Jean de Meung

The Romance of the Rose (Le Roman de la Rose)
The Continuation

Part III: Chapters XLIII-L - Friend’s Counsel

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter XLIII: Reason departs, and the Lover meets Friend

(Lines 7527-8096)

How Reason doth leave the Lover

Sad and Melancholy; however,

He doth turn then to his Friend

Who to him doth comfort lend.

The Lover meets Friend

‘The Lover meets Friend’

REASON, turned away on hearing

All, and left me quietly grieving.

Then it was, I remembered Friend,

And knew I must, howe’er it end,

Run, and seek him out, instantly;

Yet God had brought him to me;

And when he saw me there, apart,

Such sadness harrowing my heart:

‘Fair sweet friend,’ said he, ‘what ails you?

Who with such torment assails you?

I see some ill on you doth weigh,

Finding you here in such dismay,

Tell me the state of your affairs.’

‘God help me, neither good nor fair.’

‘Tell me,’ said he; and I did so,

Spoke of what you already know,

Which I shall not repeat again. 

‘By the body of God, I maintain,

Now that Resistance doth desist,

And the Rosebud you have kissed,

You are not hindered in any way,

Though Fair-Welcome’s locked away.

For he conceded,’ said Friend anew,

‘That the sweet kiss be granted you;

He’ll not be confined forever.

But you must now seek another

And a wiser course of action,

Since your goal is satisfaction.

Be comforted, for he will soon

Be released from out that prison

Where he was placed, for your sake.’

‘Strong is the foe, and no mistake,

I cried, ‘if it were but Ill-Talk;

Tis he at whom my heart doth balk,

Who then incited every other.

There’s no way that they would ever

Have caught me if he’d not told all.

Fear and Shame hid me, I recall,

Most gladly, even Resistance,

Had ceased, at their insistence.

All three were holding their tongues,

Till those cruel devils came along

That the wretch did there assemble.

He, who saw Fair-Welcome tremble

When Jealousy did shout at will,

(For the crone spoke a deal of ill)

Would have taken pity on him.

I fled, without waiting for him.

Then the tower masons fashioned,

Where the sweet lad is imprisoned.

Now therefore, Friend, counsel me,

I am dead if you’ll not advise me.’

Then said Friend, all skilled in such,

For of Love he had learned much:

‘My dear companion, comfort take

In loving well, and woe forsake.

Serve the God of Love, day and night,

Serve loyally, without respite.

Never deceive him, traitorously;

Too great a treachery twould be,

Were you to prove a recreant;

Too cruel the blow if you recant,

Once by him you’ve been received,

Whom no true heart e’er deceived.

And so keep each commandment,

To his demands give your assent;

However tardy they may prove,

None fail of their intent that do,

If ill comes not from another part,

As twill when Fortune doth depart.

Think then to serve the God of Love,

Let all your thought of him so prove,

For such thought is sweet and fair;

Folly twould be to seek elsewhere,

For he’ll not seek to part from you;

Yet he holds tight the leash anew,

And they must yield to his power,

Who cannot quit him for an hour.

I’ll tell you next what you must do,

Wait now before you seek to view

The castle and the tower again;

Don’t go there yet, for tis in vain;

Let no one see or hear you there,

More than seems usual; take care.

However much you’d wish to go,

While yet that tempest doth blow,

Scorn the walls, avoid the gate;

And if you’re driven there by fate,

Make pretence, as best you may,

Never look Fair-Welcome’s way.

Yet if you see him, from afar,

At some crenel or window-bar,

You may look on him with pity,

Though be sure to act covertly.

Twould bring him joy to see you there,

But he cannot, of his guard aware,

Show the least sign of it, nor, anew,

Except by stealth, acknowledge you.

Perchance he may close his window,

Hearing you speaking there below

To some other, and through the crack

Gaze upon you, ere you turn back,

And from the castle take your way,

Or he may be forced to turn away.

Take care however, as you do,

Ill-Talk catches no glimpse of you.

If he does, greet him, but be sure

That your expression is as before,

And on your face show ne’er a sign

Of hate, by chance or by design,

Or rancour; likewise if elsewhere

You meet him, no ill-feeling bare;

A wise-man conceals ill humour.

Those who deceive the deceiver,

Do a fair deed, and every lover

Doth hide their feelings moreover,

At least, that is, if they are wise.’

Chapter XLIII: Friend speaks of Ill-Talk

‘THOUGH he seeks your ruin, disguise

Your thoughts, and serve, honourably,

Ill-Talk, and all his company.

Feign to offer all you possess,

Heart and body, and all the rest,

For men do say, indeed tis true:

Against the cunning be cunning too.

Tis no sin to trick those, you see,

Who are ever full of trickery.

And Ill-Talk is such a trickster;

Take away their tricks, and ever

A thief remains, and such is he,

And you indeed can readily see

The he doth deserve that same,

Who robs men of their good name,

Yet lacks the power to return it.

He’s more worthy of the gibbet,

Than all those other petty thieves

Who steal but cash; one who deceives

You, and your coins would gain,

A perch of cloth, a sack of grain,

Four times as much, at least, must pay

According to the law of the day,

If he should be taken in the act;

Yet Ill-Talk’s sin is, in fact,

Much greater, that of his vile tongue,

Which can never once it has sung

Its foul slanders requite the same,

By restoring a man’s good name;

Nor can e’er a single word reclaim,

Of all that from his vile lips came.

Tis good though to appease Ill-Talk;

To kiss that hand we must not balk

That oft we’d see burned before us;

Would that the wretch were in Tarsus!

There let him utter all his slanders,

So long as he steals not from lovers.

Tis good though to stop up his lips,

Blame and reproach to thus eclipse.

Ill-Talk, and all his kin, should be,

May God ne’er stand them surety,

Tricked by our trickery, for the rest,

Served, blandished, flattered, and caressed,

With cunning, and adulation,

Deceit, and false simulation,

Saluted too, as you bow low;

Tis well to stroke a watchdog, so,

While you swiftly pass on by.

To Ill-Talk slanders you’ll deny

If he be brought but to believe

You’ve no intention to deceive,

Or steal the bud he doth secure,

Then shall you triumph for sure.

That old crone, Fair-Welcome’s warder,

Serve her too, may Hell-Fire burn her!

Take the same path with Jealousy,

Whom may the Lord curse, for she,

That fierce unhappy wretch, is ever

Enraged by others’ joy and pleasure!

She’s so cruel and driven by greed,

Of all such she will naught concede,

Nor let another take what’s fair,

Lest she should have the smaller share.

Yet tis a fool who would take all;

Tis like a lantern’s candle, withal;

Who doth with light a thousand bless,

Will never find its flame the less. 

All whose intellect proves ample,

Do know the truth of that example.

If those two bid you do their will,

Serve them both with all your skill,

Treat them both with courtesy,

Tis valued, universally,

But such that neither can perceive

Tis your intention to deceive.

Tis the way one should proceed;

Arms about their neck, so lead

One’s enemy to hang or drown.

Let flattery’s caresses abound,

If you can find no other way.

In this case, I can truly say

There is no other means in view,

Of such great power are those two;

He who attacks them openly,

Must fail of his intent, you see.’

