"La Belle Dame sans Mercy"

Sir Richard Ros, La Belle Dame sans Mercy

Trans. from the French of Alain Chartier (mid 15th cent.)

[The text is lightly glossed; see the Glossary in The Riverside Chaucer for words not explained here.]












































































































































































HALF in a dreme, not fully wel awaked,
The golden sleep me wrapped under his wing;
Yet nat for-thy I roos, and wel nigh naked,
Al sodaynly my-selve rémembring
Of a matér, leving al other thing,
Which I shold do, with-outen more delay,
For hem to whom I durst nat disobey.

My charge was this, to translate by and by,
(Al thing forgive), as part of my penaunce,
A book called Belle Dame sans Mercy
Which mayster Aleyn made of rémembraunce,
Cheef secretarie with the king of Fraunce.
And thereupon a whyle I stood musing,
And in my-self gretly imagening

What wyse I shuld performe the sayd processe,
Considering by good avysement
Myn unconning and my gret simplenesse,
And ayenward the strait commaundement
Which that I had; and thus, in myn entent,
I was vexed and tourned up and doun;
And yet at last, as in conclusioun,

I cast my clothes on, and went my way,
This foresayd charge having in rémembraunce,
Til I cam to a lusty green valey
Ful of floures, to see, a gret plesaunce;
And so bolded, with their benygn suffraunce
That rede this book, touching this sayd matere,
Thus I began, if it plese you to here.

NAT long ago, ryding an esy paas,
I fel in thought, of joy ful desperate
With greet disese and payne, so that I was
Of al lovers the most unfortunate,
Sith by his dart most cruel, ful of hate,
The deeth hath take my lady and maistresse,
And left me sole, thus discomfit and mate,
Sore languisshing, and in way of distresse.

Than sayd I thus, `it falleth me to cesse
Eyther to ryme or ditees for to make,
And I, surely, to make a ful promesse
To laugh no more, but wepe in clothes blake,
My joyful time, alas! now is it slake,
For in my-self I fele no maner ese;
Let it be written, such fortune I take,
Which neither me nor none other doth plese.

If it were so, my wil or myn entent
Constrayned were a joyful thing to wryte,
Myn pen could never have knowledge what it meant;
To speke therof my tonge hath no delyte.
And with my mouth if I laugh moche or lyte,
Myn eyen shold make a countenaunce untrewe;
My hert also wold have therof despyte,
The weping teres have so large issewe.

These seke lovers, I leve that to hem longes,
Which lede their lyf in hope of alegeaunce,
That is to say, to make balades and songes,
Every of hem, as they fele their grevaunce.
For she that was my joy and my plesaunce,
Whos soule I pray god of his mercy save,
She hath my wil, myn hertes ordinaunce,
Which lyeth here, within this tombe y-grave.

Fro this tyme forth, tyme is to hold my pees;
It werieth me this mater for to trete
Let other lovers put hem-self in prees
Their seson is, my tyme is now forgete.
Fortune by strength the forcer hath unshet
Wherin was sperd al my worldly richesse,
And al the goodes which that I have gete
In my best tyme of youthe and lustinesse.

Love hath me kept under his governaunce
If I misdid, god graunt me forgifnesse!
If I did wel, yet felte I no plesaunce;
It caused neither joy nor hevinesse.
For whan she dyed, that was my good maistresse,
Al my welfare than made the same purchas;
The deeth hath set my boundes, of witnes,
Which for no-thing myn hert shal never pas.'

In this gret thought, sore troubled in my mynde,
Aloon thus rood I al the morow-tyde,
Til at the last it happed me to fynde
The place wherin I cast me to abyde
Whan that I had no further for to ryde.
And as I went my logging to purvey,
Right sone I herde, but litel me besyde,
In a gardeyn, wher minstrels gan to play.

With that anon I went me bakker-more;
My-self and I, me thought, we were y-now;
But twayn that were my frendes here-before
Had me espyed, and yet I wot nat how.
They come for me; awayward I me drow,
Somwhat by force, somwhat by their request,
That in no wyse I coud my-self rescow,
But nede I must come in, and see the feest.

At my coming, the ladies everichoon
Bad me welcome, god wot, right gentilly,
And made me chere, everich by oon and oon,
A gret del better than I was worthy;
And, of their grace, shewed me gret curtesy
With good disport, bicause I shuld nat mourne.
That day I bood stille in their company,
Which was to me a gracious sojourne.

The bordes were spred in right litel space;
The ladies sat, ech as hem semed best.
Were non that did servyce within that place
But chosen men, right of the goodliest:
And som ther were, peravénture most fresshest,
That sawe their juges, sitting ful demure,
Without semblaunt either to most or lest,
Notwithstanding they had hem under cure.

