THE Book of the Duchess. From The Modern Reader's Chaucer, ed. John S. P. Tatlock and Percy MacKaye (New York: Free Press, 1912). For educational use only.
By this heaven, I wonder greatly how I live, for I can scarce sleep at all, day or night; I have so many an idle fantasy only for lack of sleep, that, by my troth, I heed naught, how it comes or goes, and naught is either sweet or bitter to me. All is alike--joy or sorrow, whatsoever it be, for I have no feeling, but am, as it were, a thing stunned, ever in point to fall down; for sorry fantasies are ever wholly in my mind. And ye well know it were against nature to live in this wise; for nature would not suffer any earthly creature to abide long time without sleep, and to be in sorrow; and I cannot sleep, night or morn. And thus melancholy and dread of dying, and default of sleep and heaviness, have so slain my spirit of life, that I have lost all lustiness. Such fantasies be in my head that I wot never what is best to do.
But men might ask me why I cannot sleep, and what is ailing me. Nevertheless who asks this, in truth, wastes his asking. Myself cannot tell why it is thus ; but in sooth, I trow, I hold it to be a sickness that I have suffered these eight year, and yet my remedy is never the nigher. For there is but one physician that can heal me. But that is past Pass we over until another time; what will not be, must needs be left ; it were good to hold to our first matter.
So when I saw I could not sleep the other night, I sat up till late upon my bed, and bade one reach me a book, a romance, and he gave it me to read and pass the night away; for me thought it better sport than to play at either backgammon or chess. And in this book were written fables, which clerks and other poets in old days had put into rhyme, to read and to remember as long as men loved the law of nature. This book spake only of such matters as the lives of ancient queens and kings, and many other little histories. Amongst all this I found a tale that methought was marvelous.
This was the tale : There was a king who was named Ceyx, and he had a wife, the best that could live; and this queen was called Alcyone. It so befell ere long that this king would fare across the sea. To tell it shortly, when he was thus at sea, such a tempest arose that it broke the ship's mast and made it fall, and made a breach in their ship and drowned every man, so that, as the book tells, never was found board or man or aught beside. Even thus the king Ceyx met his death.
Now to speak of his wife: This lady who was left at home marveled that the king came not back, for he had been gone for long. Anon her heart began to grieve bitterly; and because evermore it seemed to her that it was not well that he so tarried, she longed so after her husband that it were a piteous thing, certes, to tell the heartfelt sorrow of this noble queen, alas !, for she loved him best of all. Anon she sent north and south to seek him, but they found naught.
'Alas!' quoth she, 'Alas that ever I was born! And is my lord and my love dead? Certes, I make a vow here to my god that I will never eat bread unless I can learn tidings of my lord!' Such was the sorrow of this lady that in very sooth I who have writ this book had such pity and ruth to read of her woe, that, by my troth, I fared the worse all the morrow after, to think of her pains.
So when she could learn no tidings that any man could find her lord, she swooned full oft and said, 'Alas!' For sorrow she was wellnigh mad, and knew no counsel but one; anon she set her down on her knees and so wept that it was pitiful to hear.
'Ah mercy, sweet dear lady!' quoth she to her goddess, Juno. 'Help me out of this distress, and give me grace to see my lord soon, or to know where he is or how he fares or in what state, and I shall do sacrifice to thee, and with good will become wholly thine, body, heart, and all. And except thou wilt do this, sweet lady, send me grace to sleep and to dream in my sleep some faithful dream, through which I shall know of a surety whether my lord be alive or no.'
And with that word she hung down her head and fell into a swoon, as cold as stone. Her women caught her up straightway, and unclad her and carried her to bed. And she, worn out witfl weeping and watching, was weary; and thus, ere she knew it, the dead sleep fell upon her, from Juno, who had heard her prayer and caused her quickly to sleep. For as she prayed, so it was done in fact. For Juno anon called her messenger to do her errand; and when he was come near, she commanded him thus:
'Haste thee,' quoth Juno, 'to Morpheus, - thou knowest him well, the god of sleep. Now understand well and heed! Say thus on my behalf, that he go quickly into the great sea ; - and bid him by any means to take up the body of Ceyx the king, which lies full pale and all bloodless. Bid him creep into the body and cause it to go to Alcyone the queen, where she lies alone, and tell her in brief how it was verily drowned the other day. And let the body speak even as it was wont to speak whilst it was alive. Go now quickly, and hie thee!'
