René d'Anjou

The Book of the Heart Seized by Love
(Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris)

Part I: The Quest for Sweet Mercy

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved.

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René of Anjou (1409–1480) was Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence from 1434 to 1480, and also reigned as King of Naples from 1435 to 1442. He spent his last years in Aix-en-Provence, and was known there as the Good King René. He was a great-grandson of John II of France, and his sister Marie married Charles VII of France. He was also for several years Duke of Bar and Duke of Lorraine. His younger daughter Margaret married Henry VI of England.

Twice wed, Rene took a lesser part in military and political affairs after his second marriage, devoting himself to the arts and domestic pursuits. An amateur painter himself, he sponsored a number of works in the Early Netherlandish style, employing Barthélemy d’Eyck as his court artist, developing, as patron, a school of fine arts in sculpture, painting, goldsmith’s work and tapestry. He also revived a lapsed order of chivalry, the Order of the Crescent.

He exchanged verses with his kinsman, the poet Charles d’Orléans, was influenced by the works of Alain Chartier, and amongst other creative efforts, was the author of two allegorical works: a devotional dialogue, Le Mortifiement de vaine plaisance (The Mortification of Vain Pleasure, 1455), and the love quest translated here, Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris (The Book of the Heart Seized by Love, 1457). This latter employs the conventions of Arthurian romance to create a detailed allegory of love with affinities to Guillaume de Lorris’ original Romance of the Rose, developing and enriching the efforts of previous writers, and encapsulating the Medieval period to the benefit of the imminent Renaissance. Both of the aforesaid works by René were finely illustrated by Barthélémy d’Eyck. René also sponsored a fresh translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1467). Two of the finest extant illuminated manuscripts of Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris are Codex 2597 in the Austrian National Library (Vienna), and fr. 24399 in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris).

Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris is dedicated to Jean II, Duc de Bourbon (1426-1488), Constable of France (1483), and the brother of René’s daughter-in-law, Marie de Bourbon, who had married his son Jean (de Calabre). Jean II married Jeanne, a daughter of Charles VII of France, and René’s niece. Jean II’s father, Charles, had assisted in the release of René from earlier captivity in Burgundy (1436), and the dedication is evidence of a firm friendship, between the ‘cousins’, René and Charles’ son, Jean II.

The translation rendered here mirrors the mix of verse and prose in which the work was written, the verse being in rhymed couplets, in varying metres.

Chapter I: Rene’s dedication of the work to Jean, Duc de Bourbon

Most high and puissant prince, my most dearly beloved ‘cousin and nephew’, Jean, Duc de Bourbon et Auvergne, etc. I, René, dedicate this pitiful plaint to you, as to one with whom, above all other princes, I have the closest acquaintance, and in whom I place the greatest love and confidence; as well I ought, for long since, even in childhood, your late father and I were always in company, witnessing between us a perfect affection, worthy of a pair of true brothers.  Likewise, I have ever experienced your kindness, before and since your father’s passing, and have found in you a perfect, benevolent, and loyal friend, such that I am much attached to you and indebted to you to a greater extent than I could ever deserve.

It is for that reason that I address my plaint to you, above all others living, while hoping that you will grant me good and sound counsel. One question exists that always possesses me; as to which of these three, Fortune, Love or Destiny, I should accuse of the wrong felt by my heart, and the pains I truly endure: for one of the three has plunged me more deeply in sorrow and torment than I can say, and I know not which to consider truly guilty of the charge and most worthy of punishment. For on that day when I first encountered my lady, Fortune, above all others, led me there, if am not deceived, I not knowing the why and wherefore, and I went that way, fearing no ill. And then, when I had come there, Love lying in ambush within the defences of that beautiful and noble lady, was not long in releasing the arrow of a glance, from her sweet and lively eyes, which struck me to the heart. And furthermore, since then, my Destiny, as I perceive it, has obliged my memory to think endlessly of the lady in question, and concentrate my attention upon her, without respite or repose, more so than upon any other living.

To which, then, of the three I have named above, to attribute the cause of my suffering, I know not, except to them all, and each of them separately; for, because of my loyalty, all have contributed according to their powers, and in such a manner, that I am still in such a state that I know how to remedy it by my own efforts. Thus, languishing, I dwell without the strength to heal myself or die: a state which you will find described precisely, in allegory, in this little book, if you are pleased to read on. 

Amor delivers Rene’s heart to Desire

‘Amor delivers Rene’s heart to Desire’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 2r: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter I: René’s Heart (Coeur) departs in the company of Desire

One night, in the month just past,

Wearied, suffering, and harassed,

I lay pondering, upon my bed,

Like to one that his heart has wed

To Love’s laws, and his mercy,

Such that my life was completely

Consumed in tears and plaints, whereby

Sweet accord I might gain thereby,

To purchase which I’d long endured

More pain and torment, rest assured,

Than any lover has, bodily;

For my sad heart was totally

Consumed by strong and fierce desire,

So ardent and intense a fire,

There ne’er was a worse malady.