Among al other, oon I gan espy
Which in gret thought ful often com and went
As man that had ben ravished utterly,
In his langage nat gretly diligent;
His countenaunce he kept with greet tourment,
But his desyr fer passed his resoun;
For ever his eye went after his entent
Ful many a tyme, whan it was no sesoun.

To make good chere, right sore him-self he payned,
And outwardly he fayned greet gladnesse;
To singe also by force he was constrayned
For no plesaunce, but very shamfastnesse
For the complaynt of his most hevinesse
Com to his voice alwey without request,
Lyk as the sowne of birdes doth expresse
Whan they sing loude, in frith or in forest.

Other ther were, that served in the hal,
But non lyk him, as after myn advyse;
For he was pale, and somwhat lene with-al
His speche also trembled in fereful wyse;
And ever aloon, but when he did servyse.
Al blak he ware, and no devyce but playn.
Me thought by him, as my wit coud suffyse,
His hert was no-thing in his own demeyn.

To feste hem al he did his diligence,
And wel he couth, right as it semed me.
But evermore, whan he was in presence,
His chere was don; it wold non other be.
His scole-maister had suche auctoritè`
That, al the whyle he bood stille in the place,
Speke coude he nat, but upon her beautè
He loked stil, with right a pitous face.

With that, his heed he tourned at the last
For to behold the ladies everichon;
But ever in oon he set his ey stedfast
On her, the which his thought was most upon.
And of his eyen the shot I knew anon
Which federed was with right humble requestes.
Than to my-self I sayd, `By god aloon,
Suche oon was I, or that I saw these gestes.'

Out of the prees he went ful esely
To make stable his hevy countenaunce;
And, wit ye wel, he syghed tenderly
For his sorowes and woful remembraunce.
Than in him-self he made his ordinaunce,
And forth-withal com to bringe in the mes;
But, for to juge his most ruful semblaunce,
God wot, it was a pitous entremes!

After diner, anon they hem avaunced
To daunce about, these folkes everichoon;
And forth-withal this hevy lover daunced
Somtyme with twayn, and somtyme but with oon.
Unto hem al his chere was after oon,
Now here, now there, as fel by aventure;
But ever among, he drew to her aloon
Which he most dredde of living creature.

To myn advyse, good was his purveyaunce
Whan he her chase to his maistresse aloon,
If that her hert were set to his plesaunce
As moche as was her beauteous persone.
For who that ever set his trust upon
The réport of the eyen, withouten more,
He might be deed and graven under stoon
Or ever he shulde his hertes ese restore.

In her fayled nothing, as I coud gesse,
O wyse nor other, prevy nor apert;
A garnison she was of al goodnesse
To make a frounter for a lovers hert;
Right yong and fresshe, a woman ful covert;
Assured wel her port and eke her chere,
Wel at her ese, withouten wo or smert,
Al underneth the standard of Daungere.

To see the feest, it weried me ful sore;
For hevy joy doth sore the hert travayle.
Out of the prees I me withdrew therfore,
And set me down aloon, behynd a trayle
Ful of leves, to see, a greet mervayle,
With grene withies y-bounden wonderly;
The leves were so thik, withouten fayle,
That thorough-out might no man me espy.

To this lady he com ful curteisly
Whan he thought tyme to daunce with her a trace;
Sith in an herber made ful pleasauntly
They rested hem, fro thens but litel space.
Nigh hem were none, a certayn of compace,
But only they, as fer as I coud see;
And save the trayle, ther I had chose my place,
Ther was no more betwix hem tweyne and me.

I herd the lover syghing wonder sore;
For ay the neer, the sorer it him sought.
His inward payne he coud not kepe in store,
Nor for to speke, so hardy was he nought.
His leche was neer, the gretter was his thought;
He mused sore, to conquere his desyre
For no man may to more penaunce be brought
Than, in his hete, to bringe him to the fyre.

The hert began to swel within his chest,
So sore strayned for anguish and for payne
That al to peces almost it to-brest,
Whan bothe at ones so sore it did constrayne;
Desyr was bold, but shame it gan refrayne;
That oon was large, the other was ful cloos;
No litel charge was layd on him, certayn,
To kepe suche werre, and have so many foos.

Ful often-tymes to speke him-self he peyned,
But shamfastnesse and drede sayd ever `nay';
Yet at the last so sore be was constrayned,
Whan he ful long had put it in delay,
To his lady right thus than gan he say
With dredful voice, weping, half in a rage: --
For me was purveyd an unhappy day
Whan I first had a sight of your visage!