Chapter XLIII: Friend explains how to win favour with the keepers

Friend speaks of the keepers

‘Friend speaks of the keepers’

‘After contending thus when you

Come to the other guards, if you

Can reach them after your foray,

Give them gifts, then do as I say:

A wreath of flowers tightly woven,

A purse, or some head-decoration,

Or some little jewel, that yet

Is fine and lovely and well-set,

Such will render you their master,

Without tending to disaster.

Appease them thus with a present,

Then complain, and make lament,

Speak of your toils, the pain, the fear,

Amor has brought, who led you here.

And if you have no gifts to give,

Make a promise, as you do live

And love; swear to it, sans delay,

No matter what you have to pay.

Swear loudly, pledge your word,

Rather than go from there unheard.

Beg them thus to grant their aid.

If tearful eyes are then displayed,

It will work to your advantage;

Weep, if you’re wise as a sage,

Fall before them, on your knees,

Clasp your hands, and let your eyes squeeze

Out hot tears that shall fall apace,

And trickle swiftly down your face,

Such that they may behold them all,

A piteous sight, and see them fall.

Those tears are not to be despised

That fall from a sad lover’s eyes.

Or if you find it hard to cry,

Touch your saliva to your eye,

Or covertly, without delay,

Let an onion come its way,

Tis one of garlic’s many uses,

And that of many other juices;

Wet your lids, and weep away,

As oft as you wish, all the day.

Many a trickster has done so,

Yet made a good lover, I know,

Viewed by the ladies, suspended,

In the web for themselves intended,

Till pity triumph and yield hope,

And from his neck they take the rope.

Tears, by such tricks, many move,

Who never loved with a true love,

Rather some young girl deceiving

With their tales, and their grieving.

Tears draw the heart of a young maid,

If she believes no snare is laid,

But if she knows tis all a lie,

You’ll see no pity in her eye.

Crying mercy would prove in vain,

You’ll not entice her heart again.

Now, if you cannot go to them

By messenger send word to them,

By voice perchance, or by letter,

Or wax tablet if that serves better.

But never sign with your true name,

Then he and she may hide the same,

She may pose as he, he as she,

And truth be hid more easily;

He a lady, she a sir may feign.

Now only thus convey your pain;

For many a lover’s been deceived

By many a thief who has retrieved

Their letters, accusation made,

And all the joys of love betrayed.

Never in children place your trust,

For you’ll fare ill, if so you must;

A child’s a hopeless messenger,

Since the child is oft a chatterer,

Will play, or show what they bear

To any traitor who asks, and care

Not how stupidly they relay it,

Knowing not the meaning of it.

All will be known, and instantly,

If you deceive not; use trickery.

And these keepers are, certainly

So merciful by nature, you see,

That if your gifts they will receive,

Then they’ll not trick you, or deceive.

Know that if they do accept them

Then you’ll be accepted by them.

And once they do, the thing is done;

As a lure is used by many a one,

At morn or eve, you understand,

To bring a noble hawk to hand,

Lured by gifts, a keeper offers

Grace and pardon to true lovers.

By gifts we conquer the warden

Who guards many a fair garden.

If it so happens that you discover

They are proud, though you offer

Gifts and prayers; and never waver

Despite you tears, or whatever

Else you think of; and reject you,

With fierce words, and harsh deeds too,

And slander you most cruelly;

Yet part from them courteously,

And leave the wretches there to stew.

No rich cheese doth melt, I tell you,

Faster than they will melt, because

If you should flee, they will, of course,

Grow used to chasing after you,

And you will gain, if they pursue;

For base hearts such haughtiness

Towards their lovers do possess,

The more they beg the less they’re prized,

The more attentive, the more despised;

But if their lovers leave them be,

Their pride will take a fall, you see,

Those whom they despised, now please,

They are conquered then with ease;

When the lover leaves, naught is fine,

But all is harsh, on nettles they dine.

The mariner who sails the sea

Seeking many a strange country,

On the fixed star will keep his eye,

But changes tack as the wind doth lie;

He must shorten or lengthen sail,

And ever flees before the gale.

The heart that ceases not to love,

On more than one course must move,

Now must pursue, and now must flee,

If it would love most joyfully.

Then again, tis more than clear,

And no mere gloss I give you here,

But in the text you may have trust,

Tis fine to plead with them; you must;

For the lover there’s naught to lose;

He who pleads and doth not refuse,

May advance by it, assuredly,

However arrogant they may be.

He may plead with them, in safety,

Since he must, tis a certainty,

Or be refused, or be received,

And thus can hardly be deceived.

Naught’s lost if they will not consent,

Except the time the lover’s spent.

Nor will the keepers ere resent

The lover’s pleas and his intent,

Rather they will be grateful when

He has forged a way to them,

For on hearing a pleading voice,

None’s so harsh as not to rejoice.

Within, they think that they must be

Brave and pleasant, and fair to see,

Possessed of every rare quality,

Since the lover doth make his plea,

Whether they choose to deny him,

Excuse themselves or allow him.

If he’s welcomed, then all is fine,

He has what he has sought to find.

And if tis his misfortune to fail,

Free as a bird, he away doth sail.

If in failure may lie envy, spite,

Tis equally open to fresh delight.

But let the lover not blithely say

To the guardians, straight away,

That he doth seek their acquaintance

To pluck the rose from off its branch,

But speak of love, lawful and true,

And pure thought; and so should you.

Without a shadow of a lie,

The guards may be won, by and by,

If they are asked graciously;

Such a lover will never be

Refused, nor ought he to be so.

If you follow my counsel, though,

Don’t set out to make your plea,

Unless you do things thoroughly;

For before they are won, you see,

They’ll pride themselves on your plea,

But once they’re your accomplices,

They’ll value it a good deal less.

Yet they are all of such a kind

However harsh the face, behind

It lies one, who if no plea’s made,

Yet still doth seek one, I’m afraid,

And might yet have granted for naught

That which was so fittingly sought.

But those with impetuous demands,

Or those who give with open hands,

Fill the keepers with foolish pride,

Their Roses will seem magnified; 

In seeking to win some benefit,

Such lovers end by losing it,

Who might have had all for naught

If no such request they’d sought.

If only such lovers had made sure

Never to act in that way, before;

For if they had sought for praise,

Indeed they’d have won fair praise,

If they had but set out to agree,

And made a covenant mutually,

That none there should make demand,

Nor give gifts with so free a hand,

And better the guards to conquer,

Should suffer the Roses to wither;

Though any man sworn so to do

Would not please me, nor ought he to;

At least, for no man would I care,

Who was bound to such an affair.’

Chapter XLIII: Friend urges the Lover to seize the moment

‘YET, on that account, do not wait,

Plead away, and thus set your bait,

Stretch your net now, and take the prey,

For perchance you could so delay,

That one, two, three four, or more,

Indeed fifty-two dozen might bore

Their way through, and win the day,

In less than fifty-two weeks I’d say:

All must be lost to some other,

If you wait here, a hapless lover;

You will scarce be there in time,

If you but stick here in the lime.

I’d tell no man to wait to move

Till a woman demands his love;

He’s too much faith in his merit,

Who waits for her to commence it.

And whoever doth seek romance,

And his wishes would so advance,

Need not fear she will strike him,

However proud, if she like him,

Nor his ship not harbour safely,

If he conducts himself wisely.

So, my friend, you may exploit them,

Those keepers, when you reach them.

Yet never make such a request

Of them when at their angriest.

