you should render all,
Weighing it fully, whate’er befall;
In other words, so faithfully
That all receive it equally,
While anger, favour, pity, love,
Hatred, rank, fear, none should move
You to exchange truth for a lie,
If you would gain honour thereby.
For if tis honour you would gain
You should never, in your domain,
Render the weak more wretched still,
Rather you should display goodwill,
Your heart eager to blunt the power
Of your enemy and theirs, each hour.
Noble hearts no ill should render
To those in need of a defender,
But if the strong they should conquer,
Then they win both praise and honour.
There the heart knows greater glory
Where noble victory’s the story.
You should be filled with largesse,
Free of cowardice and idleness,
Give what you have with happy cheer,
Promise all that’s yet to appear,
Bestowing all that you acquire,
Enough of giving ne’er desire,
Are you afeared that you may lack?
You’ll have plenty at your back,
More than you need, if you conform
To my words; upon that stag’s horn,
In your hall, hang your great seal,
That no tongue may such ill reveal
That it earns not letter or gold;
Let your wide doors ever unfold,
Since largesse doth so command
Towards all those who make demand.
But guard yourself from avarice,
Tis in a king’s heart a great vice,
That worth, honour, praise and grace
Must destroy, and renown efface;
It brings a king such infamy
That no man can love him, clearly.
Next, ever the ladies honour,
In word and deed; and endeavour
To keep your mind on honour set,
Thus, dishonour shall you forget.
Love God above and chivalry,
Good conscience, and live honestly,
And your wide lands you shall retain,
Great battles and fierce wars sustain.
King, I know that you judge fairly,
Loathe evil judges, equally,
And, judging honestly, thereby
Are named the King That Tells No Lie;
I know that you hate villainy,
And love all acts of courtesy,
Arms, ladies, honour, such enjoy,
So, these few words I will employ,
If they will cause you no annoy:
There’s not a knight, squire, or mere boy,
Not one soul, shall fail to hate you,
If your lands you defend not, too,
But risk losing your realm entire,
Which is a grievous matter, sire.
Then some who love you are ever
Those who love you for your silver,
Caring naught for you or honour,
Except as long as wealth’s on offer,
And if you seek to halt their pay
Then they’ll not serve a single day,
Or, if they do, tis understood,
They’ll do nothing to your good.
What worth has service without love?
No more than a kingdom doth prove
Of worth, whose absent lord will not
Defend it when ruin is its lot.
Unlit ovens, mills left idle,
They are worth, I think, but little.
And if you had, for your pleasure,
At this hour, the whole world’s treasure,
Adored a hundred times a day,
Yet never gave a sou away,
Twould not be worth a pile of straw,
Twould prove idolatry what’s more.
Heaps of treasure shall not defend
Realms that kings seek to contend.
But, truly, good companions may;
Wise men such treasure put in play.
They say a good friend, on the way,
Is worth bright coinage any day.
Let not the worthless counsel you,
Useless when battle doth ensue;
Nor let pretty boys be your care,
For by all the crosses I swear
That ever were in Jerusalem,
You’ll win naught but ill from them,
Such as you’ll never remedy
By your sword-blows, nor by treaty.
But you are wise and subtle too,
Generous, courteous, and you,
Well-born, noble, will stay clear
Of such, and keep but good men near,
Who, body and all, seek to acquire,
That honour which you most desire.
If you do what I now advise
You will dress in honour’s guise,
And a good friend you shall be
Of Mars, the war-god, endlessly.
And if too wide my words do reach,
Then dreaming must excuse my speech;
But he achieves little who dares
Speak but little of his affairs,
And, since I’m obliged so to do,
I’ll say why I’m here before you.’
Lines 5455-5506: In his dream, he complains of Love’s ills to the King
‘KING, I am come here to complain
Of Love’s ills, that do bring me pain,
And make me pale, and of Desire
Who assails me, with many a gyre.
So, I’ll speak of the whole affair,
And what I yet must do, I’ll share.
I love a lady, with my whole heart,
More than all, though we are apart;
I see her little, distant from her,
But now and then I send a letter.
There is no one there, you see,
To tell her of my malady,
Or who could lead her to believe
In the ills that, through her, I receive.
Nor dare I go to seek her court,
All my journey would come to naught,
Since a single soul I know not
Where she abides, such is my lot.
And then, she may not come to me,
There’s no way that such could be,
For hundred-eyed Argus guards her,
She’s rendered afraid by Slander,
Fear makes her cowardly, and Doubt
Of misdeed; Fortune shuts me out,
And tis nigh on nine weeks or so
Since I heard news of her, also,
And so, I am concerned indeed
That some misfortune doth impede
Her love, or she loves another,
Because she sees many a better.
Nonetheless I have her image,
Drawn true from life, onto the page,
So skilfully and truthfully
None could have wrought more fittingly.
Twas but a moment hence, no more,
I praised, worshipped, and did adore
That image, but she turned her head,
Bringing me much woe, instead,
And more, this ill brought me, too,
That her gown which was of blue,
Thus, denoting her faithfulness
In which I trusted, and did bless,
Now altered to the colour green,
Denoting fickleness, was seen
Which hurt me so deeply that I
Felt not an ounce of joy, thereby.
Now, that she cannot come to me
Through some occupation, wholly,
That thus prevents her coming here,
Alas, it kills; tis death, I fear.
And I am wretched, endlessly,
Nor can find aught to succour me.’
Lines 5507-5576: He considers the ills of the age and his own
‘Now one thing doth annoy me, too,
That wealth all men too much pursue,
So, I am taxed a fortieth,
A thirtieth, a twentieth,
A thirteenth too, and a tenth thrice,
An eighth, sixth, fifth, tis a vice,
And there’s talk of a half as well,
By God, to a hundredth they tell.
The corn and wine are finished all,
So, folk have naught on which to call,
Thus, God on high wars against us,
As the Pope scorns not to tell us.
The Devil sets this war on hand,
Alongside the King of England,
Now returns the Great Company,
Marching as far as Germany,
About the Archpriest I complain,
Arnaud de Cervole is his name,
His Bretons, and their pillaging,
That destroy all in their raging.
Moreover, the wolves destroy us,
Ever choking and murdering us,
And there’s such great mortality
In every village, town and city,
All throughout the Low Country
Good folk are terrified, utterly,
So that there’s none but do foretell
Worse for the Church yet, and people,
Such that we all shall be brought low,
Since the people cry further woe.
Here’s sad and painful existence,
Here great mischief and pestilence,
And who can escape this alive
Who can endure it and survive?
For surely Egypt’s ten plagues might
Against such troubles seem but slight,
Since the Egyptians had hopes still
Of meeting with good times after ill.
Just as the savage, midst the trees,
Seeing the storm, hopes it will cease,
And fine weather be there again,
So, sings and revels midst the rain.
Yet we live in expectation
Of a mightier conflagration,
And the last, foretold, eruption,
That shall bring on our destruction.
If God of His grace aids us not,
Waiting upon Him is my lot,
For as He has made the creature
Man cannot be healed in nature
Nor can he be restored in soul
If He does not repair the whole.
But all these miseries and crimes,
This pestilence, and these harsh times,
Leave me neither cold nor hot,
For, by my faith, I heed them not,
Since what pains and annoys me
Is that I see not my lady,
Nor hear from her, many a day,
Such that my state doth me slay,
Living in hope thus, languishing,
That I or her achieve a meeting,
Or that some news I might hear
To grant me joy should such appear.
So, King, I beg you now to heed
My prayer, let your heart, indeed,
Be open to me, give counsel,
To hear such now would serve me well,
For I have need of true advice,
And only yours will now suffice.’
Lines 5577-5626: The King reassures the lover
THE King my lengthy speech had heard
Not uttering a single word,
Till I’d ended my oration
On honour and my situation,
And all the various conditions
That brought me such tribulations,
And then began to smile at me,
And so, addressed me, laughingly,
But wisely, and ever speaking
In the style that becomes a king:
‘Friend, both my ears I did employ;
You have granted my heart much joy,
With courteous admonishment,
In a speech full great in content;
It would be as lengthy to reply
To every word, and so shall I
Pass over swiftly and briefly
My honour and your misery,
And twould be beyond me too
To recall all I heard from you,
And I must keep from straying
And not err in what I’m saying,
If I can, and God doth allow.
About this ill then, that doth now
Master you, and lead you astray,
In that the portrait turns away
Its face from you, and now is seen
To alter dress from blue to green,
Which hue denotes mere fickleness;
Sweet friend, it is pure foolishness
To think so, for it yet doth seem
You talk but only as in dream.
You dream, or so to me it seems,
And none should believe in dreams.
Reason would say, meet her again
Before you set out to complain,
And if you find that all is well
You’ll then have naught ill to tell,
The lover who complains in error
Has a foolish heart harsh ever
And perverse; but wake and see her,
For she is not so false a lover
As to declare one thing to you
Then the contrary strive to do.
You’d be far more anxious, now,
Than a horned stag neath the bough,
More fearful and afraid if you
Ovid’s Metamorphoses did view,
That tell of the strange mutations
That occurred in diverse regions.’
Lines 5627-5662: Of Sodom and Gomorrah
‘JOSEPHUS tells us, and doth claim
That because of the sin and shame
Of those in Sodom and Gomorrah,
God confounded them with sulphur,
Burnt to ashes where they did stand,
And destroyed the surrounding land,
So that no man or woman there
Lived to inherit, as its heir,
For not one soul escaped its fall
Save Lot, his wife and children all,
For God, who all things formed and made,
Three angel shapes there displayed,
Who seemed to be as living men,
(Wise who serve such Goodness) then
Sent them to visit one Abram,
Who was named, later, Abraham;
He met them neath a tall oak tree,
Where he dwelt, for no house had he,
No palace of ash-wood or stone,
Handsome or ugly, did he own.
When they had parted from him, they
Out of Sodom led Lot away,
With his wife and his children too,
Who proved no slower to pursue.
Yet one angel admonished them,
On God’s behalf spoke out again,
Telling them to go straight ahead
And never once to turn their head.
Lot’s wife failed to obey that word
For she looked back, the speech unheard,
And was at once transformed to salt,
Changed to a pillar, there did halt;
Proven truth, for in form and figure
Her statue, there, once did feature;
Josephus claims so, and doth say
He saw it many times, in his day.’
Lines 5663-5684: Of Perseus and the Gorgon
‘MOREOVER, the gods and goddesses
Transformed folk, Ovid confesses,
Into whatever shape they wished,
Twas quite openly established;
Some took on the forms of trees,
Others marble, at the deities’
Command. Perseus, through the air,
Flew changing things thus everywhere,
Polydectes did defame the man
And slandered him on every hand,
But Perseus turned him to stone
Such that he moved no more; I own,
The Gorgon’s head he did employ,
The sight of which none might enjoy
And not become stone, instantly,
Wise or cunning though they might be.
