Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes I
[ Text of the Poem ]
THE MINOR POEMS.
I. An A B C.
This poem is a rather free translation of a similar poem by Guillaume de Deguileville, as pointed out in the Preface, p. 60. The original is quoted beneath the English text.
Explanations of the harder words should, in general, be sought for in the Glossarial Index, though a few are discussed in the Notes.
The language of this translation is, for the most part, so simple, that but few passages call for remark. I notice, however, a few points.
Chaucer has not adhered to the complex metre of the original, but uses a stanza of eight lines of five accents in place of de Deguileville's stanza of twelve lines of four accents.
3. Dr. Koch calls attention to the insertion of a second of, in most of the MSS., before sorwe. Many little words are often thus wrongly inserted into the texts of nearly all the Minor Poems, simply because, when the final e ceased to be sounded, the scribes regarded some lines as imperfect. Here, for example, if sinne be regarded as monosyllabic, a word seems required after it; but when we know that Chaucer regarded it as a dissyllabic word, we at once see that MSS. Gg. and Jo. (which omit this second of) are quite correct. We know that sinne is properly a dissyllabic word in Chaucer, because he rimes it with the infinitives biginne (Cant. Ta. C 941) and winne (same, D 1421), and never with such monosyllables as kin or tin. This is easily tested by consulting Mr. Cromie's very useful Rime-index to the Canterbury Tales. The above remark is important, on account of its wide application. The needless insertions of little words in many of the 15th-century MSS. are easily detected.
4. Scan the line by reading—Glorióus virgín', of all-e flóur-es flóur. Cf. l. 49.
6. Debonaire, gracious lady; used as a sb. Compare the original, l. 11.
8. Answers to l. 6 of the original—'Vaincu m'a mon aversaire.' Perhaps Venquisht is here the right form; similarly, in the Squieres Tale, F 342, the word vanisshed is to be read as vanísh'd, with the accent on 397).the second syllable, and elision of e. See Ten Brink, Chaucers Sprache, § 257. Otherwise, read Venquis-shed m'hath; cf. mexcuse, XVI. 37 (p.
11. Warne, reject, refuse to hear. So in P. Plowman, C. xxiii. 12, 'whanne men hym werneth' means 'when men refuse to give him what he asks for.'
12. Free, liberal, bounteous. So in Shak. Troilus, iv. 5. 100—'His heart and hand both open and both free.' It may be remarked, once for all, that readers frequently entirely misunderstand passages in our older authors, merely because they forget what great changes may take place in the sense of words in the course of centuries.
13. Largesse, i. e. the personification of liberality; 'thou bestowest perfect happiness.'
14. Cf. original, l. 15—'Quer [for] tu es de salu porte.' Scan by reading—Háv'n of refút. But in l. 33, we have réfut.
15. Theves seven, seven robbers, viz. the seven deadly sins. We could easily guess that this is the meaning, but it is needless; for the original has—'Par sept larrons, pechies mortez,' l. 17; and a note in the Sion Coll. MS. has—'i. seven dedly synnes.' The theme of the Seven Deadly Sins is one of the commonest in our old authors; it is treated of at great length in Chaucer's Persones Tale, and in Piers Plowman.
16. 'Ere my ship go to pieces'; this graphic touch is not in the original.
17. Yow, you. In addressing a superior, it was customary to use the words ye and you, as a mark of respect; but, in prayer, the words thou and thee were usual. Hence, Chaucer has mixed the two usages in a very remarkable way, and alternates them suddenly. Thus, we have thee in l. 5, thou in l. 6, &c., but yow in l. 17, thy in l. 19, you in l. 24; and so on. We even find the plural verbs helpen, l. 104; Beth, l. 134; and ben, l. 176.
20. Accioun, action, is here used in the legal sense; 'my sin and confusion have brought an action (i. e. plead) against me.' It is too close a copy of the original, l. 25—'Contre moy font une accion.'