What would you have me say? To me

It seemed incredible, for, you see,

It proved a kindly enmity,

A sweet war, and a sour savour,

Pleasing tedium, ill favour,

A rest, that gave but scant repose,

A combat, yet devoid of blows,

A hurt, without an open wound,

My heart revealed, and yet attuned

To secrecy, such that I knew

Not what would come of me, for few

Signs of Pity my lady showed,

Such that I thought that naught bestowed

On me the power to save my life,

Or endure such a weight of strife,

Since Refusal, working treason,

Would destroy me, without reason.

Thus, I knew not what I might do,

On this night, I’ve described to you,

Troubled, and on the verge of death,

Upon the point of my last breath.

Then, at least in imagination,

Stirring in sleep, in pure vexation,

Whether in vision, or in dream,

(Here, I lie not) to me it did seem,

Love drew the Heart from out my breast,

Handing it to Desire, my guest,

Who spoke thus to my woeful Heart:

‘If you would obtain, for your part,

Sweet Mercy yet, from your lady,

You must do chivalric duty,

And acquire it by force of arms,

Seeking to conquer her fair charms,

By defeating Refusal who,

Gainst all lovers in his purview,

Keeps the fortress, where Sweet Mercy

Is doubly bound, held securely

In the bonds of both Fear and Shame.

Go with me, now, in honour’s name,’

Said Desire, ‘and no more delay.’

Then, with my Heart, he stole away.  

Chapter II: Desire equips the Heart for its quest

Just as many stories have been read and related, in order to preserve the perpetual memory of the great deeds and exploits, the great victories and acts of courage in war, the marvellous events and most perilous adventures undertaken, laboured over, and accomplished by brave and steadfast knights, such as Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Tristan, Palamedes, and other noble knights of the Round Table in the days of King Arthur, in their quest for the Holy Grail, deeds the ancient histories recount in detail, so, to render my own work more comprehensible for you, who relate the quest for Sweet Mercy undertaken by the Heart seized by Love, I have adopted the style of those writings concerning the Grail, in describing how and with what armour Desire equipped the Heart. Namely: a suit of chain mail, forged of the Will, and wondrously solid, to resist the strokes and blows of Refusal and Denial, which even that mightiest of all, Despair-in-Love, in the mist of the fiercest combat and battle in the world was unable to pierce or harm.

Truly, it was always in these terms that Coeur heard Desire speak, and promise, and affirm his loyalty to him. But it was not thus in actuality, for, later, he was pierced and wounded many a time and often through this coat of mail, and not only through that garment, for neither buckler nor shield could prevent his being ill-treated, as you will hear recounted in detail. But the loving Heart, who, throughout the quest, rightly or wrongly, adhered closely to Desire’s counsel, believed him so readily that he had confidence in this hauberk, and trusted it with his life; such that he dressed himself in it rapidly, without delay.

After this, Desire girded to Heart’s side a sharp and trenchant sword of steel, wholly forged and wrought of most humble requests and pleas, and finely tempered in tears of pity, such that none of brute Refusal’s weapons could destroy one so amorous. To add to the steel sword, Desire gave him a helm, woven entirely of the flowers of amorous thoughts, enjoining him to wear this above all, for this alone was most useful of all to every amorous heart that sought to win a lady’s mercy. Furthermore, Desire conferred on him a shield composed of pure hope, large, and broad, and opulent, composed of three forget-me-not flowers and bordered with sad sighs; Coeur hung this carefully round his neck, to protect him when needed.

When Desire saw Coeur armed and equipped thus, he was joyful and content. Then with his own hands he fixed sharp spurs of loving memory to Coeur’s feet, and had him mount on a wondrously great warhorse, tall and strong, named Free-Will, as seasoned as you would wish in every kind of combat, deed of arms, and encounter with the lance. When Coeur saw himself so well armed, mounted and clad, he thought none more content or joyful than himself! As regards satisfaction, I say naught, for that sweet reward was yet to arrive.

Desire now placed in his hand a lance of cypress-wood, wondrously thick and long in proportion, with an iron tip of concessions, sharp with promises, with which to confound all the enemies of Love. Then Coeur pricked his steed with the spurs of amorous memory, and Free-Will, scarcely restrained, leapt forward despite himself; but Desire, inflamed, pursued him closely, while reassuring him gently, and encouraging him in these terms:

Chapter II: Desire calms Coeur’s steed, Free-Will

‘If ever a courteous and loving heart

Ought to find happiness, through Love’s sweet art,

You are that one, Coeur, though you grasp it not,

For you have chosen, indeed, as your lot,

The noblest beauty of all, young and fair,

That the most perfect qualities doth share,

Compared to all who are, or yet shall be.

Now who is daring enough we shall see,

To enter on the quest, faithful ever,

And fearing naught, be it sweet or bitter,

So as to win the prize of sweet mercy,

For ne’er has heart chosen one so lovely,

From head to toe, pure beauty, in a breath.

Be it otherwise, I’ll submit to death!

Nature has left there nothing more to do,

She’s an ideal for lovers, made so you

Might strive the harder to acquire the prize

And praise; believe me, for I tell no lies!’

Chapter III: Coeur and Desire reach a pavilion in a meadow

Then, so the story tells, as soon as Coeur had heard Desire speak thus, he delayed no longer, but set himself to gallop swiftly along the road before him, towards adventure, and swore by the heavens above that he would not halt in any fixed place until he had gained, by his prowess, sweet mercy from his noble lady, without which he would be forced to die upon the spot, for Desire’s speech to him had so inflamed him that he was wholly inspired. In this manner he departed, and Desire, his companion, followed him closely.