Ovid declares so in his fables,
That possess well-proven morals.
Now, if such mutations you saw
Surely, you’d marvel even more,
When the mere changing of a gown
From your true joy doth steal the crown.’
Lines 5685-5700: The King admonishes the lover
‘IT might well be that you deserve,
By the manner in which you serve,
Your lady’s anger, it seems to me;
Perchance your heart’s melancholy,
And your woe to you has taught
Many a wicked hostile thought.
Or perchance you serve her falsely,
With lips that lie, most faithlessly.
Whate’er the case, you seek in vain
My counsel in the matter; complain
Not to me, wake from your dream,
Seek a better counsellor; I deem
She might not now be at leisure
To write to you, at her pleasure,
Because she is so much on view.
Now, say you that she’s killing you?’
Lines 5701-5806: Of wise men and lawgivers
‘TIS seen and known, quite openly,
That they were wise who anciently
Founded the sciences and gave law
To all those who have gone before.
Now Lamech indulged in bigamy;
The first to have two wives, for he
Won a certain girl called Ada,
And a second wife named Stella.
Upon Ada he begat Jabal,
He lived not long after Abel,
And Jubal who was his brother,
Born of one father and mother.
Now, Jabal first the baskets wrought
That shepherds bear, and also sought
The means to pen his flock within,
And all that goes with shepherding;
He first tamed and set the creatures
To serve according to their natures;
While Jubal found out music’s art.
Though Tubalcain was, for his part,
The first blacksmith, twas Jubal who
Hammered sounds and tones anew,
The notes and songs and ordinances
Of music, and its concordances,
And if folk changes did demand
It was not done at his command.
Twas Naamah discovered spinning,
And further the art of weaving,
For in her name fine cloth is made
And delicate fabrics are displayed.
Cush, son of Ham, son of Noah
That in the Ark did first seek shore,
Discovered that art to which he
Gave the name of necromancy.
He cast a statue out of metal,
Of such a form and guise that all
The questions he asked the statue
Received an answer, clear and true,
And this was the first such image
That was so made, so says the sage.
Phoroneus was the first to cause
The Greeks to abide by his laws,
And when Servius Tullius
Governed Rome, after Priscus,
Seven sages were known to fame,
Here I’ll enumerate those same:
For the first was Thales by name,
From Miletus that wise man came,
The next Pittacus of Mytilene,
Taught by the woes he had seen,
Solon of Athens was the third,
Athens his birthplace in a word,
Chilon of Sparta made a fourth
Of Babylon’s marches come forth,
While, from Corinth, Periander,
Was the fifth sage, in due order,
The sixth from Rhodes, Cleobulus;
Bias of Priene, I name, thus,
As the seventh, brave and noble,
Wise in his age, and right able,
So, have I listed those very same
Wise men, granting each his name.
Bias was the sage who stressed
That not one thing he possessed,
Since all might be snatched away,
Which all folk should note well, today.
Pythagoras lived then; were you
From Rome you’d still have in view
His laws and text where he presents
His science of the four elements;
He came from the African shore,
And was full of arithmetic lore,
And gave the manner of counting.
So, hesitate not in speaking
Of their wisdom, and their works,
Which every idle student shirks,
Like you, who are burdened so
By loving, and seized with woe.
Indeed, twould take a while to say
Whate’er they might have to relay,
And yet if all these men had sworn
To counsel you, your wits adorn,
About this she, who maddens you,
And you had Aristotle too,
Seneca, Virgil and Cato,
Solomon, Boethius, Plato,
As well as every advocate
Living in the world to date
They could advise you no more,
Nor, by God, could any counsellor
Of mine, and most are standing here,
Nor when such counsellors appear
Should you wonder that my renown
Spreads so to every single town.
At all events, this you must do:
Let Amor take command of you.
If you do so good will appear
Though also woe, perchance, I fear,
Since for one who wins his desire,
Four will as oft end in the mire.’
As he pronounced on the matter,
All around were filled with laughter,
Ladies, knights, and squires too,
And then a bird-dog, black of hue,
Began to bark at me so loudly
I woke from my dream, abruptly.
Lines 5807-5832: The lover wakes from his dream, and receives her fourteenth letter
AND when from my dream I did wake
Good people all, make no mistake,
Nor feel surprised, I was shaken,
Witnessing, ere I did waken,
The marvels I’ve relayed to you.
At once I felt eager, anew,
To learn if her portrait, truly,
Would turn its sweet face towards me.
So, in the candlelight I went
And knelt before her, thus content
To gaze a long while upon her,
And truly it seemed that ever
She smiled upon me so sweetly
She urged my heart to love, wholly.
And then, in an instant, I came
To my senses, viewing that same,
For I saw clearly that my dream
A mere illusion now did seem,
And, as I rose to my feet once more
A man knocked loudly at my door,
Who had arrived in haste, rather,
And brought me another letter,
From my most sweet and dear lady,
Which I received right joyfully,
And read it thus, straight away,
As you may hear without delay.
‘My heart, my love, and my very sweet friend, may it please you to know that all is well with me, thanks to Our Lord, and may He grant you the like, and I have been in the place you know of since the twentieth day of August. And I believed that we would leave quite soon in order to journey elsewhere, but we were told that there were a great many hostile folk in the neighbourhood, and no one dared travel. And so, we have not been to that other place yet; but we did leave, about seventeen days after we should have arrived at that place, to go to Brie, in order to see my brother’s properties that my sister had not yet seen. And there we stayed fifteen days altogether. And there I felt a woe more intense than anything I have ever felt. Yet there was much diversion, for all we did on the road was sing and visit ladies, young ladies, and religious women. But the more I witnessed of good times and joy, the more I was displeased because I remembered I could not see you or send you messages. And there was one night when I was staying in one of my brother’s houses, and it was the eve of the Feast of Holy Cross. And I fell asleep thinking of you, and it seemed to me as I slept that I saw you lying in a room on a handsome well-adorned bed. And it seemed to me that you were very ill. And there was an old nurse by your side attending to you, as I thought. As soon as I approached your bed, I began to weep and kiss you passionately, and it seemed to me that you found me at fault me for having kissed you in front of that woman. And I told you I cared not, that in doing something good for you I could not be blamed. And I thought you then arose in good health, saying I had cured you. And this made me very happy, or so it seemed to me in my sleep. And I passed the whole night with you in this way, such that all day I was melancholy, for I feared some ill had befallen you. And I thought of Morpheus. And when I recalled that I had cured you, I felt a little better and was in that same state of mind all day. So, I pray you, my sweetheart, please write and tell me if on that day you were troubled; tell me also how it goes with you, for this I wish greatly to learn. By my soul, it seems a year to me since I received any news from you. And, I pray you, please send me some of your songs to entertain me and put an end to my melancholy. My sister and I are as two prisoners here, and I know no one at all except those of my party. And I would have nothing pleasant to do at all if I had not your book to read, and those compositions you sent, as well as my thoughts of you. And were it not for the thoughts and memories I have of you, I would be very wretched. But, by the God in whom I believe, I think much on these at all times, and this is the sum of my consolation, nor could I direct my thoughts elsewhere. And if it pleases you to send me a copy of the book you have made, I would be most grateful, and you would be doing me a great favour, for you would give me much pleasure. And I am most eager to view it. And I will show it no one, if doing so would displease you. My own sweetheart, I beg you not to be discontent that I have not written sooner, but by my soul there was nothing I could do to avoid this. My brother is going to the king, and I beg you to see him and offer him, and his party also, the kind of greeting you know it right to offer. And if he visits your house, do not show him the portrait, for I do not think that would be good. However, I would wish you to say a little, though not too much, about how fond you are of me, and also that because I am an enthusiastic singer you had sent me songs on a number of occasions, before you ever laid eyes on me. I have not sent you any messages by my brother’s servants whom I have mentioned, for reasons which I shall explain when God please that I see you, and I am more impatient that this come to pass than anything else. And it is no wonder, for without you I cannot possess any of the riches in that treasure chest whose key you possess. My own sweetheart, I pray you, be pleased to comfort yourself and rejoice, in every way you can; and think not that I intend, for a single day of my life, to repent of loving you, or doing whatever I can that might please you. And, surely, if any woman should do so for her lover, I should do this much for you. For I can well see that, at every turn, you cherish and protect my honour as your own. And, by God, when I recall the day you left, and the honour and virtue I found in you, I rejoice with all my heart. My dear sweetheart, I think it will be a long time before we leave the place we now reside. So, I pray you, write to me as often as you can regarding how you are faring, and by this messenger how you have been since I had news from you. And do not be concerned about writing to me at length, for, by God, each time I receive a letter from you, the first thing I look at is how long it is, and whether it contains many compositions. And if I see the packet is rather thin, then I am most troubled. So, do not worry that anything you send might annoy me. And you can write to me at your leisure, for this messenger attends on you for no other reason than to carry this letter. Yet he does not know that it is I who send it to you, for I had one of my good friends hand him the letter, and that person I trust greatly, for he has been long in my service. I did this because I did not wish anyone to learn that I sent a messenger to you who had no other reason for making the journey. My very sweet friend, if something happens to bring peace secure enough that we can travel to the place you know of, we shall do so. And as soon as I am there, be certain I will so inform you. I pray that Our Lord grant you honour and joy of whatever your heart desires. Written this seventeenth day of September. My own sweetheart and true friend, I commend myself to you, from the depths of my heart, as that lady who is wholly yours, and misses your company more than ever did turtledove her mate. Your faithful love.’
Lines 5833-5846: The lady’s seventh ballad ‘Nuit et iour en tel travail’
‘NIGHT and day, in such travail
Is this woeful heart of mine,
For naught did it so impale,
Nor so pained it, I divine,
For, without cease, I repine,
Missing one who worships me,
Lacking his sweet company.
For I sleep not, nor do I wake,
Without him in my thought,
Humbling himself for my sake,
Who every grace has brought,
Every pleasure that I sought;
Such that I weep, frequently,
Lacking his sweet company.’
Lines 5847-5874: He sends his sixteenth and seventeenth letters together
NOW I despatched the messenger
On the next day, after dinner,
But regarding life’s adversity,
Which I’ve described previously,
I added this separate letter,
Which I now desired to send her,
Enclosing it with the former,
Which indeed had made me suffer
A thousand sad thoughts, God save me,
Though this must anger my lady,
She of the fair looks; as it was
Twould make me oft cry ‘alas’;
And if it lacked its wax and seal
And did no angry thought reveal,
When I did send it, still, however,
I’d wished to tell how I did suffer
Great trouble through my love of her.
Pale and wan it did me render,
For she replied most severely,
Harshly, altogether crossly,
As indeed I had much deserved,
Given that she was so ill-served,
For my sin and my negligence,
For which I must suffer penance,
Since she had but read it through
Ere straight into the fire it flew,
And my ‘envoi’ shall here inform
You of this errant letter’s form.
