Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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In that new college keepeth he his terms,
And learneth love of his own proper kind ;
No gentleness of home his heart may bind.

•■ So fared it with this tiercelet, woe's the day !
Though he were gently born, and fresh, and gay,
And goodly to behold, and humble and free,
Yet on a time he saw a new bird flee,
And suddenly he lov'd this new bird so,
That from his falcon must his fancy go,
And he be hers, and look no more on me ;
Alas ! alas ! and there's no remedy,
Nor death itself, methinks, will let me die."

And with that word this falcon 'gan to cry,
And swooneth oft within the lady's lap.
Great was the sorrow made for her mishap
By Canace and by her maidens all :
They knew not how their help might best befall ;

furnishes a charming variation of a simile which Chaucer is fond of, and
which the reader has already met with in the Manciple's Tale of Phoebus and
the Crow. All the strength and springing quickness of a bird's legs, and all
the tendencies of his nature, are in the word spurning, thus applied; and
the immediate object of the action is implied by the word down. We see
that the next moment, he will be triumphantly up in the air. Thus write
great poets.

286 the squire's tale.

Yet Canace home beareth in her lap
The wounded thing, and hasteth to enwrap
The part in balsams, which the beak had hurt.
Then dug she in the ground for plant and wort
Of precious kinds ; and day and night she drew
Sanatives thence ; and by her bed a mew
All soft she set, with azure velvet lined,
To show the truth that is in womankind ;
But all without she had it painted green,
On which all false and mankind fowls were seen
And pies and daws coming on every side
With open mouths, to spite them and to chide.

Thus leave I Canace to keep her bird : —
Of her ring now I speak no other word,
Nor shall, till in good time my theme explain
How that this falcon gat her love again,
Repentant, as the Tartar stories show,
By mediation of Prince Cambalo,
Son of the king, as at the first was told *.

* Though male and female animals in general were accustomed to speak of
one another as men and women in the pictures of former days, yet it is per-
haps to be gathered, from the length to which this licence is carried in the
one before us, — especially in the remarkable and sorrowful use of the simile
about the bird, — that the falcon was a human being, in a temporary state of
metamorphosis; — a circumstance very common in tales of the East.

the squire's tale. 287

Meantime through fields of battle must I hold
My purpos'd way, and such adventures tell,
As never in the world the like befell.

First will I tell of this great Cambuscan,
That in his time full many a city wan ;
And after will I speak of Algarsife,
How that he wan Theodora to his wife,
For whom full oft in peril great he was,
Had help not reach'd him in the horse of brass ;
And after will I speak of Cambalo,
That fought in tourney with the brethren two,
Ere that the victor might his sister win ;
And where I left, there will I fresh begin.

[Here stopped the divine old poet, to the regret of all after





In the modernized transcription of this noble story, so perfect
in its moral purpose and chivalrous self-devotion to a feeling uf
truth and honour, (though it would have been more satisfactory,
in an intellectual sense, had the distinction been made between a
sincere pledge of faith, and a " merry bond,") the liberty has
been taken of omitting a long list of historical allusions, of no
very desirable character, because they interrupt the progress of
the main interest when at a passionate height. In all else, flu-
best endeavours have been made to restore the old picture with
as lew touches, and with as little varnish as possible.


' Squire, in good faith, thou hast thyself well quit,
And fair and well I praise thy gentle wit/
The Franklin said ; ' considering thy youth,
So feelingly thou speak'st, Sir, in good sooth,
If I may say so, there is no one here
That shall with thee in eloquence compare
If that thou live ; God give to thee good chance,
And to thy virtue send continuance.
Thy speaking pleaseth me in great degree.
I have a son, and by the sacred Three,
Rather than twenty pounds' worth of fair land,
I would, though now 'twere fallen in my hand,
He were a man of such discretion high
As I find thee : fie on possessions, fie !
Unless a man be virtuous withal.
u 2

292 the franklin's prologue.

I have my son reprov'd, and often shall :
To virtuous counsel will he not attend,
But loves to play at dice, and to expend,
And to lose all he hath — a gambling rage ;
And he would rather talk with groom or page
Than converse hold with any gentle wight
Of whom he gentilesse might learn aright.'

