Romance of the Rose - On Marriage

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun (Clopinel)
Le roman de la rose (13th Cent.)


On Marriage













































[ the birds sing]
With the sweet latin of their lay
That welcome cried to dawning day.
Soft Zephirus, and eke his wife,
Dame Flora, queen of flowers, new life
Gave to the meads where'er they went,
And every verdant laund besprent
With opening buds, which gladly her
Worshipped as dame and verderer.
For these, to speed young lovers, go
Across the teeming earth and sow
Sweet flowers a-tint with varied hues,
Which amorous swains and maidens use
To twine amid their flowing hair
In chaplets fragrant, fresh and fair,
And 'tis for such they love to spread
Gay counterpanes right well bestead
With countless flowrets in such wise
As seems, forsooth, to mock the skies,
With stars all gloriously beseen.

On couches thus bedecked I ween,
From jealousy and envy free
They mingled in felicity
Secure, with soft embrace and kiss,
'Neath sheltering boughs in heaven-like bliss.
The branches joined above them made
A fretted roof of cooling shade.
And there right joyously they spent
The jolly time in merriment
And carolling and amorous play,
As simple men for whom the day
Was ne'er too long, nor sad nor dull,
For all the world was beautiful.


'Neath tyranny did no man wince,
For not as yet had king or prince
Claimed others having, but all shared
Earth's gifts in common lot, and fared
One as another; none possessed,
Therefore were none by lack distressed.
Though Ovid's saying nought they knew,
Which none but fools would doubt for true:
Never can love and seigniory
Travel together, nor can they be
In any case fit spouse and bride,
High rule sets equal love aside.


This notes how ill bred men will cry
"Out" on their wives through jealousy,
Calling them names I scarce dare tell,
As minx, jade, harlot, Jezebel.

AND thus 'tis seen that strange conceit
Of wisdom eggs fools on to treat
Their spouses ill, to such degree
That they misuse them brutally,
Saying that too much time they spend
In dancing, or too often wend
In company with some young blade
With whom they've assignation made,
And ask them how they love expect
From husbands if they dare reject
Their counsels, deeming they alone,
Their wives, both body and goods, should own.
Cries one: Your air is far too gay,
And why this mincing mien, I pray?


Soon as I sally forth to work,
Away you start, with smile and smirk,
Ready-for some wild prank or game,
Whereat your cheeks should burn for shame,
Singing aloud like siren sleek --
God curse you with an evil week.

When business drags me far from home
To Frisia's shores, or e'en to Rome,
At once you mount coquettish dress,
That leaves but little room to guess
My lot, till neighbours talk thereon.
And when they ask wherefore you don
Such gay attire while I'm away,
With brazen impudence you'll say
In mocking tones: Oho! oho!
'Tis that I love my husband so.
But I, poor wretch, may mope and grieve,
Who careth, whether I forge or weave,
Or whether alive or dead am I?
Then one would hit me in the eye
With bladder reft from goat or sheep,
And all the world but holds me cheap.
Because to beat you I've forborne,
While nought I win from you but scorn,
You brag! though well 'tis known you lie.
Alack! alack! a fool was I
With such a pair of gloves to cramp
My hands -- but I the bit may champ.
Alas! a fool's cap 'twas I wore
That day when you obedience swore
In church, and I, poor idiot dreamed
You'd later prove what then you seemed.


How could it be supposed that e'er
A bold and brazen face you'd bear
Towards the lecherous wanton wights
Who follow loose-lived girls o' nights?
For whom, I ask, do you prepare
The chestnuts I'm not asked to share?
'Twould seem indeed that you are fain
Of me as shield against the rain,
And pose you as a ring-dove simple
But how about that ample cloak
And soft, beneath your modest wimple.
'Neath which fine gallants know to poke
Themselves in tête-á-tête? I swear,
Except for shame and kindness 'twere,
I'd not for bezants four of gold,
Your trouncing, well deserved, withhold,
But use my stick to bate your pride,
Which sorely hath my patience tried.
For know that vastly 'tis to me
Displeasing that you decked should be
To join in carol, song, or dance,
Without my leave and countenance.


The jealous husband scolds his wife,
Remonstrates, blames her course of life,
And setteth forth his dire distress
At what he calls her wantonness.

MOREOVER, nought can I conceal
The righteous anger that I feel
When Robichon, with head-gear green,
Aye ready at your beck is seen.


Is there some land that be and you
Should share, and hence this fine ado
You sit and list his fluting tales
With heads close set till daylight fails
My blood nigh boils with rage to see
You carry on so shamelessly.

