Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes II
[ Text of the Poem ]
II. The Compleynte unto Pite.
Title. In MS. B., the poem is entitled, 'The Complaynte vnto Pyte,' which is right. In MS. Trin., there is a colophon—'Here endeth the exclamacioun of the Deth of Pyte'; see p. 276. In MS. Sh. (in Shirley's handwriting) the poem is introduced with the following words—'And nowe here filowing [following] begynnethe a complaint of Pitee, made by Geffray Chaucier the aureat Poete that euer was fonde in oure vulgare to-fore hees [for thees?] dayes.' The first stanza may be considered as forming a Proem; stanzas 2-8, the Story; and the rest, the Bill of Complaint. The title 'A complaint of Pitee' is not necessarily incorrect; for of may be taken in the sense of 'concerning,' precisely as in the case of 'The Vision of Piers the Plowman.' As to the connection of this poem with the Thebaid of Statius, see notes to ll. 57 and 92.
1. I do not follow Ten Brink in putting a comma after so. He says: 'That so refers to the verb [sought] and not to yore ago, is evident from l. 3. Compare the somewhat different l. 93.' I hope it shews no disrespect to a great critic if I say that I am not at all confident that the above criticism is correct; l. 93 rather tells against it. Observe the reading of l. 117 in MS. Sh. (in the footnotes, p. 276).
4. With-oute dethe, i. e. without actually dying.
Shal not, am not to.
7. Doth me dye, makes me die.
9. Ever in oon, continually, constantly, always in the same way; cf. Cant. Tales, E 602, 677, F 417.
11. Me awreke. 'The e of me is elided'; Ten Brink. He compares also Cant. Ta. Prol. 148; (the correct reading of which is, probably—
'But sorë weep sche if oon of hem were deed';
the e of sche being slurred over before i in if). He also refers to the Prioresses Tale (B 1660), where thalighte = thee alighte; and to the Second Nonnes Tale (G 32), where do me endyte is to be read as do mendyte. Cf. note to A B C, l. 8.
14. The notion of Pity being 'buried in a heart' is awkward, and introduces an element of confusion. If Pity could have been buried out of the heart, and thus separated from it, the whole would have been a great deal clearer. This caution is worth paying heed to; for it will really be found, further on, that the language becomes confused in consequence of this very thing. In the very next line, for example, the hearse of Pity appears, and in l. 19 the corpse of Pity; in fact, Pity is never fairly buried out of sight throughout the poem.
15. Herse, hearse; cf. l. 36 below. It should be remembered that the old herse was a very different thing from the modern hearse. What Chaucer refers to is what we should now call 'a lying in state'; with especial reference to the array of lighted torches which illuminated the bier. See the whole of Way's note in Prompt. Parvulorum, pp. 236, 237, part of which is quoted in my Etym. Dict., s. v. hearse. The word hearse (F. herce) originally denoted a harrow; next, a frame with spikes for holding lights in a church service; thirdly, a frame for lights at a funeral pageant or 'lying in state'; fourthly, the funeral pageant itself; fifthly, a frame on which a body was laid, and so on. 'Chaucer,' says Way, 'appears to use the term herse to denote the decorated bier, or funeral pageant, and not exclusively the illumination, which was a part thereof; and, towards the sixteenth century, it had such a general signification alone.' In ll. 36-42, Chaucer describes a company of persons who stood round about the hearse. Cf. Brand's Popular Antiquities, ed. Ellis, ii. 236-7; Eng. Gilds, ed. Toulmin Smith, p. 176.
'The hearse was usually a four-square frame of timber, which was hung with black cloth, and garnished with flags and scutcheons and lights'; Strutt, Manners and Customs of the English, iii. 159. See the whole passage, which describes the funeral of Henry VII.
16. In most MSS., Deed stands alone in the first foot. In which case, scan—Deed | as stoon | whyl that | the swogh | me laste. Cf. A B C, l. 176, and the note. However, two MSS. insert a, as in the text.
27. Cf. Deth of Blaunche, l. 587—'This is my peyne withoute reed'; Ten Brink. See p. 297.
33. Ten Brink reads ay for ever, on the ground that ever and never, when followed by a consonant, are dissyllabic in Chaucer. But see Book of the Duchesse, l. 73 (p. 279).
