René d'Anjou

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

Part VII: The Castle of Pleasure

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

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Chapter CXXXII: Coeur and his companions enter the Castle of Pleasure

Fair-Welcome re-entered the castle leaving the wicket-gate open. He went to find Amor and told him of the three companions’ arrival, and of the quest Coeur had undertaken at the behest of Desire, and of Coeur’s wish to swear fealty and pay homage to him, and of the travails Coeur had undergone on his way to serve him. And Amor, who listened attentively, commanded that the companions be brought to him, for he knew that Coeur felt the effects of being struck by one of the arrows he had set in flight, and had heard that Coeur was a fine young man, and so wished to see him.

Fair-Welcome returned to the gate, swiftly, and summoned the three companions, who were still gazing at the noble portal of that splendid chateau and at the two statues, and the wondrous mirrors the statues held. Coeur admired all this to so great an extent that he almost forgot his aim of entering the castle and paying homage to the god of Love. But when they heard themselves summoned, they entered therein, and Fair-Welcome took Coeur by the hand and told him to come and speak with Amor.

When, on having passed through the first gate, they found themselves beneath the portal, Coeur perceived a large and ancient wicker-basket hanging from the vaulting above, such as was woven in former times, suspended by a golden chain as thick as one’s arm. Coeur wondered what the purpose of that simple wooden basket might be, and why it was dangling from so magnificent a chain. As he was pondering on the aforementioned basket, his gaze fell upon a pair of rusted iron shears, about a foot and a half long, resembling those with which they shear the sheep at Berry. Between the jaws of these shears a large hank of hair was caught, black as earth, and six feet or more in length, hair which seemed more like that of a man than a woman, so thick, coarse, and heavy it appeared.

Gazing at it, thus, he was not slow to note that beside these shears, hanging from a golden chain was a large leather bridle and iron bit, a saddle and a pair of golden spurs, bound together and hanging from a like thick and solid golden chain. And further, there was also suspended there, attached by two clasps of pure gold, a distaff wound with flax, with a spindle hanging by a thread at its side. Some distance away stood a large wooden statue, blackened by smoke like an idol, holding a sergeant’s wand, and attached by the waist to a similar gold chain.

Once Coeur had spent a moment regarding the aforesaid statue with its wand, he raised his eyes and saw on high in a corner two blades set at right angles, hanging from two hooks of pure gold, thick, massive, heavy and marvellously solid. These shears were like those used for cutting silk cloth, while from one of the angles of these shears hung a beautiful basket, richly worked with precious stones, a panier of such a kind that one could not at first see why it hung beneath the blades, or more exactly from one of the angles, as you have heard. But I recall that it was full of skeins, and little spindles, wound with silk in diverse colours, and with little scissors, punches, rounded mallets, and other tools used in the production of silken cloth.

Coeur had not the time to inspect these things as he wished, yet could not rest without asking Fair-Welcome what the items signified. And Fair-Welcome, seeing Coeur’s profound astonishment, could not help but smile, saying to Coeur:

Chapter CXXXII: The meaning of the objects displayed near the entrance

‘O Coeur, who marvel to espy

These things, and seek the reason why

They hang, on high, here in this place,

And would learn, of my good grace,

What is their purpose, I shall tell;

In doing so, God aid me well.

The basket that you saw before,

Is the same one, you may be sure,

In which Virgil was suspended,

By a maid, who such intended;

And knew the means by which to lure

That mage within, furthermore,

Saying else he ne’er would see

What lay within so secretly.

And he, enamoured of that same

Entered in, and was much to blame,

For doing so, since she, thereon,

Hoisted him high, and then was gone,

Leaving the mage suspended there.

His wisdom proved not worth a hair,

While all the people came to view

Him thus suspended, as would you.

Amor it was punished him so,

For Virgil, I would have you know,

Esteemed as slight the Love-God’s power,

Who left him there many an hour,

In that same basket, in this place.