This messenger took leave, and went his way and never stopped till he came to the dark valley that stands between two cliffs, where never yet grew corn or grass or tree, or anything that served for aught, nor beast or man or aught else; save that there were a few springs came running down from the cliffs, and made a dead, sleepy sound, and ran down past a cave that was digged wondrous deep under a rock amid the valley. There lay these gods and slept, Morpheus and Eclympasteyre, who was heir to the god of sleep, who slept and did none other toil. This cave was as dark everywhere about as the pit of hell. They had good leisure to snore in rivalry, - who were the soundest sleeper! Some hung chin on breast and slept standing upright, their heads hidden; and some lay a-bed and slept the long days through.
This messenger came flying swiftly and cried, 'O ho! Awake, and that anon!' It was in vain; none heard him. 'Awake !' quoth he. 'Who is it lies there?' And he blew his horn right in their ears, and cried wondrous loud, 'Awake!'
This god of sleep opened one eye and asked, 'Who calls there?'
'It is I,' quoth this messenger. 'Juno bade thou shouldst go.' - and he told him what he was to do, as I have told you before; it needs not rehearse it again. And when he had spoken, he went his way.
Anon this god of sleep started out of his slumber, and went and did as he had been bidden; he took up the drowned body straightway, and bore it forth to the wife, queen Alcyone, where she lay, a little before dawn. And it stood even at the foot of her bed, and called her by her very name, and said, 'My sweet wife, awake! Let be your sorrowful course, for in your sorrow lies no profit. For certes, sweet, I am dead; thou shalt never more see me alive. But, good sweet heart, look thou bury my body, what time thou mayst find it beside the sea. And farewell, sweet, my world's joy ! I pray God relieve thy sorrow; our happiness lasts too short while here on earth!' At that she opened her eyes and saw naught. 'Alas!' quoth she for sorrow, and died before the fourth morn. But what more she said in that delirium I may not tell you now, it were too long delay. I will tell you of my first matter, for which I have told this thing of queen Alcyone and Ceyx.
For thus much I dare well say, I should have been dead and all buried, even for default of sleep, if I had not read and noted this tale. And I will tell you wherefore; because for weal or woe I could not sleep ere I had read this tale of this drowned Ceyx the king and of the gods of sleep. When I had well read this tale and looked all through it, a wonder it seemed to me if it were true; for I had never heard tell before of any gods that could cause men to sleep or wake. For I never knew any god hut one. And jesting I said anon, -and yet I list full little to make mirth, - 'Rather than die thus through default of sleep, I would give to that Morpheus, or his goddess, dame Juno, or any wight else, I reck not who, to make me sleep and have some repose, - I will give him the very best gift that ever he looked for in his life. And here into his keeping, now straightway, if he will grant me a little sleep, I will give him a feather-bed of the down of pure white doves, right well enveloped in fine black satin from overseas and striped with gold, and eke many a pillow, with every pillow-case of cloth of Rennes, to sleep on softly; he need not turn and turn. And I will give him all that behooves to a chamber; and with pure gold I will have all his halls painted, and covered with many a fold of tapestry of one pattern. This he should have (knew I where his cave is), if he could make me sleep forthwith, as the goddess did Alcyone. And thus may this god Morpheus win from me greater pay than ever he won. And Juno, who is his goddess, I shall so require that I trow she shall hold herself content.
Scarce had I said that word, even thus as I have told it you, when suddenly, but how I knew riot3 such a lust to sleep seized me anon that I fell asleep right over my book, and even therewith I dreamed a dream so rarely sweet, so wonderful, 1 trow never yet had man the wit to tell the interpretation thereof; no, verily, not Joseph of Egypt, he who so interpreted the dream of king Pharaoh, no more than could the least one of us; nor scarce Macrobius, he that writ all the vision that king Scipio dreamed, that noble man, Africanus - such marvels befell then - I trow could justly interpret my visions. Lo thus it was, this was my dream.
Methought thus: it was May, and about dawn where I lay in my bed all naked, in my dream I looked forth, for I was awakened by a great crowd of small birds which had startled me out of sleep through the sound and sweetness of their song; and I dreamed they sat all the while upon the roof of my chamber outside all about upon the tiles, and they sang in tune, each in his own wise, the most solemn service that ever man heard, I trow; for some of them sang low, some high, and all in accord. To tell shortly and in brief, never was heard so sweet a voice, unless it had been from some heavenly thing, so merry a harmony, so sweet strains, that certes I would not have failed to hear them for all the town of Tunis; for my whole chamber rang through the harmony of their singing. For nowhere was ever heard instrument or melody yet half so sweet, or of half so meet accord. For there was none of them that only feigned to sing, but each of them strove to find out merry, cunning tones, and they spared not their throats.