I swear 'fore God, who lieth never,
That either you your friendship sever
With him, or else from forth my door
You go with face of blackamoor,
For, help me God, unless you chase
From out your heart all track and trace
Of this loose love, your features I
Will beat and batter till you cry
For mercy, and agree to drop
That cackle I'm resolved to stop.
Alone, you ne'er the public way
Shall tread, but serve me night and day
At home, made sure with iron-chained hands.
Think you a woman e'er commands
Her husband's love who gads about
With dangling men, week in, week out?
And if they follow you, 'tis plain
That you encourage them amain,
For they'd not dare to make pretence
Of love, but for your impudence.
The devil's prompting 'twas that made
Me marry such a wanton jade.

Ha! would I'd Theophrastus read
Ere, like a fool, I thrust my head
In wedlock's noose: No man, saith he,
Who's blest with fair sagacity


Will take a wife, or poor or rich,
As goddess fair, or like a witch
Bewrinkled -- he hath writ the whole
Within his book hight "Aureole,"
Which treats of marriage: Ha! he cries,
Man's life is filled with miseries,
Troubles, and ills, on every side,
Induced by the insensate pride
Of women, their demands and plaints
Such trouble cause as life attaints
With miseries manifold; alack!
Hard task hath he who striveth back
To call them to a decent sense
Of modesty and reverence.

Whoso will take one indigent
To wife, must wonder not if spent
His substance be in gowns and shoes;
And if a wealthy wife one choose,
He need not marvel if disdain
She showeth towards him, or if vain
And proud she prove, and not a fly
She valueth his authority,
And further, will perhaps engage
To vilify his lineage ;
Till he to madness will be stung,
Through clack of her unbridled tongue.

Or is she fair? At once a cloud
Of suitors round her footsteps crowd,
Hustle and bustle, push, dispute,
While each one strives to press his suit,
And find out what may please her best,
Here anxious prayer, there love confessed,


They loiter round, and strange it were
If no man conquest made of her,
For when on every side a fort
Is pressed, resistance is but short.

If plain she be, she'll welcome all:
And when a tower prepares to fall,
And those within its gates betray,
Who shall defend it or upstay?
For if with all the world he fights,
A man would scarce dare sleep o' nights,
And after all were said and done,
By first assault the prize were won.

The best of wives who lived in Greece,
Penelope, alas! small peace
Enjoyed -- yet saved her fame at last.
Lucretia, she whose name hath passed
Into a proverb, was seduced
Through brutal force, by Tarquin used
Most shamefully, and then she killed
Herself, with grief and horror filled.
Nowise, as Titus Livius saith,
Could sire or husband save from death
This matron chaste; whate'er they said,
Herself she boldly poignarded
Before their eyes.

To calm her grief
They spake wise words, but no relief
She took therefrom, e'en though her spouse
Avowed that she her marriage vows
Had straightly kept, and nothing blamed
Her for the deed which so had shamed


Her spirit, but declared that she
Lived spotless in her chastity.

For though the body may endure
Befoulment forced, the soul is pure,
And never sin hath body shent,
When lacked thereto the heart's consent.

But she, disdainful of her life
Through grief, snatched suddenly a knife
From out her bosom's folds, then cried
To those who, weeping, stood beside
Her couch: Fair sirs, though nobly ye
Declare me innocent to be
In this foul deed which I deplore,
Lucrece forgives it not, nor more
Can lift her face to meet the shame
She suffers, though absolved from blame.


How fair Lucrece, through wrath she bare
At heart, her noble bosom tare
With murderous knife, and death did win
In face of husband, sire, and kin

THEN through her heart, with anguish filled,
She drove the cruel steel and spilled
Her life blood, but her friends charged first,
To venge her on her foe accurst.
From this example, through all time,
It is that whoso such foul crime
Commits, is doomed the death to die.
Proud Tarquin and his family


Were straightway driven forth from Rome,
Dying in exile, and no home
Found kingship there again. Alas!
Through all the world one now might pass,
But no Penelope in Greece
Discover, nor in Rome Lucrece,
Nor such-like women otherwhere:
Seek not -- your pains ye well may spare.

In pagan days too well 'tis known
That women many a time have thrown
Themselves at men who sought them not,
As many a one doth now, God wot!

Those who in wedlock would engage,
A custom have which neither sage
Nor good I reckon, but bizarre
And strange in each particular,
And oft I marvel what should press
Men on to such fond foolishness.

What man soe'er would buy a horse
Examines him, in common course,
With greatest pains, and carefully
Notes each defect that meets his eye.
But women skilfully conceal
All faults from those with whom they deal,
And nought men know of good or ill
Concerning those they wed until
The knot is tied, but that once done,
Good Lord! such pranks 'neath heaven's high sun
They play, as show all plain and clear
Their inborn vice; nought then they fear,


But let the wretched dupe perceive
That nought his folly can retrieve;
Repentance comes alas! too late.
Nay, even though, a kindly fate
Procure for him a wife both good
And gentle, in all likelihood,
Unless a fool, will he repent
His folly ere a year be spent.