Look for when they’re joyful, glad,

Make no request when they’re sad,

Unless it is the sadness born

Of Jealousy, by madness torn,

Who punished them because of you,

Since they had angered her anew.’

Chapter XLIII: On how to behave towards Fair-Welcome

‘AND if you reach the point, I say,

Where you can hold them all at bay,

And a convenient place have sought

And bear no risk of being caught,

And if Fair-Welcome dare forsake

His cell, who suffers for your sake,

Then when he doth turn toward you

His fair seeming, as he shall do,

For he knows how to greet others,

Then the Rose you should gather.

Even though you meet Resistance,

He who keeps you at a distance,

To abuse you; though Shame and Fear

Complain, who only feign anger,

And defend themselves but idly,

And, in defending, yield easily,

Or so it will then seem to you;

Though you see Fear tremble too,

Shame blush, Resistance shudder;

Though all three groan and shiver,

Treat it all as not worth a sou,

Gather the Rose by force, and you

Will show yourself a man, if done

At the right place, hour, and season.

Naught pleases them more, you see,

Than such force, if used properly.

The practice is quite customary,

Since folk are oft so contrary,

That they would wish to surrender,

What they themselves dare not offer.

They’ll feign that a thing was stolen,  

That they’ve allowed to be taken.

Know that they’ll be sad, moreover,

If they do escape surrender,

Whatever joy they might express,

And they will hate you to excess,

However much they complained,

Being, in fact, greatly pained.

Yet if you find, by what they cry,

That the guards are angered thereby,

And defend the Rose, vigorously,

Restrain your hand, with honesty,

And yield yourself, don’t hesitate;

Cry mercy, then stand and wait,

Until those three keepers depart,

Who so grieve and vex your heart;

Fair-Welcome yet remains there, who

Deigns to abandon all for you.

Thus strive against them all, as one

Who is a brave, wise, worthy man.

Pay attention to Fair-Welcome too,

And note how he doth look to you,

Consider how he appears, ever,

And then conform to his manner:

If he looks mature and serious,

Set all your aim on seeming thus,

Conduct yourself most seriously;

And yet if he acts foolishly,

Be foolish too in how you act;

Take pains to act like him in fact.

If he’s happy, wear a happy face,

If angry, let anger joy replace;

If he laughs, laugh; if he weeps, weep;

Do thus, except when you’re asleep:

Whate’er he loves, then love that too,

Whate’er he blames, blame that anew,

And praise whate’er he likes to praise.

Then he’ll have faith in you always.

Think you a noble-hearted lady

Will love a lad foolish and flighty,

Who wanders dreamily at night,

And seems to all the maddest sight,

And sings at midnight, this boy,

No matter whom he may annoy?

She’d be fearful of being blamed,

Of being vilified, and shamed;

Such loves, fluted through the street,

Are soon known to the more discrete.

Foolish lovers care not who knows;

A fool is she who with them goes.

Likewise if one wise in Love’s ways

Speaks to a foolish girl, and plays

The serious role, appearing wise,

He shall never her heart surprise;

He will never succeed, you see,

Simply because he loves wisely.

He must suit his manner to hers,

Or shame and woe are his deserts,

She’ll suspect he’s a sorcerer,

A sly fox, a cunning trickster;

The wretched girl will soon depart,

And grant another man her heart,

And before him herself abase,

Leaving the worthy for the base;

And there she will nourish her love

And, in brooding, a she-wolf prove,

Whose foolishness dictates her fate,

With the worst of wolves as mate.

Now, if you can find Fair-Welcome,

And play chess, dice, or backgammon,

With him, or another pleasant game,

Then always take care, at that same,

That you are forever the loser;

Always seem the lesser player.

Whenever you do play together,

Let Fair-Welcome be the winner,

Let him master you the while,

Let him mock your losses, and smile.

Praise all his shades of countenance,

His turns of phrase, and appearance;

Serve him too with all your might.

When he would on a seat alight,

Then bring to him a stool or chair,

And friendship will prosper there.

If you can see a speck of dust

Somewhere on his clothes, you must

Brush that speck of dust away,

Even if there’s no dust in play;

If there’s powder on his shoulder,

Be careful to remove that powder.

In short, wherever you may be

Do whatever you think will please.

Do as I say, and feel no doubt,

And he will never turn you out,

And your aim you’ll make good,

Just as I’ve proposed you should.’

Chapter XLIV: Friend advises on how to deal with Ill-Talk

(Lines 8097-8266)

How Lover doth reveal to Friend

His enemies, and doth contend

That soon he will bring the three

Before a judge, and justice see.

‘SWEET Friend,’ I cried, ‘fie upon it,

No man but some false hypocrite,

Would perpetrate such devilry;

No greater evil could there be.

Would you have me flatter the while,

Folk who are themselves servile?

Servile and false are they, truly,

Except for Fair-Welcome only.

Is such then your counsel now?

I’d be a deadly traitor, I vow,

If I did serve but to deceive.

For I must say and you believe,

That ere I spy on an enemy,

I first defy them openly,

At least allow me to defy

Ill-Talk, who on me doth spy,

Rather than set out to deceive;

Or beg him to abate the gale

He hath raised against my sail,

Or let me beat him for doing so;

Or if he pleases, make amends

For this tempest that he sends;

Or if he will, let me complain

To a judge who’ll prove his bane.’

‘My good companion, such is for

All those who are at open war,

But Ill-Talk doth work covertly,

He is not here an open enemy,

Those whom he hates he doth defame

Behind their backs, and put to shame.

God shame him then, as a traitor!

No choice but to play the betrayer.

Fie then upon traitors such as he,

I’ll ne’er trust the untrustworthy.

He hates others within his heart,

Scorns them, ere his lips do part.

No such man has e’er pleased me;

Let him beware, and I, equally.

Tis right he dies through treachery

Who gives himself to treachery,

Since vengeance can employ, it seems,

No more honourable means.

And if of him you would complain

Think you his slanders to contain?

Perchance you would lack the proof,

Nor find sound witnesses, forsooth,

And even had you the proof here,

He’d still not keep silence, I fear.

The more the proof, the more he’ll spread

His slanders about you instead;

And you will lose much more than he,

As the thing is known more widely,

And your shame; those who’d abate their

Shame through vengeance make it greater,

Seeking to beat their enemy, when

Instead they find themselves beaten.

Scandal will not be beaten, no,

No matter who may wish it so.

And, God save me, you may wait

Forever for him to mend your state.

In truth, I’d not accept reparation,

I would sooner grant him pardon.

While if you show him defiance,

He’ll have Fair Welcome in irons,

By all the saints, burnt on a pyre,

Or drowned; or failing death by fire,

Locked away for eternity;

Fair-Welcome no more shall you see.

Your heart then will sorrow more

Than Charles for Roland in that war,

Who, at Roncesvalles, did suffer

Death, through Ganelon the traitor.’

‘Such things I’ll ne’er seek to do.

Send Ill-Talk to the devil anew!

For I’d wish to see him hang, he

Who has rendered me so angry.’

‘My companion, you must take,

Another path, and no mistake,

Hanging the man is not for you,

But for the judges, good and true.

Yet if you’d have counsel of me,

You might beat him by treachery.’

‘My dear companion, I agree,

You shall hear naught else from me.

