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Medieval and Classical Library



Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #25

      Hyd, Absolon, thy gilte tresses clere;
      Ester, ley thou thy meknesse al a-doun;
      Hyd, Ionathas, al thy frendly manere;
      Penalopee, and Marcia Catoun,
      Mak of your wyfhod no comparisoun;
      Hyde ye your beautes, Isoude and Eleyne,
      Alceste is here, that al that may desteyne.

210 Thy faire body, lat hit nat appere, Lavyne; and thou, Lucresse of Rome toun, And Polixene, that boghte love so dere, Eek Cleopatre, with al thy passioun, Hyde ye your trouthe in love and your renoun; And thou, Tisbe, that hast for love swich peyne; Alceste is here, that al that may desteyne.
Herro, Dido, Laudomia, alle in-fere, And Phyllis, hanging for thy Demophoun, And Canace, espyed by thy chere, 220 Ysiphile, betrayed with Jasoun, Mak of your trouthe in love no bost ne soun; Nor Ypermistre or Adriane, ye pleyne; Alceste is here, that al that may desteyne.
Whan that this balade al y-songen was, Upon the softe and swote grene gras They setten hem ful softely adoun, By ordre alle in compas, alle enveroun. First sat the god of love, and than his quene With the whyte coroun, clad in grene; 230 And sithen al the remenant by and by, As they were of degree, ful curteisly; Ne nat a word was spoken in the place The mountance of a furlong-wey of space.
I, lening faste by under a bente, Abood, to knowen what this peple mente, As stille as any stoon; til at the laste, The god of love on me his eye caste, And seyde, "who resteth ther?" and I answerde Un-to his axing, whan that I him herde, 240 And seyde, "sir, hit am I"; and cam him neer, And salued him. Quod he, "what dostow heer In my presence, and that so boldely? For it were better worthy, trewely, A werm to comen in my sight than thou." "And why, sir," quod I, "and hit lyke yow?" "For thou," quod he, "art ther-to nothing able. My servaunts been alle wyse and honourable. Thou art my mortal fo, and me warreyest, And of myne olde servaunts thou misseyest, 250 And hindrest hem with thy translacioun, And lettest folk to han devocioun To serven me, and haldest hit folye To troste on me. Thou mayest hit nat denye; For in pleyn text, hit nedeth nat to glose, Thou hast translated the Romauns of the Rose, That is an heresye ageyns my lawe, And makest wyse folk fro me withdrawe. And thinkest in thy wit, that is ful cool The he nis but a verray propre fool 260 That loveth paramours, to harde and hote. Wel wot I ther-by thou beginnest dote As olde foles, whan hir spirit fayleth; Than blame they folk, and wite nat what hem ayleth. Hast thou nat mad in English eek the book How that Crisseyde Troilus forsook, In shewinge how that wemen han don mis? But natheles, answere me not to this, Why noldest thou as wel han seyd goodnesse Of wemen, as thou hast seyd wikkednesse? 270 Was ther no good matere in thy minde, Ne in alle thy bokes coudest thou nat finde Sum story of wemen that were goode and trewe? Yis! god wot, sixty bokes olde and newe Hast thou thy-self, alle fulle of stories grete, That bothe Romains and eek Grekes trete Of sundry wemen, which lyf that they ladde, And ever an hundred gode ageyn oon badde. This knoweth god, and alle clerkes eke, That usen swiche materes for to seke. 280 What seith Valerie, Titus, or Claudian? What seith Ierome ageyns Iovinian? How clene maydens, and how trewe wyves, How stedfast widwes during al his lyves, Telleth Jerome; and that nat of a fewe, But, I dar seyn, an hundred on a rewe; That hit is pitee for to rede, and routhe, The wo that they enduren for hir trouthe. For to hir love were they so trewe, That rather than they wolde take a newe, 290 They chosen to be dede in sundry wyse, And deyden, as the story wol devyse; And some were brend, and some were cut the hals, And some dreynt, for they wolden nat be fals. For alle keped they hir maydenhed, Or elles wedlok, or hir widwehed. And this thing was nat kept for holinesse, But al for verray vertu and clennesse, And for men shulde sette on hem no lak; And yit they weren hethen, al the pak, 300 That were so sore adrad of alle shame. These olde wemen kepte so hir name, That in this world I trow men shal nat finde A man that coude be so trewe and kinde, As was the leste woman in that tyde. What seith also the epistels of Ovyde Of trewe wyves, and of hir labour? What Vincent, in his Storial Mirour? Eek al the world of autours maystow here, Cristen and hethen, trete of swich matere; 310 It nedeth nat alday thus for tendyte. But yit I sey, what eyleth thee to wryte The draf of stories, and forgo the corn? By seint Venus, of whom that I was born, Although [that] thou reneyed hast my lay, As othere olde foles many a day, Thou shalt repente hit, that hit shal be sene!"