' Straw for your gentilesse !' exclaimed our Host :
What, Franklin ! pardie, Sir, full well thou know'st
That each of you, as we have made accord,
Must tell a tale or two, or break his word.'
' Sir,' quoth the Franklin, ■ you say well and plain :
I pray you have me not in such disdain,
Though I to this man speak a word or two.'
• Tell,' quoth the Host, ' thy tale : why this to-do ?'
1 Gladly, Sir Host,' quoth he, ' I will obey
Your pleasant will : now hearken what I say ; —
I shall your purpose hinder in no wise,
So far as my poor knowledge may suffice.
1 pray to God that it may please you well,
Then will be good enough the tale I tell.'

1 These Britons old, and noble in their days,
Of strange adventures made them divers lays,


Rhymed in their earliest native British tongue ;
Which lays unto their instruments they sung,
Or else they read them for their cordial glee :
And one of them have I in memory.
I'll tell it with good will, as best I can.'

' But, Sirs, because I am a rough-spun man,
Ere my beginning I would you beseech
Have me excused for my unstudied speech.
Rhetoric I never learnt, and none will feign :
All that I speak it must be bare and plain.
Dreams on Parnassus Mount I ne'er did know,
Nor studied Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Figures and colours know I none, indeed,
But such as grow for ever in the mead ;
Or else such hues as men dye with, or paint ; —
Colours of rhetoric are to me all quaint :
My spirit feeleth nought of such dry cheer ;
But if ye list my story ye shall hear.'


In Armorique, once known as Basse Bretaigne,

There was a knight who sought with loving pain

A lady, and to serve her in best guise ;

And many a labour, many a great emprise,

He for this lady wrought e'er she was won.

One of the fairest was she 'neath the sun,

And thereto in her lineage so high

That scarcely durst this lover tremblingly

Tell her his woe, his passion, and distress.

But, at the last, she, for his worthiness,

And chiefly for his meek obedience sweet,

Caught pity from his penance at her feet,

Till secretly she fell into accord,

To take him for her husband and her lord, —


(Such lordship as men have over their wives) .
And in more bliss to lead their future lives,
Of his free will his knightly word he pass'd,
Never, by night or day, while life should last,
To claim or take upon him mastery
Over her will, nor vex with jealousy ;
But her obey, and follow her will in all,
As any lover at his lady's call :
Save that the name or shadow of sovereignty,
Still would he keep for shame of his degree.

She thanked him, and with great humbleness
She answer'd, ' Sir, since of your gentleness
Ye proffer me to have so large a reign,
I pray to God that ne'er between us twain,
Far less through guilt of mine, be war or strife.
Sir, I will be your humble and true wife.
Take here my heart, till that it leave my breast.'
Thus are they both in quiet and at rest.

For one thing, Sirs, full safely dare I say, —
That loving friends each other must obey,
If they would long remain in company.
Love will not be constrain'd by mastery.
When masterv cometh, the God of Love anon

296 the franklin's tale.

Beateth his wings — and, farewell ! he is gone *.
Love is a thing as any spirit free :
Women, by nature, wish for liberty,
And not to be constrain'd as in a thrall ;
And so do men, to speak truth, — one and all.
Note well the wight most patient in his love :
He standeth, in advantage, all above.
That patience is a virtue high, is plain,
Because it conquers, as the clerks explain,
Things that rude vigour never could attain.
Chide not for every trifle, nor complain ;
Learn to endure, or, so betide my lot,
Learn it ye shall, whether ye will or not.
For in this world is no one, certain 'tis,

* Butler has made a very excellent paraphrase of this passage in his Ifudi-
bras, part iii. c. 1. lines 553 to 560. Pope has made use of Chaucer more

"Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies."

Eloise to Abelard.
Warburton, in a note on these lines, alludes to this " imitation" of Chaucer,
and quotes the following as being the original : —

When maisterie comes, the Lord of Love anon
Flutters his wings, ami forthwith is he gone.
The words in italics an W'arburtnn'.s. Neither of tbeM \er.sion> pOMMI
any of the vigour and sincerity of the Father of English Poetry. The light
perfumed wings, admirably adapted to the idealities of the boudoir, with all
their fluttering levity, have none of the moral justification of an honest


But that he sometimes doth, or saith, amiss.

Anger, ill health, or influence malign

Of planets — changes in the blood — woe, wine,

Oft cause in word or deed that we transgress.

For every wrong we should not seek redress.

After a time there must be temperance

In every man that knows self- governance.

And therefore hath this worthy and wise knight

(To live in ease) yielded his wife all right ;

And she to him as wisely 'gan to swear

That never should there be default in her.