And the story tells that he progressed so, travelling for some days without encountering any adventure worth the telling, until on a certain day, at the entrance to a great forest, in a strange country, a quite unknown land, he came upon an erect pavilion, wondrously luxurious and pleasant to see, in a grassy meadow, under a fine tall pine-tree, the latter being full green and straight. The tent seemed to be wrought of precious stuff for the border that ran the length of its canopy was embroidered in a leafy design, richly enhanced with pearls.

At the entrance to this pavilion, more within than without, beneath the canopy, was a square-cut pillar of jasper, about half a lance’s length in height, and three feet wide on each side; on this pillar, letters, skilfully engraved of old, read as follows:

Chapter III: The writing on the pillar of jasper

‘O all you, hearts, both noble and gracious,

That, for honour’s sake, would win the precious

Gifts of sweetest grace, and blessed mercy,

From the God of Love, and from your lady,

Ne’er allow your loving thoughts to alter,

Or stray from your first and only lover.

Be faithful, without ever varying,

And I’ll ever pity you in loving.’ 

Chapter IV: Coeur and Desire encounter Hope

While Coeur was reading the inscription on the pillar, leaning over his saddle-bow, full of wonder and deeply pensive, for he wished to know who had once commanded the writing and engraving of those letters, you might have seen a lady emerge from the pavilion, seeming of a mature age, of noble allure, and luxuriously and royally dressed. She wore a robe purple in colour, her shoulders covered by a mantle trimmed with grey fur, and her head bore a golden crown. This lady seized Coeur’s steed by the bridle, so suddenly that he could not evade her. He began to tremble and change colour, ashamed that a woman had proved strong enough to seize the bridle (he who thought himself so proud and strong that two knights at least would be needed to arrest him thus) and sought to spur his horse on, but in vain; he was forced to halt, whether he would or no, so firmly had she gripped his bridle. Finding it was thus, he slid to the ground, asking and praying her to say who she was, and why she had thus arrested him, addressing her in these words:

Coeur and Desire encounter Lady Hope

‘Coeur and Desire encounter Lady Hope’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 5v: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter IV: Coeur addresses the lady

‘In God’s name, lady, if you please

So as to set my mind at ease,

Tell me, your servant, of your state

For you seem to be blessed by fate,

Noble, and sweet, and wise indeed.

And if, ere now, I paid scant heed

To yourself, was rude in manner,

In paying my respects, twas rather

Due to the endless depths of thought

Into which I had plunged, unsought,

Through the letters that met my eyes

On the pillar that here doth rise,

Which I have read, and deem that none

Have ever the like looked upon.

That is the reason why I pray

That you’ll offer but scant delay

In absolving me of all blame,

And will deign to reveal your name.’

Chapter V: Hope explains the journey he must make

Then the story relates that when Coeur had spoken, courteously thus, to the lady, she took him by the hand and responded in these terms:

You, Coeur, who so deeply desire

To know my name and state entire,

Listen to me, without interruption

And you shall hear of my condition,

What I serve, and what may share,

My name, and my every affair.

Ny name is Hope, I say to you,

Without which a man naught may do,

Nor speak, to advance his lot,

For you know, if you’ve not forgot,

And every man knows this same,

Who has sense and wit to his name,

That, unless hope leads him ever,

Much pain will greet all endeavour.

And the writing that you have seen

On the pillar, and read, I ween,

Twas Love that had it written there,

To comfort those who seek to dare

What lies before them, and so gain

What you would win, whate’er the pain.

For by this road such folk must pass,

And without me be lost, alas;

Lacking me they labour in vain,

As did, indeed, my lord Gawain.

I shall tell you what you must do,

And how to comport yourself too,

If you to my words now attend

Listening carefully, till the end.

You’ll undergo great woes, that often

Seem beyond the bounds of reason,

For this is how Love, have no doubt,

Deals his rewards and ills about,

Whether deserved or undeserved,

Caring not how a lover’s served.

Thus, the Forest of Long-Delay,

You must enter; attention pay!

From the Fountain of Fortune drink,

Tis ne’er the same for all, I think,

And from the fountain you may go

Through Profound Thought’s valley so.

You will pass the River of Tears

Ere the end of that vale appears,

Towards the mound, Devoid-of-Joy,

You must then a path employ,

And in the meadow of Harsh-Reply

Your steed will more than once, say I

Graze on the bitter grass therein,

But you must pass it, for your sin,

And take the path more dangerous,

They call the Passage Perilous.

But, there, be on your guard, I say,

The road of Unreason lies that way;

By it you’ll reach the mansion there,

The house within which dwells Despair.

And if you chance to enter in,

This is what you must do therein:

Always keep my presence in mind

Thus, true victory you shall find,

For you will reach the road e’er sought,

The path, that is, of Joyous Thought.

Thereon, with Mercy you will meet,

Though heart’s affliction first will greet

Your quest, ere you succeed, instead

You’ll feel a sharp blow to the head,

From Harsh Refusal and Denial,

For both will put you to the trial;

While, if Despair seeks to employ

His weapons, you’ll ne’er meet with joy.

If you but keep remembrance by

Of my fair name, for Hope am I,

Thereby Sweet Mercy you shall own,

And every good the world has known.’