It served him not, in his disgrace,

To be a mage, clerk, sage, I say,

For homage he was forced to pay,

While begging the god for mercy;

The basket, in his memory,

Will hang forever there, on high,

While o’er the earth yet wheels the sky.

The shears your viewed there, at its side,

Are those (by none is this denied)

With which brave Samson’s locks were shorn,

Who from it died, his great strength torn

Away from him; thus did Amor;

Delilah, with the shears you saw,

Did the deed, and the man betrayed.

Love of vengeance Amor displayed,

And rightly so; he who would hear

The tale entire, tis long I fear,

Too long indeed for me to tell,

Nor will I, for you know it well,

You’ve heard it many times before,

I think, at least ten times or more.

Now the next you saw, the bridle,

Together with the ancient saddle,

Are those with which, around his yard,

Aristotle was ridden hard.

Love’s sweetness the sage had scorned,

And so, despised, Amor, once warned,

Took vengeance through the cunning ruse

Of she who every wile did use

To set the saddle on him there,

Which saddle then her weight did bear,

While she gave her fine mount the spur,

This being so well done by her,

That all his science was worth naught;

By Amor he was truly caught,

For he, from wit and sense released,

Was ridden hard as any beast.

Recall the distaff that you saw;

The very same, you may be sure,

Was used by Sardanapalus,

His flax and spindle left to us.

He too, Amor, set down beside

The women, and curtailed the pride

The which had led him to misprize

The deeds of Love; before all eyes

He was brought to base subjection,

In the manner that I mention.

A little further on, you viewed

The idol, somewhat roughly hewed,

That Solomon worshipped, of old,

With his wives, till his blood grew cold.

Amor humbled him in this guise,

For all that he was thought so wise.

And so he was, most certainly,

Yet there is none, though great he be,

So full of science, or majesty,

That Love gains not the victory.

The rest that hangs there, you should know,

The shears and basket, there on show,

From those golden hooks suspended,

As a warning are intended,

For such these objects signify.

Listen to me, and I will try,

Ere I shall depart this place

To give the reasons, with God’s grace,

As to why they are hanging here:

The shears and basket, in the air,

The spindles, tools, and silken thread,

Whose clear meaning fills my head.

And ensure, that when I’m done,

Understanding you’ll have won,

And a warning taken to heart.

So, hark to me, ere I depart,

For I will seek the truth to tell,

And trust that you will listen well.

You should know that midst the brave

That ever their attention gave

To valour, and to deeds of arms,

Midst those men whose coats-of-arms

And skill was held in high esteem,

One of the best, so wise men deem,

Was brave and noble Hercules,

The tales of whom will ever please,

So full was he of steadfastness,

Of strength, and skill, and sheer prowess.

Who would set out to tell his tale,

Must speak until their voice doth fail.

He wrought many a valiant deed,

Many, in combat, he saw concede;

Lion or boar, he held his ground,

And so despatched all that he found.

And yet it came about one day,

That his proud heart he gave away

To the queen, Omphale the fair,

For whom the flames of Love did flare

So brightly within that proud heart,

That he forgot the soldier’s art,

Tourneys and battles, and fierce war,

In lance and charger set no store,

So foolish in his love for her

That as her fool he did caper.

Merely to breathe her breath so sweet,

He carded wool, sat at her feet, 

Or cut a silk thread for that same,

Whene’er instructed by the dame.

Such is the tale that’s signified

By the basket and shears beside:

He was so enamoured indeed

That he learnt, as she decreed,

All the science of weaving there.

He, entangled in that affair

By Amor, she set to weaving

Fine fabrics of her conceiving,

Which Hercules need not, surely,

Were it not for that mad folly

Urged on him by Amor, have done;

Though tis the fate of many a one.

Such is the meaning, so beware,

Of the shears you see hanging there.’

Chapter CXXXIII: The company meet with Lady Idleness

At this point, the tale relates that after hearing Fair-Welcome’s explanation as previously presented, namely that it is the cleverest and the strongest who are most often ensnared, Fair-Welcome began to smile, prompting the others to do likewise, and they continued their progress so. Coeur whispered in Desire’s ear, asking the latter to speak on his behalf before Amor, since he was so anxious, and his heart so agitated that he himself would prove unable to speak a word. Desire indicated that he would do so willingly.