Here may men see an humble wise accord.
Thus taketh she her servant and her lord :
Servant in love, in marriage lord to be.
Lordship and servitude at once hath he ?
Servitude ? — nay, in lordship all above,
Since that he hath his lady and his love :
His lady doubtless, but his wife besides,
Tn all that love by its own law decides.
And when he prosperous was in this degree,
Home with his wife he went to his countrey :
Not far from Penmark was his pleasant seat,
And there he liveth in bliss and solace sweet.

298 the franklin's tale.

Who could declare, save those that wedded be,
The joy, the ease, and the prosperity,
That is between an husband and his wife ?
A year and more lasteth this blissful life,
Till that this knight — by name Arviragus,
Of Cairrud, and whose tale I tell you thus —
Resolved to go and dwell a year or twain
In England, that was also call'd Britain ;
Worship and honour to achieve in arms,
(For him such labour had the noblest charms)
And there he staid two years : the book saith thus.

Now will I leave this knight Arviragus,
And speak awhile of Dorigen his wife,
Who loveth her husband as her heart's best life.
Grief at his absence sighs and weeping prove,
As with these noble wives bereaved of love.
She mourneth, waketh, waileth, fasteth, plaineth ;
The yearning for his presence so constraincth,
That all this widened world she set at nought.
Her dearest friends who know her heavy thought,
Comfort her pain in all that ever they may :
They preach to her ; they tell her night and day
That without cause her life Bhe wastes, alas !


And every comfort possible in this case,

With busy care they give, and round her press,

In hopes to make her leave this heaviness.

Progressively, as know ye every one,
Men may engrave so long upon a stone
That there some figure shall imprinted be ;
So long her friends have wrought on her, that she,
By hope and reason hath resumed her station,
Receiving impress of their consolation,
Which somewhat doth her sorrow great assuage :
She could not live in its unceasing rage.
Arviragus also, with his utmost care,
Hath sent her letters home of his welfare,
And that he shortly should come back again ;
Or else with sorrow had her heart been slain.

Her friends perceived her sorrow 'gan to slake,
And prayed her on their knees, for Jesu's sake,
To come and journey in their company,
And thereby banish her dark phantasy :
And finally she granted that request,
For well she saw that it was for the best.

Now stood their castle fast by the wild sea,

300 the franklin's tale.

And often with her friends forth walked she,

Pastime to take along the bank on high,

Where she could many a ship and barge espie,

Sailing their course, where'er they list to go.

But this became a part, then, of her woe,

For to herself full oft, ' Alas !' said she,

' Is there not one, o' the many ships I see,

Will bring me home my lord ? — then were my heart

Heal'd and reliev'd of pain and bitter smart.'

At other times there would she sit and think ;
And cast her sad eyes downward from the brink,
And when she saw the grisly rock-rifts black,
For very terror would her heart so shake
That she could not sustain herself, I ween.
Then would she sit adown upon the green,
And piteously the sea beneath behold,
And say right thus, with sighs care-full and cold :

' Eternal God ! that through thy Providence
Guidest this world by certain governance, —
In vain, as men say, dost thou nothing make :
But oh, Dread Lord, these grisly fiend-rocks black,
That rather seem of work a foul confusion,
Than any fair creation or conclusion


Of such a perfect God, all-wise and stable ; —

Why hast thou wrought this work unreasonable ?

For by this work, — north, south, nor east, nor west,

Is fed or foster'd man, or bird, or beast :

It doth no good, methinks, but all annoyeth.

See ye not, Lord, mankind how it destroyeth ?

An hundred thousand bodies of mankind

Have rocks slain — though we bear it not in mind ;

Yet man is of thy work so fair a part,

Thou madest him in thine image, as thou art.

Thus doth it seem ye had great charity

Towards mankind ; but how then may it be

That ye a means have taken which destroyeth ;

Which means effects no good, but ever annoyeth ?

1 1 wot well, clerks will say e'en as they list,
By arguments, that all is for the best,
Though I can of the causes nought yknow :
But thou, Great God, that made the wind to blow,
Keep safe my lord ! — such my conclusion is :
To clerks leave I all vain disputes like this.
But would to heaven that all these fiend-rocks black
Were sunk down into hell, for his dear sake !
These rocks they tear my heart with constant fear/ —
Thus would she speak with many a piteous tear.

302 the franklin's tale.