Chapter VI: Coeur is consoled by her speech

Here, the story says that, when Lady Hope had spoken thus, and consoled Coeur, as you have heard, he grew sorrowful and pensive and a little troubled by the great perils and tribulations which Lady Hope had revealed to him and through which he must pass if his enterprise were to be successfully concluded. Thenceforth, the presence and fair speech of the lady would comfort him greatly. But, for the moment, the tale ceases to speak of Coeur and Lady Hope, and returns to Desire, who had counselled Coeur as to his enterprise, and armed and equipped him in the manner previously related.

Chapter VII: Coeur re-joins Desire

The story now relates that this noble young man, Desire, once he had satisfactorily and thoroughly equipped the Heart seized by Love, clad him and set him in the saddle, never leaving his side for a moment; on the contrary, wherever Coeur went young Desire followed him so closely that he was never out of his sight. Desire, then, in the course of his journey, directed, guided and conducted him to Lady Hope’s pavilion, as one who well knew the road, having led many there before. And then, after the conversation with Lady Hope which you have heard me relate previously, Coeur re-joined Desire, whom he found close to the pavilion, that is to say beneath the pine-tree, whence Desire had uttered not a word while Lady Hope was speaking, and Coeur addressed him as follows:

Chapter VII: Coeur places himself in Desire’s hands

‘Desire, my gracious friend and master,

You have, with the Lord’s aid, led me hither,

Protected, guided, and conducted me,

Knowing that none born of woman, truly,

Was e’er more desirous of Hope’s counsel,

Which is assuredly beyond all equal.

Be so good then as to guide me rightly,

In all of my actions, and instruct me

Encourage, counsel, warn me, of your grace,

And also, in God’s name, grant me solace,

And lead me back to Hope’s true road, ever,

For I trust you more than any other, 

You who know the paths Love doth devise,

Where lovers pass, the foolish and the wise.

Now lead on, sweet friend, and seek the new,

For, if God pleases, I will follow you.’

Chapter VIII: They reach a hermitage and encounter a female dwarf

The tale relates that, after Coeur had spoken thus, Desire instantly, and without saying a word, was the first to spur his steed onwards, taking the broad road that he found, on the left, close to the pavilion. Coeur, also, on seeing Desire depart, commended Lady Hope to God, who commended him to God equally, and to his lady, and wished him well in all his adventures. Then Coeur departed, close on the heels of Desire; they journeyed for several days without coming across anything worth relating or germane to our story.

The young nobleman Desire, and the noble Coeur, that Heart seized by Love, wandered long midst vales and mountains, through wide plains and forests, until one fine evening, at the hour of vespers to be exact, having ridden the trail from daybreak, without finding lodgings or a place to rest, they arrived at a certain place. There Coeur beheld, immediately before him, on descending a hill, a hermitage at the edge of a forest, which seemed to him the deepest, most terrible and shadowy, dark and appalling forest of which any had ever heard tell. Coeur was most troubled at the sight, and no less so on seeing that Desire advanced without halting. He followed nonetheless, approaching nearer to the dark and terrible forest, and the one thing that consoled him as he rode on was the hope of hearing favourable news at the aforesaid hermitage.

Thus, they rode on to the hermitage, before which Desire halted, as did Coeur. Desire called out in a loud voice, seeking to know if there was any living soul within. He had no spent long in doing so, when there emerged from the hermitage, via the chapel door, which was narrow and low, and of an ancient style, a hunchbacked female dwarf, misshapen in face as well as body, with thick dark hair, stiff, harsh and bristling and almost a foot and a half in length, as if it belonged to the hide of an old wild-boar. Her eyes were glowing and inflamed, like burning coals; her face and brow was dark, wrinkled and hideous; she had shaggy eyebrows, a long, twisted nose, a wide mouth stretching to her ears which hung down more than a palm’s length, long yellow irregular teeth, and great sagging breasts. Her shoulders were above the level of her ears, her arms were short, strong and hairy, her haunches high, her legs scratched and scarred by thorns. She had large flat feet like a swan, and wore nothing but a pair of lion’s skins, complete with their hair, knotted over her shoulders. Truly this was a creature of little grace, or courtesy, odious and unlovable!

Young Desire, nevertheless, advanced, knowing that country and its language, and addressed the dwarf in the following manner:

Coeur and Desir before the hermitage of the dwarf Jealousy

‘Coeur and Desir before the hermitage of the dwarf Jealousy’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 9r: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter VIII: Desire addresses her

‘If you’d be saved, fair dwarf, draw near!

As now the shades of night appear,

Ask the hermit, who dwells within

This place, if we may lodge herein,

And he shall do us a courtesy,

Which shall win him merit, for we

Are two knights errant who wander here,

Seeking adventure, far or near.’

Chapter IX: The dwarf replies angrily

The author says that, when Desire had finished speaking to the dwarf, as courteously as he knew how, hoping to find lodging for the night at the hermitage, the dwarf, full of anger and discontent, wrinkled her brow, grew red and then pale, her expression one of indignation, and answered Desire:

‘If I know aught of you, young stranger,

Little man who’d play the master,

I’ll not move, e’en a step, for you,

For aught on earth, within my view.

But, tell me your rank, and your name,

And if they’re good, I’ll do that same.