34. Hadde, dissyllabic; it occasionally is so; mostly when it is used by itself, as here. Cf. Book of the Duch. l. 951 (p. 309).
37. 'Without displaying any sorrow.' He now practically identifies Pity with the fair one in whose heart it was said (in l. 14) to be buried. This fair one was attended by Bounty, Beauty, and all the rest; they are called a folk in l. 48.
41. Insert and after Estaat or Estat, for this word has no final -e in Chaucer; see Prol. A 522; Squi. Tale, F 26; &c.
44. 'To have offered to Pity, as a petition'; see note to A B C, 110.
47. 'I kept my complaint quiet,' i. e. withheld it; see l. 54.
50. MS. Sh. is right. The scribe of the original of MSS. Tn. Ff. T. left out I and these, and then put in only; then another scribe, seeing that a pronoun was wanted, put in we, as shewn by MSS. F. B. (Ten Brink). Here, and in l. 52, the e of alle is either very lightly sounded after the cæsural pause, or (more likely) is dropped altogether, as elsewhere.
53. And been assented, and (who) are all agreed.
54. Put up, put by. Cf. 'to put up that letter'; K. Lear, i. 2. 28: &c.
57. He here addresses his fair one's Pity, whom he personifies, and addresses as a mistress.
By comparison of this passage with l. 92, it becomes clear that Chaucer took his notion of personifying Pity from Statius, who personifies Pietas in his Thebaid, xi. 457-496. I explained this at length in a letter to The Academy, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 9. In the present line, we find a hint of the original; for Statius describes Pietas in the words 'pudibundaque longe Ora reducentem' (l. 493), which expresses her humility; whilst the reverence due to her is expressed by reuerentia (l. 467).
59. Sheweth ... Your servaunt, Your servant sheweth. Sheweth is the word used in petitions, and servant commonly means 'lover.'
63. Accented rénoun, as in the Ho. of Fame, 1406. Cf. l. 86.
64. Crueltee, Cruelty, here corresponds to the Fury Tisiphone, who is introduced by Statius (Theb. xi. 483) to suppress the peaceful feelings excited by Pietas, who had been created by Jupiter to control the passions even of the gods (l. 465). At the siege of Thebes, Pietas was for once overruled by Tisiphone; and Chaucer complains here that she is again being controlled; see ll. 80, 89-91. Very similar is the character of Daungere or Danger (F. Dangier) in the Romaunt ofthe Rose; in l. 3549 of the English Version (l. 3301 of the original), we find Pity saying—
'Wherefore I pray you, Sir Daungere,
For to mayntene no lenger here
Such cruel werre agayn your man.'
We may also compare Machault's poem entitled Le Dit du Vergier, where we find such lines as—
'Einssi encontre Cruauté
Deffent l'amant douce Pité.'
66. Under colour, beneath the outward appearance.
67. 'In order that people should not observe her tyranny.'
70. Hight, is (rightly) named. The final -e, though required by grammar, is suppressed; the word being conformed to other examples of the third person singular of the present tense, whilst hight-e is commonly used as the past tense. Pity's right name is here said to be 'Beauty, such as belongs to Favour.' The poet is really thinking of his mistress rather than his personified Pity. It is very difficult to keep up the allegory.
71. 'Heritage, of course, stands in the gen. case'; Ten Brink.
76. Wanten, are lacking, are missing, are not found in, fall short. 'If you, Pity, are missing from Bounty and Beauty.' There are several similar examples of this use of want in Shakespeare; e.g. 'there wants no junkets at the feast'; Tam. Shrew, iii. 2. 250.
78. This Bille, or Petition, may be divided into three sets of 'terns,' or groups of three stanzas. I mark this by inserting a paragraph-mark (¶ ) at the beginning of each tern. They are marked off by the rimes; the first tern ends with seyne, l. 77; the next with the riming word peyne, l. 98; and again with peyne, l. 119.
