Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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The sweetest voices mortal ever heard,
Stealing upon the ear deliciously,
Tuned to all sweet accord and harmony,
So that they seemed far too sweet for earth,
And more like voices of an angel-birth.


At length out of a shady grove close by,
That was right beautiful and fair to sight,
Came tripping forth and singing lustily,
A world of ladies ; but to tell aright
Their matchless beauty is beyond my might,
Or their array, but ne'ertheless I shall
Tell of a part, tho' I speak not of all.



In vestments made of glossy velvet white,
And deftly fitting, they were clad each one.
From down their vestures' seams a streak of light
From studded emeralds and rubies shone,
Most glorious to behold ; and many a stone
Was o'er the other parts : like dew-'sprent leaves,
Glistened their trains and boddices and sleeves.


And lustrous pearls, large, round, and orient,
Diamonds all bright, and rubies fiery red,
And other gems their various colours blent ;
While to crown all, upon each lady's head
Was a rich band of gold, which, be it said,
Was set with stately stones : and wisely meet,
Each one a chaplet had, a garland sweet,

Upon her brow, of branches fresh and green,
So very curiously and fairly wrought,
It was a sight most pleasing to be seen.
Some were of laurel, some had, as methought,
Chaplets of cheerful woodbine, and some brought
Wreaths of pure agnus castus ; but all round
Without a garland green there was no lady found.



Some danced, and others sung full tenderly,
And thev all went in slow and measured grace ;
But there walked one amid the company
Sole by herself, while all observed the pace
That she kept to ; her heavenly-figured face
So gracious was, that in her beauty she
Surpassed the loveliest of the company.


And she was richer dight by many fold,
And loftier seemed in one and every thing ;
Upon her head was, glorious to behold,
A crown of gold, more fitting for a king ;
A branch of agnus castus did she bring
In her pale fingers ; as I saw her stand,
She seemed the lady queen of this fair band.


And she a roundelay 'gan lustily,

Sing " Sus lefoyle de vert moy" men do call,

" Sine et monjoly cceur est endormy ;"

And then the ladies answered one and all,

With voices sweet entuned, and eke so small,

That as methought it was the sweetest song

That I had listened to rav whole life long.


And thus they came, and sung and laughed and danced,
Into the middle of the field where I
Within the arbour was ; and thus it chanced,
Me thought I was well placed to espy
Which was the fairest of the company,
Who best could dance, or speak, or smile, or sing,
And who most womanly in every thing.

While thus they danced upon this meadow ground,
I heard, as tho' far off, right suddenly,
So loud a noise of thundering trumpets sound,
It seemed as tho' it would have shook the sky ;
Soon after this it was my lot to spy
A troop of knights come from the grove whence came
The gentle ladies with their queenly dame.

So numerous was this troop, it seemed as tho'
All living men on earth had been assembled,
Mounted on noble steeds, and as they go,
Prancing across the plain, the whole earth trembled ;
Their rich array of gold and gems resembled
A gorgeous pageant, beyond count or measure,
And far transcending every kingly treasure.



Of their array who wishes to hear more,
I will rehearse according to my might :
First issued from the grove oft named before,
To lead the way, in cloaks of velvet white,
A company, that wore for their delight
Chaplets just gathered from the old oak-trees,
And smelling of the woods and morning breeze.


And they had trumpets each with banner bound
Of finest silk, most richly wrought and fair ;
And on each trumpet was its lord's arms found,
Worked on the neck, with jewels rich and rare,
On collars broad; for cost they did not spare.
Rich crowns were on their regal scutcheons placed,
With sapphires, diamonds, pearls, and rubies graced.


Their steeds' caparisons were also white,
And after these rode forth a goodlv band
Of kings- at-arms, in richest armour dight.
They seemed the chivalry of some fair land :
Their lofty brows by the oak chaplets spanned,
Glittered with noble thoughts, and their proud gaze
Dimmed the pale splendour of their jewels' blaze.



And they rode forth so glorious in array,

So mannerly, and full of gentle grace,

That every tongue would be compelled to say

They were the noblest of a noble race ;

And all their prancing steeds kept even pace,

So that no eye, however keen, could see

A blemish in this noble company.

