Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes VI
[ Text of the Poem ]
VI. A Compleint to his Lady.
In the two MSS., this poem is written as if it were a continuation of the Compleint unto Pity. The printed edition of 1651 has this heading—'These verses next folowing were compiled by Geffray Chauser, and in the writen copies foloweth at the ende of the complainte of petee.' This implies that Stowe had seen more than one MS. containing these lines.
However, the poem has nothing to do with the Complaint of Pity; for which reason the lines are here numbered separately, and the title 'A Compleint to his Lady' is supplied, for want of a better.
The poem is so badly spelt in Shirley's MS. (Harl. 78) as quite to obscure its diction, which is that of the fourteenth century. I have therefore re-spelt it throughout, so as to shew the right pronunciation. The Phillipps MS. is merely a copy of the other, but preserves the last stanza.
The printed copy resembles Shirley's MS. so closely, that both seem to have been derived from a common source. But there is a strange and unaccountable variation in l. 100. The MS. here has—'For I am sette on yowe in suche manere'; whilst ed. 1561 has—'For I am set so hy vpon your whele.' The latter reading does not suit the right order of the rimes; but it points to a lost MS.
The poem evidently consists of several fragments, all upon the same subject, of hopeless, but true love.
It should be compared with the Complaint of Pity, the first forty lines of the Book of the Duchess, the Parliament of Foules (ll. 416-441), and the Complaint of Anelida. Indeed, the last of these is more or less founded upon it, and some of the expressions (including one complete line) occur there again.
1. MSS. nightes. This will not scan, nor does it make good sense. Read night; cf. l. 8, and Book of the Duchess, l. 22.
3. Cf. Compl. Pite, 81—'Allas! what herte may hit longe endure?'
7. Desespaired, full of despair. This, and not dispaired (as in ed. 1561), is the right form. Cf. desespeir, in Troil. i. 605.
8, 9. Cf. Anelida, 333, 334.
14, 15. I repeat this line, because we require a rime to fulfille, l. 17; whilst at the same time l. 14 evidently ends a stanza.
16. I omit that, and insert eek, in order to make sense.
17. I supply he, meaning Love. Love is masculine in l. 42, precisely as in the Parl. of Foules, l. 5.
19. I alter and yit to and fro, to make sense; the verb to arace absolutely requires from or fro; see Clerkes Tale, E 1103, and particularly l. 18 of sect. XXI, where we find the very phrase 'fro your herte arace.' Cf. Troilus, v. 954.
24. I supply this line from Compl. Mars, 189, to rime with l. 22.
If Fragments II and III were ever joined together, we must suppose that at least five lines have been lost, as I have already shewn in the note to Dr. Furnivall's Trial Forewords, p. 96.
Thus, after l. 23, ending in asterte, we should require lines ending in -ye, -erse, -ye, -erse, and -ede respectively, to fill the gap. However, I have kept fragments II and III apart, and it is then sufficient to supply three lines. Lines 25 and 26 are from the Compl. of Pite, 22, 17, and from Anelida, 307.
32. I suspect some corruption; MS. Sh. has The wyse eknytte, Ph. has The wise I-knyt, and ed. 1561 has The Wise, eknit. As it stands, it means—'Her surname moreover is the Fair Ruthless one, (or) the Wise one, united with Good Fortune.' Fair Ruthless is a translation of the French phrase La Belle Dame sans Merci, which occurs as the title of a poem once attributed to Chaucer. The Wise one, &c., means that she is wise and fortunate, and will not impair her good fortune by bestowing any thought upon her lover. Shirley often writes e for initial y-.
35. Almost identical with Anelida, 222—'More then myself, an hundred thousand sythe.'
36. Obviously corrupt; neither sound nor sense is good. Read:—'Than al this worldes richest (or riche) creature.' Creature may mean 'created thing.' Or scan by reading world's richéss'.
39. Cf. Kn. Tale, l. 380 (A 1238)—'Wel hath Fortune y-turned thee the dys.'
41. My swete fo. So in Anelida, l. 272; and cf. l. 64 below.
42, 43. Cf. Parl. of Foules, ll. 439, 440.
44. Ed. 1561 also reads In. Perhaps the original reading was Inwith. Moreover, the copies omit eek in l. 45, which I supply.
47-49. This remarkable statement re-appears twice elsewhere; see Parl. Foules, 90, 91, and note; and Compl. of Pite, ll. 99-104.
50. Repeated in Anelida, 237.
51, 52. Cf. Anelida, 181, 182; Compl. Pite, 110; Parl. Foules, 7.
55. Cf. Anelida, 214—'That turned is to quaking al my daunce.'
56. Here a line is missing, as again at l. 59. This appears from the form of the stanza, in which the rimes are arranged in the order a a b a a b c d d c. I supply the lines from Anelida, 181, 182.
63. Cf. the use of y-whet in Anelida, 212.
64, 65. Cf. Anelida, 272—'My swete fo, why do ye so for shame?'
73. For leest, ed. 1561 has best!
79. The MSS. have—'What so I wist that were to youre hyenesse'; where youre hyenesse is absurdly repeated from l. 76. Ed. 1561 has the same error. It is obvious that the right final word is distresse, to be preceded by yow or your; of which I prefer yow.
83. Ch. uses both wille and wil; the latter is, e. g., in Cant. Ta. A 1104. We must here read wil.
86. shal, i. e. shall be. See also XXII. ll. 78, 87.
88. leveth wel, believe me wholly. MS. Ph. and ed. 1561 wrongly have loveth.
98. I read nil, as being simpler. The MSS. have ne wil, which would be read—'That I n'wil ay'; which comes to much the same thing.
100. set, fixed, bound. Ed. 1561 has—'For I am set so hy vpon your whele,' which disturbs the rimes.
102. MS. Sh. beon euer als trewe; ed. 1561 has—bene euer as trewe.
103. MS. Sh. 'As any man can er may on lyue'; ed. 1561 and MS. Ph. have—'As any man can or maye on liue.' It is clear that a final word has been dropped, because the scribe thought the line ought to rime with fyve (l. 98). The dropped word is clearly here, which rimes with manere in the Miller's Prologue, and elsewhere. After here was dropped, man was awkwardly inserted, to fill up the line. Ch. employs here at the end of a line more than thirty times; cf. Kn. Tale, A 1260, 1670, 1711, 1819, &c.
107, 108. Cf. Anelida, 247, 248.
123. Cf. Anelida, 216. MS. Ph. alone preserves ll. 124-133.
124. My lyf and deeth seems to be in the vocative case. Otherwise, my is an error for in.
125. For hoolly I perhaps we should read I hoolly.
126. The rime by me, tyme, is Chaucerian; see Cant. Ta. G 1204.
130. This resembles Cant. Tales, F 974 and A 2392.
133. trouble, troubled. A like use occurs in Boethius, bk. i. met. 7, l. 2. Drope, hope, rime in Troil. i. 939, and Gower, C. A., ii. 286.