Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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And knows not when he hurts and when he heals ;
Within this court fail seldom Truth avails,
So diverse in his wilfulness is he.

Then of the Nightingale did I take note,
How from her inmost heart a sigh she brought,
And said, Alas ! that ever I was born,
Not one word have I now, I am so forlorn, —
And with that word, she into tears burst out.

• From a manuscript in the Bodleian, as are also stanzas 44 and 45.



Alas, alas ! my very heart will break,

Quoth she, to hear this churlish bird thus speak

Of Love, and of his holy services ;

Now, God of Love ! thou help me in some wise,

That vengeance on this Cuckoo I may wreak.

And so methought I started up anon,
And to the brook I ran, and got a stone,
Which at the Cuckoo hardily I cast,
And he for dread did fly away full fast ;
And glad, in sooth, was T when he was gone.

And as he flew, the Cuckoo ever and aye,
Kept crying, " Farewell ! — farewell Popinjay !"
As if in scornful mockery of me ;
And on I hunted him from tree to tree,
Till he was far, all out of sight, away.


Then straightway came the Nightingale to me,
And said, Forsooth, my friend, do I thank thee,
That thou wert near to rescue me ; and now,
Unto the God of Love I make a vow,
That all this May I will thy songstress be.



Well satisfied, I thanked her, and she said,

By this mishap no longer be dismayed,

Tho' thou the Cuckoo heard, ere thou heard'st me ;

Yet if I live it shall amended be,

When next May comes, if I am not afraid.

And one thing will I counsel thee also,

The Cuckoo trust not thou, nor his Love's saw ;

All that she said is an outrageous lie.

Nay, nothing shall me bring thereto, quoth I,

For Love, and it hath done me mighty woe.

Yea, hath it ? use, quoth she, this medicine,
This May-time, every day before thou dine,
Go look on the fresh daisy ; then say I,
Altho' for pain thou may'st be like to die,
Thou wilt be eased, and less wilt droop and pine,


And mind always that thou be good and true,
And I will sing one song, of many new,
For love of thee, as loud as I may cry ;
And then did she begin this song full high,
' Beshrew all them that are in love untrue,'




And soon as she had sung it to the end,
Now farewell, quoth she, for I hence must wend
And, God of Love, that can right well and may,
Send unto thee as mickle joy this day,
As ever he to Lover yet did send.

Thus takes the Nightingale her leave of me ;
I pray to God with her always to be,
And joy of love to send her evermore ;
And shield us from the Cuckoo and her lore,
For there is not so false a Bird as she.


Forth then she flew, the gentle Nightingale,
To all the Birds that lodged within that dale,
And gathered each and all into one place ;
And them besought to hear her doleful case,
And thus it was that she began her tale.

The Cuckoo — 'tis not well that I should hide
How she and I did each the other chide,
And without ceasing, since it was daylight ;
And now I pray you all to do me right
Of that false Bird whom Love can not abide.



Then spake one Bird, and full assent all gave ;
This matter asketh counsel good as grave,
For birds we are — all here together brought ;
And, in good sooth, the Cuckoo here is not ;
And therefore we a Parliament will have.

And thereat shall the Eagle be our Lord,
And other Peers whose names are on record ;
A summons to the Cuckoo shall be sent,
And judgment there be given ; or that intent
Failing, we finally shall make accord.


And all this shall be done, without a nay,
The morrow after Saint Valentine's day,
Under a maple that is well beseen,
Before the chamber- window of the Queen,
At Woodstock, on the meadow green and gay.

She thanked them ; and then her leave she took,
And flew into a hawthorn by that brook ;
And there she sate and sung — upon that tree, — -
" For term of life Love shall have hold of me!"
So loudly, that I with that song awoke.

e 2


Unlearned Book and rude, as well I know,
For beauty thou hast none, nor eloquence,
Who did on thee the hardiness bestow
To appear before my Lady ? but a sense
Thou surely hast of her benevolence,
Whereof her hourly bearing proof doth give ;
For of all good she is the best alive.

Alas, poor Rook ! for thy unworthiness,
To show to her some pleasant meanings writ
In winning words, since thro' her gentleness,
Thee she accepts as for her service fit ;
Oh ! it repents me I have neither wit
Nor leisure unto thee more worth to give ;
For of all good, she is the best alive.