I suffre payne, god wot, ful hoot brenning,
To cause my deeth, al for my trew servyse;
And I see wel, ye rekke therof nothing,
Nor take no hede of it, in no kins wyse.
But whan I speke after my best avyse,
Ye set it nought, but make ther-of a game;
And though I sewe so greet an entrepryse,
It peyreth not your worship nor your fame.

Alas! what shulde be to you prejudyce
If that a man do love you faithfully
To your worship, eschewing every vyce?
So am I yours, and wil be verily;
I chalenge nought of right, and reson why,
For I am hool submit to your servyse;
Right as ye liste it be, right so wil I,
To bynde my-self, where I was in fraunchyse!

Though it be so, that I can nat deserve
To have your grace, but alway live in drede,
Yet suffre me you for to love and serve
Without maugrè of your most goodlihede;
Both faith and trouth I give your womahede,
And my servyse, withoute ayein-calling.
Love hath me bounde, withouten wage or mede,
To be your man, and leve al other thing.'

Whan this lady had herd al this langage,
She yaf answere ful softe and demurely,
Without chaunging of colour or corage,
No-thing in haste, but mesurabelly: --
`Me thinketh, sir, your thought is greet foly!
Purpose ye not your labour for to cese?
For thinketh not, whyl that ye live and I,
In this matére to set your hert in pees!'

Lamant. `Ther may non make the pees, but only ye,
Which ar the ground and cause of al this werre
For with your eyen the letters written be,
By which I am defyed and put a-fer.
Your plesaunt look, my verray lode-sterre,
Was made heraud of thilk same défyaunce
Which utterly behight me to forbarre
My faithful trust and al myn affyaunce.'

La Dame. `To live in wo he hath gret fantasy
And of his hert also hath slipper holde,
That, only for beholding of an y,
Can nat abyde in pees, as reson wolde!
Other or me if ye list to beholden
Our eyen are made to loke; why shuld we spare?
I take no kepe, neither of yong nor olde;
Who feleth smert, I counsayle him be ware!'

Lam. `If it be so, oon hurte another sore,
In his defaut that feleth the grevaunce,
Of very right a man may do no more;
Yet reson wolde it were in remembraunce.
And, sith Fortune not only, by her chaunce,
Hath caused me to suffre al this payn,
But your beautè, with al the circumstaunce,
Why list ye have me in so greet disdayn?'

La D. `To your perséne ne have I no disdayn,
Nor ever had, trewly! ne nought wil have,
Nor right gret love, nor hatred, in certayn;
Nor your counsayl to know, so god me save!
If such beleve be in your mynde y-grave
That litel thing may do you greet plesaunce,
You to begyle, or make you for to rave,
I wil nat cause no suche encomberaunce

Lam. `What ever it be that me hath thus purchased,
Wening hath nat disceyved me, certayn,
But fervent love so sore hath me y-chased
That I, unware, am casten in your chayne;
And sith so is, as Fortune list ordayne,
Al my welfare is in your handes falle,
In eschewing of more mischévous payn;
Who sonest dyeth, his care is leest of alle.'

La D. `This sicknesse is right esy to endure,
But fewe people it causeth for to dy;
But what they mene, I know it very sure,
Of more comfort to draw the remedy.
Such be there now, playning ful pitously,
That fele, god wot, nat alther-grettest payne
And if so be, love hurt so grevously,
Lesse harm it were, oon sorowful, than twayne!'

Lam. `Alas, madame! if that it might you plese,
Moche better were, by way of gentilnesse,
Of one sory, to make twayn wel at ese,
Than him to stroy that liveth in distresses
For my desyr is neither more nor lesse
But my servyce to do, for your plesaunce,
In eschewing al maner doublenesse,
To make two joyes in stede of oo grevaunce!'

La D. `Of love I seke neither plesaunce nor ese,
Nor greet desyr, nor right gret affyaunce;
Though ye be seke, it doth me nothing plese;
Also, I take no hede to your plesaunce.
Chese who-so wil, their hertes to avaunce,
Free am I now, and free wil I endure;
To be ruled by mannes governaunce
For erthely good, nay! that I you ensure!'

Lam. `Love, which that joy and sorowe doth departe,
Hath set the ladies out of al servage,
And largëly doth graunt hem, for their parte,
Lordship and rule of every maner age.
The poor servaunt nought hath of avauntage
But what he may get only of purchace;
And he that ones to love doth his homage,
Ful often tyme dere bought is the rechace.'