‘Alas, my sweet heart, I have told you several times that I am not worthy to serve you. So, you have wronged me by catching me in your net, where I am so tightly bound that I may never escape, and this you well know. And I am foolishly entangled, and yet, my sweetheart, I intended well. My sweetheart, you informed me, in person and in writing, that I should not send any messages to you until you had sent one to me. And I obeyed your command, which was and is a very difficult thing for me to do, since I knew not the reason for it. But I think that someone has slandered me, or claimed something to you about me, or you wish to distance yourself from me. For whoever
loves for little reason hates likewise; not that you could hate me at all, or anyone else; but who loves well forgets tardily, while whoever frowns weeps readily. And, by God, I have not forgotten you, for since the Feast of the Magdalene, I have composed, for the sake of your love, more than I would have believed could be done in a year, as the messenger will tell you if you will but hear him out; for night and day I sleep but little what with working and thinking of you, though through lack of material, I must cease working. Now think not for a moment that anyone has told me of this, rather experience has been my teacher, and then, whoever is absent from the eye is likewise distant from the heart. And it could be that when you send for me, I shall be unable to make my way to you because of the noblemen who are in that house. Adieu, my sweetheart, and may He give you more joy and peace than I have, as well as the knowledge of what you have done to me. From your friend who knows not whether your heart loves or hates him.’
‘My very sweet heart, my sweet love, and my sovereign lady, on Saint Michael’s Eve I received your letter in which you tell me how you are, and for this I thank you as well as I am able, because, upon my life, this was the thing in all the world my heart desired most to learn. Nor would anything have kept me from writing to you, and several times in fact, had you not said in a previous letter, and through Th…’s mouth, that I should send you naught until I had news from you, and this has caused me great suffering, for I thought there must be some special reason for it. And so, I restrained myself. And my sweetheart, as regards my health, which you are interested in knowing about, I am quite well, thanks be to Our Lord. Nor have I been ill, thanks to God, since I left you, except on account of Desire that makes my life difficult enough. And, by God, I have enquired of a number of people as to your whereabouts, yet not one of them could tell me for certain, and this has given me many anxious thoughts. And in regard to the fact that no game, amusement, or diversion can please you since you cannot see me, alas, I lament, and whence would joy come to me when I see you not, one so sweet, quiet, and demure? Surely, it could come not from any place but from you, for tis you who dealt the wound that cannot be healed except by you. And as regards your dream about the vigil of the Holy Cross, please know for certain that for four days before and five after, I was so wounded in spirit that I completely abandoned work on your book, and the pure hope in my heart was that I might never think of it, since I had heard no news of you; and I said several times to a number of close friends who were wondering what was ailing me, that you had forgot me. And, by my soul, I believed it so, and swore most intently that, if it were so, I would never love another, nor again trust any woman. And so, in despair, I wrote the letter that is enclosed with the present one, and some other things for you, though I would not have wished for any reason to send them at this time. And know for certain that I dreamed, at the Feast of Holy Cross, that your portrait had turned its head from me and did not deign look at me and was dressed all in green, which denotes fickleness; and this made me more melancholy that one could imagine, and at midnight I lit a candle to see if it was true. And when I saw all to the contrary, I kissed your portrait and began to laugh, saying that Morpheus was mocking me, and I lay all night thinking of you. And by my faith, if you had paid Morpheus ten thousand gold marks, he could have served you no better than he did. For as soon as my candle was out, he swept to his place and conjured all kinds of images that might and would please me, even though fear keeps me awake sometimes, crying “Long delay alters love.” My own sweetheart, your brother visited me on Saint Michael’s day in the morning, coming to visit me as soon as he had heard Mass. And I showed him all the respect I could, and he remained within my dwelling, from which, if I can manage it, he will not leave until I treat him as the greatest lord and the best friend I have in all this world, and his companions the same. My sweetheart, I would willingly learn why you do not wish to communicate with me by means of your brother’s servants, and why you wrote that I should send nothing to you until you write to the contrary. And I pray that you will let me know, for I will not think of sending any message to you until I know you wish it so. My dear sweetheart, by my soul, I do believe that you wish to see me, but I so long to see you that, even simply by thinking on this, I ignore all other things in this world. Alas, my sweetheart, if you cannot possess joy or good without me, nor any of the riches within your treasure chest, then I too, alas, cannot enjoy them without you. And I desire so much for that time to come that I cannot speak of it, or even imagine it. And, if God pleases, it will come, for there is nothing that does not. Alas, my sweetheart, you write that I should be happy and find comfort in everything, but that is very hard to do. For when I am far from you and know that I cannot see you soon, a single day seems as a year to me. And I believe, for such is my view, that you are the sum of all the goodness, joy, and sweetness this world holds. Nor without you could I possess goodness, joy, or sweetness. Enjoying no benefits, joy, or pleasure makes it hard for me to compose. However, I make a virtue of necessity and am like the minstrel who sings gaily in public, and yet none is sadder than he. And in regard to guarding your honour, I love it as much as I long for paradise, and there is no day of my life I do not think of it, nor would I act to the contrary because of aught that might happen. My own sweetheart, indeed I see that you are reluctant to write me, or so it appears from your letter. Assuredly, my heart tells me there is something you would not wish to write to me, which dismays me greatly, as I wrote above. And this is not without cause, for you used to write me privately and now you send your letters by strangers, and I know not what to think. And I do not intend to write you until I know what it means. My sweetheart, I have composed the music for the rondel in which your name appears, and I will send it to you by the first messenger travelling in your direction. I am so busy with composing your book that I cannot attend to anything else. Know that I have already composed three times as much as there is in Morpheus. And in regard to your message that I should send you a copy, this would be a task long in its completion, and I would be very upset if it were lost on its way to you. So, I may send it by your brother’s chaplain, and I have written more since the Feast of the Magdalene than I thought to achieve in a whole year. I am sending you the coffer you gave me when you parted from me, and all the material it contained, for everything from it has been put in its proper place within your book. My sweet love, I thank you for your worthy and precious “relics,” for your brooch, your prayer-beads, and your beautiful ballad. I shall send it a companion by the first person going your way. I am sending you a rondel set to music whose words and notes I composed some time ago. And it has been newly written with tenor and counter-tenor parts. So please study it, for it seems good to me. Adieu, my own sweetheart, and may God grant you the joy, peace, honour, and health my heart desires for you. Your loyal friend.’
Lines 5875-6076: The lady’s ‘complaint’ at his letters
‘WHEN my lady read my letter,
Amor, that doth the heart ever
Send great joy and woe, did alter
Her colour in such a manner
That all that was pink and rosy
Became quite pale, ashen, earthy.
She sank on a couch, for her part,
A woman stricken to the heart,
By Love, who must there complain,
Speaking thus, to express her pain:
‘Sweet friend, what error have I made?
In heart, thought, deed, what wrong displayed?
Your every wish have I obeyed,
Loving you with a heart so true,
That all else seems counterfeit too,
For God’s perfection I see in you,
Yet you make my face change colour
Imprison my heart in such dolour,
In pain, and woe, and weeping ever,
See how I shed tears, my lover,
Hear my sighs and my clamour,
See the pain, my heart doth labour,
Within me, pent.
You tell me that a long delay
Alters lover and loved alway,
But when you tested me, I say,
At every pass,
You did not find me false ever,
For never did the fair Medea
Love Jason, nor Dido, fairer,
Byblis Caunus, nor Helen Paris,
As much as, oh, be sure of this,
I love you. To Semiramis
You compare me,
And say my heart’s given elsewhere,
But sooner hill and valley, there,
Will be one than I seek to share
This heart freely.
Sweetest friend, were it ever true
That my pure heart strayed from you
The sun would never shine anew
There in the sky.
Nor would the moon light the night,
Nor would a single star shine bright,
Nor any tree leaf to our sight,
Of all we spy.
But all things would be dark perforce,
Rivers flow backwards to their source,
The Signs above war in their course,
The ocean dry.
Stones would fall down from the air,
The elements vanish, in despair
Nature would fail us everywhere,
And fall thereby.
With his entreaties, Ulysses
Won love from the sea-deities,
Those goddesses he did please
Yet I fail to reassure you,
By vows and pledges I renew,
By sweetness, and by loving you,
My lover, you love me truly,
And claim tis ever faithfully,
And yet all this doth torment me,
With bitter art,
Since you distrust me, such that I
Believe that, surely, I must die,
If Venus does not soon, hereby,
Change your sad heart.
To Venus thus I make complaint
Who sees me now all pale and faint,
Weeping ever, full sore my plaint,
Tis her doing,
For she forced me to be as one
Drunk with love, to bear its burden;
To her, in good faith, for her action,
My woe I bring.
If she hears me, I shall adore her,
And if she does not, I’ll deny her
For I believe not, nor shall ever,
In any saint,
Who brings me grief and annoy,
For sweeter things I should enjoy,
And yet do worse, by Saint Eloi,
Thus, my complaint.
What worth has all my angriness?
Love wounds me, Venus no less,
And you so full now of harshness,
That I am free of fickleness
Nor any other do address,
But you, my love, who must bless
With joy my lot.
For, indeed, ne’er do I recall
That of mistrust did good befall,
Sinful those who rail gainst all
Such song or tale did I read, ne’er,
That was worth a wrinkled pear;
The Loire’s depths I’d rather bear,
Than such misery.
Cephalus, who played the hunter
Went on foot, one day, an archer,
Through the woodland, a bearer
Of gleaming bow,
To spy on him there, his lover
Had hidden neath leafy cover,
Suspecting that some fair other
He sought to know.
But his sharp arrow there did glide,
Flew, by chance, to pierce her side,
So that, upon that spot, she died,
Most cruelly too,
Yet spoke once, ere her life had fled:
“Sweet love, you’ve slain me, I am dead,
And yet, with heart entire,” she said,
“I’ve loved you true.”
And when he saw what he had done,
Cephalus, he broke every one
Of his arrows, his bow did shun,
And made a vow,
That he’d slay himself for his sin,
Cried much; so pained was he within,
Beside her corpse all would begin
To weep, I trow,
At the woes that he did suffer;
His moans, his groans, his tears ever,
Those senses granted him by Nature
Would bitter tears let fall, I’m sure,
Such was his grave discomfiture,
Even Nero, had been touched sore,
And shown pity.
My love, it could not come to pass,
That I could part from you, alas,
No more than I could now surpass
Myself, and fly;
Since all my longing is for you,
My thoughts and my memories true,
Are of you, then, for your good too,
I ask, hereby,
That we make peace amidst this war,
That, swiftly, without saying more,
You’ll quiet your erring heart, for
Without a lie,
Your anger doth so oppress me,
My joy you bury more deeply
Than could the closest treasury,
And so, I sigh.