Beseech her meekly with all lowliness,
Tho' I be far from her I reverence,
To think upon my truth and stedfastness,
And to abridge my sorrow's violence,
Caused by the wish, as knows your sapience,
She of her liking, proof to me would give ;
For of all good she is the best alive.


Pleasure's Aurora, Day of gladsomeness !
Land, by night, with heavenly influence
Illumined ! root of beauty and goodnesse,
Write, and allay, by your beneficence,
My sighs breathed forth in silence, — comfort give !
Since of all good, you are the best alive.







O Judge infernal, Minos — Cretan King !
Thy lot now cometh on the very ring ;
Not for thy sake alone I tell this tale,
But that it may, until all memory fail,
To Theseus cling, for his untruth in love ;
For which the gods that sit in Heaven above,
Are wroth, and wrath have taken for thy sin ;
Be red for shame, for I thy life begin.

Minos, who was the mighty king of Crete,
And had a hundred cities strong and great,
To school hath sent his son Androgeus
At Athens, of the which it happened thus, — -
That he was slain, learning philosophy
Right in that town, for hate and jealousy !


The puissant Minos, of the which I speak,
With wrath a-flame, comes all his rage to wreak,
And Alcatho besieg'd, fiercely and long ;
But ne'ertheless the walls were built so strong,
And Nisus, who was king of that brave town,
So chivalrous, and of so great renown,
That he for Minos and his warlike host
Cared no more than if he had been a ghost.
Till on a day a strange adventure fell,
Of which I will, as short as may be, tell.
The daughter fair of Nisus stood upon
The lofty wall, to see the siege go on ;
And looking at the gallant skirmishing,
She cast her heart on Minos, the great king :
And for his beauty and his chivalry
She longed so, that she was like to die,
And, faithless to her sire, did on a day
To the besiegers this strong town betray.

Now all the town was at the conqueror's will,
To save whoe'er he list, or else to kill ;
But he requited ill her lovingness,
And let her drench in sorrow and distress,
Nor did the gods to her their pity show ; —
But this to tell, my talc too long would irrow.


Now Athens did king Minos take also,

And other towns beside this Alcatho ;

And made them send their children year by year,

To be devoured, as ye shall after hear.

A monster had this Minos, and a beast
So cruel, that it could not be increased,
And whensoe'er a man before him came,
Naked or arm'd, him would he eat the same !
Now even* third year, 'tis beyond all doubt,
They cast lots, as the season came about,
Both rich, and poor ; for one his son must take,
And of his child a struggling offering make,
To Minos, that he might reject or kill,
Or let his beast devour him at his will ;
And this hath Minos done in his despite.
T' avenge his son was now his prime delight.

Now home he sailed when this town was won :
This wicked custom had so long run on,
Till when in Athens, ruled king Egeus,
He must dispatch his dear son Theseus,
Since that the lot hath fallen upon him,
To be devoured by this monster grim.
And forth is led this young and woeful knight


Unto the realm of Minos, full of might,
And in a prison he is chained right fast,
Till time was to the beast he should be cast !

Well mayst thou weep, O woeful Theseus !
To be a king's son, and yet treated thus.
Methinketh that thy love would be most great
To her who saved thee from so dread a fate :
And that if any maid gave help to thee,
Well mightest thou her servant long to be ;
Or else her lover, true and not to fail :
But now to come again to this sad tale !
The dungeon where Prince Theseus was thrown,
Was dark and low, and cold, and built of stone.
And was right near unto the palace wing
W T here dwelt the two fair daughters of the King
It happed thus as Theseus by night
Bewailed his fitte, and dreaded morning's light,
Fair Ariadne and her sister heard
In the night's silence every sorrowful word ;
While on a turret looking at the moon
They stood, not caring for their couch so soon ;
And they had sweet compassion on his woe,
For a king's son in prison thus to throw
To be devoured, begat their sympathy.


Then Ariadne spake her sister free,

And said — O sweetest Phsedra, sister dear,

This woeful lord's son ye may plainly hear :

How piteously he mourneth his hard fate,

And groaneth o'er his sorrowful estate : —

Guiltless is he, ah ! certes, of the ruth,

And if ye will assist me, by my troth,

He shall be helped, whatever we may do.

And PhEedra answered : Sister dear, I trow

I feel for him more than for any man,

And for his aid will do whate'er I can.

Let us the gaoler summon privily,

To come and speak with us right hastily,

And with him shall this woeful prisoner come ;

For if he may this monster overcome,

Then were he free, there is no other boot.