21. I. e. 'founded upon rigid justice and a sense of the desperate nature of my condition.' Cf. 'Rayson et desperacion Contre moy veulent maintenir'; orig. l. 29. Maintenir, to maintain an action, is a legal term. So, in l. 22, sustene means 'sustain the plea.'
24. 'If it were not for the mercy (to be obtained) from you.'
25. Literally—'There is no doubt that thou art not the cause'; meaning, 'Without doubt, thou art the cause.' Misericorde is adopted from the original. According to the usual rule, viz. that the syllable er is usually slurred over in Chaucer when a vowel follows, the word is to be read as mis'ricord-e. So also sov'reyn, l. 69.
27. Vouched sauf, vouchsafed. Tacorde, to accord; cf. talyghte, tamende, &c. in the Cant. Tales.
29. Cf. 'S'encore fust l'arc encordé'; orig, l. 47; and 'l'arc dejustice,' l. 42. The French expression is probably borrowed (as suggested in Bell's Chaucer) from Ps. vii. 13—'arcum suum tetendit.' Hence the phrase of Iustice and of yre refers to the bowe.
30. First, at first, before the Incarnation.
36. For examples of the use of great assize, or last assize, to signify the Last Judgment, see the New E. Dict., s. v. Assize.
39. Most MSS. read here—'That but thou er [or or] that day correcte me'; this cannot be right, because it destroys the rime. However, the Bedford MS., instead of correcte me, has Me chastice; and in MS. C me chastyse is written over an erasure (doubtless of the words correcte me). Even thus, the line is imperfect, but is completed by help of the Sion MS., which reads me weel chastyce.
40. Of verrey right, in strict justice; not quite as in l. 21.
41. Rather close to the original—'Fuiant m'en viens a ta tente Moy mucier pour la tormente Qui ou monde me tempeste,' &c. Mucier means 'to hide,' and ou means 'in the,' F. au.
45. Al have I, although I have. So in l. 157.
49. MS. Gg. has Gracyouse; but the French has Glorieuse.
50. Bitter; Fr. text 'amere.' The allusion is to the name Maria, Gk. , , the same as Miriam, which is explained to mean 'bitterness,' as being connected with Marah, i. e. bitterness; see Exod. xv. 23 (Gesenius). Scan the line by reading: neíth'r in érth-ë nór.
55. But-if, except, unless (common).
56. Stink is oddly altered to sinke in some editions.
57, 58. Closely copied from the French, ll. 85-87. But the rest of the stanza is nearly all Chaucer's own. Cf. Col. ii. 14.
67. The French means, literally—'For, when any one goes out of his way, thou, out of pity, becomest his guide, in order that he may soon regain his way.'
70. The French means—'And thou bringest him back into the right road.' This Chaucer turns into—'bringest him out of the wrong road'; which is all that is meant by the crooked strete.
71. In the ending -eth of the third pers. sing. present, the e is commonly suppressed. Read lov'th. So also com'th in l. 99.
73. The French means—'Calendars are illumined, and other books are confirmed (or authenticated), when thy name illumines them.' Chaucer has 'illuminated calendars, in this world, are those that are brightened by thy name.' 'An allusion to the custom of writing the high festivals of the Church in the Calendar with red, or illuminated, letters'; note in Bell's Chaucer. The name of Mary appears several times in old calendars; thus the Purification of Mary is on Feb. 2; the Annunciation, on Mar. 25; the Visitation, on July 2; the Assumption, on Aug. 15; the Nativity, on Sept. 8; the Presentation, on Nov. 21; the Conception, on Dec. 8. Our books of Common Prayer retain all of these except the Assumption and the Presentation. Kalenderes probably has four syllables; and so has enlumined. Otherwise, read Kálendér's (Koch).
76. Him thar, i. e. it needs not for him to dread, he need not dread. It occurs again in the Cant. Tales, A 4320, D 329, 336, 1365, &c.