83. Perilous is here accented on the i.
87. Ten Brink omits wel, with most of the MSS.; but the e in wite seems to be suppressed, as in Book of the Duch. 112. It will hardly bear a strong accent. Mr. Sweet retains wel, as I do.
91. Pronounce the third word as despeir'd. 'Compare 1 Kings x. 24: And all the earth sought to Solomon'; Ten Brink.
92. Herenus has not hitherto been explained. It occurs in four MSS., Tn. F. B. Ff.; a fifth (T.) has 'heremus'; the Longleat MS. has 'heremus' or 'herenius'; Sh. substitutes 'vertuouse,' and MS. Harl. 7578 has 'Vertoues'; but it is highly improbable that vertuouse is original, for no one would ever have altered it so unintelligibly. Ten Brink and Mr. Sweet adopt this reading vertuousë, which they make four syllables, as being a vocative case; and of course this is an easy way of evading the difficulty. Dr. Furnivall once suggested hevenus, which I presume is meant for 'heaven's'; but this word could not possibly be accented as hevénus. The strange forms which proper names assume in Chaucer are notorious; and the fact is, that Herenus is a mere error for Herines or Herynes. Herynes (accented on y),occurs in St. 4 of Bk. iv of Troilus and Criscide, and is used as the plural of Erinnys, being applied to the three Furies:—'O ye Herynes, nightes doughtren thre.' Pity may be said to be the queen of the Furies, in the sense that pity (or mercy) can alone control the vindictiveness of vengeance. Shakespeare tells us that mercy 'is mightiest in the mightiest,' and is 'above this sceptred sway'; Merch. Ven. iv. 1. 188.
Chaucer probably found this name precisely where he found his personification of Pity, viz. in Statius, who has the sing. Erinnys (Theb. xi. 383), and the pl. Erinnyas (345). Cf. Æneid, ii. 337, 573.
In a poem called The Remedy of Love, in Chaucer's Works, ed. 1561, fol. 322, back, the twelfth stanza begins with—'Come hither, thou Hermes, and ye furies all,' &c., where it is plain that 'thou Hermes' is a substitution for 'Herines.'
95. The sense is—'the longer I love and dread you, the more I do so.' If we read ever instead of ay, then the e in the must be suppressed. 'In ever lenger the moore, never the moore, never the lesse, Chaucer not unfrequently drops the e in the, pronouncing lengerth, neverth'; cf. Clerkes Tale, E 687; Man of Lawes Tale, B 982; Ten Brink.
96. Most MSS. read so sore, giving no sense. Ten Brink has—'For sooth to seyne, I bere the hevy soore'; following MS. Sh. It is simpler to correct so to the, as suggested by Harl. 7578, which has—'For soith [error for sothly] for to saye I bere the sore.'
101. Set, short for setteth, like bit for biddeth, Cant. Tales, Prol. 187, &c. Ten Brink quotes from the Sompnoures Tale (D 1982)—'With which the devel set your herte a-fyre,' where set = sets, present tense.
105. Ten Brink inserts ne, though it is not in the MSS. His note is: 'Ne is a necessary complement to but = "only," as but properly means "except"; and a collation of the best MSS. of the Cant. Tales shows that Chaucer never omitted the negative in this case. (The same observation was made already by Prof. Child in his excellent paper on the language of Chaucer and Gower; see Ellis, Early Eng. Pronunciation, p. 374.) Me ne forms but one syllable, pronounced meen [i. e. as mod. E. main]. In the same manner I ne = iin [pron. as mod. E. een] occurs, Cant. Tales, Prol. 764 (from MS. Harl. 7334)—
"I ne saugh this yeer so mery a companye";
and in the Man of Lawes Tale (Group B, 1139)—
"I ne seye but for this ende this sentence."
Compare Middle High German in (= ich ne), e.g. in kan dir nicht, Walter v. d. Vogelweide, ed. Lachmann, 101. 33. In early French and Provençal me, te, se, &c., when preceded by a vowel, often became m, t, s, &c.; in Italian we have cen for ce ne, &c.' Cf. They n' wer-e in The Former Age, l. 5; and Book of the Duch. 244 (note).
110. See Anelida, 182; and the note.
119. Observe that this last line is a repetition of l. 2.