And, sooth to say, my chamber was full well covered with paintings, and all the windows were well glazed with glass full clear, and not a hole broken, that it was a great delight to behold. All the story of Troy was wrought in the glazing-of Hector and King Priam, of Achilles and Laomedon, of Jason and Medea, of Paris and Helen and Lavinia. And all the walls were painted in fine colors with all the Romance of the Rose, both text and gloss. My windows were all shut, and through the glass the sun shone upon my bed with bright beams and many glad, golden rays; and the welkin eke was full beauteous) and the air blue, bright and clear, and right mild it was in sooth, neither cold nor hot. And in all the welkin was not a cloud.
And as I lay thus, methought I heard a hunter blow his horn wondrous high and clear, to try it and learn whether it were clear or hoarse in tone. I heard men, horses, hounds and other creatures going to and fro; and all men spake of hunting, how they would have mightily slain the hart, and how far the hart at length had plunged into the thicket,- I know not what it was. Straight-way when I heard that, how they would go a-hunting, I was right glad and anon was up, and went forth from my chamber, and took my horse, and never stopped till I came to the field outside. There I overtook a great rout of hunters and foresters, with many relays of hounds and dogs in leashes, and they hied them quick to the forest, and I with them. So at the last I asked one that led a dog in a leash, 'Tell me, fellow, who shall hunt here?' quoth I. And he answered, 'Sir) the emperor Octavian; and he is hard by here.' 'In God's name, well met,' quoth I, 'go we fast!' and began to ride on. When we came to the forest-side, every man did anon as it behooves to do in hunting. Anon the master of the hunt, hot-foot, blew three notes on a great horn, at the uncoupling of his hounds. In a little the hart was lighted on, hallooed, and headed back long time; at last this hart fetched a compass and stole away from all the hounds by a secret course. The hounds had all outrun the scent, and were at fault; upon that the hunter at last blew a recall wondrous loud.
I was gone walking away from my tree, and as I went there came by and fawned upon me as stood a whelp that had followed the chase but was untrained. It came and crept up to me as humbly as if it had known me, held down its head and laid back its ears, and laid its hair down all smooth. I would have caught it, and anon it fled and was gone from me. I followed it, and it went forth down by a flowery green path right thick with grass, soft and sweet with many flowers, fair under the foot, and little used, it seemed. For both Flora and Zephyr, they two that make flowers to spring, I trow had fixed their dwelling there; for it was, to behold it, as if the earth should strive to be gayer than the sky, to have seven times more flowers than the welkin has stars. It had forgotten the woes of winter and the poverty which he had made it suffer with his cold moms; all was forgotten, as men could see. For all the wood was waxed green; the sweetness of dew had made it grow.
There needs not ask whether the place stood thick with trees, so full of leaves) with many a green spray. And each tree stood by itself full ten or twelve feet from the others. So great trees, of such huge strength, and forty or fifty fathoms high, and clean without bough or stick up to the tops, broad and eke so thick - they were not an inch asunder - that everywhere below there was shadow; and many a hart and hind was both before me and at my back. The wood was full of fawns, young horned deer, bucks) does, and many a roe, and many squirrels that sat full high in the trees, and ate, and made festival in their manner. In brief, it was so full of beasts that though Argus, the noble computer, set to reckoning on his abacus, and reckoned with his ten figures - by which figures all mankind, if they be skillful, may reckon and count and tell the number of everything, - yet he would fail to reckon exactly the wonders that I dreamed in my dream.
But forth the beasts roamed down the wood wondrous fast; and at last I was ware of a man in black who sat and leaned against a huge oak. 'Lord!' I thought, 'Who may that be? What ails him, to sit here?' Forthwith I approached, and found sitting up straight a wondrous fine-looking knight, -- by his bearing methought so, - of good height and young, four-and-twenty years of age; there was but little hair in his beard, and he was clothed all in black. I walked softly up behind him, and stood there as still as anything, so that truly he saw me not, because he hung his head down. And with a deathlike sorrowful voice he rhymed to himself ten or twelve verses of a complaint, the most piteous, the most rueful, that ever I heard; for, by my troth, it was a great marvel that nature could suffer any living being to have such sorrow and not die. Full piteous, pale and bloodless, he recited a lay, a kind of a song, but without note or tune; and this was it, for I can well rehearse it. It began right thus:
'I am with sorrows overrun,
Happiness get I never none,
Now that I see my lady bright,
That I have loved with all my might,
Hath died and is forever gone.
'Alas, O death, what aileth thee
That thou wouldst not have taken me,
When that thou tookst my lady dear;
That was so fair, so fresh, so free,
So good that every man may see
For all goodness she had no peer?'
When he had made his lament thus, his sorrowful heart began to grow very faint and his spirits dead. For very fear the blood fled down to his heart, to warm it - for well it felt that the heart was sore afflicted, - eke to learn why so horridly it shook its disposition, and to gladden it. For it is the principal member of the body, and that caused all his hue to change and wax green and pale, because no blood was seen in any limb of his.
