Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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But in his heart aye was the arrow keen ;

And well ye know a wound with skin healed o'er,

In surgery is perilous evermore,

Unless the arrow touched or drawn may be.

His brother weepeth and waileth privately,
Till he bethought him at the last, by chance,
That while he was at Orleans, in France, —
(Among young clerks that have a hankering
To study arts, and each forbidden thing,
Prying in every nook at every turn,
Particular sciences to seek and learn,) —
If memory truly served, upon a day
A curious book, which in the study lay,
Of natural magic, on the desk he saw,
Left by his friend ; a bachelor of law
At that time — all unwitting on his part,
For he was there to learn a different art.



312 the franklin's tale.

This book of mansions spake, and operations

Touching the eight and twenty mystic stations

That to the moon belong — such folly high

As in our own days is not worth a fly :

For holy church's faith, as we believe,

Never illusion suffereth us to grieve.

When he bethought him of this book in France,

Anon his heart for joy began to dance,

And to himself he said right secretly —

' My brother soon recovered now shall be ;

For I am sure that sciences there are

By which men divers visions make appear ;

Such tricks as subtle jugglers ever play.

Full oft, at feasting times, have I heard say

That jugglers, standing in a knight's hall large,

Have made come in a river and a barge,

And through the hall go rowing up and down .

Sometimes a lion grim himself hath shewn ;

And sometimes flowers sprung up as in a mead ;

Sometimes a vine, with ripe grapes white and red ;

Sometimes a castle, all of lime and stone ; —

And when they wished — 'twas voided, and all gone !

Thus seemeth it, at least, to all men's sight.

' Now then conclude I thus, — if that I might



THE FRANKLINS TALE. 313

Some old magician still at Orleans find,

Who hath the moon's quaint mansions in his mind,

Or other magic sleights with stars above,

Through him my brother may obtain his love ;

For by illusion can these old clerks make

Unto man's sight that all the huge rocks black

Of Bretaigne, were evanished every one,

While ships come close to land, and then float on :

And thus continue for a day or two.

Then were my brother cured of all his woe.

For then must Dorigen her promise hold,

Or else, at least, her shameful jest be told.'

Why should I make a longer tale of this ?
Unto his brother's bed he came, I wis,
And gave him such good reason to begone
For Orleans, that he started up anon,
And on his way forth-forward doth he fare,
In hopes to be reliev'd of all his care.

When that the city they can well nigh see,
Not distant more than furlongs two or three,
A young clerk roaming by himself they meet,
Who cautiously in Latin doth them greet ;
And after that he said a wondrous thing : —



314 the franklin's tale.

' I know,' quoth he, ' the object that doth bring
You here ! ' and scarce a foot they further went
Before he told them what was their intent.

Aurelius' brother asked him anxiously
Of jugglers, known to him in days gone by ;
And he replied, that dead these old clerks were,
For which he wept full often many a tear.

Down from his horse Aurelius 'lights anon,
And with this young magician is he gone
Home to his house. He made them well at ease
There lack'd no viands to recruit and please.
A house so well conducted as this one,
Aurelius in his life saw never, none.

He show'd them, ere they went to supper here,
Forests, and green parks full of the wild deer :
There saw Aurelius harts with antlers high ;
The greatest that were ever seen with eye.
He saw, of them, an hundred slain by hounds,
And some from arrows bled with bitter wounds.
He saw, when swept away the herds of deer,
The falconers rowing on a river clear,
Who with their falcons have the heron slain.



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 315

Then saw be gay knights tilting in a plain ;
And after this, his fond heart to entrance,
He show'd to him his lady in a dance,
In which himself danced also, — as he thought ; —
And when the Master, who this magic wrought,
Saw fit, he clapp'd his hands at this false clothing, —
And farewell all the revel ! There is nothing !
And yet removed they never out o' the house
While all these sights they saw, so marvellous,
But in his study, where his books all be,
There sat they still — and no wight but these three !

To him this Master call'd his servant now,
And said right thus, ' To supper may we go ?
Almost an hour it is, I undertake,
Since that I bade you should our supper make,
When these my worthy friends both went with me
Into my study, where my books all be.'
1 Sir,' quoth the servant, ■ when it liketh you :
It is all ready, if ye choose, right now.'
1 Come, then, we'll sup,' said he, ' for, with the best,
These amorous folk must sometimes take their rest.'

After their supper, treaty make these three
What good sum should this Master's guerdon be,



316 the franklin's talk.

If he removed the black rocks of Bretaigne,
And eke from Gironde to the mouth of Seine.

He made it a great favour — ' God him save,
Less than a thousand pound he would not have ;
Nor, e'en for that sum, cared he to be gone !'