If you perchance possess the art,

And can show me how to start

To contrive a means to conquer

The tower more easily, however,

I would hear it, most eagerly,

If you but choose to tell it me.’

Chapter XLIV: Friend warns of a dangerous road to the castle

‘HARK, there’s a fine and noble way,

Not fit for a poor man though, I say.

For to win the tower, dear companion,

Without my art, then in my opinion,

There’s a shorter road, you can take,

And into the castle you shall break,

Right into the heart of that fortress,

The gate would never hold, the rest

Would allow itself to be conquered;

And nothing there could be defended,

And none there dare speak overmuch.

That road is named Give-Too-Much,

Foolish Largesse made it, moreover,

Who has ruined many a lover;

And right well do I know that way,

For I left it but yesterday.

There have I been a traveller,

More than one winter and summer.

You leave Largesse there on the right,

Then take the first left turn in sight,

Little more than a bowshot too

Along the beaten road need you

Journey, nor wear your shoe-leather,

Before you’ll see the walls quiver,

The towers and the turrets tremble,

Though built so strong and durable,

And of themselves the gates will ope,

Needing no aid from mortal folk.

At that time the castle’s so weak

Twould be harder for you to seek

Some piece of dry toast to quarter,

Than the castle’s stone and mortar.

You’ll have won it in an hour at most,

Having needed no greater a host

Than Charlemagne had need of, if he

Had wished to conquer Germany!

Yet no man who is poor, I’d say,

Could ever enter on that way;

He himself could not do so, nor

Another lead him to, what’s more.

And yet, if he did so once, then he

Has learned as much of it as me;

He’s as able its nature to tell,

As ever I am, who learned it well.

But you may know it, if you would,

And just as soon, though you should

Do little more here than possess

Great wealth and spend it to excess.

Yet tis not I shall lead you there,

Poverty prevents it, she took care

To forbid me to return, my friend.

Whate’er I had, that I did spend,

With all from others I received;

All who trusted me I deceived,

Such that not one could I repay,

Were I threatened with death this day.

“Come not again”, cried Poverty,

“For you have naught to spend”, said she.

Along that road you may not fare,

Unless Wealth chooses to lead you there.

And all those she leads on, moreover,

As they return, are made to suffer.

For in going she’ll accompany you,

Yet, as you return, vanish from view.

And of this truth be sure, I say,

No matter when you take that way,

You’ll not leave it, you understand,

Till Poverty takes you by the hand,

Who doth bring, to many, distress;

Left behind is foolish Largesse,

Who thinks of naught but gaming,

Or ways of outrageous spending.

Thus it is she spends her money,

As if it flowed from some granary,

All without account or measure,

No matter how she needs her treasure.’

Chapter XLV: Friend speaks of Poverty

(Lines 8267-8374)

How Poverty did make request

Of Wealth, who is hardly honest,

And listens not to what is said,

But cruelly leads one on instead.

‘AT its end doth Poverty wait,

In shameful and unhappy state,

Whose heart doth suffer woefully,

So many shameful prayers is she

Forced to make; and she receives

Such harsh refusal; few kind deeds,

Few kind words, none fair or pleasant,

And none do ever seek contentment

In her works, but blame her ever,

With hatred and scorn do treat her.

But think not on Poverty, rather

Think of how you may avoid her,

Where’er you go, whate’er you do.

Naught troubles a man such as you

More than descending to poverty.

And all those who spendthrifts be

Know this for a truth; moreover

Many have been hanged for her.

Well they know it, and say so too,

Who are forced to beg and who

Are made to suffer great distress,

Ere they win aught from the rest.

And such do all those lovers prove

Who seek out the delights of love;

His love a poor man cannot feed,

So Ovid doth confess indeed.

Poverty makes men hate, and scorn,

Suffering martyrdom, eve and morn,

And e’en steals men’s intelligence.

For God’s sake make a bold defence

Against it, and strive to believe

The truth of all my words; receive

All that I deem self-evident,

Or have proved by experiment,

Myself and in my own person;

As I’ve covered in my sermon.

I know how Poverty acts, you see,

Because of my shame and misery,

Better, my friend, than you can know,

Who have ne’er suffered such woe.

Thus you should have faith in me,

For tis to counsel you that I speak;

A blessed life doth he discover,

Who is well-counselled by another.

A valiant man was I once called,

Loved by my friends, one and all,

And in every place I spent freely,

Acted more than generously,

And was taken for a wealthy man.

Now I’m poor as a beggar man,

All because of foolish Largesse,

Who has brought me such distress

That only by cunning and deceit,

Do I have aught to drink or eat,

Clothes to wear, shoes on my feet;

Poverty’s conquest is so complete,

Who stole from me all my friends.

For, my companion, comprehend

This, that when Fortune acted so,

All of my friends did up and go,

Except for one, I recount this truly,

The only one that remained to me.

Fortune had stolen them away,

Because Poverty came to stay,

Stolen? No, she had not, I own,

Rather she took what was her own:

For if they had been truly mine,

They’d not have left me by design.

She wronged me not in any way

By stealing her own friends away:

Hers in truth, though I knew it not,

For I had imagined I had bought

With my heart, soul, and largesse

Their all, and so did them possess.

And yet I discovered, my friend,

I was left with naught, in the end.

For now my friends, finding that I

Was destitute, away did fly.

And they mocked me, my friend,

When they witnessed me descend,

Beaten, beneath Fortune’s wheel,

Struck by Poverty, down at heel.

Yet, I should not complain, for she,

Fortune, did me a courtesy,

That I’d deserved of her never,

For I could see clearer than ever.

With pure ointment, I realise,

She had so anointed my eyes,

(Having compounded the same

The moment that Poverty came)

I found she’d stolen not twenty,

But rather four hundred and fifty,

Of my good friends; no lynx’s eye

Could have seen it clearer than I.

For Fortune showed me instantly

The faithful love I now could see

Revealed in my true friend’s face,

Whom Poverty brought to that place,

For I should never have known him,

If my need had not been shown him.

Seeing it, he rushed to my side,

Did all he could, and naught denied,

In offering all that he possessed,

For my dire need he had assessed.’

Chapter XLVI: Friendship in time of need

(Lines 8375-8712)

How Friend doth readily recall,

For the Lover, that he could call

On but one friend, in misery,

Who oped to him his treasury.

Friendship in time of need

‘Friendship in time of need’

‘“MY Friend,” said he, “here, truly,

I bring you my wealth and my body,

For they are yours as much as mine,

Fear not, take what love doth resign.”

“How much, though?” “If you’re unsure,

Take all, if you need all, being poor;

For the gifts of Fortune, in the end,

Are worth naught compared to a friend,

The same is true of those of Nature;

For we have searched one another,

And then joined our hearts together,

Such that we understand each other,

Or rather we have proved ourselves

And thus true friends find ourselves;

For none knows if a friend be true,

Till they be proven; as I and you.

I’m ever obliged to you, I find;

So the power of love doth bind.

If it would prove your salvation,

You can surrender me to prison,

As a hostage, your guarantor,

Pledge or sell my treasure, and more.”

Not once did my friend hesitate,

He sought not to flatter my state,

Rather he forced me to accept,

Even though I sought to reject

His helping hand, shamed indeed,

Like the beggar man in dire need,

Whose lips are so sealed by shame

He hardly dares to speak his name,

But suffering hides the truth away

So his need he might not betray,

And so shows his best face to all,

And so did I, as I now recall.