Come, tell me this other’s name also

Who, I see, at your heels doth go,

And where you are going to, and why,

And what you wish, and seek, thereby;

Or, if you will not, off with you, now;

And God with ills your shoulders bow!’

Chapter X: Of the dwarf, Jealousy, and of the youth, Fair-Welcome

When the two companions heard themselves thus rebuffed and ill-received by so ugly a creature, an ill-shapen humpbacked crone of a dwarf, Coeur almost lost his patience and would have struck the dwarf if Desire had not prevented him. They subsequently agreed that since she was a woman, and ugly besides, they would do her no ill, since it would bring them little honour; on the contrary they spoke courteously to her, hoping to obtain lodging, for the sun was already setting and they were weary, worn and famished. Thus, they resolved to tell the dwarf their names, and the object of their enterprise.

If you were to ask me to say if there was any other than the aged dwarf in that hermitage, and the name of the old crone, I would reply that she was named Jealousy and that she held a handsome youth, Fair-Welcome, a prisoner within the hermitage, who was there to instruct and guide true lovers who sought to penetrate the forest of Long-Delay. And the old trickster had gagged him before he could utter a cry, and then posted herself before the entrance to the hermitage to thwart Fair-Welcome’s designs.

Coeur spoke to her, seeking to seem more amiable and receive a better response than his companion, saying:

Chapter X: Coeur tells Jealousy of their purpose

‘Fair dwarf, I’ll tell the truth to you,

As best I can, as to what we do,

For the noble should ne’er tell a lie,

For fear that they’ll gain ill thereby.

I’ve no fear of you otherwise,

But shall not deign to utter lies.

Desire is my companion’s name,

Joy to lovers he brings, that same,

And I am the Heart seized by love,

For such is the force that doth move

My being; we pursue a quest,

At our own, none other’s, behest,

To seek to win to Sweet Mercy,

As God allows, most graciously!

Now I’ve told you of our affair,

For God’s sake, let us enter there,

Where we may ask the kind hermit,

Who’ll prove I think no hypocrite,

If he’ll please to lodge us within,

Without more ado, and favour win.’

Chapter XI: Jealousy departs, and returns with ill-intention

Here, the tale relates that, when the old dwarf Jealousy, having listened to Coeur, who seemed pleasing in his speech, nonetheless realised that that they were of the company of the god of Love, her mortal enemy, and were in search of Sweet Mercy she was seized, more than heretofore, by anger and discontent. Then, the false crone, full of wickedness and treachery, entered the hermitage, with the pretence of going to speak with the hermit; but shortly afterwards she returned, without having spoken to a soul – for there was no hermit within – and spoke again to the two companions, addressing them in the following way:

Chapter XI: Jealousy’s reply to Coeur and Desire

‘Begone from here, companions in valour,

You, who preen yourselves in royal manner!

For to speak as succinctly as I might,

You shall not lodge in this fair place tonight,

Since the hermit, who all alone doth dwell,

Cares not for those enchanted by Love’s spell,

And opposes every least request indeed,

Which oft leads on to many a misdeed,

While if you seek to force him to comply,

He’d rather see the flames leap on high,

And set fire to his dwelling, so he said,

For he told me to bar the door, instead.

Nonetheless, I’ll tell you what to do,

And how you may lodge, the pair of you,

More pleasantly than you now seek to, here,

And you’ll find no better place, tis clear,

Though you were at Orléans; you must go

By the road to the left, I’d have you know,

And enter the forest, with scant delay, 

Halting not for an instant, on the way,

For a league and a half, or thereabout.

You’ll find a person there, without a doubt,

Who will lodge you most finely, and take care

Of those fine steeds that your lordships bear;

They call that place, if I dare say the name,

The Manor of Fair-Repose; in that same

You’ll lodge well for, I tell you no lie,

He’s a friend to all lovers who pass by.

Ride on, good sirs, and you’ll not go astray,

Just as long as you take the road I say.

You both sit astride fine steeds; tis light,

As yet, and you will reach it ere tis night.’

Chapter XII: The Forest of Long-Delay and the Fountain of Fortune

Now the story relates that when the two youths had heard the old dwarf’s speech, they believed her, and trusted in what she had told them, even though she seemed filled with anger and discontent, not thinking that she sought their ill, but rather imagining that she spoke in good faith. Thus, they saluted her, and commended her to God, and she saluted them in return. They spurred their horses, and rode hard, so as to arrive, in a short while, at the Forest of Long-Delay, though they failed to arrive before night had overtaken them.

They entered the forest, and set their steeds to follow the path indicated by the old dwarf Jealousy. They journeyed till the trail led them into thick brushwood, where the woodsmen had recently felled the trees and piled the logs. Ask not if they had trouble advancing, they and their steeds, for the brushwood was so dense that the branches and thorns scratched their faces, and lacerated their mounts everywhere; for two hours they laboured without issuing from the tangle. Nonetheless they strove so vigorously that they emerged on a little path, always bending to the left, as old Jealousy had indicated, which led into the heart of the forest. They journeyed, hour after hour, that night, at the whim of chance, until they came upon a little clearing, long, and about a bowshot wide, surrounded all about by the dense forest.