They all walked on together, Fair-Welcome leading, followed by Desire, Coeur and Largesse. They exited from the passageway into a large square courtyard, broad and spacious, and paved with little blocks of jasper each a foot square, some red, some green and some white: a prospect wondrous to view, so highly polished was the jasper and its colours so bright and pleasant to the eye. In the midst of this courtyard, there was a square fountain, wrought from a similar crystal to that of the castle-walls: the pieces of crystal held by clasps of pure gold. And at the centre of the fountain was a great golden basin enamelled and adored with gems, into which the water tumbled before falling to the square crystal-clad base. The water gushed from the beak of a gold phoenix enamelled in white. Beneath this had been fashioned glowing embers also in gold, in which rubies were encased (hundreds of thousands, I believe) such that the embers were reflected so resplendently in the water it seemed as deeply red in colour as a fine claret.

Close to this fountain Coeur perceived a most lovely lady, young and of noble form, richly dressed and sumptuously adorned. Nonetheless, she appeared to possess one fault: namely that, considering the nature and artistry of her appearance, she seemed a little too casual in manner. She held a noble falcon on her fist, which she seemed to cherish more than anything, and in fact, the noble and gracious falcon seemed most pampered, for it made no move to fly, nor appeared troubled by anything it viewed.

The lady seemingly desirous of bathing the hawk in the fountain, saw, at that moment, Fair-Welcome followed by the three companions walking towards her. When they were so close that they might have touched her, Fair-Welcome bowed, as did the others, while she took several paces and came to embrace them, wishing them welcome. They halted thus beside the fountain with the lady, Idleness, asking her for news of what the god of Love might be doing at that moment.

Lady Idleness replied that the god of Love, her lord, was at that time in close counsel, and with none but his mother principally, though two of the most privileged and trusted of his counsellors and a secretary were present: that, at least, was in truth what she had heard in his mother Venus’ chamber, which she had recently left so she might bathe her falcon in the fountain. Coeur now advanced, dipped his hand in the water, and touched it to his mouth. He perceived by its perfumed odour that it was nothing other than rose-water, perfectly pure, at which he wondered greatly. Lady Idleness, seeing his astonishment, took him smilingly by the hand, saying that he ought not to be so astonished, for within the lovely chateau there was many another outstanding marvel, greatly surpassing this; and if he wished to see a more wondrous thing still, she would show it to him.

Coeur then begged her, in God’s name, to reveal it, desirous as he was of viewing and hearing all he could as regards things marvellous and strange.

A queen with four women playing musical instruments

‘A queen with four women playing musical instruments’
Giovanni Boccaccio, in anonymous French translation (Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées)
France, N. (Rouen) c. 1440
British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

Chapter CXXXIII: They encounter two Sirens

Speaking with them thus, Lady Idleness began to walk in company with Fair-Welcome and Coeur, followed by Desire and Largesse. They had not ventured more than thirty or forty paces, beside a rivulet that flowed from the lovely fountain and bordered the courtyard, when they came to a square basin, of two lance-lengths at least on each side, filled with the fountain’s water to nigh on a foot below the edge, which held a pair of tame, domesticated Sirens who approached people when summoned by whistling. Lady Idleness, being used to whistling thus, or calling, to them to draw them near, did the latter, and one of them, with the bearded face, hair and eyebrows of a man, instantly approached, while the other was not slow in following. The latter had a sweet and lovely face, lacking a beard, and without, in truth, the least fuzz on her chin. The golden threads of her hair descended to the water’s surface, and floated upon it to the length of a foot or so; moreover, she had shapely breasts, firm and pointed, and rounded arms, while in her hand she held a little flower, which she bit upon as though she was about to amuse herself by eating it.