Heralds and pursuivants next came arrayed,
Like to the knights in cloaks of velvet white,
And certainly it must of them be said,
That but to look at these was great delight.
Chaplets of oak had they, and like each knight
Their horse-gear was : escutcheons proud they bore,
In fashion like to those who rode before.


Next after these there rode in armour bright,
All save their heads, of graceful warriors nine,
And every clasp and nail were, to my sight,
(Of their array) made of the red gold fine.
With cloth of gold, furred o'er with rich ermine,
The horses' trappings too were full and round :
And eke so long, they hung nigh to the ground.



The bosses of their bridles gleamed with rows

Of pearls, each worth a thousand pounds I ween ;

And twining gracefully around their brows

Were glorious chaplets of the laurel green,

The deftest made that I have ever seen ;

And to each knight three henchmen were assigned,

Who rode at proper distances behind.

The first of these on a short truncheon bore
The helmet of his lord, so richly dight,
That e'en the worst of them, I ween, was more
Than a king's ransom ; and a broad shield bright
The second carried ; the third bare upright
A mighty spear, of point full sharp and keen ;
And every henchman had a chaplet green.


These like their lords in velvet were arrayed,
And like their lords their steeds were trapp'd also,
And after them there rode across the mead
Knight after knight, in many a goodly row,
Mounted on coursers proud 'that seemed to know
The valour of their lords ; so numerous they
That all the field was spread with their array.



And they were crown'd also in their degrees
With chaplets new, some made of laurel green,
And some of oak, and some of other trees ;
Some in their hands bore boughs of golden sheen ;
With laurel some, with oak boughs some were seen ;
Of woodbine some, some of the hawthorn kind ;
And many more which I have not in mind.

And so they rode and roused their noble steeds,
Stirring their blood with sound of trumpets loud,
And I felt stirred myself to gallant deeds
By the appearance of these knights so proud :
Then at the last, as even as they could,
They took their place in middle cf the mead,
And every knight then turned his horse's head


Round to his fellow knight, and put his spear

Into its rest, and so the jousts began

In all parts of the field ; some there, some here ;

Some broke their spears, some threw both horse and man

About the field astray the horses ran.

To see this noble pageant ruled so well,

Was greater pleasure than my verse can tell.



And when the joust had been an hour or more,
The knights that crowned were in laurel green,
Did win the prize ; their blows were dealt so sore,
That none their force and valour could sustain,
And so the jousting all was left off clean.
Then from their steeds the victors nine alight,
And after them their compeers in the fight.


And forth they went together, twain and twain,
That to behold it was a worthy sight,
Towards the ladies on the verdant plain,
That sung and danced, as I said now aright.
The ladies, soon as they with honour might,
Broke off the song and dance, and went to meet
These warrior knights, and with sweet tokens greet.


Then every lady took full womanly

By her fair hand a knight, and forth they went

Unto a laurel tree that stood close by,

With greenest leaves and boughs of broad extent ;

And, in my judgment, this fair tree was meant

To be the lord of every goodly tree,

For underneath its branches there might be,


An hundred persons shadowed from the heat,

When Phoebus is most glorious and bright ;

It seemed formed to be a safe retreat

From rain or hail, or baneful dews of night,

And the cool shade did every heart delight,

So that the saddest man that e'er could be,

Must cheerful feel when 'neath this spreading tree.

And, with great reverence, they inclined low
Unto the tree so fair and sweet of hue ;
And, after they had paused some time or so,
They all 'gan sing, and dance some dances new.
Some sang of love, some mourned of love untrue.
Around the tree at length they stood upright,
And every gentle lady had her knight.

Then at the last I turned mine eyes aside ,
And saw at once a pleasant company
That roamed from the meadow's farthest side ;
And hand in hand a knight and dame did I
Behold afar : the ladies seemed to vie
With Eastern pom]), in what their forms were clad,
And every knight of green a mantle had,



As richly broidered as the lady's were ;
And each dame had a chaplet on her head,
(Which did right well upon the shining hair)
Worked out of fragrant flow 'rets white and red ;
The knights also, that by their hands were led,
Had chaplets made of flowers fresh and fair,
And minstrels went before with many a gentle air.