Desire, who was in front, looked around him and saw, in the midst of this clearing, a wondrously tall aspen-tree; he rode towards it for it seemed a fine place to rest, and he was tired and worn in the extreme, having ridden hard all the way, in the depths of night, without eating or drinking. Coeur, pensive and melancholy, followed him closely. Thye both arrived beneath the aspen-tree and agreed to set foot on the ground and rest there awhile, and allow their mounts to graze, they being in great need of doing so.

They, therefore, descended from the saddle, and sought shelter beneath the aspen, loosing the bridles of their steeds, and letting them browse the grass, which grew tall and dense all about them. Coeur, being heavily armed, eased himself a little by freeing his head and hands, and leaning his lance against the tree. They then gazed around, the better to know the place in which they sought to rest.

Coeur perceived a large dark-grey slab of marble, that was scarcely distinguishable by reason of the obscurity of the night, which was dark and shadowy. They approached the aforesaid pillar and, groping about, found that a brass cup rested on top, attached to it by an iron chain. They then perceived that a spring flowed from beneath the stone, though they could not see if the water was cloudy or clear. Nonetheless, the acute thirst they had endured all that day drove them to drink of it. Desire, it was, who possessing a warmer and more ardent nature and complexion than Coeur – he was burning like fire – was first to take the cup in hand and draw water from the fount, of which he drank deeply. He then handed the cup to Coeur, who drank his fill avidly, and then hurled the cup brusquely onto the stone, like one intending to scatter what remained in the cup over the pillar.

At this, the sky, glittering with stars though the night was dark, was instantly covered with cloud; thunder and lightning declared themselves so suddenly that never a human heart could have escaped a pang of fear, while it began to rain and hail so violently that it seemed the cloudy sky itself would fall. Our two companions, stunned by the dreadful weather, soon retired beneath the aspen-tree, and sheltered as best they could, though they failed to avoid being drenched and bruised by the rain and hail, to the point where they seemed to have surfaced from the depths of a river.

Desire was in dread lest Coeur be discouraged from his enterprise, since this first encounter was so disagreeable; which is why he could not refrain from addressing him, speaking thus:

Chapter XII: Desire comforts Coeur

‘O Coeur, you who are so renowned

For courtesy, a heart that’s sound,

And goodness, I seek and request

That you by naught here be distressed,

For though we suffer a foul night,

Yet shall you come to true delight.

So, think of the good you’ll receive

Gaining Sweet-Mercy, and believe

In Hope, and her advice recall,

Who told you of what must befall.’

Chapter XIII: Coeur replies to Desire’s admonition

When Coeur, who was proud and brave, heard Desire speak to him thus, he reddened a little, with annoyance, not because he wished ill towards his companion Desire – for he loved him deeply – but because he believed that Desire had seen and discerned some reprehensible trace of cowardice in him. He therefore raised his head – since he had lain down beneath the aspen-tree to rest – and replied to him in these terms:

Chapter XIII: He denies that he is in any way cowardly, and re-affirms the quest

‘Desire, my loyal companion,

Who set me above many a one

Of greater renown, you flatter,

Though lacking proof in this matter;

But one thing I will say to this,

In me there lies no cowardice,

Rather I’m ready to address

Whate’er may come, and no less

Shall I, now, abandon the quest,

Whoe’er may utter that request;

And yet one thing I ask of thee,

Come, tell me now, hide naught from me:

Have you perceived aught in my face

To think me craven? Pure disgrace

Twould be; death I’d prefer to this!

Let us ride on, whene’er you wish.’

Chapter XIV: Desire is content with his reply

When Desire heard his companion speak in this way, he was both content and saddened by his response: content because he found him in good heart and well disposed to accomplish his enterprise; saddened because he thought he had said something to displease him, and that Coeur felt he had addressed him with disdain, which was never his intent. He answered Coeur’s reply in the following terms:

Chapter XIV: And reassures Coeur

‘Ah, Coeur, my loyal companion,

Come, think not ill of me, for none

Did I intend in speaking so,

For God’s sake, any such forego!

Naught have I seen in your face shown

I would not welcome in my own,

Twas merely a manner of speaking

To comfort us, I went seeking!

Now it is time to sleep awhile,

Then, tomorrow, address in style

The matter of our quest, and find

Some place, by good Fortune designed,

To furnish us a bite to eat,

For that we need, both ale and meat.

God send us a fine, restful night,

And naught harm us till it be light.’

Chapter XV: Coeur’s dream

With these words, the two companions settled down beneath the aspen-tree, their teeth chattering somewhat due to the dampness of the ground, and the coldness of the rain, by which, as you have heard, they had been drenched. Nonetheless, the burden of weariness and pain they had endured led to sleep.

Coeur and Desir sleep beneath the aspen

‘Coeur and Desir sleep beneath the aspen’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 12v: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Then it was that Coeur experienced a truly marvellous dream; it seemed that his steed bore him perforce onto a long narrow bridge, which was old and rotten, fragile, weak, broken and pierced through, so ruined and shattered, damaged in many a place, that of sheer necessity it was bound by old ropes and supported by cables at numerous points, so as to secure the major part of this evil passage, that nonetheless seemed scarcely safe enough for a man on foot to pass, never mind a horse.