Idleness and Fair Welcome called to them, and indicated that they should sing to the company. And, in less time than one could say a paternoster, the manly one of the two began to sing a melody in a bass voice, followed by the female who provided the upper voice in a sweet, clear tone, most agreeable to hear; the two voices seeming truly in harmony with the heavens. The text they uttered the author knew not, and speaks not of, and in truth Coeur knew not what language they sang in.

Chapter CXXXIII: Fair-Welcome presents Coeur to the god of Love.

After remaining there awhile, the company advanced further and saw a dovecote of pure silver set upon four chalcedony and agate columns, while from it rose a host, a countless flock, of green parakeets, which then flew back to it in the way doves will return to such a dovecote. Coeur begged Fair Welcome and Lady Idleness to tell him why the god of Love had given over the dovecote to parakeets rather than to doves, since the flesh of doves and pigeons made far better eating than that of parakeets, without considering that it was a great shame to eat such beautiful birds as parakeets. To which Lady Idleness replied that the nature, as well as the rank, of her sovereign lord, the god of Love, obliged him to feed on the hearts of parakeets, to maintain his strength, a thing which his doctor of medicine, Comfort, encouraged him in; it was for that reason that Amor stocked his dovecote with so many.

At this, Coeur fell silent and grew pensive, while none of the others at that moment uttered the least word. But, after a short while, the cupbearer to the god of Love, Sigh, who was charged with bringing water to his master, was heard calling instructions to the cooks. Fair-Welcome now took Coeur by the sleeve and advanced, saying that it was time to go and pay reverence to the god of Love, who had emerged from council. So, they entered the great hall, to which Amor had already repaired, magnificently dressed in his royal robes. Grasping a Turkish bow in his hand, he was amusing himself by sending a host of feathered arrows flying through the open windows of the hall, careless of where they landed. But on seeing Fair-Welcome, hand-in-hand with Coeur, walking directly towards him, he advanced two paces, while Fair-Welcome set one knee to the floor, as did Coeur and his companions, and addressed the god of Love, saying:

Chapter CXXXIII: Fair-Welcome addresses Amor

‘Sire, news I bring to you, once more:

Finding these travellers at the door,

They have asked, nay begged of me,

If I to them a friend would be,

To lead them to you, whom they seek,

For tis to you that they would speak.

See here is Coeur, a man of sense,

He humbly sought this audience,

To pay you homage, while the rest

You know full well, I would suggest.

For, by God, I’d prove no liar

Were I to claim that brave Desire

Is your good servant; every pain

He takes, to lead to your domain

Such folk, and tis at his behest

That Coeur set out upon his quest.’

Chapter CXXXIV: Amor replies to Fair-Welcome

And when the three companions had paid reverence to the god of Love, he inclined his head towards them, held out his hand to each in turn, and bade them rise. Then he replied to Fair-Welcome’s opening words, and spoke in the following fashion:

‘Long have we known that brave Desire

Is our good servant, and no higher

Praise can I give than saying that he

Seeks out our comfort, endlessly;

Prompt and eager, wise and steady,

To work our bidding, always ready.’

Chapter CXXXV: Coeur asks Desire to present his request, which he does

Then Coeur signalled to Desire to pursue his request, and speak to Amor on his behalf. All three knelt, Desire that is, Coeur and Largesse, and Desire spoke to the god of Love, saying:

‘Most excellent high prince and lord,

All-powerful sovereign, e’er assured

Of our obedience, for your power

Rules o’er we mortals, truly. Our

Fate, it proves, without exception,

This or that side of the ocean,

At least once in our lives, to fall

Beneath your harsh yoke, one and all. 

See Coeur here, who, at my behest,

Set out boldly upon a quest,

That of winning fair Sweet Mercy,

If you will permit it; humbly,

He asks that you grant him licence,

And here will make you obeisance,

Swear allegiance, and homage pay,

Which shows true wisdom, and today

Seeks counsel, if it pleases you,

As to what he might say or do

To win Sweet Mercy, and this he

Asks, too, with due humility.