80. Resigne goes back to l. 112 of the original, where resiné (= resigne) occurs.
81. Here the French (l. 121) has douceur; Koch says it is clear that Chaucer's copy had douleur; which refers to the Mater dolorosa.
86. This line runs badly in the MSS., but is the same in nearly all. Read both' hav-e. I should prefer hav' both-e, where bothe is dissyllabic; see ll. 63, 122. This runs more evenly. The sense of ll. 84-6 seems to be—'Let not the foe of us all boast that he has, by his wiles (listes), unluckily convicted (of guilt) that (soul) which ye both,' &c.
88. Slur over the last syllable of Continue, and accent us.
89. The French text refers to Exod. iii. 2. Cf. The Prioresses Tale, C. T. Group B, l. 1658.
97. Koch points out that per-e is here dissyllabic; as in the Compleint to His Purse, l. 11. The French has per, l. 146. Read—Nóble princésse, &c.
100. Melodye or glee; here Koch remarks that Chaucer 'evidently mistook tirelire for turelure.' The Fr. tirelire means a money-box, and the sense of l. 150 of the original is—'We have no other place in which to secure what we possess.' See l. 107 of Chaucer's translation below. But Chaucer's mistake was easily made; he was thinking, not of the mod. Fr. turelure (which, after all, does not mean a 'melody,' but the refrain of a song, like the Eng. tooral looral) but of the O. F. tirelire. This word (as Cotgrave explains) not only meant 'a box having a cleft on the lid for mony to enter it,' but 'also the warble, or song of a lark.' Hence Shakespeare speaks of 'the lark, that tirra-lyra chants,' Wint. Tale, iv. 3. 9.
102. Read N'advócat noón. That the M. E. advocat was sometimes accented on the o, is proved by the fact that it was sometimes cut down to vócat; see P. Plowman, B. ii. 60; C. iii. 61.
109. Cf. Luke, i. 38—'Ecce ancilla Domini.'
110. Oure bille, &c., i. e. 'to bring forward (or offer) a petition on our behalf.' For the old expression 'to put up (or forth) a bill,' see my note to P. Plowman, C. v. 45. Compare also Compleynte unto Pite, l. 44 (p. 273).
113. Read tym-e. Tenquere, for to enquere; cf. note to l. 27. Cf. the French d'enquerre, l. 169.
116. To werre; F. 'pour guerre,' l. 173; i. e. 'by way of attack.' Us may be taken with wroughte, i. e. 'wrought for us such a wonder.' Werre is not a verb; the verb is werreyen, as in Squi. Ta. l. 10.
119. Ther, where, inasmuch as. 'We had no salvation, inasmuch as we did not repent; if we repent, we shall receive it.' But the sentence is awkward. Cf. Mark i. 4; Matt. vii. 7.
122. Pause after both-e; the e is not elided.
125. Mene, mediator; lit. mean (intermediate) person. So in P. Plowman, B. vii. 196—'And Marie his moder be owre mene bitwene.'
132. Koch thinks that the false reading it in some MSS. arose from a reading hit (= hitteth) as a translation of F. fiert, l. 196. Anyway, the reading is seems best. Surely, 'his reckoning hits so hideous' would be a most clumsy expression.
136. Of pitee, for pity; the usual idiom. Cf. of al, XIII. 19 (p. 391).
140. Vicaire, deputed ruler; not in the original. See note to Parliament of Foules, l. 379.
141. Governeresse; copied from the French text, l. 214. This rare word occurs, as the last word, in a poem beginning 'Mother of norture, printed in the Aldine Edition of Chaucer's Poems, vi. 275. Chaucer himself uses it again in the Complaint to Pity, l. 80 (p. 275).
144. Compare the expressions Regina Celi, Veni coronaberis, 'Heil crowned queene,' and the like; Polit., Religious, and Love Poems, ed. Furnivall, p. 147; Hymns to the Virgin, ed. Furnivall, pp. 1, 4. Suggested by Rev. xii. 1.