Thereat anon, when I saw how ill he fared there, I went and stood right at his feet and greeted him; but he spake not, but reasoned with his own thought and in his mind earnestly debated whether and why his life should hold out-his sorrows were so painful, and lay so cold on his heart. So his sorrow and heavy thought suffered him not to hear me; for he had well-nigh lost his mind, though Pan, whom men call the god of nature, were never so wroth against him for his melancholy. But at last, in truth, he became aware of me, how I was there before him and doffed my hood, and greeted him as best I knew how. Gently and softly he said, 'I prithee be not wroth; truly I heard you not, sir, nor saw you not.'
'Ah, good sir,' quoth I, 'no matter. I am right sorry if I have at all disturbed you out of your thought. Forgive me if I have trespassed.'
'Yea, the amends are light to make,' quoth he, 'for none are needed; there is none offense in word or deed.'
Lo how goodly this knight spake, as if it had been another than he that I had troubled. He was neither over-forward nor over-distant. And I saw that, and began to consider him, and found him very ready to talk, right marvelous discreet and reasonable, as methought, for all his woe. Anon I began to devise talk with him, to look whether I could in any wise know more of his mind. 'Sir,' quoth I, 'this sport is over, I trow this hart is gone; these hunters can find him nowhere.'
'I care not therefor,' quoth he, 'my mind is never a whit on that.'
'By our Lord,' quoth I, 'I well believe you; even so me-thinks by your cheer. But, sir, will you hear one thing? Me-thinks I see you in great sorrow, but certes, sir, if you will at all discover your woe to me, I would amend it if I have the power, so may God help me! You can prove it by trial, for, by my troth, I will use all my power to make you whole. And tell me of your bitter sorrows; peradventure it may ease your heart, which seems full sick in your breast.'
With that he glanced at me aside, as who should say, 'Nay, that can never be.' 'Gramercy, good friend, I thank you,' quoth he, 'that you have such a desire, but it can never the more be done. No man can gladden my sorrow, which causes my fresh look to droop and fade, and has so ruined mine understanding that woe is me that I was ever born! Nothing can make my sorrows pass; not the Remedium of Ovid, nor Orpheus god of melody, nor Dedalus with cunning devices; nor can physician heal me, not Hippocrates or Galen. Woe is me that I live a day! But whosoever would make assay of himself, whether his heart can have pity of any sorrow, let him see me. I wretch, whom death has made naked of all bliss that was ever, who am become most miserable of all men, who hate my days and my nights! My life, my pleasures, are loathsome to me, for all welfare and I are at odds. Death itself is my enemy; though I would die, it will not so. For when I follow, it flies from me; I would have it, it will not have me. This is my cureless torment, ever dying, and never dead; so that Sisyphus lying in hell knows no more sorrow. And, by my troth, whosoever knew all my bitter sorrows, if he had not compassion for them, must have a fiendish heart. For whoso sees me first in the morn, may say he has met with sorrow, for I am sorrow, and sorrow is I.
'Alas! I will tell thee why; my song is turned into lamentation, and all my laughter to weeping, my glad thoughts to heaviness, mine ease and eke my rest into travail; my weal is woe, my good is evil; and evermore my sport is turned into ugly pain and my delight into mourning; my health is turned into sickness, all my security into dread ; all my light is become darkness, my wit is folly, my day is night, my love is hate, my sleep is waking, my mirth and eating are fasting, mine aspect is foolishness and is all confounded wheresoever I am; my peace is turned into contention and war. Alas how could I fare worse? My boldness is turned into abasement, for false Fortune has played a game of chess with me, alack the day! The traitress false and guileful, who promises everything and performs nothing, she walks upright, yet she walks lame; she looks foully and askew, yet shows fair looks; the cruel gracious one, who scorns many a creature ! An image she is, falsely portrayed ; for she will quickly swerve aside. She is the monster's head, covered; as filth strewn over with flowers. Her greatest glory and flower of honor is to lie; for that is her nature. Without faith, law or restraint, she is false; and ever laughing with one eye and weeping with the other. That which is set aloft, she puts all down. I liken her to the scorpion, a false, flattering beast; for with his head he makes cheer, but amid all his flattery he will sting and envenom with his tail, and so will she. She is the envious charity that is ever false, and seems goodly ; so she turns her false wheel about, now to one side the hall, now at the other, for it is never steadfast. Full many a man has she thus blinded. She is a delusion of enchantment, which seems the same and is not-, the false thief!'