And he seeks, that he might succeed,

Your fair company’s aid, at need.

For Mercy is ensnared, we see,

By a false, savage company.

Refusal is e’er a rebel,

And Jealousy proves so cruel,

Rejection shows scant more grace

Nor the slanderers, in that place.

If Coeur were to offer battle,

He’d risk death, despite his mettle,

Or wounding, of a certainty,

Were he devoid of company,

While I know that if we possess

The force we need, then success

Soon must follow, and ill they’ll fare,

Refusal and Rejection, there.

And all their wretched company.

By my faith, they’ll but fail and flee;

Believe me, whether wrong or right,

We’ll slay them all, and end the fight!

Never have they done ought but harm,

To those whom love’s delights do charm,

Thus, your prerogative, flouting,

Many a sacrilege, committing;

For the noble Hospital of Love

They attacked, and false did prove.

If tis pleasing to you, consent,

And so, bless Coeur’s humble intent.’

Chapter CXXXVI: The Love-God gives his reply

When Desire ended his speech, having communicated Coeur’s request, the god of Love began to smile, and nodding his head, replied as follows:

‘Desire, you are as bold as ever!

You never alter in your manner,

Ever as ardent and as eager,

And as daring, in your nature.

Tis not right for any of you

To threaten others in my purview.

Refusal is of our company,

And Rejection belongs to me;

We think naught of the slanderers.

Jealousy? We seek naught of hers.

Leave this boasting to another!

Talk to me of something other:

After hearing your petition,

Regarding Coeur’s proposition

To grant him leave, you’ll understand,

His request is no slight demand.

We must seek the wise advice

Of our good Council, and think twice.

I’ll speak to Venus, my mother,

To whom my love is owed ever.

Now to our dinner we must go,

Then we’ll gather, and you shall know.’

Chapter CXXXVII: Amor takes counsel; Coeur views the tapestries

Then Amor took Coeur by the hand, since he wished to know him better, and lead him and his companions into a reception room and had them dine in his presence. Ask not if they were served many good and appetising things. And while they conversed and told their tale, a young man appeared who told Amor that Lady Pity, the prioress of the Hospital of Love, had arrived. Amor replied that she was most welcome there, and ordered her to be led to his mother Venus, an order no sooner given than executed.

They ate and drank at their ease, and when they had finished dining and rendered thanks, behold Honour entered, accompanied by Renown, Valour, Humble-Request, and several other lords, who had joined the army gathered to counter Ill-Talk and the slanderers: they had come to learn what he wished them to do. They saluted him, and he greeted them in turn, and welcomed them most warmly. Above all others, Coeur and Desire welcomed them most gladly, rejoicing greatly, as well as Largesse who had known them a long while, And Coeur thanked them for the great courtesy they had done him in freeing him from Sadness and Trouble’s prison, and in their presence related the tale of that deed from end to end.

Lady Venus soon entered the chamber, as she was in the habit of visiting her son, the god of Love, after dining, who showed her great reverence. After a moment, she drew him aside, and called to Lady Pity who had joined her. Then she summoned to her Loyalty, Honour, Renown, Valour, Fair-Welcome and several members of his Council, and sent the rest away. Coeur and his companions then walked about the room.

The tale ceases to speak of the god of Love for the moment, who was now holding Council, in order to describe, in detail, the aforesaid room and the tapestries hung upon its walls, and turns to Coeur to relate what he saw there. Firstly, the room was paved with squares of topaz, emerald, ruby, and sapphire, arranged in mosaic with motifs of personages and flowers, accompanied by Greek or Arabic lettering. The benches and chairs were of pure gold, the tables and trestles of silver.

The room contained ten great silken tapestries, ornamented with gold thread, woven in the style of Arras. On the first tapestry situated near the seats of honour, the personage and lettering displayed were as follows:

A court gathered in a room decorated with tapestries

‘A court gathered in a room decorated with tapestries’
Jehan Froissart, Chroniques: Netherlands, S.; Last quarter of the 15th century
British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

Chapter CXXXVII: The details of the first tapestry: Idleness and Youth

‘My true name is Idleness, first go I,

Bearing the banner of Amor on high,

For tis most fitting that I must, and do,

Owning no pleasure but to sport anew.