Some played on harps and lutes and psaltery,
All clad in green ; wreaths on their heads they bare,
Of divers flowers, and made full craftily ;
And all alike they goodly garments wear :
So dancing onward to the mead they fare,
In midst of which a grassy turf they found,
Richly besprent with blooming flowers around.

And whereunto they bowed every one
With gentle grace, and very reverently,
And at the last there then began anon
A sweet-voiced dame to sing right womanly
The Daisy's honour in a melody ;
For, as methought among her accents sweet,
She warbled, " Si douce est la Margarete* .'"

* The burden of the Pastoral Song in honour of the Daisy.
N 2



Then they all answered her, and, to mine ear,

So passing well, and eke so pleasantly,

That a most blissful song it was to hear : —

But how it happed I know not — suddenly,

Just as the noontide sun so fervently

Shone on them with his beams, the tender flowers

Lost all the beauty of their morning hours.


And shrunk with heat the ladies also felt,

So that they wist not where their heads to shade ;

And eke the knights themselves began to melt

Beneath the sultry sun, and quite dismayed

They seemed to stand : then o'er the spacious mead

The wind began so sturdily to blow,

That all the gentle flowers were soon laid low,


Save a choice few, who, hid among the leaves,
Were sheltered from the blasts that did assail
These fragile things ; and then at last there raves
A fearful tempest of thick driving hail,
With rushing rain borne on the winged gale,
Which revelled in the storm — so thick it came,
That drenched with water was each knight and dame.



And when the tempest had all passed away,
Those in the white, who stood beneath the tree,
And who had nothing felt of the affray,
That had on those in green dashed furiously,
Went forth to offer them sweet sympathy,
And they so gentle were that they were glad
To comfort at all times the sick and sad.

Then was I 'ware why one of them in green
Had on a crown so richly gem-bedight ;
Wherefore I deemed full well she was a queen,
And those around her did her service right ;
Then the fair ladies that were clad in white,
Went forth to meet them, and the knights also
Spoke pleasantly to cheer away their woe.


The queen in white, who was most wondrous fair,
Took by the hand the queenly dame in green,
And said, " Dear sister, much my heart doth share
The wretched plight, so cold and unserene,
Wherein you and your company have been,
So long, alas ! but, sister, come with me,
And I will comfort you right tenderly."



And then the other queen to this replied,

In very humbleness, as well she might,

With gentle words devoid of foolish pride,

For she was in a veiy perilous plight :

And then each lady that was clad in white,

Took by the hand a lady clad in green,

Which when the knights who stood around had seen,

They in like manner took a fellow-knight,
And forth with them they walked in gentle show
Unto a hedge, a little on the right,
And then they lopped off from a goodlv row
Of noble trees, which did around them grow,
Large boughs, wherewith a stately fire was made,
To dry the clothes in which they were arrayed.

And, after that, of wholesome herbs that grew
Around the spot, they blisters did prepare,
And cooling ointments very good and new ;
Then to each weary knight and lady fair
They ministered with a right Christian care ;
And after that they pleasant salads brought,
Till they at length their perfect cure had wrought.



The Lady of the Leaf then 'gan to pray,
Her of the Flower, (for so unto my seeming
They should be called after their array,)
To sup with her, and eke for any thing,
That she should with her all her people bring ;
And she again with accents full and clear,
Thank'd her full kindly for her friendly cheer,


And told her frankly that she would obey

With all her heart, and do whate'er she meant :

And then, without another word's delay,

The Lady of the Leaf a fair dame sent

To bring a palfrey, after her intent,

Caparisoned so richly, that I ween

No costlier harness in the world has been.


And after that to all her company
She bade them steeds provide, and every thing
They stood in need of, and then lustily
Close by the arbour walked they in a string,
A goodly row, while their glad carolling
Would nave rejoiced any earthly wight :
And now I saw a passing wondrous sight,



For then the nightingale, that all the day-
Had in the laurel sat, and did her might
To sing her welcome to the blooming May,
All suddenly began to take her flight,
And, to the Lady of the Leaf, forth right
She flew, and softly on her hand alit,
Which made me marvel as I gazed on it.

The goldfinch eke, that from the medlar tree
Was fled for heat into the bushes cold,
Unto the Lady of the Flower 'gan flee,
And on her hand he set him as he would,
And pleasantly his wings began to fold ;
Then both began to sing, yea, even more,
Than they had done the live-long dav before.