Than spak Alceste, the worthieste quene, And seyde, "god, right of your curtesye, Ye moten herknen if he can replye 320 Agayns these points that ye han to him meved; A god ne sholde nat be thus agreved, But of his deitee he shal be stable, And therto rightful and eek merciable. He shal nat rightfully his yre wreke Or he have herd the tother party speke. Al ne is nat gospel that is to yow pleyned; The god of love herth many a tale y-feyned. For in your court is many a losengeour, And many a queynte totelere accusour, 330 That tabouren in your eres many a thing, For hat, or for Ielous imagining, And for to han with yow som daliaunce. Envye (I prey to god yeve his mischaunce!) Is lavender in the grete court alway. For she ne parteth, neither night ne day, Out of the hous of Cesar; thus seith Dante; Who-so that goth, alwey she moot [nat] wante. This man to yow may wrongly been accused, Ther as by right him oghte been excused. 340 Or elles, sir, for that this man is nyce, He may translate a thing in no malyce, But for he useth bokes for to make, And takth non heed of what matere he take; Therfor he wroot the Rose and eek Crisseyde Of innocence, and niste what he seyde; Or him was boden make thilke tweye Of som persone, and durste hit nat with-seye; For he hath writen many a book er this. He ne hath nat doon so grevously amis 350 To translaten that olde clerkes wryten, As thogh that he of malice wolde endyten Despyt of love, and hadde him-self y-wroght. This shulde a rightwys lord han in his thoght, And nat be lyk tiraunts of Lumbardye, That usen wilfulhed and tirannye. For he that king or lord is naturel, Him oghte nat be tiraunt ne cruel, As is a fermour, to doon the harm he can. He moste thinke hit is his lige man, 360 And that him oweth, of verray duetee, Shewen his peple pleyn benignitee, And wel to here hir excusaciouns, And hir compleyntes and peticiouns, In duewe tyme, whan they shal hit profre. This is the sentence of the philosophre: A king to kepe his liges in Iustyce; With-outen doute, that is his offyce. And therto is a king ful depe y-sworn, Ful many an hundred winter heer-biforn; 370 And for to kepe his lordes hir degree, As hit is right and skilful that they be Enhaunced and honoured, and most dere -- For they ben half-goddes in this world here -- This shal he doon, bothe to pore [and] riche, Al be that here stat be nat a-liche, And han of pore folk compassioun, For lo, the gentil kind of the lioun! For whan a flye offendeth him or byteth, He with his tayl awey the flye smyteth 380 Al esily; for, of his genterye, Him deyneth nat to wreke him on a flye, As doth a curre or elles another beste. In noble corage oghte been areste, And weyen every thing by equitee, And ever han reward to his owen degree. For, sir, hit is no maystrie for a lord To dampne a man with-oute answere or word; And, for a lord, that is ful foul to use. And if so be he may him nat excuse, 390 [But] axeth mercy with a sorweful herte, And profreth him, right in his bare sherte, To been right at your owne Iugement, Than oghte a god, by short avysement, Considre his owne honour and his trespas. For sith no cause of deeth lyth in his cas, Yow oghte been the lighter merciable; Leteth your yre, and beth somwhat tretable! The man hath served yow of his conning, And forthered your lawe with his making. 400 Whyl he was yong, he kepte your estat; I not wher he be now a renegat. But wel I wot, with that he can endyte, He hath maked lewed folk delyte To serve you, in preysing of your name. He made of the book that hight the Hous of Fame, And eek the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse, And the Parlement of Foules, and I gesse, And al the love of Palamon and Arcyte Of Thebes, thogh the story is knowen lyte; 410 And many an ympne for your halydayes, That highten Balades, Roundels, Virelayes; And, for to speke of other besinesse, He hath in prose translated Boece; And of the Wreched Engendering of Mankinde, As man may in pope Innocent y-finde; And mad the Lyf also of seynt Cecyle; He made also, goon sithen a greet whyl, Origenes upon the Maudeleyne; Him oghte now to have the lesse peyne; 420 He hath mad many a lay and many a thing.
"Now as ye been a god, and eek a king, I, your Alceste, whylom quene of Trace, I axe yow this man, right of your grace, That ye him never hurte in al his lyve; And he shal sweren yow, and that as blyve, He shal no more agilten in this wyse; But he shal maken, as ye wil devyse, Of wemmen trewe in lovinge al hir lyve, Wher-so ye wil, of maiden or of wyve, 430 And forthren yow, as muche as he misseyde Or in the Rose or elles in Crisseyde."