My face is ever joyous, and gay, likewise,

I am ready to sing, and dance, and play,

My long train carried by Youth, who, I say,

Loves to serve me, and praise me to the skies.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The second tapestry: Sweet-Glance and Fair-Seeming

To the left of this tapestry was another, woven in an identical style and manner, though differing in the personages and lettering, which ran as follows:

‘I am a noble archer, courteous ever,

Named Sweet-Glance, Fair-Seeming is this other,

Charged with firing a dart from laughing eyes.

Beware who must, when taken by surprise;

Whether in play or no, I grant no mercy,

Be he young or aged, wealthy or poor.

Thus, in the end, none shall escape the law

Amor ordained, and it too pleases me.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The third tapestry: Pleasure

The third tapestry displayed this lettering beneath it:

‘I am called Pleasure. While there is no need,

Since Foolish Presumption, who pays no heed,

Oft clasps my heart to his, in joyous folly,

I serve, a slave, a captive totally,

My all held by more than a mere finger.

Amor grants it so, to whom I am bound, 

Else the sweet, fair, and loving, I have found,

Will love me not, nor adore me ever.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The fourth tapestry: Ardent Desire

 The lettering beneath the fourth tapestry read:

‘Ardent Desire am I, blindly I go,

Without a staff, and where? I do not know;

Yet following after Vain Hope, as you see,

Knowing not why, but that I, endlessly

Trust all will be well; for at the sound

Of her sweet voice, I forever advance.

Amor wishes it; tis his ordinance,

Though no reason for it have I e’er found.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The fifth tapestry: Memory and deep Thought

‘Memory I am called; deep Thought and I,

We forge without cease, as you here can spy,

(Of sprays of columbine, and sighs, ever

On pain’s anvil, and with effort’s hammer,

For lovers whose lady shows no mercy)

Chaplets of drooping flowers; you may dismiss

This if you will, in your dreams of bliss,

But such is Love’s reward; thus, it must be.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The sixth tapestry: Presumption and Illusion

‘Presumption am I, and here’s Illusion:

We two come her with the sole intention

Of catching cranes, if we but can, in flight

Tis why we run and leap, so that we might

Seize them in the end, in our mad folly.

Yet when we fail to capture them, Amor

Bids us not repent, but go seek the more,

Saying we’ll gain the prize, eventually.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The seventh tapestry: Will

‘Will is my name; from the amorous heart

Proud and haughty, ever I draw apart,

And rightly complain, in my discontent,

That others think me weak and impotent;

And ever I show a fierce and hostile face,

Through Incapacity who leads me on,

So feeble and so miserable a one,

That I am grieved to find him in this place.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The eighth tapestry: Delight

‘Delight am I; playful, smiling ever,

Joyous, and gay, and so grieving never,

Demanding naught else but to feast and play,

Though tis denied, for Grief must cry and bray

And fill my ears with many a grievous sigh,

Whenever he sees me fit for pleasure.

Wrongly, thwarting me, in no small measure,

Saying that I must ever have him by.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The ninth tapestry: Folly

‘Folly, I am called, who changes the face

Of Reason, till she, in every place,

Displays a foolish visage, seeming mad.

So as to make her love what may be had,

I flatter her with lies, and suborn her

With smooth and oily words, sweeter than balm,

So that she seeks love, where there is but charm,

Wasting her time, misleading her ever.’

Chapter CXXXVII: The tenth tapestry: Reason

‘Reason am I, who wrongly am condemned

To be set next the door, without a friend,

Such that none hear the slightest news of me.

Love, Youth and Idleness do this, you see;

Memory, Thought, Illusion, take their lead,

And rebellious Will, and foolish Pleasure,

And Desire, seeking for hidden treasure,

Calling on Vain Hope, paying me no heed.’

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