'What has she done, trow you? By our Lord, I will tell you. She played at chess with me; with her divers false moves she stole upon me and took my queen. And when I saw my queen gone, alas! I could play no longer, but said, "Farewell, sweet, in truth, and farewell all that ever there is!" Therewith Fortune said, "Check! " and then "Checkmate!" in the middle of the board, with a roving pawn, alas! She was more skillful at play than Attalus - so he was named-, who first made the game of the chess. But would God I had once or twice known and understood the problems that the Greek Pythagoras knew thereby I had played the better at chess, and the better had guarded my queen. And yet to what end? Truly I hold that wish not worth a straw. It had been never the better for me. For Fortune knows so many a fetch that there be but few who can beguile her. And eke for another cause she is the less to blame; before God) I myself would have done likewise, had I been in her place; she ought the more to be excused. For this I say, had I been God and could have had my will, when she captured my queen, I should have made the same move; for, so God save my soul, I dare well swear she took the best!
'But I have lost my bliss through that move; alas that I was born! For evermore, I truly believe, in spite of my will, my pleasure is wholly at an end; but yet what is to be done? By our Lord, it is to die quickly! In spite of all I give not up the thought, but live and die therein. There is no planet in the firmament, or element in the air or earth, that gives me not the gift of weeping, when I am alone. For when I consider well, and bethink me how nothing is owing me in mine account with sorrow; and how there remains no gladness which may gladden me in my distress, and how I have lost content and have no pleasance left; then I may say, nought remains at all. And when all this falls into my mind, alas! then I am overwhelmed! For what is done is not still to come. I have more sorrow than Tantalus.'
When I heard him tell this tale so piteously as I have told you, scarce could I abide longer, it did my heart so much grief. 'Ah, good sir!' quoth I, 'Say not so. Have some pity on that nature which makes you a living man! Remember Socrates; for he cared not three straws for aught that Fortune could do.'
'No,' quoth he, 'I cannot do thus.'
'Why so, good sir?' quoth I. 'Perdy! say not so, for in sooth, though you had lost the twelve pieces, if you murdered yourself for sorrow, you should be condemned in this case as justly as Medea was, who slew her children for Jason (and Phyllis also hanged herself for Demophon, alackaday! because he broke his appointed time to come to her). Another frenzied lover was Dido, queen of Carthage, who slew herself because Aeneas was false. Ah! what a fool she was! And Echo died because Narcissus would not love her; and even so has many another wrought folly. And Samson, who slew himself by means of a pillar, died because of Dalilah. But there is none alive on earth who would make this woe for a queen at chess!'
'Why?' quoth he. 'It is not thus. You know full little what you say. I have lost more than you ween.'
'Lo, sir,' quoth I, 'how can that be? Good sir, tell me all wholly in what wise, how, why, and wherefore you have thus lost your bliss.'
'Blithely,' quoth he, 'come sit down. I tell you upon the condition that with all your understanding you give your whole mind to hearken to it. - Yes, sir.' - 'Pledge your faith thereto.' -'Gladly.' - 'Keep to it then.' - 'So may God save me, I shall right blithely hear you, as well as I can, with all the whole wit I have.'
'In God's name!' quoth he, and began: 'Sir,' quoth he, from my youth, since first I had any manner of wit or natural understanding to comprehend in my own wit what love was in any wise, without fail I have ever been wholly subject to love, and have paid tribute with devoted mind, and by reason of his pleasantness have become his vassal with good will and body, heart and all. All this I put in his service, as to my lord, and did homage, and full devoutly prayed him that he should so bestow my heart that it were pleasance to him and worship to my dear lady. And it was long ago that I did this and knew not why, and many a year before my heart was fixed anywhere; I trow it came to me of nature. Peradventure I was ready for that impressure as a white wall or a tablet; for it is ready to catch and receive all that men will put thereon, whether they will portray or paint, be the works never so curious. And at the time I did so, I was able to have learned and understood another art or book-lore, peradventure, as well as love or better. But because love came first into my mind, therefore I forgot it not. I chose love for my first craft, therefore it remains with me; because I received it when I was so young that evil had not then turned my mind to be nothing worth through learning too much. For then Youth, my mistress, ruled me in idleness; for it was my first youth, and I then knew full little good. All my acts were volatile, and all my thoughts varying; all that I knew then was alike good to me. But thus it was.