And so these ladies rode forth a great pace,
And the whole rout of gallant knights als6 ;
Then I who had beheld this wondrous case,
Thought that I would assay full soon to know
What was the meaning of this goodly show,
And who they were that rode so pleasantly ;
So when they were the arbour passed by,



I stepped forth, and happed to meet anon

A gentle lady, fair as fair could be,

And she came riding by herself alone,

And all in white, and looking placidly.

Her I saluted with humility :

With gentle smile she turned around her head,

" My daughter, gramercy," she answering said.

" Madame," quoth I, " if that T durst enquire
Of you, I fain would of that company
That passed by me, for I much desire
To know their purpose." She benignantly
Said, " My fair daughter, those who passed by
In vesture white, unto the Leaf alone,
Are faithful servants — I myself am one.

Saw ye not her that crowned was," quoth she,
'* In spotless white ?" quoth I, " Fair lady, yes."
" That is the goddess pure of Chastity,
Diana named, and, as she maiden is,
The branch she beareth in her hand is this —
Pure Agnus Castus, men call properly,
And all the ladies of her company,



Which you saw, of that herb fresh chaplets wear,
Were such as of their maiden dower took heed ;
And all that did the laurel chaplets bear
Were such as hardy are, and strong in deed ;
Victorious names which never can be dead ;
And all so worthy are of her chaste hand,
That none in fight their prowess can withstand.


And those that wear the chaplets on their head
Of woodbine fresh, are such as never were
To love untrue, in word, or thought, or deed,
But stedfast aye, fidelity their creed ;
Tho' anguish deep their living heart should tear
They never wavered, but to truth held fast,
Long as the breath did in their bodies last."


•' Now, madam fair," quoth I, " I still would pray

Your ladyship, if that the thing may be,

That I might hear your gentle rose-lips say,

Since it has pleased your benignity

The truth of these fair ladies to pourtrav,

Tell me, what knights are those that I have seen

Wearing the flower, and clad in gladsome green ;



And wherefore some did reverence to the tree,

And some unto the plot of flowers fair ?"

" With right good- will, my daughter fair," quoth she,

Since your desire is good and debonaire,

Then learn from me : — the nine that crowned were

Are very precious in the roll of Fame,

And the Nine Worthy Knights are called by name,


Which ye may see now riding all before,
That in their time did many a noble deed,
And for their worthiness full oft have bore
The crown of laurel leaves upon their head ;
For ye may in your ancient volumes read,
That he who was as conqueror renowned
Was always with the glorious laurel crowned.


And those that carried bows in their strong hands,

So notable by precious laurel bright,

Are those brave men (I'd have ye understand)

The knights of the Round Table they are hight ;

The twelve brave peers* redoutable in fight !

And they most justly bear the laurel tree,

As witness of their feats in chivalry.

* These were the Twelve Peers of France ; an order supposed to have beer,
instituted by Charlemagne.


And of the Garter there are knights also,
Who in their time have done right worthily,
And like the laurel tree their fame shall grow,
For ever verdant ; lauded shall they be
For martial triumphs, glorious victory,
Which unto them is wealth beyond express ;
Yea, more than any wight imagine can, or guess.

For one Leaf given of that noble tree,
To any wight that worthily hath done,
(And it be done so as it ought to be,)
Is honour greater than all 'neath the sun : —
Witness the Roman, who in knighthood shone,
The noble founder of all gallant deed ;
As ye may in old Titus Livius read.

And she that's crowned with wreath of freshest green
Is Flora, goddess of all pleasant flowers ;
And all that have on her attending been
Are idle folk, that love to spend the hours
Free from all busy cares in sylvan bowers,
And eke to hunt, and hawk, and play in meads,
And manv other such like idle deeds.


And for the great delight and passion strong
They cherish for the Flower in such degree,
They unto it in reverent worship throng,
As ye may see." "Now, madam fair," quoth I,
" If I durst ask, what is the cause, and why,
The knights consider as the symbol chief
Of honour, not the Flower, but the Leaf?"