Let us well test him unto his heart's root,

That if he any deadly weapon have

Will he therewith his life fight for, and save,

And combat this strong fiend, or his life end ?

For as he in the prison shall descend,

Ye know right well, the beast is in a place

Which is not dark, and there is ample space

To wield an axe, or sword, a staff, or knife,

So that methinketh he shall save his life :


If that he be a man, he shall do so.

And we will make him many balls of tow

And eke of wax, that when he gapeth fast,

Down the beast's grisly throat he shall them cast,

To slake his hunger, and to blunt his teeth;

And right anon, when valiant Theseus seeth

The beast a-choking, he shall on him leap

And slay him. Chains no more shall Theseus keep

This weapon shall be gaoler at that tide.

Within the prison in some dark place hide ;

And as the house is guarded to and fro,

And hath so many curious windings too,

Thus quaintly by the skilful mason wrought ;

For this I have a remedy in thought,

That by a clew of twine, as he hath gone,

By the same way he may return anon

By following the thread as he hath come.

And when this beast is fully overcome,

Then may he from his doleful prison flee,

And take the gaoler with him when he's free ;

So shall he come to his own home anon,

Since that he is so great a monarch's son !

This is my plan, if that you dare it take,
But why should 1 a longer sermon make ?


The gaoler came, and with him Theseus,

And then these things I tell, accorded thus : —

Adown sank Theseus upon his knee,

Ah ! sovran lady of my life, (quoth he)

I, sorrowful man, condemned unto death !

From you, while in me lasts my life and breath,

I will not part when this adventure's o'er,

But in your service live for evermore ;

Yea, as a man unknown your bidding tend

For ever till my heart in death shall end.

Forsake I will my royal heritage,

And, as I said, wait on you as a page,

If that ye deign to grant that in this place

I may enjoy your countenance and grace,

A little meat and drink is all I crave,

And for my sustenance will be your slave.

Minos your sire, nor any other wight,

E'er in their life, beheld me with their sight,

And no man else shall ere in me descry

That I am sprung from lineage so high ;

And to my kingly father will I send

This worthy gaoler, that hath been my friend :

And for his guerdon straightway shall he be

One of the greatest men in my countree.

And if I durst say so, my lady bright,


I am a king's son and likewise a knight,

And would to God, if so that it might be,

We were in my own father's land, all three ;

And I with you to bear you company ;

Then would ye see if that I thereof lie.

Again I proffer you in lowly guise,

To be your page and live beneath your eyes,

Serving you lowly in whatever place ;

And pray to Mars to give me such a grace

That may a shameful death upon me fall

And death and poverty to my dear friends all ;

And that my spirit through the night may go

After my death, and wander to and fro,

If I should ever earn a traitor's name,

And bring upon my knighthood grief and shame.

A seemly knight was Theseus to see,
And young, his age was twenty years and three ;
And whosoe'er had seen his comely face,
He would have wept at his distressful case.
Then Ariadne answered in this wise
To his request, while tears fell from her eyes : —

A King's son art thou, and a knight, (quoth she)
To be my servant in so low degree !


God shield me, for the shame of women all,

That on me such a sorrow should befall,

And send you grace, and strength of heart also,

Knight- like to guard yourself and slay your foe :

And grant hereafter that I may you find,

To me, and to my sister here, so kind.

That I repent not that I saved your life.

Yet it were better I should be your wife,

Since that you be as gently born as I,

And have a kingdom of your own fast by,

Than that I suffered knightly blood to wait,

And be my page to swell my father's state, —

This would not profit me, nor your friends dear,

That you should wait upon a lady here —

But what will man not do when urged by fear ? —

No ! let us rather altogether go,

You, and eke I, my gentle sister too,

And let her to some noble lord be wed :

This is what I propose ; (the lady said)

Now swear it here, on all that can be sworn.

O, lady mine, (quoth he) or else all torn
May I be with the Minotaur to-morrow,
And have here of my heart its blood and sorrow,
If that ye will ; had I a knife or spear,


Forth would I let it gush, and thereon swear

By red-eyed Mars, chief god of my belief,

So may I live, nor fail by foe or grief, —

To-morrow with the monster will I fight ;

So shall your faith my promise then requite ;

For I would never from my dungeon flee

Till that you should my proofs of true love see.

For, O, believe the gentle words I say,

That I have loved you long full many a day ;

Tho' little wist thou, in my own countree ;

And evermost have I desired to see

You above every other creature fair.