'On a day it happed that I came into a place where truly I saw the fairest company of ladies that ever man had seen with eye together in one spot. Shall I call it hap or grace that brought me there? Nay, but Fortune, who is full prone to lie, the false, perverse traitress! Would God I might call her by a fouler name! For now she makes me full sad; and I will tell why ere long. Amongst all these ladies I saw one, in sooth, that was like none other in the whole company; for I dare verily swear that as the summer's shining sun is fairer, clearer, and has more light for all the world than any planet which is in the sky, - the moon, or the seven stars, so she surpassed them all in beauty, in demeanor and comeliness, in stature, in seemly gladness, so well endowed with goodliness, -in brief, what more shall I say? By God and His holy apostles, it was my sweet one, her very self! She had such a steadfast aspect, such a noble port and demeanor! And Love, who had heard my prayer, had cast his eye on me thus soon; anon she was so fixed in my mind, and so suddenly, that I took no manner of counsel but from her look and from my heart; because her eyes, I trow, looked in such gladness on my heart that mine own mind only said it were better to serve her for naught than to stand well with another. And it was true, for I will straightway tell you why, every whit.
'I saw her so comely on the dance, so sweetly carol and sing, laugh and sport so girlishly, and look so gently, speak so amiably and well, that certes I trow nevermore was seen so blessed a treasure. Every hair on her head, sooth to say, was not yellow, or red, or brown; methought it was most like gold. And what eyes my lady had ! Gentle, good, glad, steadfast, simple, of good size, not too wide; and eke her look was not sideloug nor askance, but so simply direct that it drew and quite took up all that looked upon her. Anon her eyes seemed as if she would have mercy; fools thought it; but it was never the more so. It was no feigned thing, but her very own manner of looking, that the goddess, dame Nature, had made them open not too much, and gently close; for were she never so glad, her gaze was not spread wide in folly; nor wildly, though she were in mirth. But methought her eyes ever said, "By God, my wrath is all given over!"
'She had eke such joy in life that dullness was afraid of her. She was not too grave nor too glad; never creature, I trow, had more measure in all things. But she hurt many an one with her glance, and that oppressed her heart full little, for she knew naught of their thoughts; but whether she knew or not, at all events she cared for them not a straw. He who dwelt at home was no nearer to get her love than he who was in Ind; the foremost was alway in the rear. But good folk she loved before all, as a man may love his brother; of which love she was wondrous liberal, in places where reason would have it so.
'And what a visage she had! Alas, mine heart is wondrous woful that I cannot describe it! I want both the language and the wit to portray it perfectly, and eke my spirits he dull to describe so great a thing; I have no wit sufficient to comprehend her beauty. But thus much I dare say, that she was ruddy,
'Her face was nigh the best feature of all; for certes Nature had such delight to make that fair, that truly my love was her chief pattern of beauty and chief ensample and type of her work; for however dark it be, evermore methinks I see her. And moreover, though all those that ever lived were now alive, they should not have discerned one evil sign in all her face; for it was grave, simple and kind.
'And what a goodly soft language had that sweet physician of my life ! -.so friendly, so wise, so firmly based upon all reason and so inclinable to all virtue, that I dare swear by the rood that never was found such a sweet~sounding fluency of speech, nor truer-tongued, nor less scornful, nor more healing, so that I durst swear by the mass, though the pope sang it, that never was man or woman greatly hurt through her tongue; as for her, all trouble hid from her. Never was less fiattenng than in her words, so that her simple testimony was found as true as any bond or as the pledge of any man's hand. And she could not chide a whit; that all the world knows full well. And such a fair neck had that sweet one that no bone or blemish was to be seen that misbecame her. It was white, smooth and straight, without hollow; and collar-bone to all seeming had she none. Her throat, as I can recall, seemed a round tower of ivory, of proper size, not too great. 'And good, fair White she was called; that was my lady's very name. She was both fair and bright, she had not her name wrongly. She had right fair shoulders, and long body and arms, every limb plump and round but not over-large; hands full white and pink nails, round breasts, a straight, flat back, and hips of good breadth. I knew no manner of defect in her, that her limbs were not all in accord, so far as I could know.
'And she could disport herself so well when she would, that I say she was like to a shining torch, from which every man can have light in plenty, and it has none the less. In manner and comeliness even so was it with my dear lady; for any wight, if he would and had eyes to behold her, might take joy enough in her bearing. For I dare swear if she had been amongst ten thousand, in the eyes of men that could judge she would have been at the least a chief glass of fashion of all the company, though they had stood on a row. For wheresoever folk made merry and out-watched the night, methought the fellowship barer without her, as I saw once, than a crown without gems. Truly to mine eyes she was the solitary phoenix of Araby, for there is never but one alive; and never knew I such an one as she.
'To speak of goodness, truly she had as much gentleness as ever had Esther in the Bible, and more, if more could be. And therewithal in sooth she had a wit so broad, so wholly inclined to all virtue, that by the rood all her understanding was without malice and set upon joyous things; in addition, I never yet saw one less hurtful than she in her acts. I say not that she had no knowledge what evil was; else methinks she had had no ripe judgment.