146. Koch notes that the reading depriued arose from its substitution for the less familiar form priued.
150. The reference is, obviously, to Gen. iii. 18; but thorns here mean sins. Cf. 'Des espines d'iniquite'; F. text, l. 224.
158. Copied from the French, l. 239—'Ou tu a la court m'ajournes.' It means 'fix a day for me to appear at thy court,' cite me to thy court.
159. Not in the original. Chaucer was thinking of the courts of the Common Bench and King's Bench, as mentioned, for example, in Wyclif's Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 215.
161. The word Xristus, i. e. Christus, is written Xpc (with a mark of contraction) in MSS. C., Gl., Gg., and Xpūs in F. Xpc is copied from the French; but it is very common, being the usual contracted form of the Gk. , or, in capital letters, XPICTOC, obtained by taking the two first and the last letters. The old Greek sigma was written C; as above. De Deguileville could think of no French word beginning with X; so he substituted for it the Greek chi, which resembled it in form.
163, 164. These lines answer to ll. 243, 247 of the French; 'For me He had His side pierced; for me His blood was shed.' Observe that the word Christus has no verb following it; it is practically an objective case, governed by thanke in l. 168. 'I thank thee because of Christ and for what He has done for me.' In l. 163, the word suffre is understood from the line above, and need not be repeated. Unfortunately, all the scribes have repeated it, to the ruin of the metre; for the line then contains two syllables too many. However, it is better omitted. Longius is trisyllabic, and herte (as in the next line) is dissyllabic. The sense is—'to suffer His passion on the cross, and also (to suffer) that Longius should pierce His heart, and make,' &c. Pighte, made, are in the subjunctive. The difficulty really resides in the word that in l. 161. If Chaucer had written eek instead of it, the whole could be parsed.
Koch reads 'Dreygh eek' for 'And eek,' in l. 163, where 'Dreygh' means 'endured.' But I do not think Dreygh could be used in this connection, with the word that following it.
The story of Longius is very common; hence Chaucer readily introduced an allusion to it, though his original has no hint of it. The name is spelt Longeus in Piers Plowman, C. xxi. 82 (and is also spelt Longinus). My note on that passage says—'This story is from the Legenda Aurea, cap. xlvii. Longinus was a blind centurion, who pierced the side of Christ; when drops of the Sacred Blood cured his infirmity. The day of St. Longinus is Mar. 15; see Chambers, Book of Days. The name Longinus is most likely derived from , a lance, the word used in John xix. 34; and the legend was easily developed from St. John's narrative. The name Longinus first appears in the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus.' See also the Chester Plays, ed. Wright; Cursor Mundi, p. 962; Coventry Mysteries, ed. Halliwell, p. 334; York Mystery Plays, p. 368; Lamentation of Mary Magdalen, st. 26; &c.
164. Herte is the true M. E. genitive, from the A. S. gen. heortan. Herte blood occurs again in the Pardoneres Tale, C 902.
169-171. Close to the French, ll. 253-5; and l. 174 is close to l. 264 of the same. Cf. Heb. xi. 19; Jo. i. 29; Isaiah, liii. 7.
176. This line can best be scanned by taking That as standing alone, in the first foot. See note to Compl. to Pite, l. 16. Koch suggests that our-e is dissyllabic; but this would make an unpleasing line; 'That yé | ben fróm | veng'áunce | ay oú | re targe ||.' I hope this was not intended; 'fróm | veng'áun | cë áy | our' would be better.
177. The words of Zechariah (xiii. 1) are usually applied to the blood of Christ, as in Rev. i. 5. Chaucer omits ll. 266-7 of the French.
180. 'That were it not (for) thy tender heart, we should be destroyed.'
181. Koch, following Gg, reads—'Now lady bright, siththe thou canst and wilt.' I prefer 'bright-e, sith'; brighte is a vocative.
184. To mercy able, fit to obtain mercy; cf. Cant. Ta. Prol. 167.