Aurelius with a blissful heart, anon
Answer 'd right thus — ' Fie on a thousand pound !
This world below, which scholars say is round,
All would I give, if I were lord of it.
This bargain is concluded — we are knit :
Ye shall be paid all truly, by my troth.
But, look ye, for no negligence or sloth
Delay us longer than to-morrow here.'
' Nay,' quoth the clerk, ' good faith to you I swear.

To bed is gone Aurelius, as he list,
And well nigh all that night he had his rest :
Faint with his labours, fed with hope of bliss,
His woeful heart found some reprieve, I wis.

Upon the morrow, when that it was day,
To Bretaigne forthright sped they on their way ; —
Aurelius — the magician at his side ; —



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 317

And are alighted where they will abide.
Now this was, as my tables me remember,
The cold and frosty season of December.

Phoebus wax'd old ; like tarnish'd brass in hue ;
That, his hot declination passing through,
Shone like to burned gold, with broad rays bright ;
But now in Capricorn he down doth 'light,
Wherein he shone full pale — I dare well say.
The bitter frosts, with sleet and rain, affray
The garden's green, till all hath disappeared.
Janus sits by the fire with double beard,
And drinketh from his buffalo-horn the wine !
Before him stands brawn of the tusked swine,
And " Christmas /" crieth every lusty man.

Aurelius now, in all that ever he can,
Giveth his Master cheer and reverence,
And prayeth him to work with diligence,
And bring him out of anguish by his art,
Or with a sword to thrust him through the heart.

The subtle clerk such ruth hath on this man,
That night and day he speedeth all he can,
Watching the time that favour' d his conclusion ;



318 the franklin's tale.

That is to say, the time for his illusion,

So to make things appear by jugglery,

(I know no terms of their astrology,)

That Dorigen and every wight should say

The solid rocks of Bretaigne were away,

Or else they all were sunken under ground !

So, at the last, he hath his fit time found

To make the dark sleights and the wretchedness

Of such a soul-deluding cursedness.

His Tolitanian Tables forth he brought *,
Full well corrected, and they lacked nought; —
Neither his years, in compound sums, nor single,
That in the heavenly computations mingle,

* This astrological incantation stands thus in the original : —

His tables Toletanes forth he brought

Ful wel corrected, that ther lacked nought,

Nother his collect, ne his expans yeres,

Nother his notes, ne his other geres,

As ben his centres, and his argumentes,

And his proportionel convenientes

For his equations in every thing.

And by his eighte speres in his werking,

He knew ful wel how fer Alnath was shove

Fro the hed of thilke fix Aries above

That in the ninthe spere considered is, &c.
While the poet was writing this, nearly five hundred years ago, there was evi-
dently a tendency to denounce the abuse of astrology. For the benefit of the
curious, and to display the alleged advances of Science over Imagination,



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 319

Accordant with their motions and their phases ;
Neither his roots, wherefrom with care he raises
His branching calculations ; nor the intents
Of all his centres and his arguments,
(Their arcs described, proportional to find,
Another arc drawn somewhere in his mind)
For his equations ; right in every thing.
And by his eight spheres, doth his working bring
The proof how far the house of Alnath lay
From the fix'd Aries' head i'the higher way ;
Which, hence, in the ninth sphere consider'd is.
Full subtly calculated he all this.
And when that his first mansion he obtain'd,
He, by proportion, knew all that remain'd ;
And knew the rising of the moon right well —

(to the destruction of the latter, as some affirm,) we have consulted a well-
known living astrologer on the above passage, who has obliged us with the
following.

" In the time of Chaucer, the knowledge of the particular degrees, of each
sign, occupying the cusp, or entrance, of the twelve horoscopal Houses, was
extremely incorrect. The old tables have been abandoned by modern astro-
logers, (among whom there are several secret students in the universities of
Oxford and Cambridge,) and are of course replaced by perfect tables. The
extent of the error may be seen by the computations of Lilly, the celebrated
astrologer of king Charles the First's time, (who received a grant of a hun-
dred pounds a year from the Parliament,) and yet these Lilly tables are now
published without correction, though corrected copies may be purchased
cheaply. The errors ascribed to the science are in truth the errors of cal-
culation. As for the mode of working adopted by the ' clerk' in this poem,
we know that the moon rules in Cancer — there she has her mansion and



.^20 THE FRANKLIN'S TALE.

In whose face — in what term — all could he tell ;

And likewise the moon's mansion knew, her station

Accordant with his varying operation :

And other observations he enhances

For such illusions, and against mischances,

As heathen folk would use in those old days.