Her friends now saw it was no pleasantness
To ramble by the sea, but wretchedness ;
And sought amusement elsewhere. Through fair dells
They lead her by the rivers, lakes, and wells,
And other places full of lovelyness :
They dance, and play at games of drafts and chess.

So on a day, right in the morning tide,
Unto a garden that was close beside,
In which they pleasantly had ranged about
Their tents and seats, and all the feast set out ;
There went they forth to sport them all the day.
This the sixth morning was of fragrant May ;
Which May all painted had with his soft showers
This garden full of leaves and eke of flowers,
And curiously the hand of man with art
Had deck'd this garden truly in each part,
That never was there garden of such price,
Except it were the very Paradise.
The odour of flowers and freshness of the sight
Would any heart have filled and made it light,
That e'er was born — sickness too great, unless,
Or too great sorrow, held it in distress —
So full it was of beauty and pleasance.


And after dinner went they forth to dance,
And sing also, save Dorigen alone,
Who her complaint made always, and her moan,
For him she saw not through the dances go,
Who was her husband and her lover too.
But ne'ertheless she must a time abide,
And through good hopes let her pale sorrow glide.

Amid this dance, above all other men,
Danced a squire before this Dorigen,
That fresher was and brighter of array,
As to my mind, than is the month of May.
He singeth, danceth, passing any man,
That is or was since that the world began.
Therewith he was, should I to paint him strive,
One of the best conditioned men alive :
Young, strong, and virtuous, and rich, and wise,
And well beloved, and holden in great prize ;
And, briefly, if the truth I must recall,
While Dorigen unconscious was of all,
This lusty squire — votary of Beauty's Queen,
And named Aurelius — since he had her seen,
Of any creature her had loved the best,
Two years and more ; such was his fate's behest.

304 the franklin's tale.

But of his grievance durst he never tell :
Unmeasurably drank he from his well.
He was despairing ; nothing would he say ;
Save in his songs he somewhat would betray
His grief, in general bitterness of thought :
He said he loved, and was beloved nought.
Of such sad matter made he many lays ;
Songs, and complaints, roundels, and virelays :
How that he durst not of his sorrow tell,
But languisheth, as doth a fury in hell ;
And die he must, as Echo did, said he,
For sweet Narcissus — loving silently.

In other manner than ye hear me say,
To Dorigen he dare not aught betray,
Save that perhaps at dances, here and there,
When that young folk are free and debonaire,
It may well be he looked upon her face
In such a guise as man that asketh grace :
But nothing wist she of his fond intent.
But ne'ertheless it happ'd as thence they went-
Because he was her neighbour, dwelling near ;
A man of worship and of honour fair ;
And Dorigen had known him well of vore —


They fell in converse ; and aye more and more

Unto his purpose drew Aurelius :

And when he saw his time, he said right thus.

' Madam,' quoth he, 'by Him who this world made,
So that I wist it might your gladness aid,
I would, that day when your Arviragus
Went over sea, that I, Aurelius,
Had gone, whence I should never come again.
For well I wot my service is in vain : —
My guerdon is but breaking of my heart.
Madam ! have ruth upon me ere we part ;
For with a word ye may me kill or save.
Here, at your feet, would God I had my grave !
Enough time now I have not more to say :
Have mercy, sweet, or else ye will me slay.'

She 'gan to look upon Aurelius now :
* Is this your will,' quoth she, ' and say ye so ?
Never, ere this, I dreamt of what ye meant ;
But now I know, Aurelius, your intent,
By yonder Power that gave me soul and life,
Never will I be found an untrue wife
In word nor work, as far as I have wit :
I will be his to whom that I am knit.

306 the franklin's tale.

Take this for final answer now from me.' —
But smiling, after that, continued she :

' Aurelius,' said she, ' by high God above,
Yet will I grant that you shall have your love
(Thus hearing you so piteously complain ;)
Lo ! on the day that lengthways through Bretaigne
Ye all the rocks remove, stone after stone,
That boat or ship strike not again thereon :
I say, when ye have made the coast so clean
Of rocks, that not a single stone is seen,
Then will I love you best of any man !
Take here my troth for all that ever I can.
Full well I wot that it shall never betide :
Let all such folly out of your heart glide.
Why should a man's life waste in fancies weak,
That he another's wife should love and seek,
Who giveth her husband all things evermore ?'