A virtuous woman! Nay, I swear
By good St. Denis, that's more rare
Than is a phoenix. Thus hath said
Valerius: Whosoe'er will wed
Or love a woman finds much pain
And many troubles, while his gain
Is nought. More rare than phoenix? Nay,
'Twere apter simile to say
Rarer by far than snow-white crow,
How fine soe'er their bodies show.

But natheless am I free to say
(Lest that the women of to-day
Should count me neither just nor fair),
I've no intention to declare
All womankind alike, but eyes
Of lynx the man need have who tries
So fair a bird on earth to find
As any one of womankind
Who's faultless -- secular or nun --
Black swans are commoner 'neath the sun.
Such birds on earth are sparsely sown,
As lightly may, pardee, be known.


And Juvenal supporteth this.
He saith: If e'er thy luck it is
To find an honest woman, go
Straight to the temple, fall slow
To Jupiter on bended knees,
And Goddess Juno strive to please
With sacrificial cow, whose horns
A film of precious gold adorns.
For never while thou liv'st will be
A rarer sight vouchsafed to thee.
Valerius moreover saith:
(Sans shame for that he uttereth)
That either at home or over-sea
Would one affect the company
Of vicious women, they are found
Plenty as bees when swarms fly round.
What deem you then shall be the fate
Of such a fool? 'Twere desperate --
He who a branch so frail doth choose
To trust, shall soul and body lose.

Valerius, when 'twas plainly seen
That young Rufinus, who had been
His friend from youth, would bend the knee
To Hymen, cried: What's come to thee
In name of all the Gods! dost set
Thy foot within the treacherous net
Designing women spread for men?
And Juvenal these words wrote when
Young Postumus would take a wife:
'Twere better far to end thy life!
Doth no man now stout halters sell?
Or can'st thou nowhere find a well


To drown thee in, or dizzy height
From whence thou may'st take headlong flight?
Were not swift exit better far
Than all thy happiness to mar
By wedlock's chains?

Phoroneus, who
The use of laws first taught unto
The Greeks, when lying on his bed
A-dying, to his brother said
The young Leontius: Brother dear,
Calm were my death could I but hear
Thee promise that thou ne'er wilt take
A wife -- this vow I prithee make.
And when Leontius sought the why,
He spake him thuswise: Verily,
Cruel experience all have found
Whose feet within the snares are bound
Of marriage, and if thou a wife
Shouldst take -- alas! woe worth thy life!

Likewise did Heloise entreat
(The abbess of the Paraclete)
Her lover Peter Abelard,
That he would utterly discard
All thought of marriage from his mind.

This lady, noble and refined,
Of genius bright and learning great,
Loving, and loved with passionate
Strong love, implored him not to wed,
And many a well-wrought reason sped
To him in letters, where she showed
That hard and troublous is the code


Of marriage, howsoever true
Are those who bind themselves thereto;
For not alone had she in books
Studied, but all the closest nooks
Of woman's heart explored, and she
Love's throes had suffered bitterly.
Therefore she begged they might atwain,
Though dying each for each, remain,
Bound by no bonds but those of love,
Whose gentle ties are strong above
All marriage laws, yet frank and free
Leave lovers -- in sweet amity --
To follow learning, and she said,
Moreover, that long absence bred
'Twixt lovers unexpressed delight,
Most poignant when they're lost to sight.

But Peter, as himself hath writ
In burning letters, so was smit
With passion, that nought else would serve
Till Heloise he drew to swerve
From her sage counsel, and thence fell
On him mischance most dire to tell;
For little more their course was run
Ere she at Argenteuil as nun
Was close immured, while he was reft
Of manhood by his foes, who deft
As cruel were in his despite,
Seizing him as he lay one night
At Paris. After this mischance
Saint Denis, patron saint of France,


Gave shelter to him as a monk;
And when this bitter cup he'd drunk,
Down to the dregs an abbey meet
He founded, hight the Paraclete,
For Heloise, and there with good
Success she ruled the sisterhood.
Her love-lorn story hath she told
In letters which she penned with bold
Unshamed assurance; therein she
Declares monk Abelard to be
Her lord and master; and some say
These far-famed letters but betray
Delirious love. When first the dress
She donned of abbess, her distress
Broke forth in these wild words: If he
Who rules Rome's Empire courteously
Deigned to demand that I, as wife,
To him would dedicate my life,
In proud estate, I should reply
Much rather would I live and die
Thy mistress, wrapped in shame profound,
Than empress of the world be crowned.

But never since that day till now
Hath such a woman lived, I trow.

-- Old-time freedom

-- Seignory kills love

-- A husband's woes

- A wanton wife

-- The wife threatened

-- Marital miseries

-- Penelope and Lucretia

-- No sin without consent

-- Wives chosen blindly

-- Good women are rare

-- Juvenal's sayings

-- Abelard and Heloise

-- Heloise refused marriage

-- Heloise unparalleled

From The Romance of the Rose, by W. Lorris and J. Clopinel, tr. F.S. Ellis. London, 1901. vol. 2.