Some beggars of sound body though

As I know well, do not do so,

They go limping along the street

Flattering every man they meet;

And their ugliest state they show

To all those they encounter so,

Keeping their true selves concealed,

So as to deceive the better-heeled;

Crying aloud how poor they are,

Yet reaping alms near and far,

While their harvest away they store.

But of them I will speak no more,

Since I could say so much, you see,

That all might then go ill with me,

For hypocrites hate men to reveal

The truth about them they conceal.

Thus before seeming friends I set

My foolish heart, that’s foolish yet;

And was by foolishness betrayed,

Scorned, defamed, hatred displayed

(Yet the only reason, to my cost,

Was telling them of all I’d lost)

By all of them, communally,

But you, who keep me company,

You, who offer love, unceasing, 

Ever to this poor heart clinging

Whose love for you doth never cease;

And shall cling so, if God so please,

For ever and a day, I believe,

Although this truth we receive,

That this, my bodily company,

You’ll lose, as we find it to be

In this earthly life, when Death,

Doth claim his right to my flesh,

(Though that sad day, as we know well,

For body alone sounds the knell,

And all that to flesh appertains,

The appurtenances it sustains);

And both of us, I know, must die,

Sooner than we may wish yet, I

Think, not together; thus time runs,

And Death parts true companions.

And yet I know that if I die,

And if true love doth prove no lie,

And you live on, I too shall live

In your heart, that life doth give;

Or if you find death before me,

You will live on, a memory

Within my heart, and ne’er grow stale,

Just as, according to the tale,

Pirithous, much loved by Theseus,

After his death did live on thus.

Theseus sought him, and did depart

(For he lived on within his heart)

To look for him in Hell, such love

He held for him in the world above.’

Chapter XLVI: On giving in moderation

‘YET Poverty is worse than Death,

For she torments our every breath,

Soul and body, not for an hour,

But as long as flesh doth soul embower,

And she adds to that misery,

Both larceny and perjury,

And a host of other evils too,

With which a poor man has to do;

She does what Death doth not desire,

For Death removes them all entire,

And, in his coming, ease doth lend,

And doth all temporal torment end.

For he but toys with us an hour,

However great may be his power.

So, I urge, my dear companion,

That you remember Solomon,

Who of Jerusalem was king,

For we may learn much from him.

He says, and note this carefully,

“Dear son, guard against Poverty

Through all the days of your life,”

And in his book he doth say why,

“Given this life we here endure,

Tis better to die, than to be poor.

For those who appear to be poor,

E’en their own brothers do abhor.”

And he, regarding Poverty,

Speaks of one who is so needy,

Indigence is the name we give her,

Who her guests doth make to suffer.

We treat none with such ill intent,

As those whom we call indigent;

They allow them not as witnesses,

Those who the true texts address,

For in law the indigent are said

To be one with the discredited.

Poverty then proves an ugly thing,

While if you set about amassing

Coins and gems enough, I dare say,

So long as you gave it all away,

Or as much of it as you chose,

You could have both bud and rose,

No matter how closely guarded.

If not so rich as I’ve suggested,

Nor seeking to seem miserly,

Give little gifts appropriately;

Act pleasantly, but reasonably,

So as not to end in poverty,

For there lies loss and misery.

Most men then would mock you,

And in no way would help you,

As having paid more for a thing

Than if resold its sale would bring.’

Chapter XLVI: On appropriate gifts

‘TIS appropriate to make a present,

To this I grant my full consent,

Of fresh fruit in a cloth or basket;

Be swift to give it, ere folk ask it;

Apples, nuts, pears, or cherries,

Plums, sorb-apples, raspberries,

Chestnuts, quinces, tart barberries,

Damsons, or service-berries,

Your grafted medlars, strawberries,

Figs and peaches, and mulberries;

And if they were bought by you

Then say that they were given you

By a friend visiting from afar,

Though they but come from the bazaar.

Or make your gift crimson Roses,

Sweet violets, or primroses,

In wicker baskets, in season

Give naught that is beyond reason.

Such gifts will seem fine to others,

And you’ll evade scandalmongers;

Even if they know ill of the lover,

They’ll yet speak well of the giver.

Many a bailiff doth gifts sustain,

Who of ill-fortune doth complain;

Fine gifts of wine, or things to eat,

Make many a stipend complete;

And fine gifts, if nothing other

Bear witness to fine character:

Gifts have their place everywhere;

He’s deemed worthy whose gifts are fair.

Thus gifts grant praise to the giver,

And obligate the receiver,

Saying, despite innate freedom,

That one should serve another man.

What, in sum, should I say of them?

That gifts capture both Gods and men.’

Chapter XLVI: On how to retain the beloved

‘MY friend, list to my admonitions,

Take note of all my observations;

Know that if you set out to do

All that I’ve explained to you,

The God of Love, he will not fail

The mightiest castle to assail,

And grant all that he promised thus.

For he and the Goddess Venus,

Will fight against the keepers so,

The fortress they will overthrow.

Then shall you gather your rose,

Whatever thorns do her enclose.

But when one has acquired a thing

Great skill is needed in keeping

It safe; and wisdom needs belong,

To one who would enjoy it long.

For tis no less a virtue to

Keep and defend, in my view,

Such things, once they are acquired

Than to gain them, as you desired.

Tis right for a lover to be called

A wretch, who through his own fault

Loses that which he claims to love.

Tis a worthy thing, one I approve,

To know how to keep one’s love,

So she from you doth not remove,

Especially when God hath made her,

Wise, courteous, good; who, further,

Grants her love, and doth sell it not.

For love in search of gain is not

Contrived by woman unless she

Is one who’s wedded to infamy;

Nor is there any love, I maintain,

In one who gives herself for gain.

Such a lover may hell-fire burn!

Keeping her is not your concern.

In truth almost all women though

Are over-eager to take, and so

Readily plunder, consuming too,

Till naught is left to those men who

Most as theirs themselves proclaim,

And do most loyally love the same.

For Juvenal said as much, when he

Spoke of Hiberina, saying that she

Indeed, would rather lose an eye

Than on one man alone rely.

For she was of so hot a nature,

That no one man could e’er sate her.

No woman will e’er seem so ardent,

Nor with her love so well content,

That she’ll seek not, of her lover,

All his spoils and all his treasure.

Consider how those others live,

Who for gifts themselves do give;

Not one among them could you name

Who doth not seek to do the same;

To place the man in subjection,

All have that as their intention.

Such is the rule that Juvenal

Gives, yet no rule’s infallible,

Twas of the wicked ones he thought,

When such a judgement he taught.

For if, I say, God did her grace

With loyal heart and honest face,

Then I will tell you what to do;

A courteous fellow, such as you,

And debonair, must not flatter

Himself, nor trust, in this matter,

Overmuch to his face and figure:

Tis right to study and consider

Manners, arts, and sciences too.

The ends that Beauty doth pursue

If you do think on them aright,

Mean Beauty must soon take flight:

Soon to time must Beauty yield,

As will the flowers of the field;

For beauty is of such stuff made,

As it doth live, so doth it fade.