And now no longer maketh he delays —

But through his magic, wrought in the night air,

It seem'd the rocks were gone — or never there !

her dignities— and Cancer represents the ocean in the world's horoscope. If
the poet has a latent and secondary meaning, then Cancer, in the Mysteries,
is also the populace, and Neptune is public opinion. So far we may follow
the ' clerk,' hut he subsequently shows himself to be a juggler, and
not a worker by regular natural science. He meddles with fixed substances,
instead of keeping to calculations and abstract ordinances. For nonentities
(in the modern advances of science) have as much power as real things.
What is the meridian but a nonentity ? Yet the meridian changes the signi-
(ication of all planetary bodies. Of the Tolitanian Tables, constructed by
order of Alphonso, king of Naples, it does not appear that Chaucer knew
much, nor are they valuable for correctness. But when the learned com-
mentator on Chaucer, Mr. Tyrwhitt, undertakes to prove that the poet, in the
opening of his great Prologue, was wrong in saying, ' the yonge sonne hath
in the Ram his half cours yronne ;' and that he ought to have said the Bull, —
the poet turns out to be the best astronomer. For the poet reckoned by the
new style, and not the old. The new style was not adopted at that time in
England, but Chaucer took it in advance of his time from foreign tables. It
was called a ' new style' only when adopted in England— bill it was not new
to Chaucer. He means the first week of April."

Chaucer was evidently fond of astronomy, and wrote a treatise on the
Astrolabe. A manuscript copy of this, together with a work on Geomancy,
by another author, is now in the possession of the Duke of Northumberland ;
and a manuscript copy of the latter is also DOMeSMd by Mr. Varley, by whom
we have been obliged with the foregoing unique comments.



THE FRANKLIN S TALE. 321

Aurelius, both in hope and in despair,
Unknowing how his chance of love may fare,
Awaiteth for the prodigy night and day :
And when he heard the rocks were all away —
For a time vanish'd — all his barriers gone —
Down at his Master's feet he fell anon,
And said, ' I woeful wretch, Aurelius,
Thank you, my Lord, and Venus fair, who thus
Have helped me out of my anguish cold.'

And to the temple he his way doth hold,
Wherein he knew his lady he should see.
And when he saw his time, he tremblingly
With heart in dread, and with full humble cheer,
Saluted hath his sovran lady dear.

' My truth-full lady,' said this woeful man,
' Whom I most dread, and love, as best I can,
And last of all this world would I displease ;
Were't not that T for you upon my knees
Must die here at your foot, and that anon,
Nought would I tell how I am woe-begone.
But, certes, either must I die or 'plaine :
Ye slay me, guiltless, for my very pain.



322 the franklin's tale.

But for my death, though that ye have no ruth,
Advise you well, ere that you break your troth :
Pause, and repent unto the God above,
Ere you destroy my life because I love.
For, madam, call to mind what ye did plight —
Not that I challenge anything of right,
From you, my sovran lady, but of grace ;
Howbeit, in a garden near yon place,
Ye wot right well all that ye promised me ;
And in my hand your truth pledged willingly,
To love me best — God wot, but ye said so —
Although that I unworthy am thereto.
Madam, I speak it for your honour, more
Than my heart's life to save, now wounded sore :
All have I done that ye commanded me ;
And, if ye vouchsafe, ye may go and see.
Do as ye list — but bear your word in mind,
For quick or dead, you shall me surely find ;
With you it lieth to give me life, or slay —
Hut well I wot the rocks are all away !'

He taketh his leave — and she astounded stood !
In all her face was not one drop of blood !
She thought not to be caught in such a trap.



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 323

' Alas,' cried she, ' that ever this should hap !
For dreamt I never by possibility
That such a prodigy could ever be.
It is against the order'd course of nature.'
And home she slowly went, a sorrowful creature.
For very fear all trembling doth she go.

She weepeth, waileth constantly, days two,
And swooneth often, pity 'twas to see ;
But what the occasion, to no wight told she,
For, from the town Arviragus was gone.
But to herself she spake thus, all forlorn,
With a pale face, and with full sorry cheer
In her complaint, as ye shall pitying hear.

1 Alas,' cried she, * Fortune, on thee I 'plaine,
Who, unaware, hast wrapped me in thy chain,
From which to 'scape no succour can I see,
Save but to die, or else dishonour'd be.
One of these two behoveth me to choose ;
But ne'ertheless far rather would I lose
My life, than give my nature up to shame,
Or know myself all false, or blot my name :
So shall my death absolve me from my vow.
Hath there not many a noble wife, ere now
y 2



324 the franklin's tale.

And many a maiden, slain herself, alas !
Rather than let dishonour o'er her pass.
Yes, truly : lo ! their stories witness bear.
Why then of death should I have any fear ? '

Thus Dorigen complained unceasingly,
Purposing evermore that she would die,
But lingering on, till the third night was come :
Arviragus, the worthy knight, came home,
And questioned her why thus she wept so sore ?
And she again fell weeping ever the more.

1 Alas !' said she, ' that ever I was born !
Thus have I said,' (quoth she,) 'thus have I sworn ■
And told him all, as ye have heard before ;
There needeth not I should rehearse it more.