La D. `Ladies be nat so simple, thus I mene,
So dul of wit, so sotted of foly,
That, for wordes which sayd ben of the splene,
In fayre langage, paynted ful plesauntly,
Which ye and mo holde scoles of dayly,
To make hem of gret wonders to suppose;
But sone they can away their hedes wrye,
And to fair speche lightly their eres close.'

Lam. `Ther is no man that jangleth busily,
And set his hert and al his mynd therfore,
That by resoun may playne so pitously
As he that hath moche hevinesse in store.
Whos heed is hool, and sayth that it is sore,
His fayned chere is hard to kepe in mewe
But thought, which is unfayned evermore,
The wordes preveth, as the workes sewe.

La D. `Love is subtel, and hath a greet awayt,
Sharp in worching, in gabbing greet plesaunce,
And can him venge of suche as by disceyt
Wold fele and knowe his secret governaunce;
And maketh hem to obey his ordinaunce
By chereful wayes, as in hem is supposed;
But whan they fallen in-to repentaunce,
Than, in a rage, their counsail is disclosed.'

Lam. `Sith for-as-moche as god and eke nature
Hath love avaunced to so hye degrè,
Moch sharper is the point, this am I sure,
Yet greveth more the faute, wher-ever it be.
Who hath no cold, of hete hath no deyntè,
The toon for the tother asked is expresse;
And of plesaunce knoweth non the certeyntè
But it be wonne with thought and hevinesse.'

La D. `As for plesaunce, it is nat alway oon;
That you is swete, I thinke it bitter payne.
Ye may nat me constrayne, nor yet right non,
After your lust, to love that is but vayne.
To chalenge love by right was never seyn,
But herte assent, before bond and promyse;
For strength nor force may not atteyne, certayn,
A wil that stant enfeffed in fraunchyse!'

Lam. `Right fayr lady, god mote I never plese,
If I seke other right, as in this case,
But for to shewe you playnly my disese
And your mercy to abyde, and eke your grace.
If I purpose your honour to deface,
Or ever did, god and fortune me shende!
And that I never rightwysly purchace
Oon only joy, unto my lyves ende!'

La D. `Ye and other, that swere suche othes false,
And so condempne and cursen to and fro,
Ful sikerly, ye wene your othes laste
No lenger than the wordes ben ago!
And god, and eke his sayntes, laughe also.
In such swering ther is no stedfastnesse,
And these wrecches, that have ful trust therto,
After, they wepe and waylen in distresse.'

Lam. `He hath no corage of a man, trewly,
That secheth plesaunce, worship to despyse
Nor to be called forth is not worthy
The erthe to touch the ayre in no-kins wyse.
A trusty hert, a mouth without feyntyse,
These ben the strength of every man of name;
And who that layth his faith for litel pryse,
He leseth bothe his worship and his fame.'

La D. `A currish herte, a mouth that is curteys,
Ful wel ye wot, they be not according;
Yet feyned chere right sone may hem apeyse
Where of malyce is set al their worching;
Ful fals semblant they bere and trew mening;
Their name, their fame, their tonges be but fayned;
Worship in hem is put in forgetting,
Nought repented, nor in no wyse complayned.'

Lam. `Who thinketh il, no good may him befal;
God, of his grace, graunt ech man his desert!
But, for his love, among your thoughtes al,
As think upon my woful sorowes smert;
For of my payne, wheder your tender hert
Of swete pitè be not therwith agreved,
And if your grace to me were discovert,
Than, by your mene, sone shulde I be releved.'

La D. `A lightsom herte, a folly of plesaunce
Are moch better, the lesse whyl they abyde;
They make you thinke, and bring you in a traunce
But that seknesse wil sone be remedyed.
Respite your thought, and put al this asyde;
Ful good disportes werieth men al-day;
To help nor hurt, my wil is not aplyed;
Who troweth me not, I lete it passe away.'

Lam. `Who hath a brid, a faucon, or a hound,
That foloweth him, for love, in every place,
He cherissheth him, and kepeth him ful sound;
Out of his sight he wil not him enchace.
And I, that set my wittes, in this cace,
On you alone, withouten any chaunge,
Am put under, moch ferther out of grace,
And lesse set by, than other that be straunge.'

La D. `Though I make chere to every man aboute
For my worship, and of myn own fraunchyse,
To you I nil do so, withouten doute,
In eschewing al maner prejudyse.
For wit ye wel, love is so litel wyse,
And in beleve so lightly wil be brought,
That he taketh al at his own devyse,
Of thing, god wot, that serveth him of nought.'

Lam. `If I, by love and by my trew servyse,
Lese the good chere that straungers have alway,
Wherof shuld serve my trouth in any wise
Lesse than to hem that come and go al-day,
Which holde of you nothing, that is no nay?
Also in you is lost, to my seming,
Al curtesy, which of resoun wold say
That love for love were lawful deserving.'