Now, and full oft, Aurelius sigheth sore.
' Is there no other grace in you ?' quoth he :
' No, by that Lord,' she said, ' that niakcd me.'
Woe was Aurelius when these words she spoke,
And with a sorrowful heart he silence broke :
' Madam, this is impossible !' said he :


'A sudden, horrid death, mine end must be.'
And with that word he turned him pale away.

Then came her other friends, in pleasant way,
And in the alleys roam'd they up and down,
Nor of this matter aught to them was known,
But suddenly their revels they renew,
Till that the bright faced sun had lost his hue ;
Because the horizon 'reft him of his light
(This is to say, in other words, 'twas night)
And home all wend in ease, and full of glee,
Save wretched Aurelius — none was sad but he.
He to his house is gone with sorrowful heart.
He saith he cannot 'scape of death the dart :
It seemed to him he felt his heart a-cold.
Up to the heavens his hands he 'gan to hold
And on his bare knees forthwith sank he down,
And in his raving said his orison.
For very woe out of his wits he strayed :
He knew not what he spake, but thus he said :
With piteous heart his plaint hath he begun
Unto the gods ; and first unto the sun.

He said, ' Apollo ! God, and ruling power
Of every plant, and herb, and tree, and flower ;
x 2

30S the franklin's tale.

That giv'st, according to thy declination,
To each his time, his season, and his station,
E'en as thy bright house changeth low and high
Lord Phoebus, cast thine ever-pitying eye
On wretched Aurelius — now a man forlorn !
Behold, my lady hath my death-blow sworn,
Though guiltless I : — but thou, Benignity,
Some pity for my deadly heart give me !
For well I wot, Lord Phoebus, if ye list,
Ye may me help — except my lady — best.
Now vouchsafe, God, that I may you apprise
How that I may be helped, and in what wise.

' Your blissful sister Luna, silvery sheen,
That of the sea chief goddess is and queen —
Though Neptune have his god- ship in the sea,
Yet clouded empress over him is she —
Ye well know, Lord, that even as her desire
Is to be quicken'd — lighted by your fire,
For which she followeth like an humble creature
Right so, the sea desireth by its nature
To follow her, as she is goddess high
Both of the sea and rivers far and nigh.
Wherefore, Lord Phoebus, pity on me take !
Work thou this miracle, or mine heart break; —


That when in opposition next shall be

Her orb, which in the Lion we shall see,

Beseech her then so great a flood to bring,

That fathoms five, at least, it overspring

The highest rock in Armorique Bretaigne !

And let this swollen flood endure years twain.

Then, certes, to my lady may I say

Hold your behest — the rocks are all away !

Lord Phcebus, do this miracle for me ; —

Pray her to go no faster course than ye.

I say this — pray your sister that she go

No faster course than ye, during years two.

Then shall her visage be at full alway,

And thus the spring-flood last both night and day.

But if that my complaint she will not hear,

And grant to me my sovran lady dear,

Then pray her every rock to sink adown

Into the region dark, which is her own,

Under the ground, where Pluto dwells in night ;

Or never shall I win my lady bright.

■ Thy temple in Delphos will I barefoot seek.
Lord Phcebus, see the tears upon my cheek ;
And some compassion have upon my moan !'
And with that word in sorrow he fell adown.


Outstretch'd, and cold, in trance he lay full long.
His brother, knowing of his passion strong,
Upraised him, and to bed he hath him brought.
Despairing in this torment and this thought,
Leave I this woful creature thus to lie :
I know not whether he will live or die.

Arviragus with health and honour's dower,
As one that was of chivalry the flower,
At home arrives with other worthy men.
Oh, blissful art thou now, thou Dorigen !
Thou hast thy noble husband in thine arms ;
The fresh knight, safe from wars, and rocks, and storms.
Who loveth thee, e'en as his own heart's life.
Nothing suspicious was he of his wife,
That any wight had access to her sought,
And spoke of love : he had of that no thought ;
Nor listened he to any such affair.
He danceth, jousteth, maketh merry cheer.
And thus in joy and bliss I let them dwell,
And of the sick Aurelius will I tell.

In languor and in torment furious,
Two years and more lay worn Aurelius,
Ere that one foot of earth his step hath gone ;


And comfort all this season had he none,

Save from his brother, who was a wise clerk,

And knew of all this woe and all this work.

For to no other creature, certain 'tis,

He durst confide a single word of this.

More close in heart he hid the fond idea,

Than Pamphilus did, when loving Galatea.

His breast was whole without, and nought was seen,

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 17 of 18)