The husband, with glad cheer in friendly wise,
Atiswer'd and said, as I shall you apprise.
' Is there aught else, then, Dorigen, but this?'
1 Nay, nay,' cried she, ' so heaven me help, I wis
'Tis far too much, though it were God his will.'

' Sweet wife,' said he, ' let sleep what now is still
All may be well, perhaps, to-day,' he saith.



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 395

' But ye shall hold your truth, by my good faith ;

For God so wisely mercy have on me,

I had far rather stabbed and ended be,

For very love that I unto you have,

Than you your truth should fail to keep and save.

Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.'

And with that word he suddenly 'gan weep ;

And said, ' I you forbid, on pain of death,

Ever, while with you lasteth life or breath,

To tell of this mishap to any man.

My woe I will endure as best I can ;

And show no face of doubt or heaviness,

That folk of you may deem amiss, or guess.'

And now he call'd a squire, and eke a maid :

' Go forth anon, with Dorigen,' he said.

They bring her presently unto the place,
And take their leave ; and then their way retrace ;
But nothing knew they why she thither went :
She would to no wight tell of her intent.

And now Aurelius, ever, as T ween,
With amorous sorrow dreaming of Dorigene,
Happen'd by chance his lady soon to meet



326 the franklin's tale.

Amid the town, and in the nearest street
That led unto the way her steps were bent,
And also tow'rds the garden, where she went.
x\urelius tow'rds the garden sped him now,
For well he knew whenever she might go
Out of her house, to any other place.
But thus they met by accident, or grace,
And he saluteth her with glad intent,
And asketh of her whitherward she went ?

And she replied, as though she were half mad,
' Unto the garden, as my husband bade,
My truth to save and hold, alas ! alas !'

Aurelius 'gan to ponder o'er this case ; —
And in his heart he had compassion great
For her, her lamentation, and her state,
And for Arviragus, the noble knight,
Who bade her hold her promise as of right,
So loath was he his wife should break her truth.
And in his heart he caught of this great ruth ;
Considering 'twas the best on every side
Hia passion rather he should quell or hide,
Than like a base churl cause such high distress



THE FRANKLIN S TALE. 32

To generous honour and to gentilesse.
Wherefore, in few words, to her said he thus.

' Madam, say to your lord, Arviragus,
That since I see the knightly nobleness
Of him, and seeing also your distress ; —
That he would rather have shame (and this were ruth)
Than ye to me should break your word and truth ;
I had far sooner suffer constant woe
Than injure aught of love between you two.

1 1 do release you, madam ; in your hand
Place each security and every bond
That ye have giv'n to me, up to this day,
Since ye were born, — as fully as I may.
Take here my troth— I never will you grieve
For promis'd love ; and here I take my leave,
As of the truest and the worthiest wife
That ever yet I knew in all my life.
But every wife beware of promised love ;
Like Dorigen they may not always prove.
Thus can a squire perform a gentle deed,
As well as can a knight, though his heart bleed.'

She thanks Aurelius low on her knees bare,

1



328 the franklin's tale.

And home unto her husband doth she fare,
And told him all, as ye have now heard said :
And trust me this, he was so well repay'd
That 'twere impossible for me to write.

What should I further of this case indite ?
Arviragus, and Dorigen his wife,
In sovran bliss henceforward lead their life.
Never came grief or anger them between :
He cherish'd her as though she were a queen :
And she was true to him as heretofore.
Now of these two ye get from me no more.

Aurelius, thinking of his substance gone,
Curseth the time that ever he was born.
1 Alas !' cried he, ' I promised, in my strait,
Of gold all pure a thousand pound of weight,
To the philosopher ! How shall I do ?
Nothing I see but ruin in the view.
Mine heritage forthwith I needs must sell,
And be a beggar. Here I will not dwell,
Disgracing all my kindred in the place,
Unless of him I get some better grace.
But ne'ertheless I will of him essay
At certain days, and year by year, to pay,



THE FRANKLIN'S TALE. 329

And thank him much for his great courtesy.
My promise will I keep — I will not lie.'

With heart full sore, his chest-bags in his hold,
To this philosopher he brought his gold,
The value of five hundred pounds, I guess ;
And him beseecheth of his courteousness,
To grant, for what remained, a longer term ;
And saying, ' Master, I dare well affirm
I failed never of my truth, as yet ;
And certainly I will acquit my debt
To you, however poorly I may fare
To go a-begging in my kirtle bare.
But would ye vouchsafe, on security,
To grant me respite for two years or three,
Then were I well ; for else I needs must sell
Mine heritage : there is no more to tell.'

Then the philosopher answer'd soberly,
And said thus, when this last request heard he,—
' Have I not kept my covenant to thee ?'

' Yes, certes ; well and truly/ answer'd he.
I Hast thou not won thv love ?' the other crieth.



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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 18 of 18)