Upon my truth I you assure, and swear,

These seven years your servant I have been : —

Now am I yours, and also you are mine ;

Of Athens Duchess, and my dear heart's queen !

The lady at his ardour smiled serene,
And at his hearty words, and at his cheer ;
And to her sister said as ye shall hear.

Oh, gentle sister mine ! dear heart ! (quoth she)
Now are we duchesses of high degree,
And troth'd to sceptred rulers of Athenes,
And both hereafter likely to be queens,


And saved from shameful death a monarch's son,
May ever gentle woman thus be won —
To save a gentle man, and show her might
In honest causes, that is, in the right :
And well I deem no tongue can ever blame
Our deeds, nor give to us an evil name.
But of this tale I must short matter make,
And therefore Theseus soon his leave did take,
And every point arranged performed indeed.
As ye have in this story heard me read.
The sword and clew, the things that I have said,
Were by the gaoler in the prison laid,
There where the Minotaur was wallowing,
Close to the door, and by the entering ;
And Theseus is led unto his doom,
And to the monster's dwelling is he come.
Then, by the teaching of the lady bright,
He overcame the beast in dreadful fight ;
And out he cometh by the clew again,
Full secretly, when he the beast has slain.
And the old gaoler taketh then a barge,
And filled it with his lady's treasure large,
And took her thence, and eke her sister free :
And now the gaoler, and with him all three,
Are stole away out of the land by night,
p 2


And to a foreign shore they took their flight,
Where Theseus had a friend, who bade him rest
And there they sang, and feasted on the best.
Then for a noble barge he sent anon ;
The crew his country-folks were every one ;
And Theseus took his leave, and home sailed he,
Till coming to an isle in the wild sea,
Where living creatures therein dwelleth none
Save wild beasts, and of them full many a one,
He made his ship towards this island steer,
And there a summer's day he had his cheer.

But now, to tell you in the shortest way,
As Ariadne fast in slumber lay,
Because her sister fairer was than she,
By the hand Theseus took her silently,
Unto his rocking ship, and bade the crew
Across the deep their traitorous flight pursue,
And homeward to his country sailed full fast,
With twenty devils driving in the blast, —
And found his father drowned in the salt sea.
False lover ! may thy poison work on thee.

And now for Ariadne let us weep,
Who for her very weariness doth sleep.


Full woefullv will she from slumbers wake :
Alas ! for her my heart with ruth doth ache.
Right in the dawning of the day she woke,
And groping in the bed began to look,
But Theseus saw not ; then aloud she said,
Alas ! alas ! that ever I was made !
I am forsaken ; — and her hair she rent,
And to the beach in barefoot haste she went,
And cried aloud, O, Theseus ! my heart's dear,
Where art thou, that I cannot find thee here ?
Full soon shall I by these wild beasts be slain !
The hollow rocks now answered her again.
No man she saw, and yet bright shone the moon,
When high upon a rock she clambered soon,
And saw his barge a- sailing on the sea !
Cold turned her heart, and thus in grief said she ;
Kinder than thou I find the beasts so wild !
Hath he not sinned that hath her thus beguiled ?
Again she cried, O, turn for ruth and sin,
Thy barge hath not got all it's people in.
Her kerchief on a pole then sticketh she,
High in the air, that he the sign must see,
Remembering him that she was left behind,
And turn again his once-loved wife to find.
But all for nought ; his path- way is far gone,


And down she fell and swooned on a stone ;
But after a time she rose, and kissed with care
His footmarks on the sand which she found there,
And to her bed in accents mild and low,
Thou bed, (quoth she) that hath received two,
Answer thou shalt for two, and not for one —
Where is the greater part, and whither gone ?
Alas ! what shall I, wretched wight, become ?
For tho' it chance a boat should hither come,
Home to my country dare I never go,
Myself I cannot counsel in my woe.

What should I more of her complaining tell,
It were a heavy thing whereon to dwell ;
In her epistle Ovid telleth all :
But shortly to the end my words shall fall.
The throned gods on her their pity took,
And in the sign of Taurus, if you look,
You may behold her starry crown shine clear.
Now will I speak no more of sorrow here ;
But thus this traitorous lover did beguile
A gentle heart; the devil requite his wile.