La D. `Curtesy is alyed wonder nere
To Worship, which him loveth tenderly;
And he wil nat be bounde, for no prayere,
Nor for no gift, I say you verily,
But his good chere depart ful largely
Where him lyketh, as his conceit wil fal;
Guerdon constrayned, a gift don thankfully,
These twayn may not accord, ne never shal.'

Lam. I As for guerdon, I seke non in this cace;
For that desert, to me it is to hy;
Wherfore I ask your pardon and your grace,
Sith me behoveth deeth, or your mercy.
To give the good where it wanteth, trewly,
That were resoun and a curteys maner;
And to your own moch better were worthy
Than to straungers, to shewe hem lovely chere.'

La D. `What cal ye good? Fayn wolde I that I wist!
That pleseth oon, another smerteth sore;
But of his own to large is he that list
Give moche, and lese al his good fame therfore.
Oon shulde nat make a graunt, litel ne more,
But the request were right wel according;
If worship be not kept and set before,
Al that is left is but a litel thing.'

Lam. `In-to this world was never formed non,
Nor under heven crëature y-bore,
Nor never shal, save only your persone,
To whom your worship toucheth half so sore,
But me, which have no seson, lesse ne more,
Of youth ne age, but still in your service;
I have non eyen, no wit, nor mouth in store,
But al be given to the same office.'

La D. `A ful gret charge hath he, withouten fayle,
That his worship kepeth in sikernesse;
But in daunger he setteth his travayle
That feffeth it with others businesse.
To him that longeth honour and noblesse,
Upon non other shulde nat he awayte;
For of his own so moche hath he the lesse
That of other moch folweth the conceyt.'

Lam. `Your eyen hath set the print which that I fele
Within my hert, that, where-so-ever I go,
If I do thing that sowneth unto wele,
Nedes must it come from you, and fro no mo.
Fortune wil thus, that I, for wele or wo,
My lyf endure, your mercy abyding;
And very right wil that I thinke also
Of your worship, above al other thing.'

La D. `To your worship see wel, for that is nede,
That ye spend nat your seson at in vayne;
As touching myn, I rede you take no hede,
By your foly to put your-self in payne.
To overcomne is good, and to restrayne
An hert which is disceyved folily.
For worse it is to breke than bowe, certayn,
And better bowe than fal to sodaynly!'

Lam. `Now, fair lady, think, sith it first began
That love hath set myn hert under his cure,
I never might, ne truly I ne can
Non other serve, whyle I shal here endure;
In most free wyse therof I make you sure,
Which may not be withdrawe; this is no nay.
I must abyde al maner aventure;
For I may not put to, nor take away.'

La D. `I holde it for no gift, in sothfastnesse,
That oon offreth, where that it is forsake;
For suche gift is abandoning expresse
That with worship ayein may not be take.
He hath an hert ful fel that list to make
A gift lightly, that put is in refuse;
But he is wyse that such conceyt wil slake,
So that him nede never to study ne muse.'

Lam. `He shuld nat muse, that hath his service spent
On her which is a lady honourable;
And if I spende my tyme to that entent,
Yet at the leest I am not reprevable
Of feyled hert; to thinke I am unable,
Or me mistook whan I made this request,
By which love hath, of entreprise notable,
So many hertes gotten by conquest.'

La D. `If that ye list do after my counsayl,
Secheth fairer, and of more higher fame,
Whiche in servyce of love wil you prevayl
After your thought, according to the same.
He hurteth both his worship and his name
That folily for twayne him-self wil trouble;
And he also leseth his after-game
That surely can not sette his poyntes double.'

Lam. `This your counsayl, by ought that I can see,
Is better sayd than don, to myn advyse;
Though I beleve it not, forgive it me,
Myn herte is suche, so hool without feyntyse,
That it ne may give credence, in no wyse,
To thing which is not sowning unto trouthe;
Other counsayl, it ar but fantasyes,
Save of your grace to shewe pitè and routhe.'

La D. `I holde him wyse that worketh folily
And, whan him list, can leve and part therfro
But in conning he is to lerne, trewly,
That wolde him-self conduite, and can not so.
And he that wil not after counsayl do,
His sute he putteth in desesperaunce;
And al the good, which that shulde falle him to,
Is left as deed, clene out of rèmembraunce.'

Lam. `Yet wil I sewe this mater faithfully
Whyls I may live, what-ever be my chaunce;
And if it hap that in my trouthe I dy,
That deeth shal not do me no displesaunce.
But whan that I, by your ful hard suffraunce,
Shal dy so trew, and with so greet a payne,
Yet shal it do me moche the lesse grevaunce
Than for to live a fals lover, certayne.'