On his statue, Pygmalion
Begat a bright and handsome son,
When the wedding feast was done,
Whom he did name
Adonis; fair of face was he,
And form, and lived courageously.
To hunt amidst the woodland, free
Went that same.
Now Venus dearly loved the lad
And reprimanded him; twas bad
She thought, and in her heart was sad
To see him go.
Yet he would not do otherwise,
The greatest pleasure to his eyes
Was the chase, yet, spite her sighs,
Death took him so.
Now take my counsel and be wise,
And do you now as I advise,
For see how moist are my two eyes
My breast also,
From the tears that rise within me;
Regard the sorrows that afflict me,
My longing, my pure love, and see
My pain and know
A love that will ne’er cease to grow,
Sweet friend, absorb my teaching so,
And all that from my lips doth flow,
This pain I show.
For thus you’ll end all ill, my friend,
And to sweet joy my steps will wend;
If not, these ills will prove my end,
That bring me woe.
Thus, sweet friend, I admonish you,
If you would lead the life that’s true,
Let not jealousy mar the view,
For that is death.
And if you have a lady friend
Upon her your affection bend
Let pride nor mastery offend,
Nor anger’s breath.
So does a man who loves indeed.
But he who lets discomfort breed,
And to melancholy gives heed,
Where aid was sought,
As dead, that man I’d consider;
A love that unquiet doth utter,
Harsh and contrary, is ever
Reduced to naught.’
Lines 6077-6082: She sends her ‘complaint’ with her fifteenth letter
IN this way her complaint did end,
But twas not all that she did send,
For then she composed this letter,
And the complaint she did utter
Was carefully enclosed therein,
Without addition, and did begin:
‘My own sweetheart, my sweet love, and my most sweet friend, I have received your letter. And know that I marvel greatly at how little faith you have in me, since you think that, because I have been somewhat tardy in writing to you, I must have forgot you, and no longer care for you. I am much wronged by this, for I do not think so ill of you as you do of me. For if you did not write to me, or see me, for a whole year, which would be very hard on me, I would still think your heart so good and steadfast as not to forget me. And every person who is possessed of virtue and loyalty should think thus of others. And since you have a very great desire to learn why I sent a message to you by my brother T... saying that you should not write me until you heard news from me, know that I did so because I knew not which route we might take, or how long our journey would last, and I was afraid that if you sent a message to me your messenger would fail to find me. And from day to day I thought of travelling to another place, and intended to write from there to tell you how I was. And since you are dismayed that I failed to send a message to you by my brother’s people, know that I did so because I wished to send a messenger who could bring me genuine news of you, directly. And if I had written by his people, I would not have had news of you as swiftly. And as to to what you say about my sending messages to you by strange men, I did this deliberately too, for the people of the house where we lodge are honest, and know naught of you, and might think things to be other than they are. And the man I had carry the message was no stranger indeed, but one of my friends, and I would trust him with even greater responsibility. You may be sure I did so for no other reason in the world. And have no doubts, for never yet have I found any who would blame me for what I have done for you. And so I beg you, as firmly as I am able, and with the same affection in which you hold my heart, body, and love of you, never again to have such suspicions of me, for, by my soul, you can cause me no greater anger than to impute to me what I have never intended, for, since I made your acquaintance, I have had no thoughts of deserting you, nor do I think to have such thoughts ever, throughout my life. And if indeed you knew the thoughts I have, at all hours, regarding you, you would not say a word about my having forgotten you. For, so help me God, I am ever in such a state that I think I see you before me. And I would not have wished, for aught, that you should send me the letter enclosed with this other, once it was written, for I do not think that you have done, or will do, as much to my good as you have done to my ill. And, by God, I would have preferred for you to torment yourself still, for I tried to read it more than ten times, yet could not finish it without becoming angry at heart, and my eyes filling with tears. So, I threw it in the fire to burn, so I might never see it again, because it upset me whenever I looked at it. Therefore. I beg you, my own sweetheart, please think of my loyalty as I do of yours. For, by my faith, with the weak and limited wit that God has bestowed upon me, I have done all I have done for the best. I have a rondel with music you sent me, but I have seen it before and know it well. I beg you, please, to send me others. And if you have any virelays you composed before setting eyes upon me, pieces set to music, please send them, for I am most eager to learn them, especially “The eye that is Love’s true archer”. In the packet you sent me, I found a sealed letter intended for yourself, and I opened it because I knew not why you sent it, and I found that it was a ballad previously sent to you. So, I am returning it, since I believe you never looked at it, as it is still sealed. My sweetheart, if some people should chance to visit you from here, please welcome them, so that when you travel to where I am, they will know you better. I beg you please write as often and as fully as you can, for I remain where I now am. And send all your messages to Bernard de Flourent, brother of the priest at St. Pierre, residing at the latter’s house. For this seems the best arrangement to me in the region where I now am. My sister commends herself to you. I beg you to commend me to my brother and your own. My own sweetheart, I pray God grant you honour and joy in whatever your heart loves. Written this fifth day of May. Your faithful love.’
Lines 6083-6103: Her eighth ballad ‘Ne soiez en nul esmay’
‘NOW be free of all dismay,
My love, and melancholy,
Since for ever and a day,
I shall love you most truly;
Love, that has the mastery,
Would till death ne’er see us part,
And I’ll be yours, dear heart.
So be happy, as you may,
And show a smile, for me,
And believe, without delay,
You shall gain your seignory,
As great as, o’er a lady,
Any may, except by art,
And I’ll be yours, dear heart.
And, as soon as you I see,
Here I promise, and affirm,
Your wounds shall be healed by me,
And I’ll be healed in turn,
For, sweet love, I’d have you learn
I too am pierced by Love’s dart,
And I’ll be yours, dear heart.’
Lines 6104-6247: The lover’s reply to his lady’s ‘complaint’
WHEN I’d read my lady’s letter,
I said: ‘Alas, I have wronged her,
And now, most clearly, I can see
In what way she understood me,
A manner I did not intend,
For long ago, word she did send
That true hearts must never move
To anger one they claim to love.
My fault I’ll seek to remedy
By replying to her swiftly,
Addressing her sad complaint
Which seems a most loving plaint.’
‘Lady, in whom all my fond hopes do rest,
My heart, love, pleasure, and my sweet unrest,
My mind, all loyalty with which I’m blessed,
If I have erred, twas blindly, I attest;
No certain knowledge led me to do so,
Rather twas Love dealt my heart a blow,
And often he strikes me with his arrow,
When your sweet face is far from me, but, oh,
Command me now,
Sweet lady, for amendment I’ll avow;
Here is my heart in forfeit, for, allow,
The wretched thing to death itself must bow;
Loss of your favour, let not God allow;
May He ensure that I no more offend,
And never again, to you, let me send
Any letter that doth not peace extend;
To that my every thought shall attend,
My whole life through,
For I love, lady, with a heart so true
Body, and heart, and life I vow to you,
For ne’er to me shall benefits be due,
If not from you, indeed, such shall be few,
And I must suffer pain and misery,
Myself and my heart, for, foolishly,
I made it drunk with love of you wholly,
And granted it to you, and so must see
Suffering and pain,
For truly Desire takes every pain
To grieve me when you are far again,
And when you, my sweet, are near, I gain
Naught at all, for he doth so constrain
My heart and body, every nerve and vein,
That I but tremble, and my speech is lame,
Which you, my lady, do observe full plain,
Who are a thousand times, I would maintain,
More sweet and fair,
Than Helen was. Alas, since in your snare
I am tangled, if I lose you, despair
Shall be my lot, and I shall die, I swear,
Sad, weary, grieving; yet think not I share
One thought that you’d deny me healing,
Or not be my advocate, unceasing,
Or that Pity would not come hastening
To you, if she knew of my wrongdoing,
I might compare you, and right honestly,
To the bee that yields us wax and honey,
That draws all that the tongue tastes bitterly,
And sweetens it. None claims the contrary.
So, your sweet heart, doth, God preserve,
Forever as my sweet physician serve,
Makes me smile as I weep, though I deserve
No such cure, who from good did swerve.
The wax takes fire,
And, soon and late, doth light the world entire,
More than a lightning-flash, it doth transpire,
Just as your fame doth spread, and doth inspire
Goodness, like yours, in men who do aspire,
Making true heroes of cowards, likewise,
Turning fools into men both firm and wise,
Reforming all those that the good despise,
Rendering the good still better to God’s eyes.
Glance without blame,
Was not Lancelot made brave through that same?
Tristan, Paris, Perceval, I might name,
Who otherwise had not loved without blame,
And ten thousand more, unknown to fame,
And ten thousand living whom I blame not,
Who ne’er a dram of gold nor pepper had got,
If some good woman had not been their lot.
A man is wicked, he has all good forgot,
Of low degree,
Who does not bend to their service wholly,
And that is why, my sweet, noble lady,
I have given myself to you, completely,
To serve you all my days, virtuously,
For you are the exemplar, I believe,
Of all the good a man might yet conceive,
May Love ensure that my love you receive
For yours is the power to weave or un-weave.
So great your spell,
For your beauty, of which all men do tell,
They call you beauty’s flower, ‘Toute Belle’,
Sweet in your sweetness as the dove you dwell,
True as the turtledove on bough, as well,
Perfumed like the springtime that doth renew,
Coloured like the rose, fresh, pink of hue,
While honour holds the stirrup there for you,
Reason your servant, wits e’er guiding too,
Resolve ne’er wavers in you, day or night,
As I say this the heart in me takes flight,
For one you are
In whom Joy dwells, Delight doth draw her car,
And Venus is your handmaid, for yet far
Above the goddess shall you rank, lodestar
That rich Juno shall serve, nor ever mar.
Wise Pallas will attend upon your fate,
And all the gods the news shall celebrate,
And with wealth so heaped upon your plate,
By those who shall serve you, soon and late,
Will you prove rebel then gainst my command?
No, for I’ll gain, indeed, all I demand;
This I aver,
When the Romans killed Julius Caesar,
By treason slain, and undone by murder,
The gods grieved, as if to weep forever,
Because of his greatness and his valour,
Deified, he was peer to god and goddess,
Like Hercules, for whom they did no less,
Who o’er hill and dale did once progress,
Plain and ocean, every wilderness,
And was the first to cause great Troy to fall,
He midst the gods was set, high over all,
At their right hand.
Thus, in the same place, lady, you should stand,
For you, to right and left, do now command
Sense, Honour, Reason, being of their band,
And all the goods that Nature ever planned;
As for the virtues, priest or priestess never
Could in you, indeed, amend aught ever,
And thus, I am yours, by Saint Sylvester;
You might make me of your flock forever,
Do so always;
And, lady, whom men value and do praise,
That I shall love and serve for all my days,
I beg you, from a heart Love sets ablaze,
To welcome my poor self that e’er obeys;
And if aught I’ve done stirred hatred truly,
Grant pardon, of your generosity,
And, by the Church, I promise you shall see
The Thames flow through Damascus, ere in me
Lives any thought, that’s not of you wholly.’