But Wisdom, if wise you’d be,

Doth keep its master company,

As long as he’s alive on earth,

And in the end Wisdom is worth

More than twas at the beginning;

Tis always seeking new learning,

Thus diminishes not with time;

And a young man of noble mind,

If he uses his knowledge wisely,

Will be loved and valued highly;

For a woman should take delight

In loving a handsome man whose sight

Is set on grace and wisdom, hence

Gives witness to his great good sense.

Nonetheless, if he sought my counsel,

As to whether twould serve him well

To pen pretty rhymes and sonnets,

Compose tales, write sweet motets,

That he would despatch to his love,

For her to consider and approve,

Alas! I can do naught but declare

That little are they valued there.

The words perchance may win some praise,

But small the profit in that these days,

While if she saw a heavy purse,

Full ready its gold coins to disburse,

Rise up in place of poetry’s charms,

She’d run to it with open arms;

For women are so base in their ways,

Tis only purses they chase these days.

Once it used to be otherwise,

But all now seeks its own demise.’

Chapter XLVI: On the Golden Age

‘ONCE in the days of our first fathers,

Long ago, and of our first mothers,

(As the old writings witnessed so

That of these things we might know)

Lovers were loyal and proved true,

Free of covetousness, and lust too;

The age then was an age of gold.

Both food and clothing, we are told,

Were less luxurious than in this;

They gathered acorns, ate no fish,

Or meat, searching the woods instead,

And hill-slopes, for their daily bread,

Scouring all the peaks and valleys,

For apples, pears, sloes, mulberries,

For hips and haws, and raspberries,

Chestnuts, hazelnuts, strawberries,

Full all the many kinds of fruits,

And all the grasses, herbs and roots.

Thus they ground their ears of grain,

And gathered berries, in the plain,

And stole their honey from the bees

That built their nests in hollow trees,

Hives that granted treasure for free,

That nourished them abundantly;

While knowing naught of wine or mead,

They drank but clear water, indeed,

Naught that was distilled or brewed,

Or pressed, or stored in vats; all crude

Their husbandry, the earth unploughed,

That bore, as God and Nature allowed,

Many a thing that could still deliver,

Sweet comfort to every creature.

They fished not for pike or salmon,

And they dressed, each man and woman,

In shaggy skins, and robes of wool,

Not stained with dyes, but rough and dull,

Just as it came from the creature.

Their huts too were pieces of nature,

Covered o’er with branches and leaves,

Arms of broom, and grass in sheaves,

And these they’d dig a ditch around;

And if a tempest shook the ground

They’d hide among the rocks, or in

Deep-rooted trees, hollow within.’

Chapter XLVII: On primal innocence

(Lines 8713-8772)

How that the people, in times past,

No treasure of their own amassed,

But held in common everything,

And did without a prince or king.

Primal innocence

‘Primal innocence’

‘AND when at night their sleep they sought,

In place of feather-beds, they brought

Into their huts great piles of leaves,

And grass and moss tied up in sheaves.

And when calm was the firmament,

The weather clear and all pleasant,

And the wind was soft and gentle,

As in a spring-time made eternal,

And the birds did sing their matins,

And strove, in their own sweet Latin,

To welcome thus the dawn of day,

Which brings joy to the heart alway,

Then Zephyrus and his spouse Flora,

Fair goddess of the flowery order,

(For these two the flowers do nurture,

The flowers know no other master)

Passed through the world, far and wide.

They went sowing flowers beside,

Granting them form and colour,

Hues with which the flowers honour

Young lads and girls in garlands,

Lovely, joyful, and beribboned,

Honouring the love of true lovers,

Loving them above all others.

Thus with flowers the pair extended

Their counterpanes, and hues blended,

Lending such splendour to the grass,

The fields, and meadows, as they passed,

That you would think then that Earth

Might to strife and war give birth,

Proving more starry than the sky,

Her flowers bright in heaven’s eye.

Flowery couches those who joyed

In Love’s fair games thus employed,

And without covetousness or lust

Clasped and kissed, as lovers must.

The green pavilions of the trees

Stretched over them their canopies,

Protecting them all from the sun,

And curtaining them, every one.

There they danced, and did play

Their games, in leisurely display;

True folk, in calm security,

From every care and trouble free,

Living a life of happiness,

One with loyal friendship blessed.

Not yet had any prince or king

Erred, by from another stealing;

All were equal, twas well-known,

None sought possessions of their own;

For this wise saying they all knew,

No folly in this, for it rings true:

That Love and Lordship ne’er agree,

And ne’er shall keep good company.

Nor ever dwell in peace together;

The stronger shall them dissever.’

Chapter XLVIII: On Lordship and Love being at variance

(Lines 8773-8848)

Here the jealous spouse begins,

To scold his wife for her sins,

Before all; cries she’s too bold,

A false bawd when all is told.

The jealous man and his wife

‘The jealous man and his wife’

‘THUS in marriage conflict lies,

Where the husband thinks he’s wise,

And doth scold and beat his wife,

Such that she lives a life of strife;

Crying out at how she doth prance,

Staying out late, at the round dance,

Keeping ill company again,

With all the young and handsome men;

Such that true love cannot endure,

And suffering she knows full sore,

For he desires lordship no less

Over her, and all she doth possess.

“It is”, he cries, “pure giddiness,

And you a thing of foolishness.

For you, when I’m away working

You are off leaping and dancing,

Living a life of sheer bawdy,

Given to riot and ribaldry;

Singing like the Sirens, or worse;

God curse you, then, with the curse!

When I’m in Rome or in Friesland,

Our sale of merchandise in hand,

Then the pretty coquette you play.

Oh, I know well what folk do say,

A friend of mine doth it recall.

And if you’re asked about it all,

Why you dress so elegantly

In every place you choose to be,

You reply: ‘Come, come, tis for

My husband whom I do adore!’

For me alas? This poor fellow?

Who cares if I’m at the bellows

Or at the loom, alive or dead?

Come, strike me in the face instead,

With a Fool’s sheep’s-bladder too!

I’d not think myself worth a sou,

If I failed to scold you for it now.

Oh, tis a fine reputation, I vow,

That you grant me in boasting so;

All folk know you’re lying though.

For me, sad wretch, this is for me!

Ill gloves for my hands, certainly,

I fashioned; fooled myself, cruelly,

When I received you, trustingly,

On that day when we were wed.

For me, tis to that life you’re led?

For me, you do what you’re doing?

Who do you think you are fooling?

When I have not the power to see

You flaunting yourself in finery,

While those hot greedy libertines

Who wander, spying out the queans,

Can look you o’er from head to toe

As through the streets you blithely go.

Who do you peel those chestnuts for?

Than you, who could cheat me more?

A cape to keep off the rain, that’s me,

Whene’er I would keep you company.

I see you looking more innocent

In that coat, that wimple, of ill-intent

Than the meekest turtle-dove appears.

You care not if tis hours or years

We chance to spend alone together,

Howe’er placid may be my temper,

Though four bezants I might claim,

(Or scorn them perchance, from shame!)

I’ll not hold back from beating you,

That pride of yours to thus subdue.

You should know it pleases me not

For you to dress in who knows what

Fripperies, there, in the round dance;

Do so only in my presence.”

Chapter XLIX: The jealous husband’s tirade

(Lines 8849-8967)

How the jealous spouse reprehends

His wife, and tells her that she spends

Too much time in frivolities,

And thus is costing him his ease.