Beneath the bridge ran a deep and tumultuous river whose waters were dark, dense and troubled. It seemed to him, once his mount had borne him almost to the middle of the aforementioned bridge, that a great bull, dreadful and hideous, charged upon him, in fury, bellowing like a tempest, terrible in its rage, and black as a mulberry. Roaring loudly, its head lowered, rolling its inflamed and ardent eyes, twisting its neck about in lively annoyance, it charged him, with the full force of its horns, so savagely that it overturned him and his steed, sending them plunging into the river. Then, as he was about to drown, unable, due to his heavy armour, to swim to the bank by the strength of his arms alone, a wondrously beautiful blonde siren emerged waist-high from the water, stretching her arms towards him, so as to draw him from the deep, and save him from peril, ere he drowned pitiably and irremediably. She clasped him in her arms so effectively that she was able to bear him to the shore, unharmed.

This dream lasted till the break of day. At dawn, Coeur was awakened by the seeming pain and torment he experienced in his sleep. He sat upright, and gazed at his companion, Desire, who was slumbering as soundly beside him as if he had not slept for three days; nor did he dare wake him out of respect for so deep a slumber. He bowed his head to the ground, in profound reflection on the dream he had experienced.

After a while, he emerged from his musing to find the day was fine and clear, and the sun had commenced to shine. He arose at once, and began to inspect the fountain and the marble pillar, noting that the fount’s water was dark, hideous, and turbid: not for a moment would he have drunk from it on the previous evening, had he seen it in its present state! On the stone he saw various letters engraved and inscribed that read as follows:

Coeur reads the inscription on the fountain

‘Coeur reads the inscription on the fountain’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 15r: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter XV: The writing on the fountain’s pillar

‘Straight from beneath this pillar’s foot,

Wrought of marble, and black as soot,

Flows the Fountain of Fortune; none

Other on earth, can match this one.

And he who conceived all, and wrought

It thus, was a giant, most vile, in short,

Who was the lord of all this land,

None worse alive did sight command,

Either in temperament or features;

He was ever the worst of creatures.

This evil giant was named Despair,

Famed for his vileness everywhere.

Men and women, he would devour,

And every beast within his power.

Whoever the cup you see shall drain,

Will suffer therefrom endless pain,

For the fount was made by artifice,

By Virgil, or some close accomplice,

Such that if any drink its water,

And pour the rest away, thereafter,

Such that they wet the stone, truly

The sky will then darken swiftly,

And, though the day be fair and bright,

Cloud will fill the heavens outright.’

Chapter XVI: The two companions quit the Fountain of Fortune

Now the story tells that when Coeur had read the inscription on the stone, as you have learned, he gave a wry smile, and thought to himself that if he had seen what was written there, the evening before, on their arrival, as clearly as he did now, he would have been careful not to spill a single drop of water on the stone, for it had led to himself and his companion, Desire, being drenched to the bone. Though to abstain from drinking, for fear of the ill or discomfort they might experience, he would have avoided at all cost, for that might have been imputed to cowardice or villainy.

He raised his eyes and saw that his companion, Desire, was awake and had risen. He called to him and showed him the inscription on the stone; and when he had read the writing, they gazed at each other, pensively enough. Nevertheless, they roused each other, proud and valiant men as they were, found their horses grazing not far away – for the grass was remarkably rich in that place due to the little spring that trickled from the fount – and replaced their bridles. Then Coeur took up his helm and shield, recovered his lance from where it leant against the tree, mounted his steed, and they took up their path again briskly, which ran beside the little stream that flowed from the fountain, believing that not far distant somewhere along its length, some dwelling might be found where they could dine, for they were famished, not having eaten during the preceding day and night, and having endured unbelievable discomfort.

They rode, in this manner, for a good league or more, without encountering the least adventure, talking of their journey, and the dream that Coeur had experienced during their night under the aspen-tree. Desire was amused, and could not refrain from saying to Coeur, with a smile:

‘Coeur, oft a man may dream a dream

That proves more real than it may seem.’

Chapter XVII: The Valley of Profound-Thought

Smiling, and conversing about the old dwarf, who had deceived them thus, they rode on, ever looking about them hoping to discover the Manor of Fair-Repose of which she had spoken, but in vain, since she had lied to them. Not long after, they entered into a vast and marvellous vale: it was a dark wasteland, with a deep river at its heart, hideous, troubled, and appalling.

Desire, casting his gaze about, saw, in the midst of the valley, hedged about by thornbushes, a little hovel, of poor construction and much dilapidated. He spurred in that direction, and attained the aforesaid dwelling. Inspecting its doorway, he saw a board on which the following was inscribed:

Chapter XVII: The House of Melancholy

‘This vast and appalling valley

Is named, by all in this country,

The Valley of Profound-Thought,

Where in this hut, fit for naught,

Amidst its gloom and poverty,

Dwells, thus concealed, Melancholy,

Who never did man any good,

Nor ever will, nor ever could.’

Chapter XVIII: The companions find Melancholy within

After reading and studying the words inscribed on the plaque, so the tale goes, they reflected a little and concluded that they had certainly not arrived at the Manor of Fair-Repose, and that Melancholy and Fair-Repose bore little likeness to one another. Nonetheless, whatever the place, they absolutely must dine, since they had gone too long without a bite to eat.