Lines 6248-6275: He re-affirms that she will be set among the stars
‘NOR can I cease speaking awhile,
For I must yet your ears beguile
With Cesar’s destiny, for they,
The gods, so welcomed him, I say,
They raised him to the firmament,
And with the stars his star they blent,
Placed near the Pole Star, to appear
Among the highest, bright and clear,
To illuminate the world by night,
And with so fair and true a light
That sailors take it as their guide,
And safely through the waters glide.
Consider the Roman history,
And such, no more or less, you’ll see.
The gods will make you a star too,
And place you there for us to view,
In the firmament, near that star
That guides many a sail from far.
So, who would safe harbour find
Your good counsel keeps in mind,
Just as this fair and lovely world
Your great goodness, pure, unfurled,
Illumines, and shall do so yet,
When in the heavens you are set.
And thus, you shall be glorified,
Sweet lady, when the flesh has died,
By the Heavenly King’s fair grace,
Who kept the other gods in place.’
Lines 6276-6281: He sends his eighteenth letter and his reply to her ‘complaint’.
HERE indeed is the answer
To her complaint and its letter;
In it I sought to use no rhyme
That her poem had, on a time,
Employed, nor admit its metre,
And this is how I did greet her.
‘My own sweetheart, my most sweet love, and my most beloved lady. I have looked over carefully what you wrote me. And you should not wonder at all, or so I think, about what I sent you, enclosed in my letter, for as you are well aware the heart that feels the pangs of love is not always in the one state, but has many strange thoughts and wild fantasies. Now virtuous hearts, secure and loyal, show how they feel without deception. And, by my soul, my own sweetheart, it was not my intention to send you the enclosed letter that has made you somewhat angry with me. And yet I wrote it so that you might know what misery this business with the letters and the request you sent by your brother Th… have caused me. And my sweet heart, for God’s sake please pardon me, and think not that I consider you aught but virtuous and faithful ever, for, by my soul, if I knew aught to the contrary, I would not leave off loving you for that reason, though joy would ne’er be mine; but it is as it was the other time, when I wrote to you that I was not worthy enough to love you, which gave me many a thought and pang I needed not. At all events, I expect, and trust in, your goodness, for I have none other on my side, and my faithfulness too, which will help me every day with you, if God so please. And then, God grant me joy, I love you so much, esteem so much your honour and virtue, I could ne’er conceive of any woman equal to you. And so, I could ne’er think there might be any ill in you, and I hold you well-pardoned in regard to all you have communicated to me. And, also, I know great joy since you have never been told by anyone of aught that would force me to abandon writing to you, nor you me. And, also, I feel sure that all you have done and do now is for the best. And if you say that I imputed something to you that you never intended, namely that you could leave or forget me, please forgive me, for, by my soul, I have no thought in all the world but of you. And I could and shall love and desire no woman but you, and shall never depart or change. And, by God, I have a hundred times repented of sending you that letter. And, my sweetheart, I promise you and swear, truthfully, that if you never write me or send another message to me, or if, God forbid, I never see you again, I shall never, to the best of my ability, write to you, or say or send anything to anger you. And if fate or the weather opposes me, I will suffer as best I can and let Love take command. My own sweetheart, I have composed music for the rondel that contains your name, and I would have sent it to you by this messenger, but, by my soul, I had never heard it, and it is not my custom to part with anything I compose until I have heard it. And be certain that it is one of the best things I have composed these last seven years, to my mind. You write that I should send “The Eye that is Love’s True Archer” once it is set to music. You may be pleased to learn that I have been very occupied with composing your book and still am so, and with the King’s people, and those of my lord the Duke de Bar, who entertains himself at my house, so that I could attend to nothing else. But I will send, and quite soon, what has been completed of your book and the rondel as well. Now I pray you, by the affection you hold for me, not to show the book to anyone who is not close to your heart. And if aught, therein, needs amendment, please make note of it. For you have been pleased to request that I put there everything appertaining to our affair, and I know not if I have included too much or too little. And learn your rondel, if you please, for I am very fond of it. When you have read your book, take great care of it, for I have no copy and would be most angry were it lost and not included in the book where I have gathered all my compositions. Adieu, my sweetheart, and may God grant you honour and joy in whatever your heart loves. And may He grant us the grace to see each other, shortly. And, in this manner, all my desires shall be fulfilled. Written this ninth day of October. Your faithful friend.’
Lines 6282-6295: Her sixteenth letter
AS she read my apology
My lady learnt the reality,
And had no doubt that all was true
That I’ve related thus, to you.
And she gladly pardoned me,
For my misdeed, saying, sweetly,
That if I mistrusted her more,
I’d not be pardoned so, for sure,
And to be free of jealousy,
The jealous ne’er act loyally,
Instead they seek from their lover
What they’d not wish to discover.
Here follows the letter, closely,
Of my pure and pleasant lady.
‘My dear sweetheart, my sweet love, and my loyal friend. I have read carefully all that you wrote to me: that never again will you doubt me or think I have forgotten you. Now with this in mind I pardon you for your misdeed. But if you commit such a wrong again, I believe I shall not forgive you so lightly. For, by my faith, I think not to do aught of my volition that might make you feel pangs of doubt. Yet you said something which is quite wrong when you said that you were not worthy to love me, for, by my faith, you are in my opinion a thousand times more gracious to me than I to you. And I consider my liaison with you much fairer than one with the greatest lord of the Kingdom of France. I beg you to send me your book with this messenger, and have no fear of my failing to take good care of it. And you can write me in safety via this messenger, also. So, I beg you, make him feel welcome, and for this you will earn my very great thanks. I pray Our Lord grant you joy and honour in whatever your heart desires. Written the twenty-eighth day of October. Your loyal friend.’
Lines 6296-6331: He sends his nineteenth letter and a rondel that conceals her name
NOW, indeed, you have heard how she,
The one who holds sway over me,
Will be served by the gods on high,
And glorified, when she must die,
A star in the firmament, by night,
Set there by those gods to shed light
On this world, Earth illumining
With a virtue undiminishing;
And the joy that she brought me
By her pardoning me, sweetly,
For my villainy, and the error
That I’d committed towards her.
And if God e’er grants me pleasure
Of her, and forgives my blunder,
The gift of peace I’d seek from her,
As my reward, and no other.
Now, I contained myself awhile,
Since I had no means that while
To send aught to her sweet face
That all my sorrows doth efface,
Nonetheless, to her, in the end,
My book, well-wrapped, I did send
In well-waxed cloth so that naught
Would be marred; I sent, in short,
All that I had composed so far,
Safely bound, to journey afar,
With a rondel, that I oft sing,
That I wrought, words, notes, everything,
And in numbers spelt her true name,
For whoever counts will find the same;
As well as this letter along with it,
Of true sentiment made and writ,
Which she received with great delight,
And read with even more delight,
Here is the letter, so read it now,
That the fair one did share, I vow.
My own sweetheart, my dear sister, and my very sweet love, I am writing you to learn the state of your health, the which may Our Lord always make to be as good as you would like and I would wish, with all my heart. And, by God, tis one of the things I most desire in this world, to hear good news of you and to see you, also. And as to my own health, if you would like to know it, be pleased to learn that, thanks to Our Lord, I, my brother, and all of us were doing well at the time this letter was composed. And, my dear sweetheart, if I have not written to you as promptly as I should, please excuse me, for God knows that it was not for lack of love or goodwill, but because my lord the Duke de Bar and several other lords have been staying at mine. And there has been much coming and going, with me going to bed so late and getting up so early I could not remedy the situation, nor could I attend to the matter by day, or to your book, except a little which disappointed me greatly, the which I am sending along by this messenger, at least the part that has been finished. And so, I pray you as lovingly as I can, and am able, that you will guard it. And please return it to me when you have read it through so that I might complete it. For I would be most upset if the very great effort I have made, and further intend, should be wasted. Now shall come the noble, fine, and subtle compositions with which I intend to perfect it, and because of them you and others will read it most willingly, and may it achieve a worthy reputation for many a day. Know that all that then remains to do is to add the letters you have sent me, and those I have sent you since you left. Return to me the letter I have just sent you. My own sweetheart, you have written several times enjoining me to be happy and joyful, yet, with the affection I bear you, and because you do not wish me to complain or moan about what I endure for your sake, be aware that this is a very difficult thing for me to do. And then, your book will be named “The Book of the True Poem”, for I do not wish to, nor should I, tell untruths therein. And my sweetheart, here is the reason why it proves difficult for me to behave so: I know well I cannot see you soon, and if I intended to journey to where you are, I would know no man or woman in the place where you are staying. And if I send you a message, this I must do by means of strangers whom I have never seen before, nor is there anyone who could speak of me to you, nor is it seemly for you to come to where I am. And if I had need of being resurrected a third time from the dead, you could not accomplish it. Moreover, you know well I can only compose from my feelings. But how can I compose about joyful things when I live in woe? By my soul, tis very difficult to accomplish. I am like the minstrel who sings gaily in public, and yet there is no one sadder than he. As for that, love and wearing a hair shirt seem much the same thing to me: “There’s too much woe and misery there, in those that love, and a hair-shirt wear.” Now grant me this, if you please, I pray, my sweetheart, that with your permission, I can at least moan and complain when I am quite alone, for, by my soul, I have no one to complain to regarding the woes and ills I suffer for your sake. And furthermore, with your permission, allow me to compose from the feelings I truly experience, either of pain or joy. And if you allow me this, I could bear more lightly the cruelties of Fortune, and my lovesickness, for the man is too abased who dare not complain. And my own sweetheart, there is something far worse. For that rich treasure whose key I bear, this I enjoy like a man who is king yet no one knows it but he, and so he gains no benefit from his kingdom and resembles Tantalus, who dies of thirst and yet stands in water up to his chin unable to drink; I resemble the rich miser too, who owns all the treasure in the world yet cannot bear to diminish it, and so instead knows deprivation. But it concerns me greatly that, so Reason informs me, Resistance has a key to this treasure as well and I cannot open it without him; and, also, that Argus with his hundred eyes does nothing but look about and keep watch, so that no man touches it. And if he sees any part of it seized, he will report immediately to Ill-Speech, who will sing the fact out openly to the four corners of the land. And so, I see no benefit for me in this, unless Reason is in accord with true Love. But this is something that cannot be. And, my sweetheart, my last comfort and resort is this: that I know, for certain, that when it pleases you, and may God bring that happy hour, you will be so sweet and kind that Resistance will not dare cavil at your sweetness. And you will prove to be so clever as to put Argus to sleep, who will then see no more than doth a blind mole. And thus, Ill-Speech will stay silent. And so, my sweetheart, you can well see how my death and life, my pleasure and joy, my suffering and good health, all lie in your hands and under your control, and you may command me as a man who is yours with naught retained. My own sweetheart, I am sending you the music for the rondel that conceals your name. And, perforce, I have given it to others before sending it to you, for the strangers who were in Reims would not let me be. And know for certain that it has been seven years since I composed anything so good or sweet to the ear, and it gives me great joy to have fashioned it well, out of love for you and because your name is therein. And so, I pray you, out of the affection you hold for me, to learn it, please, if you are able, and without telling anyone that your name lies within, for I would then compose no more in this manner. But let the slanderers speak their slander; I am having something made for you in Paris, but this I cannot obtain as soon as I thought due to the plague. Yet, as soon as I have it, I will send it you. My own sweetheart, a clerk came to me, not long ago, who urged me strongly to write to you, but he brought no letters or true tokens from you. And thus, I paid him little attention and answered coldly. Yet do not consider yourself ill-served, I beg you, for by my soul it was he who gave me the material to compose “Long delay alters love”, in which I begged mercy from you and still do so, most humbly. My very dear sister, I intend to be at Saint-Quentin on All Saints’ Day, and from there make my way to my lord the Duke, and I know not how long he will wish to keep me by him. Do not think yourself ill-served if I fail to write soon. Yet I will compose all you have requested by this messenger and in the manner you command. I am sending you the ballad composed by T… Paien, and the reply I devised, which I composed upon the spot. But he composed first, and took all the grease from the pot that he could, while I but composed later. And so, you may judge if you like, but truly he possessed a great advantage. However, I shall compose music for it all. Do not give these pieces to anyone, I pray. However, he told me upon a time that if it were not that he had other matters to attend to, there would have been naught left for me to do. And I did not wish to write to you about this earlier, for fear of arousing your anger, because of the faith I have in your goodness. Adieu, my dear sweetheart, and my very dear sister, and may God grant you the good things and honour and joy that I would wish for you, and grace us with seeing each other again, shortly. And my sweetheart, if my letter is too brief, pardon me. Written this seventeenth day of October. Your true love.’