The god of love answerde hir thus anoon, "Madame," quod he, "hit is so long agoon That I yow knew so charitable and trewe, That never yit, sith that the world was newe, To me ne fond I better noon than ye. That, if that I wol save my degree, I may ne wol nat warne your requeste; Al lyth in yow, doth with him as yow leste 440 And al foryeve, with-outen lenger space; For who-so yeveth a yift, or doth a grace, Do hit by tyme, his thank is wel the more; And demeth ye what he shal do therfore. Go thanke now my lady heer," quod he.
I roos, and doun I sette me on my knee, And seyde thus: "madame, the god above Foryelde yow, that ye the god of love Han maked me his wrathe to foryive; And yeve me grace so long for to live, 450 That I may knowe soothly what ye be That han me holpen, and put in swich degree. But trewely I wende, as in this cas, Naught have agilt, ne doon to love trespas. Forwhy a trewe man, with-outen drede, Hath nat to parten with a theves dede; Ne a trewe lover oghte me nat blame, Thogh that I speke a fals lover som shame. They oghte rather with me for to holde, For that I of Creseyde wroot or tolde, 460 Or of the Rose; what-so myn auctour mente, Algate, god wot, hit was myn entente To forthren trouthe in love and hit cheryce; And to be war fro falsnesse and fro vyce By swich ensample; this was my meninge."
And she answerde, "lat be thyn arguinge; For Love ne wol nat countrepleted be In right ne wrong; and lerne this at me! Thou hast thy grace, and hold thee right ther-to. Now wol I seyn what penance thou shalt do 470 For thy trespas, and understond hit here: Thou shalt, whyl that thou livest, yeer by yere, The moste party of thy lyve spende In making of a glorious Legende Of Gode Wemen, maidenes and wyves, That were trewe in lovinge al hir lyves; And telle of false men that hem bitrayen, That al hir lyf ne doon nat but assayen How many wemen they may doon a shame; For in your world that is now holden game. 480 And thogh thee lesteth nat a lover be, Spek wel of love; this penance yeve I thee. And to the god of love I shal so preye, That he shal charge his servants, by any weye, To forthren thee, and wel thy labour quyte; Go now thy wey, thy penance is but lyte."
The god of love gan smyle, and than he seyde, "Wostow," quod he, "wher this be wyf or mayde, Or quene, or countesse, or of what degree, That hath so litel penance yeven thee, 490 That hast deserved sorer for to smerte? But pitee renneth sone in gentil herte; That mayst thou seen, she kytheth what she is." And I answerde, "nay, sir, so have I blis, No more but that I see wel she is good."
"That is a trewe tale, by myn hood," Quod Love, "and that thou knowest wel, pardee, If hit be so that thou avyse thee. Hastow nat in a book, lyth in thy cheste, The grete goodnesse of the quene Alceste, 500 That turned was into a dayesye: She that for hir husbande chees to dye, And eek to goon to helle, rather than he, And Ercules rescued hir, pardee, And broghte hir out of helle agayn to blis?"
"And I answerde ageyn, and seyde, "yis, Now knowe I hir! And is this good Alceste, The dayesye, and myn owne hertes reste? Now fele I wel the goodnesse of this wyf, That bothe after hir deeth, and in hir lyf, 510 Hir grete bountee doubleth hir renoun! Wel hath she quit me myn affeccioun That I have to hir flour, the dayesye! No wonder is thogh Iove hir stellifye, As telleth Agaton, for hir goodnesse! Hir whyte coroun berth of hit witnesse; For also many vertues hadde she, As smale floures in hir coroun be. In remembraunce of hir and in honour, Cibella made the dayesy and the flour 520 Y-coroned al with whyt, as men may see; And Mars yaf to hir coroun reed, pardee, In stede of rubies, set among the whyte."
Therwith this quene wex reed for shame a lyte, Whan she was preysed so in hir presence. Than seyde Love, "a ful gret negligence Was hit to thee, to write unstedfastnesse Of women, sith thou knowest hir goodnesse By preef, and eek by stories heer-biforn; Let be the chaf, and wryt wel of the corn. 530 Why noldest thou han writen of Alceste, And leten Criseide been a-slepe and reste? For of Alceste shuld thy wryting be, Sin that thou wost that kalender is she Of goodnesse, for she taughte of fyn lovinge, And namely of wyfhood the livinge, And alle the boundes that she oghte kepe; Thy litel wit was thilke tyme a-slepe. But now I charge thee, upon thy lyf, That in thy Legend thou make of this wyf, 540 Whan thou hast other smale mad before; And fare now wel, I charge thee no more.
"At Cleopatre I wol that thou beginne; And so forth; and my love so shalt thou winne."
And with that word of sleep I gan a-awake, And right thus on my Legend gan I make.
Explicit prohemium
[End of "The Legend of Good Women"]