Coeur descended from his steed, since he was scarcely able to keep in the saddle because of the violent hunger that gripped him; he entered the cottage, calling out, demanding to know if there was any living soul within, though no one responded. He advanced to the hearth, where the fire was so feeble that a cat would scarcely scorch its tail therein, and saw a dishevelled crone, gloomy and pensive, seated there, her hands clasped together. She was dreadfully thin and wrinkled, and, in short, seemed to have emerged from the bowels of the earth, for never was seen so horrible and appalling a creature.

Coeur said to himself that this must indeed be Melancholy, of whom the sign on the door of the hovel had spoken. He saluted her, but she scarcely returned his salute, for she was plunged in other thoughts. Nevertheless, he was so bold as to address her, in the following manner:

Coeur and Desire at Melancholy’s dwelling

‘Coeur and Desire at Melancholy’s dwelling’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 17r: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter XVIII: Coeur addresses her

‘Melancholy, I ask of you,

That of your grace, and kindness too,

You will offer me bread to eat,

For I hunger, and twould be meet

If my companion shared my meal,

For from us both the life doth steal.’

Chapter XIX: Melancholy offers him a morsel of bread

On hearing Coeur speak thus, Melancholy rose, painfully since she had been plunged deep in thoughts from which it was hard to withdraw, and went straight to where she stored her bread; she tore off a piece and gave it to Coeur, willingly enough, not through pity or compassion towards him but because she knew the bread would do no good to him or any other who ate it. And when Coeur received and inspected the dense and heavy offering, he was troubled, and could not resist asking from what it was made, for he could see only too well that it was not wheat. Melancholy replied in the following manner:

Chapter XIX: The River of Tears

‘Cour, since you desire to know

How my black bread is made, the dough

Is kneaded from a certain grain,

That goes by the name of ‘harsh pain’,

With water from the flood, say I

Which, as you witness, flows nearby.

Tis known as the River of Tears.

None dine on worse bread, it appears.’

Chapter XX: Melancholy leads the way to a bridge over the river

When Coeur heard Melancholy’s reply, and heard of what the bread was made, he was troubled, for never before had he eaten bread composed of such a grain and in such a manner. Indeed, it seemed astoundingly dense and hard, and if it had not been for the piercing hunger which gripped him, he would have refrained from tasting it, but he was so horribly famished that he could not stop himself from consuming it, while saying to himself that hunger was a sauce without equal.

He took a bite from the bread, and carried the rest to his companion, Desire, who was astounded on viewing it, but since he was no less famished than the other, he bit down hard and they each ate their share, though it brought them little contentment, since it was so dense and hard to swallow it would scarce pass down their throat without pain. Then they drank water from the River of Tears that flowed nearby, as you have heard, water which Melancholy had stored in the hovel. If you ask me whence this river arose, I say it flowed from the Fountain of Fortune, beside which the two companions had rested the previous evening.

After eating and drinking, in the manner described, Coeur was desirous of leaving; but first asked Melancholy to show them, or indicate to them, some road that crossed the river whose current was so extremely forceful and terrifying. She, on hearing his request, however, was pleased to lead them there, not because she wished them well, but because she thought rather to lead them into a situation of which they would shortly have cause to repent.

The crone went ahead, and Coeur mounted his steed, he and his companion, Desire, then following at her heels, and in such a manner they approached the bank of the river; the old crone Melancholy first, the two companions riding behind. They were not long on their way before they saw a tall wooden bridge before them, traversing the stream, the bridge being weak and fragile, built long before and terribly narrow, such that a horse could barely pass. The river was deep and flowing strongly, such that the force of the water shook the whole bridge and made it tremble.

Coeur encounters the Black Knight at the bridge

‘Coeur encounters the Black Knight at the bridge’
Codex Vindobonensis 2597, fol. 18v: Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris, (Barthélemy d'Eyck, 1460-1469)
Wikimedia Commons

Chapter XXI: The Passage Perilous, and the knight Anxiety

On the far side of the bridge was a knight clad entirely in black armour, except that portrayed upon his black shield were three flowers of anxiety, He was mounted on a great black steed, his head protected by a helm whose crest was of that heraldic columbine, and, lance in hand, he was ready to joust. And if you ask the name of this knight, I say that it was Anxiety himself, who guarded the bridge against noble lovers, and the bridge was named the Passage Perilous.

Old Melancholy showed the two companions the bridge, and Coeur was the first to advance, ashamed of appearing slower or more fearful than his companion, and hanging back in dread of a single knight. So, he spurred his steed, which bore him onto the bridge in an agile manner, the bridge trembling in such a way as to trouble him greatly, while Anxiety, with lowered lance, advancing towards him, put his charger to the gallop, his steed being accustomed to the narrow bridge.

On seeing this, Coeur directed himself towards him, and dealt him so fierce a blow on the shield that he broke his own lance, for he had seen that he must try to force a passage.  But Anxiety, in turn, struck him so resounding a blow that he toppled Coeur and his steed into the depths of the river, for Coeur’s steed was unaccustomed to the bridge, unlike that of Anxiety. Yet, he was not drowned, but able to reach the surface, for he was aided in doing so, as you will hear further.

However, the tale now ceases to tell of him, and returns to speak of Hope and Fair-Welcome, since it has proved silent regarding them for some time.

The end of Part I of ‘Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour Épris’