Lines 6332-6343: His thirteenth rondel ‘Dix et sept, cinq, trese, quatorse et quinse’ (Rondel XIV)
‘TEN and seven, five, three, fourteen, fifteen,
Has, with the purest love, seized me sweetly.
And, in loving embrace, she’s captured me –
Ten and seven, five, three, fourteen, fifteen –
Through what all praise and love, her quality,
And peerless beauty, that they prize highly.
Ten and seven, five, three, fourteen, fifteen,
Has, with the purest love, seized me sweetly.’
(Translator’s note: converting numbers to letters of the alphabet, and remembering that there is no letter ‘j’ in the Old French alphabet, the opening line gives 17, 5, 3, 14, 15 or R,E,N,O,P. Doubling of any letter is allowed, so doubling the letter ‘E’ and re-arranging gives PERONE, for Péronelle d’Armentières)
Lines 6344-6351: He receives her seventeenth letter
‘My own sweetheart, and my faithful friend, I have received all you sent me by your servant. And fear not regarding my taking good care of your book. My sweetheart, you have written me that you will not be able to see me for a long time, nor come to where I now reside. And I would like it not, too, if you did not come. And it causes you to suffer much pain, of this I am certain, and I know that well, through my own experience, for I have none to complain to, any more than you. And this is something that causes us much woe. And you have also written that, if I allowed it, you would complain about your suffering to yourself. Know that this pleases me well, as long as you find consolation and true hope within, since I feel as you do, nor for a day of my life will I forget you. You have also written that you are quite sad that Reason tells you Resistance also holds a key to the treasury that is yours, and that without him you could possess none of the good things therein. But fear not concerning this, for I intend to be of great help to you in this matter. For I know that the love you have for me is so faithful and honest you would not dare make an attempt on any of the good things in the treasury in a manner that might do harm, nor in regard to which Resistance might have any cause to complain. And so, I am not at all afraid of Argus, for even if he had as many eyes again as he does, he would not see there anything Ill-Speech might use to slander us. So, fear not that, when God pleases that I shall see you, I shall so bind them that none, there present, will dare protest. My sweetheart, you have written to me that you will be in Saint-Quentin, at All Saints, and from there go to my lord the Duke, and so I think it will be long before I have news from you. Also, I think I shall not be staying here long, but think to move elsewhere, shortly. And as soon as I am there, I will write to my brother, who will inform you of it. And, also, I beg you to write to him concerning how you are, and ask him to let me know. I have read what you have written concerning Thomas, most carefully. And, when it pleases God that I see you, I shall tell you all about this matter. Also, Henry will be able to inform you of it, most ably. I have received a letter you were sending to that same, but I have no means to send it to him, as I know not where he is. Yet I would feel safer sending it to him than entrusting it to others. I am returning the last letter you sent me, because that is what you requested, but I am not sending your book because I have not yet read it. Though when I have read it, I will send it back to you. My own sweetheart, I pray that Our Lord may grant you honour and joy in whatever your heart desires. Written on the day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, the twenty-eighth of October, your faithful love.’
Above, you have read the letter
From my sweet lady, its begetter,
Who is perfect, lacking in naught,
That good and fair may be sought,
And can see that, in her reply,
There’s no barb or thorn, say I;
Naught is at fault in her letter,
For all is sweet and naught bitter.
Lines 6352-6383: Of Love and Desire
AND so, I viewed it willingly,
And read her words, delightedly,
For beneath her feet she’d set
The greatest of my enemies yet,
So, they would ne’er trouble me
As to the favour of my lady.
For I did greatly fear them all,
Since they were powerful in all
Such matters, and oft assailed me,
Such that I often cried: ‘Ah, me!’
For Desire, that’s sleepless ever,
In my heart, and slumbers never,
Came to remind me and report
That I’d failed to do as I ought,
And would not wish me to endure
But rather see me suffer more
Such that I might not life maintain
Unless some means I might obtain
To see my sweet love, my jewel,
For he considered me a fool,
And grew within me every day,
Nor did Love wane, in any way.
Love and Desire, it seems to me
Run on the one leash, mutually
Bound, and if Desire grows less
Hearts smile that lack faithfulness,
While those hearts that love truly
Weep; for the one, assuredly,
Must wax with the other and wane,
For worldly and cloistered, the same;
And thus, to a like step must go
One and the other, dancing so.
Lines 6384-6431: Of ill-fated and separated lovers
THUS, all alone, I did complain,
Of my great desire, and the pain,
Till I was lost in thought so deep
I brought to mind, as if in sleep,
Those whom I’ve spoken of before,
Pyramus and Thisbe, to be sure.
In twin towers, were they confined,
No way between could those two find,
Open to their eyes, however,
By which to seek joy together.
Their state did so oppressive prove,
That the passion and force of love
By which there were intoxicated,
Drove them forth, being so fated,
Seeking to meet now, face to face,
And kiss together, and embrace,
Only to find, in their last breath,
Each other, and a piteous death.
Love was Leander’s master too,
Who swam the Hellespont to view
His lady, and his own true love,
Which in the end his death did prove,
For he was drowned, the which is yet
A fate to grieve for, and regret.
Did not Lancelot pass over
The Bridge of Swords for his lover
Guinevere, King Arthur’s queen?
And they loved so that it was seen
They loved each other and, thereby,
Their cause was lost, who can deny?
Did not the son of Pierre Toussac
Have himself carried, in a sack,
By some man that over the shore
A heavy porter’s burden bore?
Yes, that he might see face to face
His sweet lady, so full of grace.
Surely twas Paris witnessed this?
And was it not another Paris
Sailed, to see and abduct Helen?
And what of Vergy’s Châtelaine,
Whose little dog played messenger,
So that she might meet her lover,
And delight in him at leisure,
Sweetly, and at her pleasure?
Like her true lover she too died,
He by the sharp sword at his side.
And Paris likewise was undone,
I find it writ, with Helen won.
Lines 6432-6463: Of the affairs of the gods, and the middle way
THE gods, who loved as lovers, too
Changed their forms, shaped anew,
And altered that of their lover
To a bird, sometimes a heifer,
Or whatever pleased them still,
Each changing their love at will,
Though, when they met their lover, they
Assumed their proper form, alway,
So as to work, most secretly,
Conducting their affairs wisely.
My ears, and eyes, and my temples,
Are full indeed of such examples,
And so, I say, and have no doubt,
Without trickery, and without
Exaggeration, that if I’ve seen
One fare well twelve others have been
Confounded, while the safest way
Proves the middle course, any day.
Tis, by my soul, as great a peril
To see her too oft, as too little,
And risk, in viewing your lady,
Seeing what you’d not wish to see.
Too oft, and then the slanderer
Cruel and foolish words doth utter,
Who near lovers doth ever hover,
Alas, and can keep silent never.
If Love too often would so meet
And a long stay would complete,
It will oft prompt her to withdraw
From love, where often less is more.
God keep me from such encounter,
For I would never dare oppose her.
Lines 6464-6493: He sends his lady two ballads and his twentieth letter
I was musing on these matters
And these examples of lovers
And their fates as I’ve retold them,
Which we see repeated often,
But could find nothing there
That proved that in this affair
I should go and see my lady,
So, I thought to write, briefly,
And despatch another letter
And thereby try to discover
What counsel she might offer me;
And I composed it, swiftly,
Nor forgot the ballads either,
To be enclosed with the letter,
I had them copied out also.
Thomas composed, as you know,
The first of these, I the other,
And he had taken, moreover,
All the grease from out the pot,
And so, the fairer was his lot
As to the soup; I made answer
In a like poetic manner,
And set it, four parts together,
To entertain and delight her.
None alive, howe’er my friend
Received what I to her did send,
For her had I, some time ago,
Made these two pieces and, lo,
Now copied the music for her,
And presented all this to her.
Lines 6494-6517: Thomas Paien’s ballad ‘Quant Theseus, Herculès et Jason’ (Ballad XXXIX)
‘WHEN Theseus, Hercules and Jason
Traversed the whole Earth and the deep sea,
To add to all the worth and fame they’d won,
And view the world in its entirety,
They deserved great honour,
Yet when I see beauty’s humble flower
I am so satisfied withal, believe me,
I see enough, when I see my lady.
For, when sight of her beauty I attain,
Her form, her manner full of sweetness,
Such goodness as to win the good, I gain,
Since the great good in her doth progress
Through me, by true love’s grace,
Binding me thus to loathe shame and disgrace,
All vice, such that I can say, blamelessly,
I see enough, when I see my lady.