'And verily, to speak of faithfulness, it had been pity if she had not had that ! Thereof she had so full a share, I dare say it, and swear to it well, that Faith himself had chosen to set his principal manor, his abiding-place, in her above all others. Therewith she had the greatest gift of steadfast constancy and unconstrained temperate self-control that I ever yet knew, so wholly long-suffering was she, and so gladly would hear reason; it well followed that she knew how to rule her life, and loved to do well. This was her disposition, every whit. Therewith she so well loved right she would do no wrong to any person; yet no wight could do her shame, she loved so well her own fair repute. She would delude no honest wight, nor by half word or look hold him in suspense, be sure; nor send a man into Wallachia, Prussia nor Tartary, Alexandria nor Turkey, and anon bid him strictly to go bareheaded to the dry sea and come home by the Carrenare; nor say, "Sir, see now that I hear worship of you, ere you come again. " She gave rein to no such little freaks.
'But to what end tell I my tale? On this very one, as I have said, was all my love wholly placed ; for certes, that sweet woman, she was my sufficiency, my pleasure, my life, my fortune, my health, and all my bliss, my worldly welfare and comfort; and I was entirely hers, every whit.'
'By our Lord,' quoth I, 'I well believe you! In faith your love was well bestowed ; I wot not how you might have done better.'
'Better? No wight could have done so well!' quoth he.
'Perdy,' quoth I, ' I trow it, sir.'
'Nay, believe it well.'
'Sir, so I do; I well believe you that you truly thought she was the best and the very fairest to behold, for whosoever had looked with your eyes.'
'With mine? Nay, all that saw her said so, and swore to it. And though they had not, I should still have ]oved best my noble lady, though I had had all the beauty that ever Alcibiades had, and all the strength of Hercules; besides bad all the worthiness of Alexander, and all the wealth that ever was in Babylon or Carthage or Macedonia, or in Rome or Nineve; and eke, as I hope to be saved, had been as hardy as Hector, whom Achilles slew at Troy (and for that deed Achilles was slain also in a temple ; for the two were slain, both he and Archilochus, for love of Polyxena, and so says Dares Phrygius); or had I been as wise as Minerva, I should ever have loved her, without doubt, for I must needs. "Needs! " Nay, I speak idly now; not "needs. " I will tell why; it was because my heart desired it with its own free will, and eke I was bound to love her as the fairest and best. She was as good as ever was Penelope of Greece, or Lucrece, the noble wife who was the best of wives - he tells thus, the Roman Titus Livius ; she was as good as they, as I hope for salvation, and had no equal, though their stories be authentic at least she was as faithful as Lucrece.
'But wherefore tell I how I first saw my lady? I was right young, sooth to say, and had full great need to learn; when my heart longed to love, it was a great emprise. But as my wit could best, after my young, childish understanding, I set it verily to love her in my best fashion, to do her such honor and service as I then could, by my faith, without feigning or sloth; for wondrous fain I was to see her. So much it relieved me that when I saw her first in the morn, I was healed of all my sorrow for the whole day thereafter, till it were eve ; methought nothing could hurt me, were my sorrows never so bitter. And so she still holds my heart that, by my troth, I would not let niy lady out of my thought for all this world; no, in truth!'
'Now by my troth, sir,' quoth, I, 'methinks you fare as one who confesses without repentance.
'Repentance!' quoth he; 'Nay! fie! Should I now repent me of loving? Nay, certes; then I were worse than Achitophel, or Antenor, the traitor who betrayed Troy, as I hope for bliss!-or the false Ganelon, he that procured the betrayal of Roland and Oliver. Nay! Whilst I am alive on earth I shall forget her nevermore.'
'Now, good sir,' quoth I, 'you have told it me already -there is no need to rehearse it again -, how you first saw her, and where; but if you would tell me the manner of your first words to her, for that I would beseech you; and how she first knew your mind, whether you loved her or no; and eke tell me what you have lost, which I have heard you tell of.'
'Yea,' said he, 'you know not what you say. I have lost more than you ween.'
'What loss is that ? ' quoth I. 'Will she not love you? Is it thus? Or have you done aught amiss, so that she has left you? Is this it? For God's love, tell me all.'
'Before God, so I shall,' quoth he. 'I say even as I have said: all my love was placed on her. And yet long time she knew of it never a whit, believe me well ; for be right sure, I durst not tell her my mind for all this world, nor would I have angered her, truly. Knowest thou why? She was ruler of my body; she held the heart, and he whose heart is held cannot escape.