La D. `Of me get ye right nought, this is no fable,
I nil to you be neither hard nor strayt;
And right wil not, nor maner customable,
To think ye shulde be sure of my conceyt.
Who secheth sorowe, his be the receyt!
Other counsayl can I not fele nor see,
Nor for to lerne I cast not to awayte;
Who wil therto, let him assay, for me!'

Lam. `Ones must it be assayd, that is no nay,
With such as be of reputacioun,
And of trew love the right devoir to pay
Of free hertes, geten by due raunsoun;
For free wil holdeth this opinioun,
That it is greet duresse and discomfort
To kepe a herte in so strayt a prisoun,
That hath but oon body for his disport.'

La D. `I know so many cases mervaylous
That I must nede, of resoun, think certayn,
That such entree is wonder perilous,
And yet wel more, the coming bak agayn.
Good or worship therof is seldom seyn
Wherefore I wil not make no suche aray
As for to fynde a plesaunce but barayn,
Whan it shal cost so dere, the first assay.'

Lam. `Ye have no cause to doute of this matere,
Nor you to meve with no such fantasyes
To put me ferre al-out, as a straungere;
For your goodnesse can think and wel avyse,
That I have made a prefe in every wyse
By which my trouth sheweth open evidence;
My long abyding and my trew servyse
May wel be knowen by playn experience.'

La D. `Of very right he may be called trew,
And so must he be take in every place,
That can deserve, and let as he ne knew,
And kepe the good, if he it may purchace.
For who that prayeth or sueth in any case,
Right wel ye wot, in that no trouth is preved;
Suche hath ther ben, and are, that geten grace,
And lese it sone, whan they it have acheved.'

Lam. `If trouth me cause, by vertue soverayne,
To shew good love, and alway fynd contráry,
And cherish that which sleeth me with the payne,
This is to me a lovely adversary!
Whan that pitè, which long a-slepe doth tary,
Hath set the fyne of al myn hevinesse,
Yet her comfort, to me most necessary,
Shuld set my wil more sure in stablenesse.'

La D. "The woful wight, what may he thinke or say?
The contrary of al joy and gladnesse.
A sick body, his thought is al away
From hem that fele no sorowe nor siknesse.
Thus hurtes ben of dyvers businesse
Which love hath put to right gret hinderaunce,
And trouthe also put in forgetfulnesse
Whan they so sore begin to sighe askaunce.'

Lam. `Now god defend but he be havëlesse
Of al worship or good that may befal,
That to the werst tourneth, by his lewdnesse,
A gift of grace, or any thing at al
That his lady vouchsauf upon him cal,
Or cherish him in honourable wyse!
In that defaut what-ever he be that fal
Deserveth more than deth to suffre twyse!'

La D. `There is no juge y-set of such trespace
By which of right oon may recovered be;
Oon curseth fast, another doth manace,
Yet dyeth non, as ferre as I can see,
But kepe their cours alway, in oon degrà,
And evermore their labour doth encrese
To bring ladyes, by their gret soteltà,
For others gilte, in sorowe and disese!'

Lam. `Al-be-it so oon do so greet offence,
And be not deed, nor put to no juÿse,
Right wel I wot, him gayneth no defence,
But he must ende in ful mischévous wyse,
And al that ever is good wil him dispyse.
For falshed is so ful of cursednesse
That high worship shal never have enterpryse
Where it reigneth and hath the wilfulnesse.'

La D. `Of that have they no greet fere now-a-days,
Suche as wil say, and maynteyne it ther-to,
That stedfast trouthe is nothing for to prays
In hem that kepe it long for wele or wo.
Their busy hertes passen to and fro,
They be so wel reclaymed to the lure,
So wel lerned hem to withholde also,
And al to chaunge, whan love shuld best endure.'

Lam. `Whan oon hath set his herte in stable wyse
In suche a place as is both good and trewe,
He shuld not flit, but do forth his servyse
Alway, withouten chaunge of any newe.
As sone as love beginneth to remewe,
Al plesaunce goth anon, in litel space;
For my party, al that shal I eschewe,
Whyls that the soule abydeth in his place.'

La D. `To love trewly ther-as ye ought of right,
Ye may not be mistaken, doutëlesse;
But ye be foul deceyved in your sight
By lightly understanding, as I gesse.
Yet may ye wel repele your businesse
And to resoun somwhat have attendaunce,
Moch better than to byde, by fol simplesse,
The feble socour of desesperaunce.'