Thou Giver of all forms — thou that hast wrought

This beauteous world, and bare it in thy thought

Eternally, ere thou the work began,

Why madest thou, unto the slander of Man, —

(Or, if indeed the purpose was not thine

To call forth such a blot on thy design ;)

Why didst thou suffer Tereus to be born,

Who was in love so cruel and forsworn ;

That e'en his name, to this world's hearing given,

Breedeth corruption up to the first heaven !

And as for me, so grisly was his deed,

That whensoe'er this dreadful tale I read

Mine eyes wax dim, and tears begin to flow,

The poison lasts, though bred so long ago ;


Infection in the story lingers still.

This traitor Tereus, of whom I tell,

Was lord of Thrace, to Mars akin at heart —

The cruel god who stands with bloody dart.

And he was wedded with right joyous cheer

Unto Pandion's gentle daughter dear,

And Progne named. Flower of her land was she,

Tho' Juno cared not at the feast to be,

Nor Hymen, that the god of marriage is ;

But at the wedding-feast there were, I wis,

The Furies three, with all their mortal brood.

The owl croak'd all night o'er the neighbouring wood

The prophet he, of woe, and of mischance.

This revel full of song, and full of dance,

Lasted a fortnight, or a little less ;

But, to abridge this tale of weariness,

(For I am weary of the tale I tell)

His wife and he five years together dwell,

Till on a day she 'gan to long so sore

To see her sister, and her native shore,

That for desire she knew not what to Bay,

But to her husband she began to pray

Bv all his love, that she once more might S( i

Her sister and return full speedily ;

Or else she prayed that her lord would send,


To bring her back across the sea, some friend :
And this was day by day her constant prayer.
This Tereus bid them straight his ship prepare,
And went himself to fetch the maiden fair,
And to Pandion did he forthwith sue
To vouchsafe to his wife a month or two,
That Philomene, her gentle sister, might
Come to his wife for solace and delight.
1 And she shall soon return again to thee ;
Myself will guard her over the salt sea ;
And, as my heart's own life, hers will I keep.'

Whereat Pandion, the old king, 'gan weep
For tenderness of heart, and also grieve
That his dear child her father dear must leave ;
Of all this world he loved nothing so,
But at the last he gave her leave to go ;
For Philomene, with salt tears down her face,
Besought assent, and begged her father's grace,
To see her sister whom she longed to greet ;
And then embraceth him, both knees and feet.
Most fair, and young, in bright array was she,
And when that Tereus did her beauty see,
His fiery heart on her bright charms was bent,
And he will have her howsoe'er it went.


And then with wicked looks he kneel'd and prayed,
Until Pandion at the last thus said :
' Now, Son, (quoth he) that art to me so dear,
Take to your care my gentle daughter dear ;
She beareth eke the key of my heart's life,
Greet well my other daughter, thy fair wife,
And give her leave with homeward sail to hie,
That I may see her once before I die V

Then afterwards he made a mighty feast,
And gathered all his folks, the great and least,
And gave them royal cheer, and presents meet ;
And then they rode adown the master street
Of Athens, bringing Tereus to the sea :
Then turneth home the king right pensively.
Those in the vessel pull the oars full fast,
And unto Thrace arrive they at the last.
Then to a trackless forest Tereus led
Fair Philomene, and to a cave he sped,
And bade her ease her weariness and rest.
Whereat her heart did beat against her breast
Right loud and fast, and then she answered thus —

' Where is my sister, brother Tereus ?'
And therewithal she wept full tenderly.


And quaked for fear all pale and piteously.

Right as the lamb that of the wolf is bitten,

Or as the dove when by the eagle smitten,

And from his iron claws hath just got loose,

Yet trembles still, nor of her wings hath use,

Dreading to be re-taken, so sat she ;

But otherwise, alas ! it cannot be.

The traitor Tereus hath with brute-like power

Rifled the beauty of this virgin flower ;

Yea, by the very villany of might.

Lo ! here a deed to fill all men with fright.

1 Sister !' she cried, to air her shriek was given ;

Then ' Father dear, oh ! help me, God in Heaven !'

But all was silent, and no succour came.

Then Tereus worketh yet another shame,

For fear that she his deed should ciy aloud,

All in the open air among the crowd,

She of her tongue he with his sword bereft,

And to a castle in a rocky cleft

He took her as a prisoner evermore,

And kept her there in anguish for his store,

So that she ne'er from prison could depart !

O gentle Philomene ! woe 's in thy heart,

Huge are thy sorrows, worse than death their smart ;

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 9 of 18)