I seek not the Golden Fleece to view, nor
The Indies, nor the waves of the Red Sea,
Nor on the infernal regions make war,
And so, part myself from the fair lady
Who brings joy, lightness ever,
And sweet thoughts too, for I hold it better
To count all else as a trifle merely.
I see enough, when I see my lady.’
Lines 6518-6541: His sixteenth ballad in reply ‘Ne quier voir la biauté d’Absalon’ (Ballad XXXVIII)
‘I seek not the beauty of Absalom,
Nor Ulysses’ great strength and eloquence,
Nor to try the power of mighty Samson
Whose hair Delilah trimmed, his true defence,
Nor would care to own
To Argus’ eyes, nor greater joy be shown,
Since for pleasure, without help from any,
I see enough, since I see my lady.
To the statue wrought by Pygmalion
There was neither equal nor second,
Yet the beauty who holds me in prison
Is a thousand times lovelier reckoned:
She is the true source of all sweetness,
With a skill that heals all sadness;
Who then can blame me, if I decree:
I see enough, since I see my lady.
So, I ask not the wisdom of Solomon,
Nor that Phoebus prophesy and respond,
Nor meddle with Venus, or that Memnon
Whom Jove turned to a flock of birds anon,
For I say, since I adore,
Love, and desire, fear, and honour more,
She whose love inflames me, utterly,
I see enough, since I see my lady.’
‘My own sweetheart, my sweet sister, and my very sweet love, I have received your letter from my servant, who tells me that you are well, and this gives me more joy than anything else in the world. And concerning my own health, may it please you to know that I am well in body, thanks to Our Lord, who granted it, at the time this letter was written. I did not go to Saint-Quentin, nor to my lord the Duke because an enemy force is close to Beauvais, and this deterred me from doing so, and for this reason I have remained here. My own sweet heart, my most dear sister, and my very sweet love, you have not written as to my book or offered a judgment of the two ballads that I sent you, and whose composition was inspired by you, even though it was arranged that the other should compose his ballad first. And it seems to me that what you wrote was shorter in length than that which you usually send. And so, I know not if it is a question of the time you have available, or if you did so in order to prompt me to write more briefly in return. But that is something I would be uncomfortable doing, for once I start, I cannot make an end. My sweetheart, my dear sister, and my own sweet love, I beg you to guard my book well and show it to as few people as you can. And if there is anything in it that displeases you or as it seems to you might be amended, make a mark near that passage, which I can remove before making what improvements I can. My sweetheart and my own sweet love, I believe that one of the greatest benefits and favours that Love and Fortune may bestow on lovers is to love someone close by, and the greatest misfortune to love someone far distant. And I know well what I am saying, and I believe you do also. For were this not our case, I could wish for nothing more in the world than to live in order to see you as often as I desired, and to serve you. And I think endlessly about how this might be remedied, so much so that it is one of my most frequent thoughts, but I see no way, unless you can arrange something. And my very sweet heart, you know how Pyramus and Thisbe, who had been locked up in different places so that they could not see one another, sought some way that they could see one another; how Leander swam across the Hellespont so that he might go and see his lady, who otherwise could not make her way to where he was; and how the Châtelaine de Vergy sought out a means to see her lover; and how Lancelot crossed the Bridge of Swords and the men did all these things because of the love they had for their ladies. And my own sweetheart, though I am in no way as virtuous as were they, there is nothing in this world that my body would not suffer in order for me to do as you have commanded, and whereby I might see you, for your perfect beauty and your pure sweetness, which attract my heart and myself as a magnet attracts iron, would draw me and my heart toward them in such a sweet way that nothing I did in obedience to your command could distress me. And you are quite wise and thus know very well that “He prays enough who goes weeping ever”, for I could not decide what to do about this unless it came from you. My own sweetheart, I am sending you written copies of the two ballads you saw previously which were composed for you. And I pray you, humbly, to learn them, for I have composed the songs in four parts and have heard them several times and they pleased me quite well. Adieu, my own sweetheart, my dear sister, and my very sweet love, and may God give you perfect joy in what your heart loves, as well as a long and virtuous life, and may He grant us time and opportunity to see each other soon. Written the third day of November. Your faithful friend.’
Lines 6542-6557: She sends him her fifteenth rondel, and a ballad, with her eighteenth letter
IT was not a great deal after
I’d sent the foregoing letter,
That my lady, good, fair, and wise,
Sent via the messenger, likewise,
So swift a note that very day
She had my letter, I may say;
I received a rondel from her,
With a fine ring, sent together.
‘As long as I’m alive, dear,
Your own true love I shall be,
Whether I am far or near,
As long as I’m alive, dear.
Doubt me never, know no fear,
Lover, for I pledge, you see,
As long as I’m alive, dear,
Your own true love I shall be.’
Lines 6558-6578: Her ninth ballad ‘Se par fortune la lasse et la dervee’
‘If through wearisome and fickle Fortune,
She who is never certain, fixed, nor sure,
My sweet love cannot return full soon,
As far from me as if on foreign shore,
He has no cause my harshness to endure,
Or that I forget, or our love be maimed;
The heart once given’s not to be reclaimed.
Certain am I his thoughts are all of me,
All his desire for me, and all his care,
Thinking of how he might return to me,
While suffering sad pain and trouble there,
Thus, to perform my duty, I must share
His grievous woe, and not let him be blamed;
The heart once given’s not to be reclaimed.
Because of him I’m honoured everywhere,
Honour his virtue brings, that will endure.
So, now, let me ensure, while life I bear,
I love him with a love that’s true and pure,
For in this world I think there’s none could draw
My love from him, let him my love be named;
The heart once given’s not to be reclaimed.
‘My own sweetheart, my most sweet love, and my very dear friend, I have received your letter and am very happy you have not journeyed one step towards the place of which you wrote, for I feared greatly that you might be attacked on the way. Previously, I wrote naught to you concerning your book, the which you sent me, since I had not read any of it, but since then I have read it twice over, and it seems extremely fine to me. And when it pleases God that I see you, which will be soon, God willing, I shall tell you of various ways in which it might be improved. The two ballads you have sent me are so good that no one could find a way to amend them. Yet there is no comparison between the two, for what you have written ever pleases me more than what others compose. Moreover, I am sure that others will feel the same. You have written that there is no pain so great as to love someone far distant, and, by my faith, this I know well, for I do not believe there is anyone in the world who could suffer more pain than I endure. And my sweet heart, because I know that you suffer the same as I, I promise you to remedy this: we will see each other soon and with great joy, and for this purpose alone I shall be where you know of, in eight days, without fail. And as soon as I am there, you will hear news to please you, for never did those lovers, those men and women you wrote of, exert themselves as much as will I, for, by God, this is the greatest wish I have in the world. My own sweetheart, if I write you but brief letters, I beg you not to be displeased, for if you knew the place where I am, and the people I must deal with, you would excuse me, readily. My sweetheart, I pray God grants you honour and joy in whatever your heart desires. And my own sweetheart, I am sending you a rondel and a ballad I have composed out of love for you, as well as a ring you shall wear out of love for me if you wish, and I beg you to do so. Written this fifth day of November. Your true love.’
Lines 6579-6606: She changes her place of residence and writes her nineteenth letter
IT was not long after writing,
That my lady changed her dwelling,
And stayed at another mansion
Much longer than was her custom,
In the heart of a fine town, where,
This, by the Gospel, I do swear,
Once settled, she did write to me
Whom she was most eager to see
More often, and in a manner
Better suited to her pleasure.
And I was most happy to know
Her will, which was that I should go,
And take my secretary with me,
And some few others, discreetly,
To see her fair and noble person,
And to fear not, for this reason,
That, given every circumstance,
She would arrange, as if by chance,
That Argus would be fast asleep
My foe, Resistance, too would keep
Far from us, nor would Ill-Speech dare
To anger or annoy us there,
Nor reveal to us his envy,
If our time we passed joyously;
And she would imprison closely
In a stronger cell than any, ever,
Those who’d do us harm; never
Should Reason do aught, at all,
But burst to see what might befall.
And this you may see easily,
For here is what she wrote to me.
‘My own sweetheart, my sweet love, and my very dear friend, may it please you to learn that I am where you know of, and in quite good health, thanks to Our Lord who granted you this. And know that when you are pleased to come here, you will find as much joy and sweetness as you could imagine or desire, because I have imprisoned Resistance and Ill-Speech, and I have put Argus to sleep in such a fashion that there is now no one here who could annoy you in the least. And my own sweetheart, though I wish to see you more than anything on earth, I pray you not to set out to come here if your health is not sufficient to the journey, for the roads are not safe. And I would never again have any pleasure or joy if you started on the road and some misfortune befell you. And, my sweet friend, when you do come, I beg you take lodgings in the place you know, for that seems the best to me. And I would like it very much if your secretary could accompany you. And if this cannot be, then bring with you some of your people whom you trust the most, and come so secretly that no one learns of your visit until I have spoken to you. And, in so far as I am able, the treasure chest will be opened before anyone has news of your arrival; and as soon as you have reached the lodgings spoken of above, send a message to me at my mother’s house by one of your men, and write to me, through him, that you have come. And if, in my mother’s house, he should meet anyone who asks him whence he comes, he is to say he is come from my sister and brings a letter from her. My own sweetheart, I beg you to write me how you are, by this messenger, and when you will come to my side, so that I might be better advised about my circumstances, for I promise you, faithfully, that the most important reason I came to where I am was so that I would be able to see you, and more readily here than elsewhere. I am not sending your book with this, because, if God please, I will hand it to you myself. One of my companions and female friends, who is named Columbelle, commends herself to you many times. And I promise you that she is a woman who can do us much good, and yet I have to this point told her naught of your business, nor shall I do so until the right time comes. H… is out of the country, and for a certain reason cannot be here at the present time, and so I have opened the letter you sent him. And as soon as he returns, which will be shortly, if God please, I will send him to you so that he can guide you here. I pray Our Lord grant you honour and joy in whatever your heart desires. Written this thirteenth day of November. Your most loyal love.’
Lines 6607-6654: His secretary advises against the journey
I summoned my secretary;
Who was in another country,
Three days journey, at least, away,
Yet he waited not half a day
Until he came to meet me there,
For more than any man, I swear,
He wished to know what I desired,
Since in such haste he was required.
Twas yet the month of November
The twenty-eighth as I remember,
Moreover, I’d have you know
I ne’er knew such a wind to blow
With roof-tiles flying through the air,
And chimneys toppling everywhere,
And several houses felled entire,
None had e’er known a storm so dire.
For no one dared to come or go,
Nor stand against the wind, that so
Blew, most horribly, that many
Were driven on willy-nilly,
And further, by Saint Peter, blown
Than a man could throw a stone.
When he arrived I did discover
My business to him, moreover,
I showed the letters which he read,
And at the last he turned and said:
‘Why, truly, much is written here,
Sweetly composed it would appear,
Ennobled by a loving heart,
Who neglects you not, though apart.