Lam. `Resoun, counsayl, wisdom, and good avyse
Ben under love arested everichoon,
To which I can accorde in every wyse;
For they be not rebel, but stille as stoon
Their wil and myn be medled al in oon,
And therwith bounden with so strong a cheyne
That, as in hem, departing shal be noon,
But pitè breke the mighty bond atwayne.'

La D. `Who loveth not himself, what-ever he be
In love, he stant forgete in every place;
And of your wo if ye have no pitè,
Others pitè bileve not to purchace;
But beth fully assured in this case,
I am alway under oon ordinaunce,
To have better; trusteth not after grace,
And al that leveth tak to your plesaunce!'

Lam. `I have my hope so sure and so stedfast
That suche a lady shulde nat fail pitè;
But now, alas! it is shit up so fast,
That Daunger sheweth on me his crueltè.
And if she see the vertue fayle in me
Of trew servyce, then she to fayle also
No wonder were; but this is the suretè,
I must suffre, which way that ever it go.'

La D. `Leve this purpos, I rede you for the best;
For lenger that ye kepe it thus in vayn,
The lesse ye gete, as of your hertes rest,
And to rejoice it shal ye never attayn.
Whan ye abyde good hope, to make you fayn,
Ye shal be founde asotted in dotage;
And in the ende, ye shal know for certayn
That hope shal pay the wrecches for their wage!'

Lam. `Ye say as falleth most for your plesaunce,
And your power is greet; al this I see;
But hope shal never out of my rémembraunce,
By whiche I felt so greet adversitè.
For whan nature hath set in you plentè
Of al goodnesse, by vertue and by grace,
He never assembled hem, as semeth me,
To put Pitè out of his dwelling-place.'

La D. `Pitè of right ought to be resonable,
And to no wight of greet disavantage;
There-as is nede, it shuld be profitable,
And to the pitous shewing no damage.
If a lady wil do so greet out-rage
To shewe pitè, and cause her own debate,
Of such pitè cometh dispitous rage,
And of the love also right deedly hate.'

Lam. `To comforte hem that live al comfortlesse,
That is no harm, but worship to your name
But ye, that bere an herte of such duresse,
And a fair body formed to the same,
If I durst say, ye winne al this defame
By Crueltè, which sitteth you ful il,
But-if Pitè, which may al this attame,
In your high herte may rest and tary stil.'

La D. `What-ever he be that sayth he loveth me,
And peraventure, I leve that it be so,
Ought he be wroth, or shulde I blamed be,
Though I did noght as he wolde have me do?
If I medled with suche or other mo,
It might be called pitè manerlesse;
And, afterward if I shulde live in wo,
Than to repent it were to late, I gesse.'

Lam. `O marble herte, and yet more hard, pardè,
Which mercy may nat perce, for no labour,
More strong to bowe than is a mighty tree,
What vayleth you to sbewe so greet rigour?
Plese it you more to see me dy this hour
Before your eyen for your disport and play,
Than for to shewe som comfort or socour
To respite deth, that chaseth me alway!'

La D. `Of your disese ye may have allegeaunce;
And as for myn, I lete it over-shake.
Also, ye shal not dye for my plesaunce,
Nor for your hele I can no surety make.
I nil nat hate myn hert for others sake;
Wepe they, laugh they, or sing, this I waraunt,
For this mater so wel to undertake
That non of you shal make therof avaunt!'

Lam. `I can no skil of song; by god aloon,
I have more cause to wepe in your presence;
And wel I wot, avauntour am I noon,
For certainly, I love better silence.
Oon shuld nat love by his hertes credence
But he were sure to kepe it secretly;
For avauntour is of no reverence
Whan that his tonge is his most enemy.'

La D. `Male-bouche in courte hath greet commaundement;
Ech man studieth to say the worst be may.
These fals lovers, in this tyme now present,
They serve to boste, to jangle as a jay.
The most secret wil wel that some men say
How he mistrusted is on some partyes;
Wherfore to ladies what men speke or pray,
It shuld not be bileved in no wyse.'

Lam. `Of good and il shal be, and is alway
The world is such; the erth it is not playn.
They that be good, the preve sheweth every day,
And otherwyse, gret villany, certayn.
Is it resoun, though oon his tonge distayne
With cursed speche, to do him-self a shame,
That such refuse shuld wrongfully remayne
Upon the good, renommed in their fame?'

La D. `Suche as be nought, whan they here tydings newe,
That ech trespas shal lightly have pardoun,
They that purposen to be good and trewe --
Wel set by noble disposicioun
To continue in good condicioun --
They are the first that fallen in damage,
And ful freely their hertes abandoun
To litel faith, with softe and fayr langage.'