'But to keep me from idleness, truly I busied myself in making songs, as best I knew how, and oftentimes sang them aloud. And I made many songs, though I could not make them so well, nor knew all the art, as could Tubal, Lamech's son, who first invented the art of song; for as his brother's hammers rang to and fro on his anvil, from that he took the first melody; but the Greeks say that Pythagoras was the first inventor of the art Aurora tells so. But no matter for that, as to the two of them. At all events, thus I put my feeling into songs, to gladden my heart; and lo ! this was the first - I know not whether it were the best:
Lord but mine heart it maketh light
When I think on that sweetest wight,
A comely one to see;
And wish to God it might so he
That she would hold me for her knight,
My lady, fair and bright
'Now, I have told you my first song. Upon a day I bethought me what woe and sorrow I was suffering for her then, and yet she knew it not, nor durst I tell her my mind. "Alas ! thought I, "I know no remedy, and unless I tell her, I am but a dead man; and if I tell her, verily I am afeared she will be wroth. Alas! what shall I do then?" In this debate I was so woful, methought mine heart would burst in twain. So at last, I bethought me in sooth that Nature never formed in a living being so much beauty and goodness without kindness. In hope of that, I told my story, from necessity, and with sorrow, as if should never have done so; maugre my head, I must needs tell her or die. I wot not well how I began ; I can repeat it but ill. And eke, so God help me, I trow it was on an unlucky day, as the days of the ten plagues of Egypt. For I missed many a word in my tale from pure fear lest my words were misplaced. With sorrowful heart and deadly wounds, timid and quaking from very fear and shame, and stopping ever and anon in my words for dread, my hue all pale, full often I waxed both pale and red; I bent my face down before her, I durst not once look at her, for wit and assurance all were fled. I cried Mercy ! " and no more. It was no sport, it was bitter pain.
At last when my courage was returned, to relate my words shortly, I besought her with my whole heart to be my sweet lady; and swore and heartily promised her ever to be steadfast and loyal, and to love her ever afresh and anew, and never to have other lady, and to protect all her honor as best I could; I swore that to her, - "because yours for evermore is all that ever there is in me, my sweet heart! And never will I be false to you, unless in a dream - so surely may God help me!"
'And when I had finished my tale, God wot she counted it all not worth a straw, methought. To tell it briefly as it was, her answer in truth was this ; I cannot now follow her words well, but this was the substance of her answer; she said " nay, utterly. Alack for the sorrow and woe I suffered then ! Truly Cassandra, who so bewailed the destruction of Ilium and Troy, had never such sorrow as I that day. For very fear I durst say no more, but stole off. And thus I lived for full many a day, so that truly I had no need any day to seek for sorrow farther than my bed's head; I found it at hand every morn, because it was in no fickleness I loved her.
It so befell, in another year I thought once I would try to make her know and understand my woe, and she well perceived that I desired naught but what was good and worshipful, and above all things to guard her good name and dread any dishonor for her, and that I was full eager to serve her; and it were pity I should die, since truly I desired no evil. So when my lady knew it, she gave me all wholly the noble gift of her favor, always saving her honor, certes, I mean no otherwise. And therewith she gave me a ring; I trow it was the first gift. But whether my heart was glad is no need to ask! So God help me, I was straightway raised as from death to life, of all haps the best, the gladdest and the most peaceful. For truly, that sweet creature, when I was in the wrong and she in the right, she would ever forgive me full graciously and kindly. In all my youth, in all hazard, she took me under her rule.
'Therewith she was alway so true, our joy was ever and alike fresh. Our hearts were so perfect a pair that never for any woe was the one counter to the other. In sooth they both felt alike one joy and eke one sorrow; they were both alike glad or troubled; verily all was the same to both. And thus we lived many a year, - so well, I cannot tell how well.'
'Sir, ' quoth I, 'where is she now?'
'Now!' he said, and stopped straightway. Then he waxed as deathlike to see as a stone, then said, 'Alas that I was born! That was the loss which I before told you I had suffered. Remember how I said before, "You know full little what you say I have lost more than you ween. " God wot,alas, it was she!'
'Alack, sir, and how? What are you saying?'
'She is dead!'
'Yes, by my troth!'
'Is that your loss! By God, it is a grievous thing!'
And anon at that word the hunters began to range forth; it was all done, the hart-hunting, for that time.
Upon that, methought, this king rode homeward to a place hard by, but a little distance from us, a long castle with white walls, by Saint John! On a rich hill, as I dreamed; thus it was. Right thus I dreamed, as I relate it to you, - that there was a bell in the castle, which seemed to strike the twelfth hour.
At that I awoke, and found myself lying in my bed ; and the book that I had been reading, of Alcyone and king Ceyx and of the gods of sleep, I found it even in my hand. Thought I, this is so rare a dream, that as the days go by I will strive to put it into rhyme as best I can, and that anon. This was my dream; now it is ended.
Explicit the Book of the Duchess.
back to Laurel
San Diego State University