The jealous husband’s tirade

‘The jealous husband’s tirade’

“And then (to hide this no longer)

Is it that you’ve land to squander

On that young bachelor, mayhap,

Robichonnet of the green cap,

Who comes so quickly when you call?

They say you’re scarce apart at all,

But forever laughing together.

I don’t know what you discover

In him to merit your chatting so?

Your folly doth anger me though,

Your flagrant conduct; thus say I,

By that God who doth never lie,

I swear if you speak to him more,

Your face will be paler than before,

Then black and blue as a mulberry.

More than a few blows, God help me,

I’ll give you on that pretty visage,

That pleases libertines these days,

And drag you from the life you seek;

Then we’ll see you quiet and meek.

You’ll not go out except with me,

For toiling in the house you’ll be,

On a ball and chain; that’s your fate.

The devil has made you intimate

With those rascals so full of lies,

Men whom you ought to despise.

Did I not marry you to serve me?

Are you worthy of love from me,

When you run with pimps and tarts,

Because they do possess mad hearts,

And you find madness there in turn?

You’re a true whore, and fit to burn;

And I’ll trust you no more, tis true,

Twas the devil made me marry you.

If I’d listened to Theophrastus,

I’d not have taken a wife thus;

For he doth hold that man unwise,

Who himself to a woman ties,

Whether fair or ugly, rich or poor,

And he says tis true, what’s more,

(In his noble book ‘Aureolus’;

Read in school, twould benefit us)

That he must lead a grievous life,

Full indeed of trouble and strife,

And all the quarrels and fights that come

From the foolish pride of woman,

The difficulties and reproaches,

That a woman’s mouth e’er broaches,

And those demands and complaints,

That would test the patience of saints;

So hard it is to contain them,

From mad folly to restrain them.

And that man who would seek a wife,

Agrees to feed her all her life,

And to clothe her, and to shoe her,

And if he thinks it would be better

To make a rich woman an offer,

Then great the torment he’ll suffer.

He’ll find her overweening, proud,

Arrogant, haughty midst the crowd,

Not praising her husband in aught,

While disparaging, as worth naught,

His parents and his whole lineage,

In the most presumptuous language.

If she’s fair, then all will chase her,

All will honour her, all court her,

All will labour, all will quarrel,

All will strive, and all wage battle,

In studying how best to serve her;

All surround her, all desire her,

All seek favour, all beg of her,

Such that, in the end, they’ll win her;

Besiegers will not be denied

A tower attacked on every side.

If ugly, she’d solace one and all,

And how could any build a wall

Against all those who do appear,

If she desires all who come near?

No man can in this world exist,

Who wages war on all that is.

For given that she’s asked politely,

None will stop her being flighty.

Who knows how to take a prize,

Wins e’en a Penelope’s demise,

None was truer in Greece than her;

And do the same with Lucretia,

She who killed herself indeed,

When force was used in the deed,

By the king’s son, Tarquinius;

Yet none, says Titus Livius,

Her husband, father, kith or kin,

Could prevent her, for that sin,

Committing suicide, however

Hard they tried to dissuade her.

They all sought her tears to lave,

Many a good reason they gave,

Her husband most particularly

Sought to act right mercifully,

And with kind heart pardoned her,

Utterly, and then spoke with her,

And sought, with all his strength,

To prove, by reason and at length,

Her body had incurred no sin,

Since her heart willed not the sin;

For the body proves innocent

If the heart withholds consent.

A knife against her breast, though,

Still clinging tightly to her woe,

She held, so none might see her,

When the blow she did deliver;

And she replied, with modesty,

‘Fair lords, whoe’er pardons me

For the sin burdening my heart,

No matter the pardoner’s art,

Myself indeed I cannot pardon.’”

Chapter L: Of Lucretia’s fate, and of women in general

(Lines 8968-9307)

How Lucretia, in great despair,

Pierced her heart, and fell there

Before husband, kith and kin,

Thus expiating Tarquin’s sin.

The suicide of Lucretia

‘The suicide of Lucretia’

“AND thus, anguished by her burden,

As with the knife her heart she found,

Fell dead before them, on the ground;

Yet ere she did she begged and prayed

That retribution might be made,

Thus, by example, to ensure

That such vile force be used no more;

With death the sentence for that sin.

So the king, and his son Tarquin,

Were banished, and in exile died,

And honour thus was satisfied.

Nor did the Romans from that date

Seek a king as Rome’s head of state. 

And yet there is no Lucretia,

No Penelope as in Homer,

Not one honest woman in sight,

If one knows how to ask aright.

So said the pagans, who were wise;

And none e’er found it otherwise.

If women lack suitors for a day,

Then they give themselves away.

And men who do wed a woman,

Obey a most marvellous custom, 

For the ill affair their folk arrange,

Which strikes me as passing strange.

I know not whence comes this folly,

If tis not a bout of pure lunacy;

For I see a man who buys a horse,

Is not such a fool but, in due course,

Ere he puts money down, views it

Thoroughly, for he might refuse it.

He looks it over and tries it out,

But a bride is so wrapped about

That naught can a man discover;

And yet not gain or loss, however,

Is their aim, comfort or unease,

But simply that she not displease

Before she is good and married.

And then, when the day is carried,

Comes the first show of malice,

And ever a vice and ne’er a kiss;

And the fool finds her true vein,

Now, with repentance all in vain.

Thus I know, and most certainly,

No man, no matter how prudently

She acts, can to marriage assent,

Other than fools, and not repent.

Honest women, by Saint Denis,

Are scarcer than phoenixes be,

As Valerius bears witness,

Nor can one love such a mistress,

Without a burden of fear and care,

And whatever mischance be there.

Scarcer than phoenixes? My life,

A better thought would be a wife,

Like that, is rare as a white crow!

And tis not beauty makes her so.

In spite of all that may be said,

(And lest all here on earth be led

To say that I wage war on the lot,

With impunity, for I say not)

He who’d a worthy one encounter,

Whether at large, or in the cloister,

And searches hard, will find a dearth;

Tis a rare enough bird on earth,

And as easy to recognise,

As a black swan, to mortal eyes.

Juvenal doth confirm the same,

When he doth make this solid claim:

‘If you a chaste wife should reveal,

Off to the temple run, there kneel;

Bow down, and worship Jupiter,

Then you a sacrifice should offer,

To the honoured Lady Juno; slay

A cow with gilded horns, that day;

For no more marvellous adventure

Will have befallen any creature.’

And who would love the wicked kind,

Who, here and overseas, you’ll find,

(As Valerius recounts, forsooth,

Who’s not ashamed to tell the truth)

Swarm more thickly than the bees,

That cluster deep in hollow trees,

To what end doth he think to come?

He doth himself ill who will plumb

Such depths for, swallowed whole,

He must lose both body and soul.

Valerius who was sorely grieved

When his friend Rufinus conceived

The idea that he should marry,

Spoke thus to Rufinus, sternly:

‘May all-powerful God, my friend,

From falling into her snare defend

You; that woman who, with her art,

Will ruin all, and break your heart.’

And Juvenal wrote much the same,

To Postumus when marriage came:

‘Postumus would you take a wife?

Is there no rope, upon my life,

For sale, some strong belt, some halter?

Go leap from a window, rather,

One of those high ones I can see,

Or from a tall cliff into the sea.

What is it tempts you, I say again,

To such great torment, to such pain?