" In sooth, my daughter fair, this is the truth,

For persevering every knight should be

Id glory's chace ; from cunning clear, and sloth ;

From well to better rising by degree ;

In sign of which these laurel Leaves we see

For ever fresh ; for every one doth know

That laurel Leaves through every season grow,

And keep their beauty always bright and green ;
For there's no tempest that can them deface,
Nor hail, nor snow, nor winds, nor frosts so keen ;
Therefore they have this property and grace : —
As for the Flower, within a little space
Its bloom decays, so tender is its kiud,
That it endures nor hail, nor rain, nor wind.



And every storm will blow them soon away,
So that they last not for one little year ;
That is the cause, the very truth to say,
That they may not (is not the reason clear ?)
Be placed in honour's noblest service here."
"Madame," quoth I, "with all mine earnest heart,
I thank you now for what you thus impart ;

For now I have most truly ascertained
All the hard things that I desired to know."
" Right glad am I," quoth she, " to have explained
Aught to your pleasure, if you will me trow ;
Now tell me truly, where will you bestow
Your service henceforth, from this very hour ;
Tell me I pray — unto the Leaf, or Flower ?"

" Madam, tho' most unworthy," thus quoth I,
" Of such a service, to the Leaf I bow."
"That is," quoth she, " done well, right certainly :
And I pray Clod to keep you in your vow
In full remembrance' to all time from now, —
And eke from Malabouche*, whose cruelty
Is dealt to all that fair and virtuous be.

• M ilabouch signifies C.ikimin thua in the translation of Alain Chart itr'



But here no longer may I now abide,

For I must follow the great company,

That ye may yonder see before me ride."

I therefore took, in all humility,

My leave of her, and she did quickly hie

After their steps as fast as e'er she might,

While I drew homewards, for 'twas nearly night ;

And put in writing all that I had seen,
Under support of those who wish to read.
O little Book, of knowledge all so mean,
How durst thou put thyself in press for dread ?
It is a wonder that thou wax not red,
Since that thou little know'st who will behold
Thy language rude, thy tale full roughly told !


La belle dame sans mercy,'' ver. 741, Edition Urry, we read :—
•' Malebouch in court hath grete commaundement;
Eche mun studieth to say the worse he maie."







There liv'd, Sirs, in my country, formerly,
A wondrous great Archdeacon, — who but he ?
Who boldly did the work of his high station
In punishing improper conversation,

* " A Sompnour and the Devil meeting on the way, after conference
become sworn brethren, and to hell they go together. A covert invective
against the bribery and corruption of the spiritual courts in those days." The
old commentator, Urey.

Sompnour is Summoner. The word survives to this day in the proper name,
Sumner; after which mode it has accordingly been spelt in the version here
ventured. It was the business of his office to summon delinquents to appear
in ecclesiastical courts, for which reason the Summoner is now called an

The reader will bear in mind that there was great jealousy between the
friars and the other religious orders ; hence the bitterness of anti-clerical invec-
tive put into the friar's mouth, and the unseemly personalities between him
and the spiritual officer.

o 2

J9G the friar's tale; or,

And all the slidings thereunto belonging ;

Witchcraft, and scandal also, and the wronging

Of holy Church, by blinking of her dues

In sacraments and contracts, wills and pews ;

Usury furthermore, and simony ;

But people of ill lives most loathed he :

Lord ! how he made them sing if they were caught.

And tithe- defaulters, ye may guess, were taught

Never to venture on the like again ;

To the last farthing would he rack and strain.

For stinted tithes, or stinted offering,

He made the people piteously to sing.

He left no leg for the good bishop's crook ;

Down went the black sheep in his own black book ;

For when the name gat there, such dereliction

Came, you must know, Sirs, in his jurisdiction.

He had a Sumner ready to his hand ;
A slier bully filch' d not in the land ;
For in all parts the villain had his spies
To let him know where profit might arise.
Well could he spare ill livers, three or four,
To help his net to four-and-twenty more.
'Tis truth. Your Sumner may stare heard for im
I shall not screen, not I, his villainy :


For heaven be thank'd, laudetur Dominus,
Thev have no hold, these cursed thieves, on us ;
Nor never shall have, let 'em thieve till doom.

["No," cried the Sumner, starting from his gloom,

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 13 of 18)