Now let us look to what we’ll do.’
I answered: ‘We must ride anew,
I shall not fail to go to her,
So as in no way to wrong her,
For I would rather die this day
Than cause my love undue delay.’
At this, he did commence to smile,
Which turned to laughter in a while:
‘Good sir,’ he said,’ you need me not;
Go there, now my advice you’ve got,
But by the Blessed Virgin Mary
I shall not keep you company.’
And I replied: Why not, sweet friend?
For in the letter she did send
She said I should bring you along,
Without you all may turn to wrong.’
And he said: ‘I shall tell you why,
And speak the truth, and ne’er a lie.’
Lines 6655-6726: His secretary expresses his fears
‘SIRE, to begin with, I must say
That I love you so, that alway
I would advise you, willingly,
And ever your counsellor be.
Yet I see in this business, here,
Many a thing that brings me fear,
And which you should fear for one,
And all those who for your person
And your estate may have a care,
For he who tells you to go there,
And make that journey hastily,
Would give his counsel foolishly.
Now listen to me, this is why:
Though your lady, she of manner shy,
Would see you, of her affection,
Yet it was never her intention
That you risk peril, for her wish,
Dangers by which many perish.
Hostile men, in many a band,
Are spread abroad, through all the land,
The great and little join together
And bring to ruin all they capture;
By false and evil means moreover
And if they held you in some tower,
For three or four days, in distress,
Then I believe you’d die, no less.
For you’re a most delicate person,
And should not go for that reason,
Nor would your fair lady be pleased,
If you met trouble and were seized,
Because she’d summoned you thus;
You’d but bring danger upon us.
See how the wind troubles people,
Rocking every house and steeple,
How none do dare to come and go,
For the rooftiles that fall like snow,
Lost, as the wind sets them flying,
In its strong and wondrous sighing,
It has been fifty years, at least,
Sixty, by God, ere was unleashed
Such a storm, such vile weather;
As such, twill be altogether
Too much should you and I suffer,
The snow, frost, and ice of winter.
No man, howe’er young and strong,
But must fear them; to go along
With you would put an end to me,
Yet you’d undertake the journey.
And there’s more reason yet to doubt
Its wisdom, you oft feel the gout,
And if it came upon you, sire,
And seized your feet so or higher,
And you were halted in some den,
By my soul, sire, you’d die then.
And what would I tell your brother
Who is your all, lord, son, father,
And cherishes you, so sweetly,
It makes everyone smile gladly?
And what of all your company?
Each would become my enemy,
And cry: “To the grave he has brought
Our dearest friend, and cut him short.”
In this way I’d be dishonoured,
Far less esteemed and less honoured,
Cursed indeed in every place,
Hateful to every noble face.
God save me from such a charge,
As to let you wander at large
In peril of your life, for sure;
Though I could strive no more
Willingly else in your employ,
As Hector did for those of Troy.’
Lines 6727-6814: Of Circe, Picus, and Caneus
‘EVEN Circe, the true goddess
Of magic, that great enchantress,
Who the manner knew so well,
Of casting every kind of spell,
(And made Picus a woodpecker
To peck at the tree-bark ever,
And changed each envoy, what is more,
Of Ulysses, to a wild boar,
And tainted the water for Scylla,
Of whom Glaucus was the lover,
And he was a god of the sea
Whom Scylla loved not, so sadly,
She was poisoned and did suffer
Without reason, great dishonour,
Her body torn in many a place
By the wild dogs, to her disgrace)
Even she would fail to guide you,
No matter what spells she might brew,
Nor would you cease to repent
Of the peril to which you went,
To life and limb or, perchance,
Of the risk of other mischance.
It might be you know not the tale
Of Picus, but let truth prevail,
He was King of Laurentia,
So handsome in face and manner,
So noble, in body and mind,
So polished, so renowned, refined,
And then so virtuous also,
Nature ne’er made another so,
Such that of all the knights of Troy
He was the worthiest of employ
In steadfastness and devotion,
For his age, for tis my notion
He was scarcely more than twenty.
Now let me say there were many
Ladies who desired him greatly
And sought his love, most dearly.
All the nymphs of grove and river
Pursued him with many a prayer,
But never a one would he love,
Or name them as such, or approve
Except for one he loved, alone,
Who called him her friend, I own.
Circe, the lady enchantress,
She asked him for his love, no less,
But he would pay no heed to her,
Nor listen to her slightest offer,
Such that the goddess felt anger,
And into the green woodpecker
She changed Picus, a garish bird,
That in the woods is often heard.
The generous and noble queen,
Who loved him, the one, I mean,
That called him her sweet lord,
Respecting him, still, afterward,
Was the beautiful Caneus,
Who for her singing was famous;
For many she could do no wrong;
They called her the goddess of song,
Which is the meaning of her name,
In Greek, the wise affirm say the same.
Caneus sang with such great skill
She charmed every vale and hill,
And made the rocks to glide along
To the pure sweetness of her song,
The oak, the cedar and the pine,
Almond and fir would all incline
Their verdant crowns and so bend near,
When her sweet song they did hear,
And for the queen they made a glade
Against the heat, to grant her shade.
She made the rivers too change course,
And so, flow backwards to their source,
And make the savage beasts to yield.
Now, the nymphs of wood and field
Could not resist her, and would dance
To her song, which would entrance
Even the babe in the cradle,
Attending so if it were able.
Yet the singing of Caneus
Nor the bravery of Picus,
Nor Circe’s spells could ever free
You from cold, wind, the enemy
That in the woods and fields roam free,
Or so charm them that, willingly,
They would conduct you to that place,
All unharmed, if such ills you’d face.’
Lines 6815-6890: Of Polyphemus and Galatea
‘IMAGINE you’re on the headland
Of that giant, who, there, did stand,
Hurling stones at passing vessels,
With rocks and boulders as missiles,
Great and strong, he’s full of pride,
He wrecks and sinks them all beside,
Drowning them in the sea, like toys,
Whate’er he strikes he thus destroys.
So as to fill his greedy maw,
The men he seizes, what is more,
He slays, and crunches in his jaws,
So that the blood squirts forth, and pours
Down from his coarse beard, drop by drop;
His cruelty and wickedness ne’er stop.
Few can escape, whate’er the cost,
Whoe’er he captures is truly lost.
None can elude his grasp indeed,
Whom he corners on them to feed.
His wild and greasy hair hangs low,
He combs it with a mighty harrow.
Amidst his brow he’s one eye yet,
Tis vast, and dreadful, and deep-set,
And there beneath the eyebrow burns,
Huge as a shield, it each way turns.
His eyebrow is of a fashion, I note,
Like to a hedgehog’s prickly coat,
And in full armour one might hide
Inside each nostril deep and wide.
His beard reaches his waist beneath
With hairs like to the harrow’s teeth,
Dense and large, but sharp indeed,
His mouth is like a ditch, its feed
Yielding a charnel house’s stench,
From the sad flesh that fills its trench.
With a pine-tree trunk in his hands,
From atop his cliff, he commands
His cattle and, all unclothed there,
Just as they do, he goes all bare.
He has no house, room or chamber,
Except a sordid cave, where ever
The wicked creature takes his rest,
His stomach full, there to digest,
While at his left the tree-trunk lies,
A hundred feet long, of vast size,
With which, ere he seeks his sleep,
He gathers his returning sheep.
And when the sun shines forth again,
He will seek himself to entertain,
Taking his reed-flute in his hand,
A hundred reeds at his command,
And whene’er he makes it sound,
The earth and sea echo around,
For three or four leagues all about,
This delights him, but thereabout
All those who hear him, far or near,
Avoid encountering him, through fear.
He loved Galatea, however,
Who loathed him more than any other,
Since in manner he was terrible,
In face and form most horrible.
And then of Actis, her sweet friend,
This foul monster had made an end.
Wickedly, and treasonously,
Through anger and pure jealousy.
He launched a boulder at the man
That slew her lover, out of hand.
He’d have thus served Galatea,
Likewise, dishonoured and slain her,
But she fled deep into a cave
And so, her life did gladly save.
This giant was named Polyphemus,
Who’d threatened Jupiter and Venus,
Declaring that, if he caught them,
He would slay them both, and eat them.
For they had made him fall in love,
Though but bitter did loving prove.’
Lines 6891-6962: Ulysses wounding of Polyphemus
‘NOW, Galatea told a tale
Of him, o’er him may God prevail!
There was a man of holy station,
Given to secret divination,
And Telephus was this man’s name,
Who understood, so she did claim,
The meaning of birdsong; twas clear
As was hounds’ yelping to the seer.
He went to the giant, and to him said:
‘Guard well that one eye in your head,
Believe me, Ulysses will steal it,
And there is naught that can heal it.’
The evil thing, may God curse such,
Thought that he mocked him overmuch,
Yet Ulysses his sight did take,
And afterwards the cliffs did shake,
For when he found his eye was gone
He was so wretched, and undone,
The monster fell upon the ground,
The whole cliff splitting at the sound,
For like some mad beast he moaned,
Cried and bellowed, wept and groaned,
Yet, howe’er loud was his outcry,
He still could not regain his eye.
He menaced Ulysses on the deep,
Who’d robbed him of his eye in sleep,
And roused his one-eyed company,
Evil wretches, yet they’d ne’er see
That man again on their far shore,
Though they might threaten evermore.
Achimenides saw it all,
And related what did befall
After that eye was ruined so.
You shall ne’er a creature know
So greatly maddened, sense forsaken,
As he when his sole eye was taken.
For he forsook his rocks and trees,
And went about on hands and knees,
Searching the paths, about his lands,
With his soiled and blood-stained hands,
Tumbling gainst the stones about,
Till the blood came pouring out.
Then he cursed gods and goddesses,
Alters, temples, priests, priestesses,
Threatening all the Greeks around,
But they appeared not at the sound,
Keeping their distance, out of fear,
Hesitating to come too near.
Achimenides followed closer,
Fleeing when he turned, however,
For had he gone too close again,
The monster had his watcher slain.
Ulysses was possessed of courage
To dare to achieve that outrage.
When, later, Aeneas fled Troy,
The Greeks with fire did destroy,
Bearing his son and his father,
And, also, the noble Theneyta,
Who had nursed, at her pale breasts,
Which were with rich beauty blessed,
The wise and prophetic Sibyl,
Whose heart was both free and noble,
The Sibyl warned him of great danger
As did Venus his fair mother,
Who loved him so that, deified,
He by the gods was glorified.
Thus, he steered with his company,
By day and night o’er the deep sea
Sailing to larboard (far from sight,
The Cyclops’ cliffs lay to the right)
Setting his course for Lombardy,
Of which he claimed the seignory.’
The End of Part III of ‘Le Livre dou Voir Dit’