King Phoroneus himself, who,

As we learn, did grant laws to

The Greek people, spoke when he

Was on his deathbed, fervently,

To Leonce who was his brother:

‘Brother’, said he, ‘far happier

Would I prove in dying if I

Had ne’er taken a wife. And why?’

(Expecting Leonce’s question

And so giving him the reason)

‘All husbands find it thus, I know,

And by experiment prove it so.

And when you have taken a wife,

You’ll know it too, upon my life.”

Chapter L: Of Abelard and Heloise

“PIERRE Abelard doth confess

That Sister Eloise, the Abbess,

Of the Paraclete, his lover,

Would not have him take her

As his wedded wife for aught.

For that noble lady, well-taught,

Well-lettered, and knowledgeable,

And loving, and most loveable,

Had raised many an argument

Decrying any such intent,

Proving to him that, by reason

And precedent, the condition

Of marriage made for a hard life,

No matter how prudent the wife.

For she had read the books through,

And studied them, also she knew

All of the ways of womankind,

She’d exercised in body and mind.

And so she asked him to love her,

And yet make no claims upon her,

Except those of grace and liberty,

All free of lordship and mastery,

And so be able then to study

Unbound, be his own man, freely;

And told him that, in any case,

A greater pleasure they would taste,

Greater solace would discover,

If they rarely saw each other.

But, he tells us, he loved her so

He did espouse her, even though

Twas counter to her admonition,

And led to sorrow and perdition:

For after she’d taken the habit

At Argenteuil, as seemed fit,

(By joint accord, it seems to me)

Pierre was castrated, forcibly,

In Paris, in his bed, at night,

And woeful then was his plight.

He became, after this mischance,

A monk at Saint Denis in France,

Then abbot of a second abbey,

And founded a famous abbey,

That he named, when twas complete,

The Oratory of the Paraclete,

Of which Eloise became abbess,

Who the nun’s calling did profess.

Yet she herself, without shame,

Did both recount and write this same,

To him she’d taken as her lover,

Calling him her lord and father,

This passage, in content wondrous,

That many folk think pure madness,

Which appears among her letters,

If you search their many chapters,

Where her thought she did express,

And sent to him, though an abbess:

‘If the Emperor of Rome, to whom

All should be subject, I presume,

Deigned to wish to take a wife,

And make me mistress of his life,

And the world, I’d rather,’ said she,

‘Be called your whore, eternally,

As God Himself is my witness,

Than be crowned as his empress.’

Yet, upon my soul, I think never

Lived such a woman as her ever.

I believe her learning placed her

In such a position that thereafter,

She was better able to conquer,

And subdue, a woman’s nature.

And had Pierre but listened to her,

Then he would never have wed her.”

Chapter L: The jealous husband continues to rant against marriage

“FOR marriage is an evil bond,

By Saint Julian, he who’s fond

Of granting wandering pilgrims ease,

And by Saint Leonard, he who frees

Prisoners who do in truth repent,

When he hears their sad lament.

If the hangman had robbed me of life

That day I had to take me a wife,

Twould have been better, instead

Of wedding one who strikes me dead.

For, by the Son of Blessed Mary,

What’s your elegance worth to me,

In that fine and costly dress, there,

You with your nose stuck in the air,

That dress that after you doth flow,

If it irks me, and vexes so?

Why with such pride tread the stage,

Only to drive me mad with rage?

Where is the gain to me from it,

When tis others alone who profit?

In truth it brings me naught but harm.

For when I’d sample of your charm,

I find your dress so encumbering,

I can ne’er get hold of the thing;

Tis troublesome, tis frustrating,

I can’t touch you, so irritating

How you parry, and whirl about,

With arms and hips keep me out,

Twisting and turning from me so,

I don’t know why, and yet I know,

Full well, that all my love for you

Comforts you not nor pleases you.

Even at night when I’m in bed,

And ready to welcome you, instead

There you are, forever undressing,

While I’m lying there doing nothing.

You’ve an oh so delicate coif in white,

On your head, and your rich lace might

In blue or green, conceal your body,

Beneath the coif so sweet and pretty,

And all those robes with fur lining

From all the poles there are hanging,

All through the night, so they can air.

What worth have they to me, I swear,

Except to sell or pawn some day?

Let me be burned, and melt away,

Or die of spleen, and raging fall,

If I don’t sell and pawn them all;

For since they vex me in the light,

And bring me scant delight at night,

What profit can I have from them

Except to sell or to pawn them?

And, if the truth you’d but admit,

You are worth no more by it. 

In intellect or loyalty,

Nor even, by God, in beauty.

If one, by way of contradiction,

Wished to express the opinion

That various things are suitable

Often for quite different people,

And that fine clothes are lovely

For a young girl, or fair lady,

Then whoe’er said it was true

I would say they lied to you,

For the beauty one supposes

To accrue from violets, roses,

Silken drapes or fleur-de-lis,

So the learned books tell me,

Are in them, not in the lady.

Naught but her natural beauty

Will any woman own in life,

And that is true of every wife.

And I claim the same, as I do

Of beauty, in regard to virtue;

And say, to justify my claim,

That if one possessed the aim

Of covering a midden in silk,

Or little flowers, twere all in vain,

A midden it would still remain

And with the customary smell,

That it possessed before, as well.

And if some person choose to say

That though the midden’s ill within,

Without, new beauty it doth win;

And thus do ladies seek apparel,

To show as yet more beautiful,

Or hide ugliness from the eye.

I’faith, I know no good reply,

Except to say that such deception,

Is born of that most foolish vision

Owned by those who see them so,

And whose hearts madly follow,

That oh-so-pleasant impression,

Created by imagination;

Nor do they know how to tell,

Truth from lie, not seeing well

Enough to counter the sophism,

Due to their deluded vision.

Yet if they had a lynx’s eyes,

Beauty they would not surmise

In woman, from sable mantles,

Cunning sur-coats, pretty kirtles,

Kerchiefs, and fine headpieces,

Silk chemises, fair pelisses,

Nor their gems, and jewellery,

Nor their disguised coquetry,

All that gleams, the superficial

Which makes them but artificial,

Nor let chaplets of fresh flowers,

Be confused with Beauty’s powers.

For however well Nature,

Had formed once, in hue and feature,

Alcibiades’ fair body,

Which did ever own to beauty,

Whoe’er within the man could see,

Would have thought him truly ugly.

For so declares Boethius,

A man both wise and virtuous;

And quotes, as his authority,

Aristotle, who, reliably,

Notes the lynx-eye’s clear gaze

So strong, so piercing, always,

That it sees all, inside and out,

Of all it views, without a doubt.

Thus not even in ancient Greece,

Were Beauty and Chastity at peace,

Always there was such great strife

That ne’er in story, upon my life,

Or in song, have I heard of them,

Aught could ever reconcile them.

And such are they at mortal war,

That the one will yield what’s more

Nor a foot of ground to the other,

If it means that she may conquer.

Yet they are matched so unfairly,

That with Chastity it goes hardly;

Whether she doth fight or defend,

She knows so little, in the end,

Of thrust and parry, she must yield,

Lacking the power to win the field,

Against Beauty’s trenchant blade.

Even Ugliness, her chambermaid,

Who owes her service and honour,

Too little values her, or loves her,

Not to chase her from her dwelling.”

The End of Part III of the Romance of the Rose Continuation