Lam. `Now knowe I wel, of very certayntè,
Though oon do trewly, yet shal he be shent,
Sith al maner of justice and pitè
Is banisshed out of a ladyes entent.
I can nat see but al is at oo stent,
The good and il, the vyce and eek vertue!
Suche as be good shal have the punishment
For the trespas of hem that been untrewe!'

La D. `I have no power you to do grevaunce,
Nor to punisshe non other creature;
But, to eschewe the more encomberaunce,
To kepe us from you al, I holde it sure.
Fals semblaunce hath a visage ful demure,
Lightly to cacche the ladies in a-wayt;
Wherefore we must, if that we wil endure,
Make right good watch; lo! this is my conceyt.'

Lam. `Sith that of grace oo goodly word aloon
May not be had, but alway kept in store,
I pele to god, for he may here my moon,
Of the duresse, which greveth me so sore.
And of pitè I pleyn me further-more,
Which he forgat, in al his ordinaunce,
Or els my lyf to have ended before,
Which he so sone put out of rèmembraunce.'

La D. `My hert, nor I, have don you no forfeyt,
By which ye shulde complayne in any kynde.
There hurteth you nothing but your conceyt:
Be juge your-self; for so ye shal it fynde.
Ones for alway let this sinke in your mynde --
That ye desire shal never rejoysed be
Ye noy me sore, in wasting al this wynde;
For I have sayd y-nough, as semeth me.'

Verba Auctoris.

This woful man roos up in al his payne,
And so parted, with weping countenaunce;
His woful hert almost to-brast in twayne,
Ful lyke to dye, forth walking in a traunce,
And sayd, `Now, deeth, com forth! thy-self avaunce,
Or that myn hert forgete his propertè;
And make shorter al this woful penaunce
Of my pore lyfe, ful of adversitè!'

Fro thens he went, but whider wist I nought,
Nor to what part he drow, in sothfastnesse
But he no more was in his ladies thought,
For to the daunce anon she gan her dresse.
And afterward, oon tolde me thus expresse,
He rente his heer, for anguissh and for payne,
And in him-self took so gret hevinesse
That he was deed, within a day or twayne.


Ye trew lovers, this I beseche you al,
Such avantours, flee hem in every wyse,
And as people defamed ye hem cal;
For they, trewly, do you gret prejudyse.
Refus hath mad for al such flateryes
His castelles strong, stuffed with ordinaunce,
For they have had long tyme, by their offyce,
The hool countrè of Love in obeysaunce.

And ye, ladyes, or what estat ye be,
In whom Worship hath chose his dwelling-place,
For goddes love, do no such crueltè,
Namely, to hem that have deserved grace.
Nor in no wyse ne folowe not the trace
Of her, that here is named rightwisly,
Which by resoun, me semeth, in this case

Verba Translatoris.

Go, litel book! god sende thee good passage!
Chese wel thy way; be simple of manere;
Loke thy clothing be lyke thy pilgrimage,
And specially, let this be thy prayere
Un-to hem al that thee wil rede or here,
Wher thou art wrong, after their help to cal
Thee to correcte in any part or al.

Pray hem also, with thyn humble servyce,
Thy boldënesse to pardon in this case;
For els thou art not able, in no wyse,
To make thy-self appere in any place.
And furthermore, beseche hem, of their grace,
By their favour and supportacioun,
To take in gree this rude translacioun,

The which, god wot, standeth ful destitute
Of eloquence, of metre, and of coloures,
Wild as a beest, naked, without refute,
Upon a playne to byde al maner shoures.
I can no more, but aske of hem socoures
At whos request thou mad were in this wyse,
Commaunding me with body and servyse.

Right thus I make an ende of this processe,
Beseching him that al hath in balaunce
That no trew man be vexed, causëlesse,
As this man was, which is of rémembraunce;
And al that doon their faythful observaunce,
And in their trouth purpose hem to endure,
I pray god sende hem better aventure.



locked up

further back


taking notice

control, power



or = ere

course (of a meal)

between-course entertainment

the same, unchanged


hidden or public


willow twigs

round (in a dance)

within a certain distance

hearer; assailled


generous; miserly

in no way



The Lover

The Lady





turn, twist

feigned; restraint

follow (the words)

lying in ambush


in any way



forced reward

return match
double his bets

ar = is



forbid he be impoverished

recalled (like a falcon)




tame, subdue

pass away





appeal; moan





The text has been lightly regularized for beginning readers of Middle English from the edition by W.W. Skeat in his Oxford Chaucer, Oxford, 1897, Vol. VII.